Saturday, August 30, 2014

Living In Harmony With Others - Romans 12:9-21

New Testament Lesson                                                             Romans 12:9-21
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.[a] 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[b] do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;[c] for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

        Last Sunday, United Airlines Flight 1462 was flying from New Jersey to Denver, and had to divert and land in Chicago.  It seems that a fight broke out between two of the passengers.

A woman wanted to recline her seat, but the passenger behind her was using a small device called the “Knee Defender” that disabled the forward seat from reclining.  Words were thrown back and forth, there was yelling, the woman threw water in the man’s face, and before you knew it, the plane was landing in Chicago and two of the passengers were removed from the jet.

One of the witnesses to this event described these two passengers as behaving like children and wondered why people can’t be more civil to one another.

We can laugh or shake our heads in bewilderment at conduct like this, but it does not take much for a little bit of yelling and tossing of water to escalate into something far more violent.

It was back in January that a man began texting his daughter during the previews of coming attractions in a movie theater in Tampa, Florida.  Another person in the movie theater stormed out to complain to the manager about the other person using the phone during the previews, and then came back into the theater alone and began shouting at the person with the cell phone.  Voices were raised, a box of popcorn was thrown, and then bullets were fired and one man is dead.

Sometimes the violence spreads into the community like a wildfire.  In Ferguson, Missouri, the police shooting of one individual suspect spread to riots on the streets, looting in stores, leading to 155 arrests, 4 injuries and another death. (Wikipedia, “2014 Ferguson Unrest”). 

And beyond that there is the violence among drug cartels in nations south of us.  And there is the violence in Gaza.  And Isis and the beheading of a reporter in Syria. There are the frequent abductions of young girls by warlords in Nigeria

Now, there is not much we can do about the situation with drug cartels in Mexico or with the abduction in Nigeria.  We alone can’t stop ISIS and terrorists. 

But keeping in mind what Paul said about living in harmony with one another he put peacemaking on a more personal level.

“As far as it depends on YOU, live in peace with one another,” is what Paul said.

We can’t do much about the violence between nations, or even in a community in Missouri, but we can do something about building peace in our own community, and within our places of work or school or family.

In verse 16 of our New Testament lesson, Paul said, “Live in harmony with one another.”

So what are we to do?  How can we live in harmony with other people?

Step one – love others.

Now that sounds fine, except there is one problem.

We are surrounded by idiots, sadists, the self-centered, the socio paths, the psychopaths, and the crazy folks.  Peace would be very easy if everyone would just do things MY way.  But they don’t, and that is where the challenge comes in.

There are people who break in line, turn on their cell phones in the middle of a movie, who talk too loudly in the library, who vote for the wrong candidate, whatever.

We are surrounded by people who are one way or the other difficult.

To us Paul says in the New Testament lesson, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection.”

What is the proper response to someone who insults you?  You love them.

What is the proper response when someone cuts you off in traffic?  You love them.

What is the proper response when someone won’t let you recline your seat on the airplane?  You love them.

This is difficult, but next time you look at the person who is rude to you stop and think about how that person is a child of God, loved by God, adored by God, and forgiven by God.

Who knows what that rude person has gone through?

Not long ago I was in the grocery store.  I had my list and my shopping cart and all I wanted to do was get the stuff on my list, pay for my groceries and go home.  It had been a long day and I was tired. 

And you know how you are in a grocery store… you go up one aisle and down the other and you go back and forth from one section to another.  And as you navigate through the store trying to find all the things on your list, there are times when you keep running into the same person.

And so it was with me a few days ago.

This was a person who just seemed so angry.  He would bump into other people and would respond with a salvo of profanity.  He dropped a bottle of something on the floor and it was glass so it broke, and out came more profanity and anger – as if it was the store’s fault, or my fault.

I just tried to keep to myself, turn the other cheek and get on with my shopping. 

I was paying for my groceries when I saw this guy one more time – he was cutting in line at another checkout line. 

What is it with people?
When I left the grocery store I thought I would never see him again, but his car was parked right next to mine.  His wife was waiting for him in the car and wouldn’t you know it – they began to argue.  I’m not sure what all they were saying, but it was obvious from bits and pieces of the conversation that he had just lost his job.  These groceries had been bought with their last few dollars.  His wife looked weak and perhaps seriously ill.

        I suspect that this man’s life was probably in shambles.   Life had been mean to him and now he was going to be mean to others.

        With his profanity and yelling and rudeness it is easy to see only the rudeness.  But look deeper and this is a wounded man loved by God.  Loved - not because he deserved it, but because of God’s grace. 

        Paul tells us in this New Testament passage to “weep with those who weep, and to laugh with those who laugh.”  Sometimes the person who disrupts our harmony is in such pain that we need to stop and see the situation for what it is and to weep with them.

        Paul tells us to love others, and to do so with sincerity.  It is amazing how quickly a genuine smile and an understanding word can defuse a situation. 

        The way the Bible puts it in the Old Testament book of Proverbs is to say, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

        Most of us respond to anger with anger, but all that does is to stir up more anger.  Things escalate.  We want to stand our ground.  We want to come out victorious.  We want to yield to no one. 
        “An eye for an eye,” is what Moses taught.

        And that was a wonderful new concept of justice in a world in which if a person put out your eye, you could put both of his eyes out.
Moses limited justice to reasonable punishment.

        But we pervert that concept of Mosiac justice today.  “An eye for an eye” concept in this age means that if you cuss at me, I’ll cuss at you. 

You bully me, I’ll bully you. 

You push, I’ll shove.

Throw popcorn in my face, and I’ll put a gun in your face.”

        At some point somebody has to break that cycle, turn the other cheek, and walk away from this discord.

        ““As far as it depends on YOU, live in peace with one another,” said Paul.

        The sad thing is, no matter how much we put our pride aside, no matter how many times we turn the other cheek or how many times we give a soft answer in an effort to turn away someone’s wrath, peace and harmony do not come.

Paul said, “As far as it depends on YOU, live in peace with one another,” but sometimes it does not depend on us.

        Angry people will remain angry.

        Bullies may never stop bullying.

        Mean folks are mean.

        Abusive spouses or bosses continue to abuse.

        And as Paul says in our New Testament lesson, we should hate such evil actions. 

        We cannot control other people.  Some people will never respond to kindness.  Some people will always be hateful, or even dangerous. 

        Sometimes, we just need to walk away.

        When Jesus sent out his disciples into other communities, he talked about how he was sending them out into a difficult world, and that they were being sent like lambs among wolves.  There would be times, Jesus warned, that the disciples would not be well received but would be rejected.  “Shake the dust off your feet and move onto the next town,” Jesus said. 

        He didn’t tell us to burn the town, or to loot or riot.  Just move on, and get on with your mission in life.

        Sometimes we have to leave the toxic people in our lives behind and move on.

        It would be great if we could be at peace with everyone, but we can’t.  Because we cannot control the actions of others.

        But we can control our actions.

        “As far as it depends on us…” we will do what we can to turn around this culture of being uncivil to one another.

        As far as it depends on us, we will respond to other people’s rudeness with kindness.

        As far as it depends on us, we will respond to other people’s disrespect with respect.

Copyright 2014  The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Where Seldom Is Heard An Encouraging Word - Romans 12:1-8

Romans 12:1-8
1             Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship.
2             Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
3             For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
4             Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,
5             so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
6             We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a person’s gift is prophesying, then that person should use that gift in faith.
7             If it is serving, that person should serve; if it is teaching, then teach;
8             if it is encouraging, then be encouraging; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let that person give generously; if it is leadership, that person should govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, do so cheerfully.

          I met a man recently who was telling me about an experience he had while he was on vacation in the Bahamas.  He said he was walking along and he came to a pier and as he approached the pier he could tell that there was a great commotion going on, so he walked onto the pier to see what was going on.

          He looked down and saw this modern day adventurer, this young sailor who was preparing this homemade sailing boat for a solo trip around the world.  My friend said that all of these tourists were gathered around the pier and they were looking down at this young man and they were shouting things like, "You're crazy.  It can't be done.  You'll never make it.  You're and idiot.  You'll run out of food.  You'll die of thirst."

          My friend said everyone was pessimistic, but there was in that crowd one lone voice that was different.  Perhaps a friend or relative of the young sailor, this voice was shouting, "I believe in you.  I've got confidence.  You're going to make it.  You've built a good boat.  You've made a solid plan.  You'll show them all."

          Man, what a perfect example of life.

          The old song, "Home on the Range," sings about a place where seldom is heard a discouraging word." 

          But we in out time and place seldom hear an encouraging word. 

          Paul in our New Testament lesson speaks of encouragement as a spiritual gift. And it is a rare and precious gift that all of us have to some degree -- or at least we should.  But some of us have it in a very special way.

          But all of us ought to be able to give encouraging words to one another. 

          The author of Hebrews made a comment (Hebrews 3:13)  "Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."

          Encourage one another daily.

          In his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 5, Paul said, "Encourage one another.  Build one another up."

          And yet many of us put one another down.

          Many of us stand at life's piers and we look down on other people and we say, "You're never going to make it.  You don't have what it takes.  You're not good enough."

          The Duke of Wellington, the military leader who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, was a hard man and not an easy man to serve under.  He was known for not having the ability to shower his subordinates with praise.  Yet he understood the value of encouragement.  Late in his life, when asked what he would do differently, he said, "Give more praise."

          All of us ought to give more encouragement and praise. 

          Nurture the spiritual gift of encouraging one another.

          To give more praise.

          Now don't believe for one moment that the Scripture teaches that we should give false praise or empty encouragement. 

          William Author Ward once said, "Flatter me and I will never believe you.  Criticize me and I may not like you.  Ignore me and I will never forgive you.  But encourage me and I'll never forget you.

          Dr. John Trent, Vice President of Today's Family, said in a recent magazine interview that sometimes giving encouragement means giving praise in the work of another person, with words and phrases like "great job," or "I'm proud of you," or "well done."

          But on the other hand there are times when encouragement gives no pretense that the other person has done a good job because maybe the other person has not done a good job at all.  Maybe they have done a lousy job, but they still need a word of encouragement from us.  You need to lift someone up in a manner that says "You're worth something.  You're a valuable person."

          I recently heard the story about a man who lost his job and he was thrown out of his profession for some indiscretion he had committed.  He was an office worker.  White collar worker.  Had a high level job.  But after his indiscretion and after the loss of his job, he took work at a construction company at the very bottom of the construction ladder.  He was a gofer.  He would spend most of his day hauling concrete bricks from one part of the construction site to the other.  He was plunged into a dramatically different world. Instead of going to an air conditioned office every day he was going to a hot, outdoor work site.  Instead of listening to soft music piped into the office he was listening to shouts of cursing and profanity all day long.  Instead of wearing a nice clean, tailored made suit, he was wearing blue jeans and a tattered old T Shirt.  Any girl who walked by was subject to whistles and sexually suggestive shouts from the workers.

          He said he just couldn't take this any longer.  After three weeks of trying his best, he was ready to give up.  It was just wearing his soul down.  He finally decided that when he went into work the next day and the supervisor handed him his paycheck for the week, he was going to take it and walk away and never look back.

          He'd find something, anything else.

          That day was a particularly bad day.  He did something stupid and everyone was making fun of him all morning long.  The foreman brought him his paycheck.  And as he handed it to the man, the foreman said something civil to him for the first time in three weeks. 

          He said, "Hey there's a woman in the front office who knows you.  She says she takes care of your kids sometimes."

          "Who," asked the worker.

          And the foreman gave a name of a woman who worked in the nursery of the church where he and his family worshipped. 

          The man took the paycheck envelope and opened it.  And there inside was his check.  And a note. 

          The note had this to say...

          "When part of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer with it.  I just want you to know that I'm praying for you."

          The man stared at the note for a long time.  He didn't even know this woman worked in the front office of this company.  Here he was at his lowest point in life.  Here he was doing a lousy task in a lousy job, having committed an offense that had taken away his career.  Yet she had given him a word of encouragement that was just enough to enable him to turn back to the wheelbarrow and begin pushing another load of bricks.

          We need to encourage others around us all the time.  It may be in the form of giving them praise for a job well done.  It may be speaking to them at their lowest point when they are doing a lousy job, to simply say, "I'm with you.  I'm praying for you."

          In fact, it sometimes in the midst of a person's worst failures that the person needs to hear the words of encouragement the most.

          During a practice session with the Green Bay Packers, things were not going well for Coach Vince Lombardi team.  The coach singled one player out in particular for his failures to "put out."  The coach pulled this guard aside and raked him over the coals with a verbal assault for each and every one of his failures, yelling at him in such a way that everyone on the team and anyone in the vicinity could hear.  Finally, the coach said, "Son, you are a poor excuse for a football player.  You can't do anything right.  Now get off this field and hit the showers while the real football players stay and finish practice."

          The guard dropped his head and walked off the field.  Over an hour later, Coach Lombardi found the guard in the locker room.  Sitting on a bench.  Head hung low.  Sobbing softly.

          Lombardi was always a changeable character and he looked at this kid and did a sudden about face.  He sat next to him and put his arm around him and said, "Son.  You know, you really are a poor excuse for a football player.  You're not putting out the way you should.  But fortunately you have one thing that most football players don't have."

          There was a long pause, and finally the young player raised his head and looked at the coach and asked, "What's that?"

          Lombardi looked at him and said, "Unlike most football players, you have the BEST coach in the nation.  Now I know that right now, you are a poor football player.  But somewhere in you is a great football player.  And I'm just the coach who can pull that greatness out of you and make you a star football player.  I'm going to stick by your side until you become great."

          And with those words Jerry Kramer straightened up and began to feel better and went on to become one of the great football players of all time.

          But it is not just in those moments of failure that we need words of encouragement.  Even in our most successful moments we need to hear encouraging words.

          We look at people who are successful and we think that they do not need an encouraging word, but they do.

          In the Library of Congress there is a box that is often on display.  It is marked, "Contents of the President's Pocket -- April 14th, 1865."  Of course, that was the night President Lincoln was assassinated.  Five things are found in that box.  A small handkerchief embroidered with the words, "A. Lincoln."  A country boy's pen knife.  Spectacles that have been repaired with string.  A purse that contains a $5 bill.  For some strange reason, it is a Confederate $5 bill -- go figure.  And some old faded newspaper clippings praising the President of the United States.

          One of the clippings from a Senator who said in a speech, "Abraham Lincoln is one of the greatest men of all time."  Well, everyone thinks that today.  But back in 1865 not everyone felt that way.  And the President's critics were fierce, and he spent hours agonizing over his work and grieving over a country that was torn apart by Civil War.

          There is something touching about this great man having to read some encouraging words from a clipping that had been cut out of a newspaper.

          Jesus Christ was one of the greatest at the art of encouragement.  And in one place in Matthew's Gospel, chapter 11, he encourages his disciples with words found in that Gospel.  "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

          I remember being in a Bible Study with some other men one time and one of the men said, "I know exactly what Jesus meant when he said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."

          He said he grew up on a farm.  He knew that Jesus was not saying that 'Life is going to be easy or light.'  He said he knew the YOKE was going to be easy.  He said that as a child growing on a farm he used to handle a team of Oxen.  He would put these animals together.  Even I knew that the yoke was a part of the harness process that fit over the shoulders of the animals and somehow kept them together or guided them.  But I always thought that the yoke was perfectly balanced.  That one yoke was much the same as the other and that one side weighed the same as the other.  But he said growing up on his farm, they always made the yokes unbalanced because when you put two animals together to pull something, the animals are always going to be unbalanced.  One is always going to be stronger.  One is always going to be weaker.  You balance them off by having the yoke compensate for this.  You always give the stronger animal the heavier part of the yoke.  And you always give the weaker one the lighter side. 

          And here is Jesus saying take my yoke.  I'm giving you the lighter side.  Because I'm the stronger one.  And together, we are going to plow through life. 

          What a wonderful word of encouragement.  Knowing that as we plow through our life, Jesus is right next to us.  And he is carrying the bulk of the load for us.  With words like that encouraging us, surely we can go out and encourage others.

Copyright 2014

, Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Inhumanum verbum est ultio Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.[a] 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, 15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves[a] that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Matthew 5:38-48
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This story in the Old Testament is an awful story. 

          Let’s think about this.  Joseph is part of a big family.  He is blessed with 11 brothers and one sister.  His mother, who had recently died, adored him.  His father who is alive and who would continue to live many, many years loves him and gives him wonderful gifts. 
Now granted, Joseph is a bit self centered.  But hey, he’s 17 years old.  It happens at that age.  He has dreams about how his family will someday bow down to him, and he shares these dreams not stopping to think that the others might not like the idea of bowing down to the younger brother.

          Father Jacob gives him a wonderful coat of many colors with long sleeves – obviously made for relaxing and not for working.  That’s like a 21st century father giving all of his children bicycles except the one favorite son who gets a car!

          Of course the others are jealous.

          But what happens to Joseph is inexcusable. 

          The brothers decide to kill Joseph. 

These brothers strip Joseph of this wonderfully ornate robe and then they throw him in a pit. 

Meanwhile, the brothers are hanging around the pit and have a picnic. 

There they are eating while Joseph is nearly naked, down in the pit, where there is no water.
There is nothing worse than being betrayed by people you love, and who are supposed to love you.

Poor Joseph.  He is in that pit.  Alone.  In the dark.  He probably yelled up something like, “Ah come on guys, you’ve had your fun.  Lemme outa here and give me back my robe.”

At some point it had to have dawned on him that these people hate him.  His own family hates him and has betrayed him.

Have you ever been betrayed?


Had the rug pulled out from under you?

Maybe your spouse had an affair?

Maybe your parent disowned you?

Maybe your best friend stabbed you in the back?

Maybe a coworker took advantage of you and deserted you?

It is a terrible feeling when one is betrayed.

It creates feelings of anger.  Hatred.  One usually has a desire for revenge. 

Poor Joseph. 

He is in this pit left to die.

But – as the story goes, over the hill comes a group of Ishmaelites.  Brother Judah comes up with a plan that is even better than killing Joseph.

          “Hey guys, I know how we can make some money – and get rid of brother Joseph.  Let’s sell him.”

          And it turns out that it is easier than selling something on Ebay.  They negotiate a price and these brothers get 20 shekles of silver. 

          So poor Joseph is taken by force.  He is betrayed.  He is taken from his home and family.  He loses his coat.  He loses his freedom.  At that time there was an active slave trade with Egypt.  Human trafficking was on the upswing and these traveling merchants have no problem selling this 17 year old kid in Egypt.

          Joseph ends up being sold to Potiphar, who is a captain of the guard working for Pharaoh. 

          Now here is the thing about Joseph.  People respond to betrayal and abuse in different ways.  They may become blind to the betrayal and have no memory of it.  They may develop psychological disorders.  They may become bitter and angry and may even become abusive and betray others years later.

          What Joseph does is to accept that there are things in his life in which he cannot control.  He cannot control the hatred from his brothers.

          He cannot control that he is now a slave.

          But he can control how he will deal with the present.

          He becomes a hard worker.  He prospers – even in this mess, he prospers so that others take notice.

          A couple of chapters after our Old Testament reading, we find these words:  “Joseph’s master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did.” 

          Then the slave, Joseph, becomes the master’s personal assistant.  Then he moves into the master’s home.  Then he becomes in charge of all of Potiphar’s household business. 

          Joseph is doing pretty good. 

          And apparently he is looking pretty good as well.

          Potiphar’s wife takes notice and tries to seduce Joseph.  Not once, but over and over she tries to get Joseph in bed with her.

          Now, had Joseph still been a 17 year old, he probably would not have hesitated to jump in the sack with this woman.  As a 17 year old he was self-absorbed and didn’t give any thought to the consequences of his actions.

          But now, a few years later, he has matured and he knows that finding a quick sexual satisfaction with the boss’ wife is a dangerous thing. 

          Joseph tells this woman, “My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”

          But in a hot and steamy scene that would fit in well with some of the movies and television shows of today, the woman is literally clawing at Joseph and he has to run for it!  But in so doing she has ripped Joseph’s cloak off of him. 

          And she uses it to betray Joseph.

          She tells the other servants that Joseph tried to seduce her and tried to rape her and uses the cloak in her bedroom as evidence.
       It is an awful thing to be betrayed.  To endure sexual harassment is terrible.  To be a victim is dreadful. 

          Has anyone every lied about you?

          Another student in school may accuse you of cheating, when you were not.

          A coworker might suggest to others that you are skimming company funds or falsifying time cards. 

          A friend may tell your spouse that you are cheating.

          These people may have all sorts of reasons for doing what they are doing, but betrayal hurts. 

          And Joseph is no stranger to betrayal – first his brothers and now this woman.

          When Potiphar arrives home and hears of his wife’s false accusations, he believes his wife and he has Joseph thrown into prison.

          If Joseph thought being thrown into the pit was bad, prison must have been worse.

          But again, some victims of betrayal and abuse will let the things other people do defeat them.  But others are like Joseph. 

          He can’t change what others do.  He can’t convince people of his integrity.  He can’t just walk out of prison. 

          But what he does do is to continue to be focused on the Lord and to be a person of integrity. 

          And again, he prospers, even in prison.

          I used to work in a state prison and we would have some inmates who would earn the trust of the warden and the guards.  I’m not sure what the terminology is today, but we used to call them Trustees.  They had better cells.  They would work for the prison staff and that gave them access to parts of the prison that were off limits to other inmates.  Sometimes, they even served as drivers for the prison staff when there was a need to leave the prison to run errands.  To earn this, the inmate had to prove himself trustworthy, with a good attitude.

          Joseph becomes a trustee in prison, and when the Pharaoh became angry at two of his servants and threw them in prison, Joseph was the one who supervised those new inmates.

          This went on for a long time.

          Then one day, Joseph came to these two men and they were both depressed. 

          Joseph asked what was wrong, and both had troubling dreams during the night and wondered what they meant.

          Hey, they are in luck – it just so happens that Joseph has a talent for interpreting dreams. 

          So one of the inmates – the Pharoah’s cup bearer or wine steward, told his dream and Joseph said, “Good news!  In three days the Pharaoh is going to free you from prison and you will once again work for him.

          So the other inmate, the Pharaoh’s baker, told his dream.

          Ah gee, this is not good – his dream means that in three days Pharoah is going to kill the poor baker!

          But Joseph tells the cup bearer, “when you get out of prison and work for the king, remember me and put a good word in for me.”

          But what happens when the cup bearer is released from prison three days later?

          The Bible says, “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

          Poor Joseph.  He is betrayed by brothers.  He betrayed and sexually harassed by his boss’ wife.  And now even a near stranger betrays him by neglecting him.

          Two years go by!!!

          And then Pharoah has a dream and talks to others about what this might mean. 

          The cup bearer speaks up !!!  “Ah you know, now that I think of it I remember this Hebrew prisoner who was good at interpreting dreams.”

          So they send for Joseph.

          But after years and years of being in a dungeon, he is not longer the sexy hunk that was chased by Potiphar’s wife.  He’s grungy and dirty and they have to clean him up.

          The Bible says, “So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.   Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

So Pharoah tells the dream to Joseph.

Joseph says, “I got good news and bad news.  The good news is that for 7 years, food will be plentiful.  Rain will be good.  Farming will be big business.  The bad news is that after that, there will be a drought.  Instead of being in abundance, there will be a scarcity of food.  And that will last for 7 years.”

Joseph goes further than simply interpret the dream, he suggests that Pharoah put someone in charge of storing 1/5th of all the crops for the next 7 years, so that when the lean years come, the nation will be in a good position to deal with hard times.

Pharoah decides that the man to lead the food program is Joseph.  He gives this former prisoner great power, telling him, “You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Joseph is 30 years old at this point.  He has spent almost half his life as a slave.  There have been high points and low points.  He has been betrayed over and over.  But throughout these betrayals, Joseph remains a man of integrity.  He grows in maturity and wisdom.  He is a victim over and over – but he is never defeated.

Joseph manages the food program through 7 years of abundance, and then the famine begins – right on schedule.

But that’s fine – because Joseph has saved all this food.  Not only do the Egyptians have enough food for their people, the whole world comes to Egypt to trade for food. 

And that is where Joseph’s family shows up at Joseph’s doorstep.

Jacob has sent all the boys to Egypt to look for food, except young Benjamin, who was a toddler when Joseph was sold into slavery.  These brothers come face to face with Joseph, but they don’t recognize him.

Of course they don’t.

He is a powerful Egyptian leader.  He has aged.  He is not a teenager any longer, but a grown man.

If you have been out of college or high school for 20 years and go to a reunion, you know the experience of seeing your old buddies and not knowing who they are.

What a great moment – the betrayed sits on a thrown looking down at the powerless, begging brothers who hurt and betrayed him years ago.

In the movie, STAR TREK, THE WRATH OF KAHN, there is a moment when the Starship Enterprise is under attack and the villain says to James T. Kirk, do you know the Klingon proverb, "Revenge is a dish best served cold"?

It’s not a Klingon proverb – that quote comes from the novel THE GODFATHER when Don Corleone said, “Revenge is a dish that tastes best when it is cold.” 

And before that it shows up in 17th and 18th century French literature, Chinese literature and even in writings from the Roman Empire.  Revenge that comes after many years is supposed to be the best revenge there is.

YES!  Joseph has his brothers where he wants them.  Now a quarter of a century later Joseph is face to face with his brothers who tried to kill him, but then sold him into slavery. 

So what does Joseph do?

He doesn’t let on that he is the long lost brother.

Instead, he accuses them of being spies.

These band of disreputable brothers respond by saying, “Oh no.  We have come to buy food.  We are all sons of one man.  We are honest people, not spies.”

“No,” Joseph says, “You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

What follows is a wonderful bit of arguing back and forth with these brothers pleading with this powerful man that they are just there to buy food, while Joseph, not letting on as to his real identity, continues to insist that they are spies!

At one point they tell Joseph about the youngest brother who is still at home – and so Joseph says, fine – one of you will stay here in prison while the rest of you goes back to get the youngest brother.  Bring him here, then I will know if you are telling the truth.

Joseph puts Simeon in prison, sells the brothers grain in exchange for silver, and then sends the brothers back to fetch younger brother Benjamin.

What happens next shows how messed up that family was – Joseph came from a terribly dysfunctional family.  They get back to Jacob and explain what has happened.  In response, Jacob says this:  “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin.” 

Now while it is sad to lose any child, Jacob is acting like these other sons are not really worth anything. 

And I think that is part of this family’s problem.  The father did not love all of his children – he had more love for Joseph and Benjamin because they were the two children of his beloved wife Rachel.  The other sons came from other wives and handmaids. 

Now Reuben has a plan – and you gotta listen to this plan – it’s awful.  Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring Simeon back to you. Trust me.”
Jacob decides not to go for it, but to leave matters as they are – Simeon will stay in an Egyptian prison and Benjamin will stay home.

          And that works out well until the family runs out of food. 
And Jacob finally agrees to send the boys back to Egypt – along with Benjamin.
Once there, Joseph negotiates trade with the boys and they are on their way back to Jacob with lots of food in hand – but inside Benjamin’s travel bags Joseph has secretly placed a valuable cup.

Joseph sends his men to stop the caravan, they search the bags and find the cup.  Joseph, so often betrayed, is getting some sweet revenge. 
He announces his plan to imprison Benjamin and to send the others back home to the father. 
And the boys plead with him and one of the brothers says, “if the boy Benjamin is not with us when I go back my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, sees that the boy isn’t there, my father will die.”

          And that is when the games come to an end. Joseph admits to being their brother.
Now that is not good news to these brothers because they know what they did to this poor man when he was 17 years old.  The tried to kill him and then at the last moment sold him into slavery.

The brothers must have thought about how Joseph had been playing with them just to extract revenge. 

But this is what Joseph tells them:  “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!  And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”

          As the book of Genesis closes, Jacob, or Israel as he is increasingly called, joins the boys in Egypt.  The famine gets worse before it gets better, but Joseph is there for the family.  When Jacob dies, all of Egypt joins Joseph in grieving. 
Jacob’s death makes the other brothers nervous.  I’m not sure that anyone every told Jacob what really happened to Joseph and how he made his way to Egypt, but the brothers know, and after the death of the father the brothers are concerned that finally joseph will seek revenge.

          Joseph has every right to strike back.  He was hurt, why not hurt them back?  He has all the power.  He can throw them in the prison where he spent years.  He can throw them in a pit and let them die as they started to do with him. 

          But no. 

          Joseph looks at his now-remorseful and penitent brothers and has this line:  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”

          And with that, until the day he dies, Joseph shows love and compassion to those who deserved bitterness and retribution.

          The Old Testament presents the rule of justice – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.  At the time that was a radical improvement in justice at a time that if you put out a man’s eye, he was justified in plucking out BOTH of your eyes.  The intention in the Old Testament was that justice should be fair and reasonably limited to the offense.
          But by the New Testament times, that phrase had become a sounding call for vengeance, not justice.  It was mistakenly viewed as permission to hurt when others hurt you.

          So in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus reminded people,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not struggle with an evil person. … You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?

          The ancient Roman philosopher, Seneca, once said “Revenge is an inhuman word.”

          And Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

          It is part of human nature to desire vengeance.  To desire to get even with those who do us wrong.

          But this is what made Joseph a man of faith – the strength to put aside his anger and to forgive and show compassion.