The story of Joseph is, well, the story of Joseph. And it is the story he wrote by living his life in the way he chose. It was not an easy story to tell, and certainly not an easy story to live. And this is relatable because we are all living our story—a story that we will one day tell.
Everything in life—no matter how big our how small—will eventually become a story within our story. Which means we need to constantly be asking, “What story do I want to tell?” Joseph, and how he lived his story, helps us to find the formula for living the story we want to be able to tell.
Joseph was a brother to eleven other brothers—twelve total sons to father Jacob. And out of the twelve, Joseph was the favorite—by far. So one day the eleven brothers decided they had had enough of their brother Joseph being the favorite, and out of jealousy, conspired to get rid of him. They asked each other, “Should we kill him, or just sell him?” They decided to sell him, and then lie to their father that Joseph was killed by a wild animal.
After being sold to some traveling merchants, Joseph finds himself sold again, this time to a man named Potiphar who was a Captain in the Pharaoh’s royal guard—he is a wealthy Egyptian, and Joseph is now his slave.
Understandably, as a slave, Joseph is in a place where he does not want to be. He is in a story he does not want to write. His situation is bad—but Joseph knows he still has choices. He could cry “woe is me”, and take on the role of a victim—which no one would blame him for. He could choose to give up. He could choose to turn his back on God. No one would blame him for doing that either. But Joseph chooses to do something else. He chooses to not play the role of the victim. He chooses to not give up, not turn his back on God. In fact, in this terribly difficult, unwanted place, in this terribly difficult unwanted part of his story, Joseph decides to do the best he can where he is.
Despite all the hardships, the obstacles, the injustice, the heartbreak, the bleak future, Joseph chooses to do the best he can, where he is. He chooses to remain faithful to God and to God’s ways. As a result, Joseph rises up in the ranks of slaves, to the point where he is in a place of influence and prestige with Potiphar—a place of wealth and status. And even though he is not free, he could be doing a lot worse.
Then one day, Joseph is put into a “lose-lose” situation. The wife of Potiphar wants to have “relations” with Joseph that are inappropriate. He rebuffs her and says no. But she persists—probably for a while. Eventually, it comes to a head and she falsely accuses him of doing what she wanted even though he didn’t do it. As a result, he is imprisoned.
Joseph didn’t get to decide what would happen to him. But he did get to decide how he would respond. He got to decide—would he betray the man who put him in charge of his house by lying with his wife, or would he decide to not betray him. He got to decide—would he give in to temptation, or would he not give in. He got to decide—would he take the easy road, or would he go the hard way?
Though Joseph was in a lose-lose place, though he was facing a bleak future, though he was not where he wanted to be—Joseph still knew he alone had choices he could make. And Joseph, in all those choices, chose to remain faithful to who God made him, and called him to be. Joseph, in all those choices, chose to live forth from his core values— not make excuses, not give into temptation—and write the story he would want to one day tell. And that is the formula we can take from this text. Joseph could have done a lot of different things—and no one would have faulted him for any of them, no matter how wrong they might have been. But Joseph chose to remain true to God and himself, and write the story he wanted to tell.
Over the past couple of months there has been a lot going on in my life personally. As a result, they have been a blur for me. My father’s passing a month ago feels like but a minute ago, yet also like a million years. And now, it’s just days until my daughter Violet starts kindergarten—a time that is hard to fathom has come, and admittedly leaves me trying very hard to not hyperventilate. So yeah, things have been a blur.
And there has been a lot going on in the life of the church—in particular the announced resignation of Cheryl and Ralph Lorenz, our church’s music directors for the past twenty years—who have ministered with their incredible gifts and talent and willingness to serve in ways that are truly astounding. But now they are leaving.
It all has left me feeling a bit untethered. And maybe it has left you feeling that way too—left you thinking: “What will happen?” “Who will take over?” It just won’t be the same.” It’s understandable to feel that way because it is the truth. A lot is changing, and a lot is never going to be the same again. Which is why, right now, we must ask ourselves… “What story do we want to tell?” We must ask ourselves, “What story do I want to tell?” Because here is the thing…
We are in a critical place in the life of our church, and the next part of the story of our church will be determined by how we move forward as a church, and as individuals who make up this church. We did not get to decide the place we are in. But we do get to decide how we will respond. Will we respond by stepping up? Or will we respond by stepping back? Will we respond with a determination to press forward? Or will we respond with excuses and reasons to withdraw? Will we respond with faithfulness and a willingness to honor all that has been done? Or will we respond with apathy, indifference, lethargy?
The Elders and myself have begun the work of filling the void that will soon be made when Ralph and Cheryl finish their ministry here at FCC Stow on September 3rd. Yes, we are behind, and that’s my fault—and I peg your pardon while asking you to consider that last couple of months I’ve had. However, we have met with Ralph and Cheryl, complied job duties, considered job descriptions, and have put out inquires to area contacts, organizations, and connections to our church. As a result, we have already collected names and resumes of potential candidates, and the Elders meet tomorrow evening, in a special meeting, to continue this work. This work may not be completed by September 3rd. If it is not, we will have a plan so that the music ministries of the church will continue on. But this work cannot be done by only a few. It must be done by each and every one of us.
This is not a time to step back—it is a time to step up. This is not a time to withdraw—it is a time to jump in more fully than ever before. This is not a time to make excuses—it is a time to make a faithful response. This is the time for us to write the story we want to tell.
Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador became an outspoken voice for the impoverished and persecuted people who were ruled by a military government. As a result of being such a voice, on March 24, 1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated as he was celebrating Mass. Among his legion of words that struck straight to the heart, Romero offers us this prayer and poem entitled, “A Future Not Our Own.”
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
But this is what we are about:
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
And what do prophets do? They tell the faithful story of God and God’s people.
This prayer and poem speaks of a future we do not yet know, but that we will have a role in nonetheless. And it reminds us that we can have a positive and faithful part in a future not our own—if we chose to. It reminds us we are writing our story—just like Joseph, like his brothers, even like Potiphar’s wife.
Joseph’s brothers wrote a story where they were liars. Potiphar’s wife wrote a story where she was unfaithful to her spouse. Do you think they wanted to tell that story? But Joseph lived his life making responses and choices that wrote a story he wanted to tell. A story of faithfulness to God and to God’s vision for the future.
We who make up FCC Stow, today, are facing a new future. One we cannot see. But God can see the future for us—and God has a faithful vision for our future. We simply need to partner with God and write it.
So may we seek to do the best we can, and be the prophets of a future not our own. May we choose to respond faithfully—as God would have us respond. And may we write the story we want to tell. Amen.