For the first five readings of Narrative Lectionary this year, we have chosen the theme “God’s Promises Bring Hope.” Noah found hope in God’s promise of life in the midst of flood and destruction. Sarai and Abram found hope in God’s blessing and promise for a new land and a new child. Next week, the Israelites will find hope in God’s promise of deliverance from the Egyptians. Finally, we will end with the people finding hope in God’s presence and promise on Mount Sinai.
This week, we read the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. Joseph carries with him the promises God made to his great-grandfather. Promises of blessings, promises of God’s presence.
Hope in the Darkness
It would have been quite natural for Joseph to think that God had abandoned him. After all, a few dreams he naïvely told his family about led to him being thrown into a cistern and sold into slavery far from home.
But, we have no indication in the biblical story that Joseph waivered in his faith in God’s promises. Throughout the cycle of good times and bad times, Joseph held onto a sense of God’s continued presence in his life. This faith led to hope. Nowhere is this faith in God’s presence best seen than in today’s story. Our masterful storyteller makes it very clear that “the LORD was with Joseph” (vv. 2, 3, 21, 23).
Hope or Success?
This is a beautiful story, but when our storyteller uses the phrase “the LORD was with Joseph,” it is when Joseph “found favor in the sight” of Potiphar or the jailer. And, “whatever [Joseph] did, the LORD made it prosper” (v. 3, 23). It seems here that God’s presence brings success. Is success a sign of God’s loving presence in our lives? There are many who would have you think so. But, that is not the God we encounter in Scripture. Yes, in this story God brought unlikely success through God’s presence. But, this is not the story of the everyman (or everywoman). The story of Joseph is part of the lead-up to the defining story of the Bible: God’s deliverance of the people out of Egyptian slavery through Moses. You can even see this in the defining story of the Christian faith, God’s deliverance of all people out of sin’s slavery through Jesus.
Yes, God’s presence in Joseph’s life brought success, but it also brought an attack by his brothers, enslavement, and imprisonment. Like in the whole story of Joseph, God’s presence does not necessarily bring any specific outcome. God is present in our suffering and in our joy, in our successes and in our failures. The circumstances change, but we can always trust in God’s promises, in God’s presence. Therein we can find hope.
Stories of Hope
Rarely are our lives as dramatic as those whose stories are in the Bible. However, God is no less present in our lives, no less a source of hope for us. Our free activity this week, “God Was with Me,” gives participants (whether kindergarteners or seniors or anyone in between) the opportunity to think of a time when they experienced God’s presence in some way and to share this with each other in an act of worship. This activity was written for our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd) curriculum but it could easily be done in an older or even cross+generational setting (such as worship) with very little adaptation.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
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For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!