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09.12.10 When Life Forgets Us, Genesis 37, 40 Sermon Summary

by on September 16, 2010

When life has forgotten us:

  • Remember the “third day”
  • Remember your dreams
  • Remember your Redeemer
  • Questions for further reflection
  • Talking points for discussing these passages with children (helpful for adults also!)

Joseph was the second youngest son of Jacob, also known as Israel. His older brothers were jealous of him because Jacob favored him above everyone else. So the brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Later, while a slave in a household, Joseph was falsely accused and unjustly imprisoned, where he was left to languish.

Sometimes it feels like life has forgotten us. The words of Job 3:20-26 accurately reflect this feeling: “Why is light given to one in misery, and life to the bitter in soul,21 who long for death, but it does not come, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures; 22who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they find the grave?23 Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced in?24 For my sighing comes like* my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water.25 Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.26 I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest; but trouble comes.”

Job’s words could have been Joseph’s thoughts after the Cupbearer forgets Joseph. The Cupbearer was supposed to advocate for Joseph before Pharaoh, but instead he forgets and Joseph remained in prison. But timing is everything. The Cupbearer remembered Joseph at the most strategic time for the narrative—when Pharaoh needed a dream interpreter like Joseph. When life forgets us, we have to be patient with God’s timing.

Some things are better left “forgotten” until life brings them around again. We can force issues prematurely when we hurry. We can even create anxiety or make mistakes if we push too hard to “remember” some things. This is the message of the “third day” in passages like this one. The third day says: Things are tough today, have hope for tomorrow, but if things are tough tomorrow, have hope for the third day. This message and such hope are best symbolized by the biblical testimony that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the third day. God calls us to wait faithfully for the third day when life has forgotten us.

When life forgets us, we must not forget our dreams. Joseph had dreams as a young man, then life forgot him in prison. But he remembered his dreams, as incongruous as they were with his reality, and he had to become an interpreter of dreams. The Bible takes dreams seriously. Joseph had dreams. So did his dad Jacob. One night Jacob dreamed about a ladder reaching heaven, and awoke aware of God’s presence. Joseph the father of Jesus also had dreams that, taken seriously, spared Jesus’ life and positioned him for his ministry. Dreams are to be taken seriously because, as Joseph told the Cupbearer, their interpretations “belong to God” (40:8).

God knows about dreams. God had a dream. And to realize that dream God created all that is. When the dream was threatened by disorder and chaos, God sent Jesus to reconcile all things once again. From that intervention to the final reconciliation, the Holy Spirit is working out the redemption of God’s dream. (Some of you will recognize this perspective as that of the greatest 20th century theologian, Karl Barth.)

God also has a dream regarding each of us. You may replace “dream” with “vision,” or if you want to be theological about it, “vocation.” God is working in each of our lives, creatively, reconciling all that is wayward in our lives, redeeming all the time we feel forgotten by life. But like Joseph, we must remember our dreams, and look to God for how to interpret them.

Job had a vision which sustained him through the time he felt forgotten by life. He said in 19:25-27: “2I know that my Redeemer* lives, and that at the last he* will stand upon the earth;*26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in* my flesh I shall see God,*27 whom I shall see on my side,* and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

To paraphrase: I will endure this God-forsakenness because I know in faith I will be redeemed. At the end of the day, after whatever terrible things happen to me, I will see my Redeemer victorious over all the earth. I myself will be the one to see him—it will not be hearsay—despite the fact that now my heart withers in abandonment.”

When life forgets us, and we are left in the “second day,” the story of Joseph reminds us to wait patiently and faithfully for the third day when our redeemer realizes God’s dream, and we will be delivered from death to life.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • If you are in a “forgotten” place, which day are you in? Day one may be a time of confusion. There may be no hope at all, or there may be hope for day two. Day two is a place of spiritual fatigue and even despair, as one realizes that redemption is yet to come. Day three is the day of your redemption.
  • Do you know what your role is in God’s dream? Do you know your calling? It is conviction of call, that is remembering our place in the dream, that makes it possible to endure the second day. Listen to your life, and discern your dream.

Talking Points for Discussions with Children

  • Why did Joseph’s brothers want to get rid of him? There are two reasons; jealousy and pride. Small children may have a hard time understanding these concepts, so try to repackage them into their language and experience.
  • Everyone experiences jealousy, which is wishing we had something someone else has. The problem comes when we value the thing more than the person. God is more interested in people than in things, which is why Jesus tells us to give our things away to people who are in need. One way we can help our children to manage jealousy is to make a habit of giving things away.
  • Everyone also experiences pride, which is a positive feeling of ownership for what you are, have, and do. This is why we say we are proud of our children. Some Christians avoid a misunderstood notion of pride and fail to live up to what God has gifted them to be, have, and do. Joseph’s brothers had pride in themselves, but did not appreciate what Joseph could be proud about. Their pride didn’t allow them to celebrate Joseph’s unique calling. We can help our children have a healthy sense of pride by valuing them and helping them find value in the diversity of other people.
  • What did Joseph do in prison (chapter 40) that helped him later on? One of the greatest lessons about Joseph was that he chose to serve people wherever he was. Even when he was unfairly imprisoned, he served his fellow prisoners. It was characteristic of Joseph that he served others, and by doing so, he was given better opportunities. As you read this story with children, help them see this dynamic at work, and remind them when they are down that they can still choose to help others and that God can use that to help your children back up.
  • Did you know that God dreams about you? What kinds of things do you think God dreams about? Kids have dreams, and they have nightmares. I never say, “It’s only a nightmare” when my kids wake up upset. I say, “The nightmare is over now.” The difference? I want my kids to honor their dreams, visions, concerns, and fears, and not to dismiss them. But they need to be put in context, and that context, according to the Bible, is what God dreams for us. So listen to your kids’ dreams and nightmares, and use them to talk also about God’s dream of a just society, of peaceful relations, of spiritual shalom, of a community of faith.
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