Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
It seems like a story of rivalry and struggle within a troubled family, but it turns out to be part of a larger story of God’s purposes for the world. God hasn’t been thwarted by the brothers, and Joseph isn’t the hero, because the hero is God. It’s wholly understandable to feel fearful before nuclear weapons, AIDS, climate change, and world poverty, but Joseph is able to look back on all the twists and turns of the plot, and say, ”you meant it for evil, God meant it for good.”
God doesn’t micro-manage our lives, but God’s purposes are amazingly resilient, not stumped by our plans. Not everything that happens in this world happens because God wants it that way, there are still too many murderous brothers and sisters to believe that, yet sometimes looking back the twists and turns of on our life it’s possible to see a pattern, as if there were an overriding purpose. As God means it to be so.
When we pray, “Your will be done,” it’s a declaration of what God is doing before it implies anything that we ought to do; it’s an earnest longing for God’s dealings with the world to appear in convincing clarity. The world is busy telling us stories that everything is in our hands, all of it is left up to us. These false stories can blind us to God at work in the world.
So much seems to be about getting what our hearts desire, encouraged constantly to consume, so we are never satisfied. As the Lord’s Prayer moves towards asking God for things, we begin by asking God that God’s will might appear to us in all of its terrible and wonderful distance from what we want. Like Joseph and his brothers, our lives are caught up in something bigger and better than our lives, which is the adventure of what God is doing in the world.
Teach me your ways, Lord: help me to see that it’s all about you and not about me. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is Minister of the Spire Church, Farnham, Elstead URC, and serves as Clerk of the General Assembly.
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