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Living in His Will
October 20, 1974

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

GENESIS 42:1-47:12

Joseph met his brothers after all those years. Imagine the surprise! Was he angry as he remembered how they had beat him, tossed him into a pit and then sold him to traders? Did he entertain any thought of getting even? Was Joseph astounded, mystified when he saw them bowing before him? They didn't recognize him. They had come to Egypt for food where someone had the foresight to store food in anticipation of a drought and famine. They came for food and bowed before the magistrate who was their unrecognized brother. Was Joseph astounded as he remembered the dreams in his early years of his brothers bowing before him?

Whatever his emotions, Joseph was most anxious to see his younger brother Benjamin who had stayed behind with their father Jacob. There are special places in hearts for younger brothers and Joseph had a warm spot for Benjamin. He arranged an ingenious scheme to get Benjamin to Egypt without revealing his identity. He tried a similar trick to get his father to Egypt by having Benjamin falsely arrested for stealing a gold cup. He wanted to hold Benjamin hostage while the brothers returned to get their father. But Joseph couldn't go through with the charade.

Our window today pictures the scene. The brothers are standing before Joseph. He reaches out to Benjamin. The brothers beg him not to keep Benjamin as hostage. "Our father cannot take the news,” they cried. They explained how emotional Jacob was when his son Joseph was killed by an animal, and now if he should lose Benjamin as well, he would surely die. Joseph could not hold back the tears. He wept and said, “I am your brother.'' Imagine how they must have felt! No doubt they had experienced guilt all those years for having harmed their brother and hurt their father. Now they had been bewildered by receiving food and their money back, perplexed as they were blackmailed into bringing Benjamin with them to Egypt, absolutely fraught as Benjamin had been framed as a thief, and now their brother Joseph stands before them alive as the second most powerful man in all Egypt. They must have stepped back a few paces with fear on their faces for Joseph immediately said, "Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here. God sent me before you to preserve life." That is what is written in our window. With his hand on Benjamin's shoulder, he said, "God sent me here to save you from the famine." Joseph forgave his brothers.  He wept, embraced and kissed each of them.

He was soon reunited with his father who then moved to Egypt with all the family. He saw enraptured joy on Jacob's face. What a reunion that must have been! Joseph was able to reap bounty from his experiences for Joseph was a man who hung in there, who kept his faith in God (as I mentioned in the previous window sermon). Joseph was also a man who lived in God's will; he saw God working in and through all that had happened to him. "God sent me,” he affirmed. Joseph lived in God's will for he was able to discern the work of God in his past. To live in God’s will means to accept the past, to affirm the present and to be open to the future.

First, accept the past. Accept the past as good. This seems like a simple statement, an obvious, easy thing to do, but not many people are able to do it. To accept the past, to see God at work in all that has happened to bring you to this day, it is not necessary to believe in predestination— a master plan somewhere which compels and directs you, overriding free choice. It is your choices, your free will, your decisions that have determined where you are today. As Christians we believe that God works for good in everything that happens. To accept the past as good means to see the hand of God at work in all that has happened, bringing good, bringing meaning, bringing you to this day even in the bad, even when you have been wronged and hurt.

Joseph forgave his brothers because he could see how God used that calamity to bring him to Egypt. He said to his brothers, "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good.”  God worked in the evil act of the brothers and made good happen from it. Therefore, standing in the present and looking to the past, it is incumbent upon us to accept the will of God. The past is good because God uses it to bring his will to fruition. Not everyone can forgive those who hurt them. Not everyone can accept their past. In my wife Eleanor's family, a brother and sister did not speak to each other in 30 years. The brother did attend the sister's funeral, however! In my family, an eldest son left home in anger and did not speak, write, or visit his father for the rest of his father's life, over 40 years!

To live in God's will means to see the hand of God at work even when wronged and hurt by others, and to accept these past events as good. This concept applies to your own personal mistakes, failures, sins. How many people are still kicking themselves for something foolish they did, or some opportunity they missed? "Why didn't I do that or why did I do that or if only.” The past is gone. Last year is over. Yesterday is past. It can never be changed. Yesterday cannot be lived over again. Accept it. Profit from the mistakes. Use what you have learned. Believe that God was at work and is still at work.

Secondly, to live in God’s will means to affirm the present as good. Can you actually believe that the will of God has been preparing you for today? I have a minister friend who told his present church that all his training, all his past experiences, all his previous churches had been preparing him for the present ministry which he is having in that church. That is really an exciting, astounding thought and true. All my past--training, churches, experience—has been preparing me for Manteca. For today, right now, is where I am and where I believe the Spirit wants me and is prepared to use me as much as I let him. And you, from the day you were born--all that you have been through are preparations for you to live this day. The hand of God has been at work bringing you to this day. Even when you chose against God, or you may have been set back, or you may not be as far along as you ought to be in being the kind of person God created and redeemed you to be, but here you are. Accept the past; accept those bad choices, affirm that you are here today and that your life is good. You are prepared for this day. God has something for you to do. Your talents, your ideas, your concerns, your aptitude is needed somewhere. God has led you to this day. What will you do with it?

To live in God's will means to accept the past as good, affirm the present as good, and to be open to the future with its possibilities; to face, to look into the future with anticipation. What will you do with today, with all that God has given you? Will you be free from past guilt, from present insecurity, feelings of inferiority and inadequacy? Will you be open to God’s Spirit that you may more readily follow his leading, doing something worthwhile with your time, talents and treasure? The future is open. You decide, you make the choices. When they are good, God will bless them. When they are wrong, God will work for good in and through them that his will may yet be done.

I don’t know if you can see or have noticed the additions to my robe. When I took the robe back to have the neck repaired, the seamstress and I decided the robe needed butterflies. The butterfly is a symbol of the resurrection, of the possibility for each of us to break out of our cocoons as God raises us to new life. Richard Cookson has written a poem, Butterflies are free! Only butterflies are free to fly beyond this place And explore the far world. Others must stay near the ground as long as they can only see their limited possibilities. 

But butterflies can be free from the routinesWhich bind people to timeAnd ordered lives fixed by schedules of predetermined directions and programmed plans. 

Butterflies are to be free

We still can learn to become more than we currently understand. Paul wrote,  1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared tor those who love him.” Isn't it good to be alive? Isn't it exciting to be in God's will? Accept your past as good. Affirm your present as good. Be open to the future. Be free to respond to God as he guides you in his will.

© 1974 Douglas I. Norris