The Life and Work of Our Church
Please remember in your prayers this week all those named in our prayer jar. Please also remember the people of Beirut and Lebanon.
Birthday celebration – August 14 Millie Francis
We are hoping to put together a newsletter for the beginning of September this year. With all the changes that have happened since March, we want to start the fall with some energy and ideas. If you are the chair of a committee, think about what you hope you will be able to accomplish over the next few months and share your vision and dreams! If you have an idea of something you would like to see happen, submit a suggestion for the newsletter and see if anyone else shares your interest and would be willing to help. If you have an inspiring story of how you or someone you know has been managing throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, tell us about it. Please have your submissions into Shelley by August 18th.
Lighting the Christ Candle
As we light our Christ Candle this morning, let us remember that its light is not to one space or one gathering. The light of Christ is with us everywhere. So as we light our candle this morning, let us remember that we have been called and challenged to not only recognize Christ’s light wherever it shines but to take that light out with us wherever we go.
Acknowledgment of Territory
Wherever we are in this wonderful province of Nova Scotia, we are reminded that we still gather on lands that are, by law, the unseeded territories of the Mi’kmaq people. We gratefully and respectfully acknowledge this. We also respectfully honour their traditions and spirituality along with the spirituality and traditions of the Métis people with whom we also share this land.
Call to Worship
Here, in this place, all are welcome: the dreamers, as well as the doubters.
Here, in this place, all are welcome: the hesitant and the daring.
Here, in this place, all are welcome: the worriers and wanderers.
Here, in this place, all are welcome, welcome to dream, to doubt, to seek comfort, to risk the unknown, to question or to sit in quiet awe.
Here, in this place, all are welcome to come together in worship.
Let us pray;
There are times, Divine One when we all feel like our lives have been turned upside down. We struggle to understand why. There are times when life takes unexpected turns and all our carefully laid plans and dreams come to nothing. We struggle to know where to turn next. There are times when hen we feel betrayed and alone. We struggle to hold on to hope. Grant us patience to wait. Open our eyes to recognize Your leading in our lives—to listen for Your gentle whisper when we least expect it. And give us the courage to step out in faith, trusting in Your leading even when we cannot yet see the outcome. Amen.
Theme Conversation/Current Events
Today we are going to begin looking at the story of Joseph. There is so much in this story but unfortunately, we will only be touching on two parts of that story. This week we talk about how Joseph ended up becoming a slave in Egypt and next week we will talk about his reunion with his family. One of the parts of the story that we don’t tend to spend a lot of time talking about is Joseph’s time in prison.
I want to share with you this morning a story that comes from the writings of Corrie Tem Boon, who spent a number of years in a Nazi prison camp during the Second World War.
The barracks where the prisoners were held were dirty and crowded and the guards absolutely refused to come in. The wooden bunk beds were covered with straw rather than mattresses it was scratchy and itchy and full of fleas. But because the guards refuse to enter, Corrie Tem Boon was able to start holding a time of prayer and Bible Study each evening with some of her fellow inmates.
Eventually, she learned that the reason the guards refused to enter the barracks was that they were afraid of picking up fleas and taking them home to their families. That night when the group met for prayer, Corrie Tem Boon offers a simple 5-word prayer … “Thank you, God, for fleas!”
Sometimes what seems like a curse can turn into a blessing!
Our scripture reading this morning takes another huge jump forward in the story of our faith ancestors as it is found in the book of Genesis. Today we read about Jacob’s favorite son Joseph. The story of Joseph fills 12 of the last 15 chapters of Genesis. But between the reunion of Esau and Jacob and the stories of Joseph, several things happened. First is the story of the rape of Dinah. Shechem, the son of Haran, who was the chief of the region where Jacob and his family had settled, saw and fell in love with Dinah and he had sexual relations with her. Haran came to Jacob to agree on a bride price so that Shechem could marry Dinah. Although an agreement was eventually reached between the two, Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers refused to allow Dinah to marry an outsider so they snuck into the village during the night, killed every male adult in the town and took Dinah back. Jacob and his family flee to Bethel, then to Ephrath, and finally settle in Mamre, near Hebron where he and Esau bury their father Isaac. Along the way Rachel died in childbirth, giving Jacob his last son Benjamin. There is also a story during this time of Reuben, Jacob’s oldest son, had sexual intercourse with Bilhah, one of his father’s concubines. And so it is here, after Jacob finally settling on the land of his father that the story of Joseph begins. Jacob lavished all his love and attention on Joseph, the son of his beloved Rachel even presenting him with a magnificent cloak that was far more lavish than anything he offered his other sons. Resentment builds among Joseph’s brothers and is complicated when Joseph begins to have extraordinary dreams which seem to point to his brothers bowing down to him. Finally, in frustration, his brothers take matters into their own hands and sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. We being our reading with that story this morning, but we continue with a second part of the story.
Joseph was sold to Potiphar, an influential commander in the king’s forces. As a slave, Joseph quickly rises through the ranks and becomes the manager of Potiphar’s estate. But Potiphar’s wife takes a fancy to Joseph and when Joseph refuses her advances, she accuses him of rape. Joseph is thrown in jail and again he raises quickly to a position of authority. While there he encounters two other prisoners who have experienced strange dreams. Joseph interprets those dreams which both come true. Sometime later, when Pharaoh himself has strange dreams, one of the two former prisoners remembers how Joseph interpreted his dream, and Joseph is brought before Pharaoh. This is where we will pick up the second half of our story for this morning.
Genesis 37:12-13, 18-36
One day when Joseph’s brothers had gone to Shechem to take care of their father’s flock, Jacob said to Joseph, “I want you to go to Shechem, where your brothers are taking care of the flock.”
They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted against him and decided to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer. Come on now, let’s kill him and throw his body into one of the dry wells. We can say that a wild animal killed him. Then we will see what becomes of his dreams.”
Reuben heard them and tried to save Joseph. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Just throw him into this well in the wilderness, but don’t hurt him.” He said this, planning to save him from them and send him back to his father.
When Joseph came up to his brothers, they ripped off his long robe with full sleeves. Then they took him and threw him into the well, which was dry. While they were eating, they suddenly saw a group of Ishmaelites traveling from Gilead to Egypt. Their camels were loaded with spices and resins. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother and covering up the murder? Let’s sell him to these Ishmaelites. Then we won’t have to hurt him after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed, and when some Midianite traders came by, the brothers pulled Joseph out of the well and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
When Reuben came back to the well and found that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes in sorrow. He returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is not there! What am I going to do?”
Then they killed a goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood. They took the robe to their father and said, “We found this. Does it belong to your son?”
He recognized it and said, “Yes, it is his! Some wild animal has killed him. My son Joseph has been torn to pieces!” Jacob tore his clothes in sorrow and put on sackcloth. He mourned for his son for a long time. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “I will go down to the world of the dead still mourning for my son.” So he continued to mourn for his son Joseph.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, the Midianites had sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of the king’s officers, who was the captain of the palace guard.
Genesis 41:1-16, 25-40
After two years had passed, the king of Egypt dreamed that he was standing by the Nile River, when seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the river and began to feed on the grass. Then seven other cows came up; they were thin and bony. They came and stood by the other cows on the riverbank, and the thin cows ate up the fat cows. Then the king woke up. He fell asleep again and had another dream. Seven heads of grain, full and ripe, were growing on one stalk. Then seven other heads of grain sprouted, thin and scorched by the desert wind, and the thin heads of grain swallowed the full ones. The king woke up and realized that he had been dreaming. In the morning he was worried, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. He told them his dreams, but no one could explain them to him.
Then the wine steward said to the king, “I must confess today that I have done wrong. You were angry with the chief baker and me, and you put us in prison in the house of the captain of the guard. One night each of us had a dream, and the dreams had different meanings. A young Hebrew was there with us, a slave of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us. Things turned out just as he said: you restored me to my position, but you executed the baker.”
The king sent for Joseph, and he was immediately brought from the prison. After he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came into the king’s presence. The king said to him, “I have had a dream, and no one can explain it. I have been told that you can interpret dreams.”
Joseph answered, “I cannot, Your Majesty, but God will give a favorable interpretation.”
Joseph said to the king, “The two dreams mean the same thing; God has told you what he is going to do. The seven fat cows are seven years, and the seven full heads of grain are also seven years; they have the same meaning. The seven thin cows which came up later and the seven thin heads of grain scorched by the desert wind are seven years of famine. It is just as I told you—God has shown you what he is going to do. There will be seven years of great plenty in all the land of Egypt. After that, there will be seven years of famine, and all the good years will be forgotten because the famine will ruin the country. The time of plenty will be entirely forgotten because the famine which follows will be so terrible. The repetition of your dream means that the matter is fixed by God and that he will make it happen in the near future.
“Now you should choose some man with wisdom and insight and put him in charge of the country. You must also appoint other officials and take a fifth of the crops during the seven years of plenty. Order them to collect all the food during the good years that are coming, and give them authority to store up grain in the cities and guard it. The food will be a reserve supply for the country during the seven years of famine which are going to come on Egypt. In this way, the people will not starve.”
The king and his officials approved this plan, and he said to them, “We will never find a better man than Joseph, a man who has God’s spirit in him.” The king said to Joseph, “God has shown you all this, so it is obvious that you have greater wisdom and insight than anyone else. I will put you in charge of my country, and all my people will obey your orders. Your authority will be second only to mine.
So how many of you remember seeing the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat? The story basically covers what we will hear in scripture for the next two weeks but it is, of course, a very abridged version of the life of Joseph and certainly takes some liberties with the biblical story, but it does give an overview of the life of Joseph, up to the point where he brings his family to Egypt.
As with all the stories we find in the Bible, there is a great deal beneath the surface that we don’t often explore. We do not know how old Joseph was when his family returned to Canaan. We know that according to the story, he was born either near the end of the 14 years that Jacob served Laban in order to marry Rachel, or sometime early in the following 6 years when Jacob continues to work for Laban. This would mean that Joseph was still a young child when his family moved to Canaan.
The next time we hear about Joseph he is 17 years old, but a number of things happened in the intervening years. During this time that Benjamin, Joseph only full blood brother is born and his mother Rachel dies. Both of these events must have had a great impact on Joseph but we can only speculate about that.
What we are told is that by the time Joseph 17 he was clearly treated very differently from his older brothers. Jacob even gifted him with a lavish coat, symbolizing that favoritism. This would have been enough for his brothers to resent him, but we are also told that “He brought bad reports to his father about what his brothers were doing.” Turns out Joseph was a bit of a tattletale!
All this seems to come to a head when Joseph began to have extraordinary dreams. He saw his brothers, symbolized first by sheaths of wheat and then by stars, bowing down before him. For his brothers, this was the last straw. So one day when Joseph is sent by his father to check up on his brothers, the brothers decide to kill Joseph and they throw him into a dry well where they intend to leave him to die. But while they are eating lunch a group of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt just happen to come by and the brothers decide to avoid the messiness of murder by selling Joseph into slavery instead. And that is how Joseph, son of Jacob, ended up in Egypt.
For the most part, despite being a slave, Joseph’s time in Egypt was not as terrible as you might imagine. Because he quickly rose to the position of manager of Potiphar’s estate he would probably have lived in relative comfort and would have had considerable freedom.
Then Joseph’s situation changes when he is thrown into prison. It is actually rather astonishing that Joseph was imprisoned rather than being executed which would have been the normal sentence for having physical relations with his master’s wife regardless of whether it was consensual or not. In fact, prison sentences, in general, were very rare. Convictions that did not carry a death sentence usually resulted in either a fine, public flogging, or possibly even the loss of a limb. The fact that Joseph was sentenced to prison may indicate that Potiphar did not completely believe his wife’s accusations. Regardless, Joseph is thrown in jail where he once again raises to a position of authority.
Although the reason is not stated it is very possible that the reason for his rapid promotion both in jail and in Potiphar’s house was his literacy. Although it would have been unusual for someone with Joseph’s background to be literate, the fact that Jacob favored Joseph so strongly and that it is clear that Joseph was not required to work in the fields tending the flocks, may indicate that he had received the advanced education that his brothers would have been denied. If this is the case, his rapid rise to the position of authority would make sense.
Regardless, his time in prison, although perhaps not as terrible as we might think, would still have been very difficult. Prison sentenced did not come with a specific term and would only end when the prisoners were freed by the person who put him there or when he was executed. This is what happened to the cupbearer and the baker, whose dreams Joseph had correctly interpreted, one of whom was executed and one of who what set free.
We are told that it was 2 full years after this incident before the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph and told the Pharaoh about him. Joseph is taken from prison, cleaned up, and presented to the Pharaoh. Joseph correctly interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams and once again rose to a position of power, this time second only to the Pharaoh himself.
Now we know the rest of the story. Joseph goes on to save all of Egypt from a devastation famine and eventually brings his family to join him in Egypt, saving all their lives as well.
We are also told that later on, Joseph himself tells his brothers that they are not responsible for sending him into slavery but rather that they were simply fulfilling their part in God’s plan. According to this understanding, it was God and not the brothers who wanted Joseph to become a slave. It was God, not Potiphar’s wife who decided that Joseph should end up in prison where he could encounter the cupbearer and the baker. And it was God, whose eventual plan in all of this was that the Israelite people should end up as slaves in Egypt.
There are many people, myself included, who struggle with the concept of an all-powerful and all-knowing God who would choose to inflict pain, suffering, and slavery on innocent people in order to fulfill some great cosmic plan. This image challenges not only our concept to a kind and loving God but also our concept of free will, the idea that we are not simply puppets whose strings are controlled by a supernatural being.
But if we do not see the story of Joseph as something that was all planned in advance, where does that lead us? What if we question the idea that God is the instigator of everything that happened to Joseph? Does the God we believe in not only condone but plan for slavery? Does God approve the kind of hatred that would cause brothers to want to kill each other or for that matter the kind of parental favoritism that sparks such hatred? If we do not believe this, how do we find God in the midst of a story with so much injustice and suffering?
For me, the answer to these questions lies not in what happened to Joseph but in how he responded.
When Joseph was sold into slavery he had a choice of how he would react. He could choose to focus on the hurt and betrayal he had suffered and do nothing. In that case, he would have made a very poor slave and would likely have spent the rest of his life being miserable. Instead, he simply did the best he could in a very difficult situation trusting that the God he worshipped would be there to help guide and protect him.
When he was accused by Potiphar’s wife he could have become angry and resentful, protesting his innocence and refusing to cooperate with his jailers. When asked to interpret dreams for other he could have refused. After all, wasn’t it his dreams that had gotten him into trouble with his brothers in the first place?
Instead, Joseph chose to do the best he could in very difficult circumstances. He chose to find opportunities to help others even when those others were his owners, his jailers, or his fellow prisoners. Despite everything, Joseph never stopped believing that the God he worshiped would somehow bring about some good from what was happening.
For me, that is the key. I don’t believe that God makes horrible things happen to people in order to test them or in order to fulfill some cosmic plan which we cannot understand. I do not believe that God makes bad things happen in order to bring about good. But I do believe that if we are willing to do the best we can in life and follow where we feel we are being led, then the Divine Presence that I call God, can bring about some good from even the worst situation.
That is what Joseph did, and for me, that is why he is a powerful example of faithfulness and trust. Joseph continued to do the very best he could no matter what the situation. Regardless of how difficult, how depressing, how hateful, how unjust, or how hopeless a situation appeared, Joseph refused to give in. I’m sure it wasn’t easy and I’m sure there were times he felt like giving up. So many horrible things happened to him, yet somehow Joseph held on to his hope, his dignity, and his faith.
I don’t know if I would have managed as well in those circumstances. I don’t know if I could have avoided giving in to hopelessness and despair in the face of the pain and betrayal that Joseph endured. But I do believe, that in my own life I am challenged to hold on to my own hope, dignity, and faith in whatever situations may come my way. I know there are times I don’t do it very well, but in those times when I am able to hold tightly to my faith, it is much easier to hold on to hope and to act with faith, dignity, and grace.
The Gift of Music
Prayer of Blessing (Gifts and Prayer Jar)
Let us take a moment of silence to remember all the gifts that have blessed and enriched our lives. Let us think about how we can use those gifts, the gifts of our time, our talents, and our treasures to enrich the lives of others …
Let us offer our thanks for these gifts;
Divine One, for all that we have, for all that we are, for all the wonder and love that surrounds us each day, we offer our thanks. We ask your blessing on the gifts we have been given and upon the gifts, we offer in return. Amen.
And let us take a moment now to offer our silent prayers for all those named in our prayer jar and all those in our thoughts, our minds, and our hearts … Amen.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of Gratitude and Concern
Divine Mystery, we do not understand why things sometimes happen the way they do. We do not understand why some people seem to have nothing but good things happen to them while others seem to constantly suffer. We don’t understand why good people are forced to deal with horrible situations while others, who seem to think only of themselves and cause unending pain and hardship for others, seem to get away with anything. There are times when we can feel frustrated, angry, and overwhelmed by the injustices that seem to abound in our world. But when we focus on these things, we can lose sight of the hope and promise of our faith. It is in the difficult and trying times of life, Divine One that we most need to hold on to your promise of love and care.
When we are feeling most vulnerable, be with us …
When those around us suffer, help us to support and care for them …
When injustice and hatred seem to overcome what is right, give us the courage to stand up and speak out …
When the world seems to be turned upside down by war … by disaster, natural or man-made … by illness and disease … by hate and prejudice … by situations beyond our control or understanding, remind us that we may not be able to fix everything. But what we can do is to hold on to your promises, to trust in your love and believe that even in the worst of situations, you can bring about new hope, new assurances, and new possibilities.
We offer our prayers in faith and hope, trusting in your love. Amen.
The Gift of Music
It can be kind of scary when we think about all the things that could happen to us when we leave here and go back out into the world. But it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be because we have faith wherever we go we are not alone. The God we worship accompanies us. The Christ we follow leads us. The Spirit we embrace continues to walk with us. So don’t be afraid. Go with God!