Published by Michael Bigg on Sat, 19 Aug 2017 13:41

(Based on the readings Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 •  Romans 10:5-15  •  Matthew 14:22-33)

I don’t know about you, but I often find myself feeling morally compromised. As much as I’d love the right thing to be obvious and clear, it is often difficult to discern. A few months ago I heard with great sadness the struggles of a good Christian friend who, after many years of marriage to a wife whom he loved dearly, was no longer able to avoid the reality of being gay. He was torn between his desire to love his wife and honour his marriage vows on one hand, and the crushing reality that he was increasingly unable to live as he was living. Either way, nobody was going to win.

I’m sure than almost everyone here will have been touched and challenged by the tragically short life of Charlie Gard. His parents are certainly not alone in facing a situation in which the right thing to do is clouded by so many moral question marks. Nobody wins in these awful situations.


One thing I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t shy away from the moral complexities of life. With one notable exception, all of the great heroes of the Bible morally flawed. Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Peter, Paul. They all make mistake after predictable mistake; stupid decision after stupid decision.


The Joseph narrative is one of the undoubted highlights of Hebrew story-telling. There’s intrigue and a plot that gradually unfolds as the multi-dimensional characters interact. Is Joseph a great hero, or does part of us think he was a bit of a brat who needed teaching a lesson? (Unfortunately, the extract we heard this morning omits the section in which Joseph proudly announces his dreams to his brothers in which their sheaves of corn bow down to his.)

I’d like to focus on Reuben’s intervention in verses 21-22. You can picture the scene – the 11 brothers are looking after the flocks at Dothan. It’s a valley and they can see their brother approaching from a good way off. Joseph is not flavour of the month. First, he’s taken a bad report about his brothers to Jacob (v2), then they all bitterly resent him because their father makes no secret of Joseph being the favourite (v4), then he has these preposterously arrogant dreams that he’s naïve enough to tell everyone about. Nobody likes Joseph.

Genesis doesn’t record for posterity who suggests it first, but you can imagine one of the brothers saying, with a smile, “Hey, maybe we should just kill him and throw him down the cistern – so much for our sheaves of corn bowing to him!”

“Ha! Good one!” say the others.

“Yes”, says another brother, “we can tell the old man that a wild animal devoured him. We’re 60 miles away from home here, old Jacob will never find the body”.


Before you know it, some silly banter starts being taken seriously and a plan has emerged. There’s a consensus. Let’s do it. If we all stick to the story no-one will ever know what we did and then our dad might love us a bit more.

Suddenly, Reuben realises that this has all gone way too far, but he can’t just roll the whole thing back. His brothers are thirsty for revenge. What can he do? He’s the oldest brother! He knows that his father will ultimately hold him responsible if Joseph never returns. He’s still making it up to Jacob after the mess he made in Genesis 35:22 (look it up!)

So he offers a compromise to de-escalate. Throw him down the well instead. Rough him up a bit. Give him something to think about. But let’s spare his life.

It’s a messy moral compromise. He should probably use his status as eldest son to bring his brothers back into line and stop all the silly talk, but he doesn’t. He’s weak, but takes a small step to spare his brother’s life.

And how God uses it. How God uses that small, compromised step! From here, in God’s good time, Joseph is established in Egypt after slavery and imprisonment. Israel and his children come to Egypt with their begging bowls and find themselves honoured citizens in Joseph’s generosity.

From their arrival in Egypt, some 430 years later the foundational narrative of the Jewish people will happen as they are brought out of Egypt under Moses.


As Joseph says when reunited with his brothers in Genesis 45: “It was not you that sent me here, but God”. What the brothers intended for evil, God used for good. I think it’s very rare for God to actively inflict suffering on people, but a wonderful feature of God, seen time and again, is the ability to work evil for good in our lives.


Anyway, I bet that Reuben and his brothers had spent years experiencing guilt about what they’d done. There will have been times when they lay awake at night turning the events of that day over in their heads. I hope that, in the end, they were able to receive Joseph’s forgiveness.



I suspect that most of us here have had those sleepless, guilt-induced nights too. We’ve all done things that we cannot simply un do, and said things that cannot then be un-said. Through negligence, weakness or our own deliberate fault we have all made a mess of things. Even things that we think are the lesser of two evils can leave us with a nagging sense of guilt. I’d suggest that if anyone here has never lain awake at night troubled by your own actions (or inactions) then you’re either very lucky, very good, or haven’t really been paying attention to what’s going on around you.


But thanks be to God we aren’t just left to simmer in guilt and failure!

Centuries after Joseph, another highly favoured son would arrive on the scene. That son’s heart would be broken by his brothers; he would leave his home and his father, he would be sold for pieces of silver by someone close to him. He would be unjustly punished, though he had done no wrong.

However, God would use all that happened to his Son – even the bad things – to do something amazing. To bring forgiveness of sins to the whole world.


This is the Good News! Because of Jesus Christ all of us can know ourselves to be forgiven by God for even our darkest failings. All of us can be right with God and empowered by the Holy Spirit.


As forgiven people, we can start to have the strength to ask forgiveness from others and to forgive those who have sinned against us. As forgiven people, we can refuse to pass on our own bitterness, regret and envy to others. We can see God’s Kingdom come! Good news! Alleluia!


But we live in a world in which people don’t know this news. They haven’t heard that they don’t have to be defined by their worst moments. They haven’t been told that Jesus Christ has made a way to end the cycle of vengeance and retribution. They don’t know that they can call on the name of Jesus Christ and be saved.

How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”


I am sending you. No, God is sending you today and every day to be the beautiful feet of those who bring good news! Get out of the boat! God is longing to bring triumph out of tragedy and has commissioned you and me to bring this good news to the hurting and broken world around us.

Did you notice that Peter doesn’t just get straight out of the boat when he sees Jesus? He asks Jesus to tell him to come. I encourage you to pray the same prayer today. Lord Jesus, tell me to get out of the safety of my boat to bring your good news to others.


Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat is the first musical I ever loved. I think Tim Rice is amazing. At the end of the musical there’s a song that I’m sure is familiar to many of you. It ends like this…

May I return, to the beginning?

The light is dimming and the dream is too.

The world and I, we are still waiting.

Still hesitating.

Any dream will do.


Big finale. Joseph is inexplicably given another technicolour dreamcoat as if Jacob has learned nothing at all from the experience. The audience is on their feet. Not a dry eye in the house. Any dream will do!


But what utter bunk. Any dream will do? Tim Rice has catastrophically missed the point.

The Joseph story, the Christian story, is that at the final reckoning the only dream that will do is God’s dream of ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven people. Let us be those people today.

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