‘[Jacob] loved Joseph more than any of his other sons and he made an ornate robe for him’ Genesis 37:3
Brothers and sisters, for the uninitiated having a conductor—or choir master—can seem like a waste of time. After all the people who are in the orchestra are often extremely talented and can play their instruments at a very high level. They know the music they’re playing back to front and have practiced it for many hours. I must admit when I was a kid I quite fancied the job of a conductor, after all I could wave my arms around and take a bow at the end. It was only when I got to St Michael’s High School and had a brief time in the choir that I realised that the conductor is absolutely crucial. Without the conductor the musicians or choristers would all start at slightly different times. The notes would all be slightly different lengths and without someone taking charge there is no guarantee you would get to the end of the piece—let alone the concert. Conductors have a lot of experience and skill which they use to turn talented individuals into a great orchestra. Orchestras and choirs have to trust the conductor and obey his commands if the concert is to be a success.
Today we pick up our studies in the Book of Genesis. Last year we began at the beginning with Genesis chapter 1 and we studied our way through the beginning of the first book of the bible. Through it all we noticed that the focus of Genesis was always on one character. That though the other characters—like Adam, Noah, Sarah, and Abraham—had great parts in the drama, really the whole book was about God. The various true stories all showed us something about the character of our Creator. And what we learned about Him was that from the very beginning our loving God had everything in hand. God created out of love and even when humanity turned away from Him God was—in His love—working out a plan to ensure that the story of the world ended in love. God called people to follow Him, and through those who listened God began creating a people to reach the whole world with His love. Oh sure God started small, in fact He started with just one man, and then He sent that one man off into the desert to learn God’s ways, to learn to listen to Him during the high notes, to learn to trust Him during the low notes. It was a rocky road—real life always is—and through the twists and turns God kept His loving plan on track. If you like, God is the invisible conductor, the one who can see the whole concert. Who knows the whole musical, ensures that the musicians stay on track, and that we will arrive successfully at the end of the performance. And the question we keep being asked—and which the real life characters kept being asked—is will they, will we, trust the Invisible Conductor? If they do, the motley crew of misfits which are God’s people, will—like the members of the reality hit programme ‘The Choir’—be turned by the Conductor into something which makes a beautiful sound. That is where we left off last year…with the musical just getting started.
God’s plan has just got started, and He is working through one family, and ensuring that the blessing gets passed from father to son. Abraham passed it to Isaac… and that is as far as we got. Now, in the time BETWEEN Genesis 22—where we left off—and Genesis 37—where we are today—Abraham has died and Isaac has married had two boys Esau and Jacob, and Isaac has also died. Now the blessing is being passed through Jacob’s line. Jacob had had all sorts of adventures, but now he has settled down and had twelve sons. However, there is no family harmony here, verse 2:
‘Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers […] and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel [another name for Jacob] loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him’.
If you’ve read from Genesis 1 you know that the characters are just as messed up as we are…because, well, they are real people. The book of Genesis—and the bible in general—is not a fairy story or a comic strip; it portrays real people who are cowardly and brave, hateful and loving, faithless and faithful; who come across as real human beings, because, in fact, they were. It seems God doesn’t use perfect super-humans to fulfil his plan…which is good news for us, because we’re not perfect super-humans. God, it turns out, uses people like you and me, and here they are warts and all. Verse 5:
‘Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream I had: we were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it.’
Now, frankly if you had any sense, or an ounce of love for your brothers you wouldn’t tell them that you had dreamt that you—their little brother—would be master over them. It is never going to go well, and it doesn’t: we’re told that his brothers are jealous of him, and hate him, and we’re not surprised. Even Joseph’s father, thinks the apple-of-his-eye has gone too far when mum and dad are bowing down in the next dream. This is one messed up family, and this is the material which God has chosen to use to save and bless the world. Now, even though the Lord’s name isn’t mentioned in the passage that doesn’t mean that He is not active. Throughout the story of Joseph, God is visible primarily through His acts of providence to bring about His plan in the lives of each of the characters. God is truly the invisible conductor. Here, in today’s passage, God is most visible in sending Joseph the dreams. And it is a dream that God’s blessing will pass to Joseph, that after Jacob, he will be the one whom God will work. What was God thinking? Why throw a lit match into this powder keg of family dysfunction? God knew the outcome before any of the family acted. God sees the whole story from beginning to end, before any of it happens. God knew exactly how Joseph would respond to the dreams, as well as exactly how Jacob and the brothers would respond. None of the circumstances of their lives were outside God’s sovereign control for a microsecond. As we will see over the next few weeks God knew how to use every scrap of pain, suffering, and dysfunction to shape the individual members of this family into something noble and great, and so accomplish His plan to save and bless the world. God did not create the sinful reactions but He did use them to help the individuals concerned to become the people God called them to be. Here is the great hope which our passage teaches us this morning. Like Joseph we don’t choose the circumstances of our lives, we don’t choose our families, or the life events which we go through. To be honest if we could see how things would pan out lots of us would make very different ones choices. We marry people who it seems are wrong for us; we have children who compared to our friends children seem like little devils; we get sucked into careers which make us unhappy; and we loose friends we thought would be with us forever. Our lives are just like the lives of those in the bible, just like Jacob and his family, and so how God responds to them, should give tremendous hope to us.
In our own lives, we quickly assume that whatever terrible things take place, whatever relationships tragically fall apart, or traumatic sin ruins our happiness, that then God must surely be absent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Certainly God hates sin; He neither causes it not condones it. We are responsible for what we do, and we cannot and should not attempt to pass the buck. As with the biblical families—you might have noticed—Christians do not live in some protective bubble where only good happens all the time. Christians too are impacted by conflict, abuse, divorce, and broken families. God works in and through these trying and difficult times. God the invisible conductor hears the bad notes and sees the poor performances we all make, and He uses them to form us into the people He would have us be. Perhaps you’re going through hell right now. Perhaps you look at your life and you wonder what went wrong. Perhaps you look at your life and you know what went wrong and feel terrible for the mistakes you made. It is easy in the dark times to imagine that God has left us, and has lost control and so we lose hope. Do not listen to that lie! The story of Joseph—and our passage this morning—reminds us that it is in moments such as these—as much as any other—God is with us, and if we will let Him, He will guide us to safety and in the process transform us, bit by bit into the person He longs for us to be. Through it all, through all of Joseph’s ups and downs—through all of our ups and downs—God keeps His plan on track—to bless and save the world—and keeps his refrain of hope sounding, for all who would but listen. This morning we begin another journey in God’s Word and we are reminded that if we trust the Invisible Conductor He will see us safely home. Amen. (from Fr Mike).