Joseph said to them: “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people as he is doing today.” (Gen. 50:20)
In 1972, my parents packed up the whole family and we moved to London, England, for a year. My father was on a sabbatical taking special studies at the University of London, so he brought the whole family along. We rented a house, registered for school and this small-town family became city-dwellers for a whole year. It was great. We learned to ride the Tube and hop the buses throughout the city.
One of the things we took advantage of that year was London’s live theatre.
We saw Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Hair – the Musical, but my favorite show of all was Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The show premiered in London that year and since Andrew Lloyd Webber was not a household name yet, it was easy to get tickets.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat - what a long and curious title! Back in 1972 the word, “technicolor” was a relatively new word, which gave the hint that this would be a contemporary look at Joseph. It was and I loved the show because it was fun and fast-paced with catchy music... but most of all I loved it because I could relate to Joseph. He was a lot like me - young and full of dreams and looking forward to the future with optimism and expectation.
Andrew Lloyd Webber did a splendid job of re-telling the biblical story of Joseph... his is a witty and insightful interpretation. But I have one beef with it - Webber doesn’t let the biblical narrative get the final word... he steals the story’s conclusion and gives it his own. For Webber, this is the story of a small-town boy from humble beginnings who makes the big time in Egypt. The moral of the story according to him is that the American dream is real... in the words of one of the songs: “Anyone from anywhere can make it if they get a lucky break.”
That’s a slick and popular message and it sells well today, but it’s not the biblical conclusion at all. The writer of Genesis is not telling a personal success story... he’s telling us how God used Joseph and his gift of interpreting dreams to preserve the people of God (Israel). God works through the faithfulness of this one person to save Joseph’s family from a 7-year drought. So, the theme isn’t really about success, but stewardship... and if you read the biblical story right to the end, there’s no missing it.
That’s what we’ve done today – today’s OT passage is taken from the final verses of the book of Genesis. In the final scene, Joseph takes center stage along with all seven of his brothers... the very ones who sold him into slavery years earlier. Joseph’s father, Jacob, is not there because he died recently and that’s why the brothers have come... you see, now that dad is gone, they are all nervous that Joseph is going to take revenge on them. It’s payback time!
So, they go to Joseph with yet another concocted story: they say: “You know, Joseph, when dad died, the very last thing he said was, ‘Tell Joseph to please forgive his brothers for their sins against him. Tell him not to harm my boys.’”
When Joseph hears this, he begins to weep - because his brothers still don’t get it. They still don’t understand what God has done through Joseph’s life for them and for the future nation of Israel. So, he brings them close and hugs them saying, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good. In order to preserve a numerous people as he is doing today.”
Joseph explains to them that God has used his life to save their lives and thus preserved Israel’s future. He assures them that he no longer sees himself as the little brother wronged by his older brothers... he now realizes that he is an instrument of God. God has used him for the greater good of the community. And isn’t that the definition of a steward? One whose life is used for the purposes of God?
Douglas John Hall claims that stewards are at the opposite end of the spectrum from power-mongers. He says:
“The way of stewardship is distinguished markedly from the way of power in this respect. Stewards know themselves to be participants in the general condition of the human race... Stewards serve others. The powerful use others and think they are to be served by the others.’
So, this last scene in the story of Joseph is vital to the whole story. It underlines the importance of all of us to live our lives as stewards... to see our lives as much more than a personal story, but as part of the greater story that God is unfolding. We are stewards when we live not just for ourselves but for the good of the corporate whole. We are stewards when our theme song is not, “I did it my way,” but “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord to Thee.” Which song are you singing?
I have long admired the life of Mother Teresa... this little Polish woman who probably weighed no more than 100 pounds soaking wet. She joined a Catholic order and asked to be sent to Calcutta, India.
“Why do you want to go to India?” they asked her.
“I feel called to work among the poor people in the streets of Calcutta.”
“Well, we don’t have a mission for you to work in there,” they replied.
“Then I’ll start one,” she replied.
And so off she went with hardly any resources at all, and she began to care for the sick and needy in that city. And over the years that mission grew and became a blessing to India and an inspiration to the world. A saint is what they called her, though she resisted that title because saints are put up on a pedestal and people don’t feel they can compare themselves to a saint. Saints are safe. You can admire them from a distance without being challenged to be like them. She preferred just to be a faithful steward and as such her life is plenty challenging to all of us.
You see, we’ve come to believe that only owners can give. Bill Gates can give lots because he owns much... he owns Microsoft and that makes him one of the wealthiest people in the world. So, we say, “Oh, if I only had as much money as Bill Gates I’d be a good giver... I could be a steward if I had his money! Tell you what, if I ever win the lottery I promise you, I’ll give plenty.”
Mother Teresa flies in the face of that sort of thinking... because she had nothing. She died and left behind just three things – her bed, her bible, a change of clothes. Nothing – yet she gave generously every day to others! Now where did she learn that you can give without owning? I think you know... Jesus didn’t have much either, did he? Yet look how he gave!
The importance of ownership is over-inflated in our nation today. Maybe it’s always been so. When the white man came to America they told the natives that they wanted to buy their land. They didn’t understand ownership – they didn’t see themselves as owners of the land – it was free for everyone to use... but money was exchanged anyway and fences set up with private property signs and the natives were corralled onto tiny reserves. Then we built malls and introduced online shopping and ownership was touted as the way to have identity. You are what you drive. You are what you wear. Ownership became the goal of the game of life.
Douglas John Hall claims that ownership is one of the more pathetic illusions of fallen human beings... “If we are serious about being stewards, we shall have to question every claim to ownership – our own as well as that of others. The way of the steward is the way of tenancy and trusteeship, not of possession... Everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required.”
Today, Hidenwood kicks off its stewardship campaign for 2018... but the first challenge is not a dollar figure but your identity. Who are you? Are you a steward – someone that God can work through to accomplish his purposes? If so – ask yourself, how can God use my gifts, my talents, my treasures for the greater good? What can you do as a member of this church to help us accomplish our mission in this community and beyond? That’s the first step... and there is no higher calling on your life... nothing you can do that is more lasting than being a steward.
Ask Joseph. Ask Paul. Ask Jesus.
Giving is an indescribable gift.