Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 19, 2016

Sermon on Genesis 39:6b-12,16-23

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost — June 19, 2016 — Sermon starts at 26:05

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED?

 Sermon Text: Genesis 39:6b-12,16-23

 Introduction

Bill came into work and greeted the secretary as usual. It was obvious she wasn’t feeling well emotionally. He sat down and listened to her for a while. When it came time to head to his office and start the day, he ran into John in the hallway, one of the other employees at work who had been a source of grief to the secretary. Bill gently suggested that he take it easy on her today since things weren’t going so well in her life. Fifteen minutes later, the secretary was in Bill’s office, with angry tears and a livid look on her face. “Why would you say that about me?” she demanded from Bill. Apparently John went right to her after Bill talked to him and claimed that Bill had said she was in a cranky mood and that it would be best to avoid her all day. Of course, that’s not what he said, and what he did say was meant to help her, but she wasn’t convinced. And the old saying was proven correct again: No good deed goes unpunished!

Have you been in a situation like that? Your words or actions are twisted into something you didn’t say and didn’t do, or shameful words and actions you didn’t do are unfairly attributed to you. It has probably happened to many of you. And when it does, you can’t help but think to yourself, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

But is it that simple? Is life that fatalistic? Does the good guy and the godly gal end up suffering for doing the right thing? Jesus warned us in today’s Gospel that Christians will experience suffering—he calls it “tak[ing] up [our] cross”—for no other reason than that we are Christians. Is there more to it than that? How does suffering play a part of our lives? Does it accomplish something more than meets the eye? In today’s service, the topic that Jesus introduces in the Gospel is something that we will explore more fully in this sermon as we consider the account from the life of Joseph in the First Lesson from Genesis 39.

I.

 Joseph was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Jacob was one of the ancestors of Jesus and one of the patriarchs of the ancient nation of Israel. Joseph also happened to be father Jacob’s favorite son of the twelve. And Jacob wasn’t subtle about his favoritism. You can imagine the jealousy and family tension that created. The hatred that Joseph’s brothers had for him became so bad that they faked his death and sold him off into slavery. 

As bad as that sounds, the situation eventually started to turn around for Joseph. He found himself sold as a servant to Potiphar, an important official in Egypt. It wasn’t long before Potiphar realized that Joseph was no mere slave or servant, but that he had found a very reliable manager of his household affairs. Potiphar eventually put Joseph in charge of all his household matters and elevated him to be the one that everyone else answered to. Finally, it seemed like things had turned around for the poor brother who had been sold off by his own brothers.

But in our reading, we see that problems came back into Joseph’s life. Scholars indicate that in the ancient Egyptian world, marital faithfulness wasn’t exactly common. With that culture surrounding Joseph, suddenly he finds his master’s wife trying to seduce him. Joseph resisted—and for the proper reason. He didn’t resist her just to stay out of trouble. He resisted her advances because he wanted to honor God. “How…could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” was his rhetorical question to her.

But a scorned woman turned the tables on Joseph. She tries to seduce Joseph when no one else is in the house, and when he refuses her again, she makes it into a big scene and accuses Joseph of coming on to her. We have reason to believe that Potiphar didn’t believe his wife’s accusations. While our reading says that Potiphar was angry, it doesn’t say that he was angry at Joseph. The punishment for a servant who tried to commit adultery at that time and place was death. Potiphar instead had Joseph thrown into the prison where the king’s prisoners were kept—not an ideal situation, but not nearly as bad as it should have been if he had really done what his master’s wife claimed. It seems reasonable to think that Potiphar had to “save face” and not make it look like his wife was outright lying, but he was also upset that he was going to lose a reliable servant and did what he could to keep Joseph’s unjust punishment from going overboard.

And yet this situation brings the old adage to mind: No good deed goes unpunished. For doing the right thing, Joseph is punished! How do you think he felt? How would you have felt if you were him? “Why should I have to suffer for someone else’s lies?” “I didn’t do anything to land behind bars!” “I don’t deserve this misery at all!”

Maybe you have your own version of this story. Maybe you have lived through your own situations where you or someone close to you suffered injustice at the hands of others. And there’s no question that those situations are painful. But in the midst of our pain, does our sinful nature get us to shake our fist at God and suggest that he doesn’t know what he’s doing or that he doesn’t care about us? Wouldn’t it have been easy for Joseph to do that? Isn’t it easy for us to do that?

In our frustration, we forget that the “cross” of suffering for our faith is going to be a reality in this life; you cannot escape it if you are going to be a Christian! In our frustration, we forget that God has a plan for our lives, and that he is shaping and molding and refining you even through the injustice and unfairness that comes your way. But in our frustration, we can also forget that the injustice and unfairness we experience really isn’t unjust or unfair. If God were truly just and perfectly fair with us, he would look at the sin that resides in our hearts and that shows up in our lives when we question him and shake our fist at him and he would justly sentence us not to the king’s jail, but to hell’s prison.

II.

Potiphar may not have believed his wife. His anger may have been directed at her and the situation she produced instead of Joseph. But Joseph suffered the most for it. And yet, this seemingly unfair and unreasonable punishment set up a domino effect that led to one scenario after another after another—all of which were a part of God’s divine plans for Joseph and beyond!

Potiphar may have spoken up for Joseph, because it wasn’t long before Joseph was managing the prison from the inside at the approval of the warden! Joseph interacted with people who had worked for Pharaoh. The king’s prison held prisoners who were guilty of political crimes. And one of those people in this prison who had worked for Pharaoh—his cupbearer—would eventually be freed. And a couple of years after he was freed, he remembered to tell Pharaoh about Joseph. And when Pharaoh called Joseph before him to interpret a dream that he had, God gave Joseph the interpretation of the dream which so impressed Pharaoh that he elevated Joseph from prisoner to prime minister. Joseph’s job would eventually be to prepare Egypt for the family that would hit them—the famine that God revealed through the dreams that he gave to Pharaoh.

Since Egypt was ready for the famine, Joseph’s long lost brothers and family traveled there to find food. And this led to Joseph eventually inviting his family to Egypt to survive the drought. So notice that this important family through whom the Savior of the world was going to come was preserved and spared from famine and death all because God used Joseph’s unjust imprisonment to eventually put Joseph in just the spot that God wanted him to be!

Did you ever stop to think that Joseph’s unjust imprisonment has preserved you too? This incident preserved you—not from famine, but from far worse, from damnation! The blood line that would lead to Jesus being born was preserved, the promise of God to bring the world’s Savior from this family line was preserved, and because God kept that promise and Jesus entered into our world, you and I are preserved eternally!

Don’t underestimate this incident as a part of God’s greatest plan to rescue the world from sin! Without this family’s preservation, there would be no line leading to Mary and the child that she gave birth to in Bethlehem. Without this family’s preservation, there would be no perfect Son of God perfectly submitting to his Father’s plans on our behalf. Without Joseph’s unjust imprisonment, there would have never been Jesus’ unjust crucifixion where he suffered for your sins and mine and for the sins of the whole world, on our behalf! Without God’s master plan working in Joseph’s life, there would have been no Easter resurrection from the grave and no certainty that Jesus’ resurrection assures us of our own forgiveness and our own future resurrection.

That’s the incredible domino effect that God accomplished from Joseph forward all the way to Christ and all the way to you, to undo the just punishment for our sins of doubts toward God and every other way that sin shows up in our lives. That’s the incredible domino effect that God accomplished to show you the great lengths he has gone through to assure you that he has forgiven you and redeemed you in the blood of his Son and loved you with an everlasting love that will bring you to everlasting life.

If God could accomplish something so important through the unjust events that happened in Joseph’s life nearly 2,000 years before Christ arrived on the scene, isn’t also true that God is accomplishing his will and carrying out his good plan for you personally through the troubles you face in your life? Maybe the sickness you face is God’s way of getting you closer to your family and closer to him in faith. Maybe the financial struggles you face are God’s way of leading you to reprioritize what matters most in life. Maybe the marriage struggles you go through are God’s way of working in your heart to put down selfishness and to increase your love and empathy for your spouse. Maybe the death of a loved one is God’s way of getting you to realize that your faith in him is the most important thing you should be concerned about, so that you are ready to meet him on the day he calls you out of this life. We don’t always know why God permits hardships to come to us, but we know that he always uses them to build up our faith and trust in him.

Conclusion

 The hymn we sang before this sermon was by the great seventeenth century Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt. Gerhardt had a very difficult life and at times a very difficult ministry, and yet this man wrote some of the most beautiful and confident hymns you will ever read our sing. The lessons we learned from Joseph’s life today show us that we don’t need to agree with the cliché that no good deed goes unpunished. Rather, the lessons we learned today show us that we can add our voices with Gerhard and sing,

When life’s troubles rise to meet me,

Though their weight may be great, they will not defeat me.

God, my loving Savior, sees them;

He who knows all our woes knows how best to end them.

Amen.

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