You know those dreams you have when you do something terrible or something terrible happens to you, then you wake up and are so relieved to find it was only a dream? Last week I dreamed that I murdered someone and tried to hide the evidence. But in order to hide the evidence I had to murder someone else, and then try to hide that evidence. I remember thinking in my dream how awful it all was and how sad I was to have committed the first murder and how I wished it could all be undone somehow. Then I woke up and it was undone, because it was just a dream.
But what happens when something you’ve done is not just a dream? When it doesn’t go away when you wake up? Most of you know that when I was 19 I was driving recklessly with a car full of friends and crashed into a boulder on the side of the road. As a result, my closest friend Drew lost his right eye.
That was 35 years ago. Drew forgave me immediately and we are still very close; in fact I saw him and his family in New Orleans last weekend. But even now, all these years later, I wish I could undo that moment. It still pains me to think about the suffering that I have put my dear friend through. When I wake up each morning, the fact and consequence of that wreck are still there.
Of course, you’ve got something in your life akin to this, though maybe not quite as dramatic. We act rashly, or with premeditation, and then, as Lady Macbeth says, “What’s done is done.” After she colludes with her husband to murder the King, she tries to put it behind her, saying, “Things without all remedy, should be without regard. What’s done is done.” A modern translation might be, “Well, it happened. You can’t worry about it, because you can’t do anything about it. You’ve just got to put it behind you and move forward. It is what it is.”
Given the intersection of God’s Law, our conscience, and the nature of sin, achieving “closure” in a situation is much harder to come by than we think. It clearly didn’t work for Lady Macbeth. Later on in the play, her unconscious conscience gets to her. She sleepwalks, furiously trying to wipe imaginary blood off her hands. And what in Act II was “what’s done is done”, in Act V becomes “what’s done cannot be undone.”
This is what Joseph’s brothers discovered in our reading from Genesis this morning. They did something terrible to Joseph. It wasn’t without provocation, though. Joseph – the 11th of the 12 sons of Jacob was his father’s favorite. Daddy’s boy got a multicolored dream coat to signify his standing, which he liked to flaunt in front of his brothers.
He also had a dream when he was 17. In the dream, all his older brothers bowed down to him, recognizing him as their leader. Joseph had the audacity to share this dream with his brothers, who, as you might imagine, did not take kindly the dreamer’s dream. So they plotted to murder him. Apparently, people took sibling rivalry pretty seriously in the Old Testament.
So they took him out into the hinterlands and threw him in a cistern to die. But then they saw an Egyptian camel caravan coming their way, so they figured they could do one better: get rid of Joseph and make a profit at the same time. So they sold him into slavery. To cover their tracks, they took his coat, wiped some goat’s blood on it and showed it to Jacob as proof of his accidental death.
Good riddance and what’s done is done, they must have said. But that wasn’t the end of the story. And it was a good thing for them that what’s done can’t be undone. We pick up at the end of the story in our reading for this morning. God protected and prospered Joseph in Egypt. He rose to a position of great leadership – “a father to pharaoh, lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” He acquired great wealth – enough to provide for his family’s whole household for years to come.
Joseph’s fame and riches are not the most interesting part of the story, however. Nor is the moving reconciliation between Joseph and his erstwhile murderers, although the drama is riveting. The brothers had been sent to Egypt looking for food during the drought. Joseph disguised himself, only revealing his identity at the last.
We don’t have to imagine what the brothers felt at this moment – the scripture says, “His brothers could not answer him, so dismayed they were at his presence.” And who doesn’t love the Hollywood ending? Joseph forgives his brothers and shares his blessings with them. “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. And after that his brothers talked with him.”
As wonderful as the story it, the most wonderful thing about it is the language Joseph uses to describe that story. “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve your life…. God sent me before you to preserve you as a remnant…. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” The implications of this are incredibly comforting. Even in our most dastardly actions, God is at work. Yes, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery and yes, God sent Joseph into Egypt – all the same fell swoop. In later passage, Joseph says, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.”
This means what we often say but don’t really believe: that God is in control no matter what. If you are like me, then you have a plan for your life that you have envisioned and which you expend enormous amounts of effort attempting to execute. And that plan includes not only you, but all the people and circumstances in your orbit. And when things inevitably do not go your way, and people do not follow the script that you have given them, you feel frustration and sometimes despair.
And to our point this morning, in the execution of your carefully conceived plan for your and everyone else’s life, you do all kinds of boneheaded and sometimes intentionally malicious things which cause real harm. And yet, despite you, God is still in control of everything. And someone as myopic and self-seeking as you is not going to get in God’s way. St. Paul says it like this: “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” The best thing we can do in the face of that news is to step back, call off the dogs of our own control, take a deep breath and then have a good laugh at ourselves. Since, in all things God will have the last laugh, we might as well join in now.
The most profound example of God acting in and through our ignorance, even our wickedness involves another Son who was loved by His Father. This Son too incited others to murder Him, although He had done nothing wrong. This Son too was betrayed by his brothers. This Son too was sold into the hands of his captors for two pieces of silver. In this case, however, the plan to murder was carried out. This Son was stripped of his robe and nailed to a cross on Friday. A darker moment the world has never seen.
And yet, what we meant for evil God meant for good. As T.S. Eliot said, “in spite of that, we call this Friday good.” This Son was raised out of the cistern of the grave to be the salvation, not just of one family, but the whole world. This Son is not just lord of Pharaohs house, but is the Lord of all. Jesus is the Lord of your life and works all things together for good.