Sometimes I wonder what in the world God is thinking and what he has in store for the world and me. I had a mentor in seminary who one day said to me “Amanda, everything you experience in life is meant to be used. There is a reason for everything and God has a plan.” At that time, I was in my second year and that year was a rough year. My grandmother passed away that fall. I was very sick with stomach ulcers. And I had fallen down some stairs and hyper extended the tendons in my foot so I had a large black boot attached to my foot. I just couldn’t understand what was going on and what God had in store for someone like me.
I just seemed to be struggling so much. I couldn’t make sense out of having to drastically change my eating at the age of 23. Who gets ulcers at 23? I couldn’t understand why bad things seemed to keep happening. But with time perspective set in. And I began to see God slowly working in my life. I began to see that I was learning how God works in the lives of everyday people, how God works through our times of struggle, how God reaches out and can use our troubles to shape our world views and the world around us.
I started to learn that I needed to take care of myself just as much as I needed to take care of others. I learned that I was lucky for the opportunities I had to build a relationship and lasting memories with my grandmother. I learned what it felt like to grieve which made me more compassionate to those who grieve. I have since been able to offer insights and comfort to those who seek. I learned what it was like to lose abilities when I fell down those stairs because I couldn’t climb stairs, or have access to basic things in public buildings for the first time. I felt those frustrations first hand for 6 weeks and have never forgotten it.
God uses all of our experiences to shape us, to work through us, and to make his ultimate plans come to fruition whatever they may be. We see it in our scriptures this morning. The story of Joseph is full of hardship, sorrow, lose, and the hand of God and God’s work coming to life. Joseph was the favorite of his father Jacob and in jealousy his older brothers threw him into a pit in an attempt on his life. Instead what happened was that he was kidnapped and sold into slavery to the Ishmaelites and later to Egypt.
Joseph must have come before God in prayer and asked the same question that I did “What in the world are you thinking God? What do you have in store for me”? Sometimes life brings situations that we struggle to accept; situations where we just can’t see God at work. Life experiences where we feel alone, angry, and confused. Joseph went through all those very human emotions. Yet when he saw his brothers in the passages we read for this morning, he couldn’t help but have compassion on them. When he saw his brothers and realized his position he could suddenly see that God had used his terrible experiences to do his work and to save his family from famine, death, and poverty. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “God does not give us everything we want but He does fulfill his promises, leading us along the best and straightest paths to Himself”. God has promised to work through us and with us. God has promised us comfort and care. God has promised to lead us to him no matter the experiences we have in life. Just as God did in the lives and hardships of those earliest Patriarchs of the nation of Israel.
God guides us. God has plans and his ultimate plan is to lead us to him and He uses our regular experiences, our challenging experiences, and our successful and happy experiences to do just that. God used Joseph’s rivalry with his brothers and his slavery to set up a relationship between the family of Israel and the great power of Egypt so that when famine hit Israel would not be wiped from the face of the Earth. Joseph recognized this when he said, “ And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors”. God had a purpose, God had a plan. Though Joseph may have doubted that plan many times throughout his life, when his brothers showed up seek refuge Joseph no longer had any reason to doubt.
In our lives, we have many experiences personally and globally that make us doubt God’s plans and many times God’s presence. We can’t always make sense of what is happening and we might feel like Job who demanded explanation of God for his hardships. We might feel like Joseph early on in his life and feel horrified by the deeds of those he previously loved. But we need to remember that God has a plan. God will use our experiences to lead us back to him and to help others find comfort in him as well. God is working. God is present. Remember God has never left our side. If you are struggling, if your loved ones are struggling, remember that we are not alone and though we may not be able to see through the pain, confusion, or doubt now, if we keep our faith alive, if we keep praying and asking for guidance, if we keep looking for God in our life then soon enough we will be able to see that God has a plan for us and has never really left us. Remember what was written in our Psalms reading from this morning, “the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore”. God is leading us and the world towards life for evermore. It is just that the path there is different for each person and the experiences along the way may be tough and at times scary. But God will work through it and bring us through in the end. So go forth and seek God in your lives, and in the world and invite others to join in your search and in your work.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th Century theologian.
 Genesis 45: 7, RSV.
 Psalm 133: 3b, RSV.
(Based on Genesis 45: 1-15 and Psalm 133)