Sometimes I wonder what in the world God is thinking and what he has in store for the future. I had a mentor in seminary who one day said to me “Amanda, everything you experience in this 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 of seminary and that year was a rough year. My grandmother passed away that fall. I was very sick with what turned out to be stomach ulcers. And I was struggling with home sickness. I just couldn’t understand what was going on in my life and why this was happening.
Every day seemed to filled with struggle and pain. 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 has 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. With a little bit of forgiveness for myself and others, I was able to begin to move beyond the pain.
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 had to learn to forgive myself for not being there in my grandmother’s last moments. I have since been able to offer insights and comfort to others who struggle with grief and questions.
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, forgiveness, 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 many times asking the same questions that we all do when life is inexplicably difficult “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’s purpose. Life experiences where we feel alone, angry, bitter, 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 and his pain to do God’s 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. Just as God did in the lives and hardships of those earliest Patriarchs of the nation of Israel, God has promised to lead us to him no matter the experiences we have in life.
God guides us. God has plans and his ultimate plan is to lead us and others to him and he uses our regular experiences, our challenging experiences, and our successful and happy ones 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 and a plan. Though Joseph may have doubted that plan many times throughout his life, when his brothers showed up seeking refuge, Joseph no longer had any reason to doubt. However to do what God was asking of him Joseph was being asked to not take retaliation on his brothers. He was asked to practice love and forgiveness in light of God’s needs for the nation of Israel.
In our lives, we have many experiences personally and globally that make us doubt God. We can’t always make sense of what is happening and we might feel more like Job wanting and desperately needing an explanation from God. We might feel like Joseph early on in his life and feel horrified by the deeds of others in our lives and world. 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 never leaves our sides. If you are struggling or 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 God. With perspective, we are able to offer forgiveness to ourselves and others and the share our experiences so we can perpetuate God’s work in the lives of others who struggle and need strength and support. Remember what was written in our Psalms reading from this morning, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act”. Go forth committing your hearts to God, trusting in his presence, and sharing of yourselves, allowing God’s work to shine forth in your lives. Allowing for God to use your life experiences to reach out and strengthen and support someone else who is in need.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th Century theologian.
 Genesis 45: 7, RSV.
 Psalm 37: 5, RSV.
(Based on Psalm 37: 1-11, 39-40 and Genesis 45: 1-15)