There are two strands, that I hope connect at least a little that I want to explore a little this evening. The first is about Joseph and his remarkable story.
He was a beloved son, adored by his father but hated by his brothers. They beat and abandon him in a ditch. He is sold into slavery.
He ends up in Egypt and becomes the trusted number 2 to Pharoah. He meets his brothers again who come to him for help. He is reconciled to them, and is reunited with the father who thought he was dead.
In the reading this evening Joseph is looking back over his life following the death of his father Jacob.
He reflects on his betrayal by his brothers who fear that once their father is dead he might seek retribution. But he says these remarkable words to them ‘even though you intended to do harm to me. God intended it for good.’
‘God intended it for good.’
These were words spoken by a wise and discerning mind that with hindsight can recognise how God can use even the most traumatic of experiences for good.
At the time of his betrayal I cannot imagine that Joseph thought anything good could come of being beaten and abandoned in a pit yet as he looks back, he can see God’s redeeming love at work.
That phrase ‘redeeming love’ is one we know well from Charles Wesley’s words that we often sing Easter ‘Love’s redeeming work is done.’ For there we see that the cross, a symbol of pain, separation and loss is transformed, redeemed by the love of God.
God’s love it seems to me is in the business of redeeming us, of saving us from ourselves, from our often narrow and selfish pre-occupations, our wrong choices and failures.
When I was younger my Mum made me a patchwork quilt for my bed. I’m not sure where it is now but I remember it.
I remember some of the panels, the bionic man – remember him, spider man, and so on. I remember too that some were torn and a bit frayed but it was still held together by the stitches that had been carefully sewn when it was created.
This it seemed to me was a good image of what Joseph was doing. He was seeing the patchwork of his life laid out and recognising the stitches that held it all together.
As I look back over my life, I too can trace the stitches of God’s love sewing together the patchwork of my life. Each tile of that patchwork, even the ones that are rather shabby have been sewn together to make me the person I am.
The same will be true for all of you. The redeeming love of God is at work in the stuff of your life, even though it doesn’t always seem to be at the time. ‘God intended it for good.’
Joseph has helped us to look back but what about the future.
Last month in the magazine I offered those words of the Danish philosopher who said ‘Life is understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.’
Almost every Christian act of worship acknowledges the reality of these words. We look back to the story of our faith, to our ancestors, to Jesus, to our life and we look forward too, to when we leave and seek to love and serve the Lord in our lives.
What might we say, would be the most important thing for us to live forward well? Well for me at least the opening words of our second reading get to the heart of things. St. Paul said ‘pursue love.’
This was his vision for life, and these words are built on the foundations of that famous previous chapter, chapter 13 in which he says that greatest gift in life is love.
And surely as we look back on our lives if it has taught us anything, it will be that what really matters to us in life, is not a list of achievements, or of honours and titles gained, or of salary earned but the love we know and share. The love that sustains and transforms us daily.
One of the great mystics of the church St. John of the cross wrote this
‘In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human success, but rather on how we have loved.’
In some ways Paul’s image could be thought of as frustrating. A tantalising promise that’s never fulfilled yet Paul’s sentiment is echoed in those great Christian mystics down the centuries, like John of the Cross who have offered their lives in prayer and contemplation to seek this love at the heart of everything.
Even one of my favourite poets, the priest R. S. Thomas who we might not think of as a mystic in some of his poetry enters that territory. He writes in The Waiting of how in faith he is ‘leaning far out over an immense depth.’(1)
We might not call ourselves mystics but our faith is lived pursuing immense depth we call God, who is to be found along all the contours of our life.
When writing to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul struggling for words prays that they might ‘have the power to comprehend…what is the breadth and length and height and depth’(2) of the love of God he knows.
Those words are for us too as we journey on. It seems to me that the more we discover of this depth of love flowing from the heart of God known in the midst of this life, the more we are changed in how we see the world, one a another and even ourselves.
So, we take Paul’s words seriously but we pursue love not to possess it but to know it more, and be fashioned more deeply by its gentle and transforming power.
‘God intended it for good’ and ‘Pursue love’. Words for us all to ponder as we look back and look forward.