"THE BEST-LAID PLANS"
Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
February 24, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
"So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler of all the land of Egypt"
Genesis 45:8 (ESV)
Just about everybody recognizes the importance of planning. As a matter of fact, most of us would probably have to admit that, at least one time in our lives, we have had the unfortunate experience of undertaking a project without adequate planning, only to be forced to abandon that project before it was completed. Planning is important because before we can do something, we first have to define what it is that we are doing, why we are doing it, and how we intend to go about doing it. A good argument could be made that planning is the most important part of anything that we do. If we're smart enough to plan well, once the planning is done, all that we have to do is follow the plan.
But sometimes our plans can get the better of us. Sometimes we work out our plans in intricate detail and then discover that some unforeseen development makes all our best-laid plans totally irrelevant. This is what happened to Joseph's brothers in the Old Testament. They were jealous because of the preferential treatment (as they saw it) that Joseph was receiving from their father, and they were angered by the result of that preferential treatment: they felt that Joseph was being arrogant toward them. So they devised a plan to rid themselves of Joseph and all of the grief that he was causing for them. They planned to sell their brother into slavery--a drastic measure, to be sure, but one that they were convinced would rid them of their annoyance for good. But they failed to take into consideration the fact that God had a plan of His own, and their plan didn't coincide with God's plan. So guess whose plan won out. As we think about the story of Joseph and his brothers and apply their experience to our own, let's remember that, regardless of our best-laid plans, God always carries out His gracious plan in Christ: sometimes working through us and at other times working in spite of us.
God certainly can and does work through people. He works through people because He is working for people. In the story of Joseph and his brothers He worked through the efforts of Pharaoh and Joseph to help the people of the whole world make it through a famine that lasted seven years. Even Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, who was not by any means a worshiper of the Lord God of Israel, nevertheless had seen the power of the Lord through His servant Joseph. Joseph's unique abilities as an administrator, coupled with his superhuman ability to interpret dreams, placed him into the high position that he was in when his brothers came to him begging for food. In addition to providing food for a world stricken by famine, the Lord also worked through this entire situation to humble Joseph's brothers, to bring them to repentance, and to reunite the family of His chosen people.
God works through us too--we who are His chosen ones through the grace of Jesus Christ. Whenever we knowingly or unknowingly communicate His Word or act in accordance with His will, His Holy Spirit is at work in us and through us. Through us He speaks the Law, shaking up the confidence of sinners who trust in themselves, their works, their knowledge, their possessions, or anything else that cannot deliver them from God's Judgment. And through us He speaks also the Gospel, bringing the comfort and encouragement of Christ to fearful sinners who are experiencing the terrors of conscience when they consider their sin and its consequences. To his brothers Joseph's mere presence represented both judgment and hope. He was in Egypt because of their misdeeds, and yet, because he was in Egypt, they could find relief from famine. In the same way we, as God's people in Jesus Christ, can represent judgment when we speak the Law and hope when we share the Gospel of Christ.
Sad to say, God often has to work in spite of people--at least as often as He works through them. This is what He did in the case of Joseph's brothers. When Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, they did not think that they were a part of God's plan. They couldn't have cared less about God's plan at that point. All that they were concerned about was their own plan. But God worked in spite of them, using even their evil plan to carry out His good plan--good not only for Joseph but also for them--and indeed for the whole world. That's the way God always seems to work in His dealings with sinners. Because of their evil plans, sinners get themselves into trouble; then God intervenes to turn their trouble into good for them and for others. The ultimate example of this is the suffering and death of His Son Jesus Christ, who was mistreated and put to death according to the sinister planning of evil men, and yet, by that very mistreatment and death, God accomplished His own plan: the redemption of evil men.
He still works that way today. He is always taking the bad that we have brought upon ourselves by our sin and turning it around for our good. He has taken some people's poverty and hunger and used them to help those people realize that they need His grace. He has taken many an illness or injury and used it as an opportunity to bring the sufferer to repentance and faith in the Savior. He has used people's personal losses to remind them that only He can be counted on forever. And He has taken even death--the most serious consequence of sin--and turned it into the gateway to glory for those who live and die trusting in the Son of God. In so many ways God has helped us in spite of us and has brought that same help to others in spite of our best-laid selfish plans.
God's message to us in the story of Joseph and his brothers ought to be clear: do your best to speak and live in accordance with God's will. Faithfully speak His Word and stand willing to be His instrument in bringing the Good News of Jesus to lost sinners. But all the while, don't take yourself too seriously. We read in the New Testament letter of James: "Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'--yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'" (James 4:13-15). God wants to work through you, but if you won't let Him, He'll work in spite of you. The important thing for us, as the children of God in Jesus Christ, is to know that, no matter what, He is always working for us, empowering us to be willing at all times to submit our will to His--to let our best-laid plans be scrapped in favor of His glorious and perfect plan in Christ. And if we're not willing, He'll find a way to carry out His plan anyway--all for us and for the redemption of lost humanity.
May the God who caused light to shine out of darkness cause you to increase and abound in love toward one another and toward all people, as His love abounds for us; and may the glory of His Son be manifested to you and in you, that you may be witnesses to all nations now and until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.