When Carol and I were much younger, we were searching for a church to attend and one Sunday found ourselves in the back pew of the Church of the Advent. It was the custom at the time for the ushers to pick someone from the congregation to help with communion. I remember Len Sherman asking us to help and after trying to put him off he said, “Look, all you have to do is carry the gifts to the altar.”
Fast forward 10 years, I was teaching middle school kids in Sunday school and we were doing the story of Joseph. I went to the Old Testament and read the story of Joseph. Just to refresh your memory, here is Genesis chapter 37.
IV. THE STORY OF JOSEPH’
This is the story of Joseph.
Joseph was seventeen years old. As he was still young, he was shepherding the flock with his brothers, with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah his father’s wives. Joseph informed their father of the evil spoken about them.
Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him. *But his brothers, seeing how his father loved him more than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.
Now Joseph had a dream, and he repeated it to his brothers“ -‘Listen’ he said ‘to this dream I have had. We were binding sheaves in the countryside: and my sheaf, it seemed, rose up and stood upright; then I saw your sheaves gather round and bow to my sheaf.’ *‘So you want to be king over us,’ his brothers retorted ‘or to lord it over us? And they hated him still more, on account of his dreams and of what he said. *He had another dream which he told to his brothers. ‘Look, I have had another dream’ he said. ‘I thought I saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars, bowing to me.’ *He told his father and brothers, and his father scolded him. ‘A fine dream to have!’ he said to him. ‘Are all of us then, myself, your mother and your brothers, to come and bow to the ground before you? His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the thing in mind.
His brothers went to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem. *Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers with the flock at Shechem? Come, I am going to send you to them.’ ‘I am ready’ he replied. *He said to him, ‘Go and see how your brothers and the flock are doing, and bring me word’. He sent him from the valley of Hebron, and Joseph arrived at Shechem.
A man found him wandering in the countryside and the man asked him, ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘I am looking for my brothers” he replied. ‘Please tell me where they are pasturing their flock.’ *The man answered, ‘They have moved on from here; indeed I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan”’. So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them they made a plot among themselves to put him to death. *‘Here comes the man of dreams’ they said to one another. *‘Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’
That’s a season-ending cliff hanger worthy of The Game of Thrones and (*spoiler alert*), the story gets weirder from there. As you no doubt recall, instead of killing Joseph the brothers sell him into slavery. He ends up in prison, interprets the Pharaoh’s famine dream, saves the day by storing the kingdom’s food, is reunited with his family, and they move to Egypt to live there until a new Pharaoh
comes who does not remember Joseph. There are many details in this story that resonate with middle school children, such as neighbors talking trash about your family, parents playing favorites, sibling rivalries and strange dreams. But there is one detail that has always fascinated me about this tale and I am struck by the fact that none of this would have happened, not the migration to Egypt, not the plagues, not Moses and the Passover if there was not some man (or woman) standing in a field who paid attention when a confused kid walked by. “What are you looking for?” What indeed.
What we may be looking for is right under our noses. Small opportunities to get involved, little encounters that move God’s story along. We are all tasked with making a difference in the lives of others. President Jimmy Carter said it well, “My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.” The Lord works in mysterious ways and we are not always being asked to be Joseph or Moses, Sarah or Mary. Sometimes you just need to carry the gifts where they need to be.
- Kevin Delaney