THE MINISTERS LETTER
The spread of the Corona Virus and the necessary lockdown has plunged us into the strangest times of any that we have known.
Comparisons have been made with the world wars, when self-discipline and mutual support were necessary, although during the wars, normal social contact, church, shopping, business, schools, cinema and theatre continued and relieved many of the hardships. A time such as this, when we are unable to meet together, to embrace and encourage one another, is totally unknown.
Behind the quiet peace of our streets are aching hearts and troubled minds. Sudden grief has overtaken the lives of many. A generation are having their education disrupted. For others the future seems uncertain. The cost to our national economy is something that will probably have to be borne for decades to come.
What, then, are we to say about these times?
On a recent Sunday we pondered the story of Joseph from the book of Genesis. It is a remarkable story full of unlikely events. Joseph seems to have been a spoiled young man, the favourite son of his father and accustomed to special treatment. God had given him, in his dreams, glimpses of a future in which his father and brothers would bow down to him and he didn’t mind telling his brothers about this special destiny.
One day his brothers decided to do away with the boastful dreamer, kidnapped him, sold him to slave traders and lied to their father, Jacob, about his apparent death. It was an abrupt interruption of his comfortable life and a shattering blow to his father.
In Egypt the young slave just happened to be purchased by one of Pharaoh’s important officials. Joseph learned to make the best of his lot in a privileged household. Blessed by God, he worked hard and made himself a trusted servant, until his master’s cheating wife - and would-be lover - turned against him and he became the victim of another cruel lie and injustice.
In Pharaoh’s prison, the storyteller wrote, “The Lord was with him”. Favoured by the warder, he was put in a trusted position where he just happened to receive into his oversight two important prisoners from Pharaoh’s household. Joseph’s interpretation of their strange dreams proved true but it was perhaps ‘lucky’ that the careless cupbearer forgot to put in a good word for Joseph until he had languished in prison for two full years.
In prison, this must have all seemed a long way from the promised destiny. Were his youthful dreams an illusion? Was he to remain in this dead end? Had God proved false? It must have been hard for Joseph to keep trusting as he waited in his dark isolation.
Summoned from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which turned out to be a certain warning of harvests and famine to come, Joseph’s rise from prison to a position of authority over the famine relief was even more meteoric than his crash to earth.
A chance meeting with his brothers and a convoluted test of their sorrow led to a reunion with them and his aged father and to the whole family settling in Egypt for the foreseeable future.
As the story nears its close Joseph tells his brothers “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45;7,8) and later, “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (50;20).
It looks like a ridiculously tall tale doesn’t it? It’s an impossibly unlikely sequence of coincidences that play out so that the dream interpreter can be in the right place to save a nation, his family and the promised race of Abraham. This looks like a classic legend made up to convince us that God is at work in the dark circumstances to bring about his bright designs.
How do we know it isn’t made up? Can we really trust God to work out such elaborate schemes, into which are woven the affairs of countless peoples across the world? Are we really to believe that injustice, tragedy, misfortune, deceit, misjudgements, arrogance, malice and faith can all be woven together by God into a plan for the salvation of the world? Yes we can!
We know it’s true because God did it again … and again in the Old Testament story - a story which came true in the coming of Jesus.
God did it again in the most convincing way at Easter.
Jesus seemed to be a victim caught in the religious and political power struggle of empires and interests which had been developing over centuries. In reality Jesus, was no such victim, but was at the centre of a scheme to redeem the world through his death.
God brought about the birth, life and death of Jesus in the manner he had spoken of centuries before, although in the ages between countless billions of trivial circumstances had intervened. This God can certainly be trusted to finish what he has begun and to carry on his purpose for people of faith through these strange times.
Although we are surrounded by dysfunction, bewilderment and grief we can hold on to the love of God in Jesus Christ from which we cannot be separated by life, death, or anything else in all creation.
Your friend and Minister
Graham M. Thain