Summary: We blame failure on "social ills" and that is a factor. But most of the time we are scapegoating, when we do not have to, for Jesus has turned our failure into potential. Clifton Park Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD
There is at my house a picture I treasure. In that picture I am about three years old, and my father is holding me in his arms. You look at my father and you see that he is wearing the cap of a service station attendant. Shell Oil, it says. Nothing especially remarkable about that, except that the story my grandparents always told me whenever we looked at that picture was, “Oh, you know your dad failed at running that station. He was no businessman. Gave people credit, and they didn’t pay him. Ran the business into the ground, had to give it up.” My grandparents always told me the story of a man who lost out. Too bad about Everett Smith, they would say. Failure!
But I don’t buy that interpretation these days. I’m not three years old anymore, and now when I look at that picture I don’t see a failure in a Shell Oil cap. I see something else entirely. I see a man who was dealt some hard knocks, but didn’t learn to hate those who struck him. I see a man who was given a hard time in life, but who never lost his faith. And so now, when my soul looks back, and I wonder how I got over, I look at his life story and learn again that all things do finally work together for good for those who love God and who are called according to God’s purpose.
Most of the time, when people tell their life stories, they speak about their pain. Listen just a little while, and people will describe for you how something scarred them. They will tell you about the cutting comment that stayed with them for many years. They will speak about the caustic criticism that they never quite shook off. Listen just a little while to anybody telling you his life story, and you will eventually hear a cry of pain.
Do you have a life story like that? A life story that somebody might call a failure? A life story scarred by criticism and messed up by hatred? Few there are who do not have something we look back on, and it hurts us still. We look back in anger, or in disappointment, or in fear. Something we have done, and we are still afraid it may catch up with us; or something done to us, and we don’t feel we ever got over it. Our souls look back, and we feel wounded. Just speaking about this, I can remember harsh things that people said to me when I was as young as twelve years old, and they still sting! You say, “Get over it”, and basically I have. But my life story, and yours, I’m guessing, include some painful moments. When our souls look back, don’t we wonder how we got over?
I know of a man who had had a bright future as a youngster. He was so intelligent, so capable, so much the apple of his parents’ eye. This young man, part of a large family, was a standout. Something about him just caught your attention, and you knew he had tremendous potential. Had he been a member of this church, his picture would have been posted out here on the bulletin board. Oh, he was so brilliant! His parents just couldn’t do enough for him. They gave him all sorts of advantages. They showered gifts on their standout son. This young man was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Everything set to go.
But he had not reckoned on something sinister that was brewing, right in his own family. Something that would take a terrible turn and would change his life forever. Something that could, in fact, have turned this young man into bitterness and hostility. But strangely, wonderfully, it did not.
You know this young man. His story is told in the Book of Genesis. His name was Joseph. Joseph of the coat of many colors. Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, sold into slavery by his brothers, shipped off to Egypt, where they hoped he would disappear. Joseph, who survived it, became the king’s right hand man, and lived to confront his brothers again. I don’t need to repeat the whole story for you – how those brothers came to Egypt looking for food, but did not even recognize Joseph. You remember how Joseph made them go back home and bring their aged father; you remember how there was reconciliation and a whole new day for that family.
But let me take you to a crucial spot in the story. Let me take you to the moment when the father, Jacob, has died. The family structure is about to change. You’ve seen this kind of thing. You can guess what’s about to happen. I’ve done a lot of funerals after which somebody would say, “I don’t know what’s going to happen to us now; Mama was the glue that held us together.” Well, now, in this Bible story, a band of brothers who have been loyal to their father, are looking at disintegration. They know that without Jacob around to keep things “nice”, all the old garbage is going to come out. And so Joseph’s brothers named their fear. “Joseph, with Dad gone and buried, we’re worried. We’re worried that you will retaliate and get even for all we did to you. Joseph, now that Jacob is dead, and you are in power, what’s next? What can we expect from you? We’re scared, Joseph, that things are going to get mean now that Daddy isn’t here to keep you calm!” They were scared out of their wits! But just listen to the answer they got!