“God’s Pleasure; Our Joy”
August 27, 2023
Seminarian Henry Norkplim Anyomi
Scripture Readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10; Romans 12:1-8
Creator God, this is the day You’ve made and we rejoice and are glad in it. Thanks for wherever we each find ourselves this morning; thanks for Your prevailing grace. Touch us, O God, and transform us. Speak, God, and renew us. Thanks in advance for all You will do. In Jesus name. Amen!
“And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance — like the sand of the sea — that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure.” – Genesis 41:41, 49 NRSV
This was the atmosphere and the plot during Joseph’s appointment and tenure as governor over Egypt. He demonstrated such brilliance both in the interpretation of dreams and in counselling that Pharaoh couldn’t help but make him ruler alongside himself. And his political power and stature were profound and far-reaching indeed, given the height to which Egypt had risen in the years of famine. Joseph was literally second in command and had both royal stewards as well as everyday Egyptians at his beck and call. But Joseph’s awe-inspiring influence lasted only as far as his generation (Exodus 1:6).
Upon the installation of a new Pharaoh, Joseph’s wise leadership and legacy were completely forgotten! How so? In one breath, this is surprising – mainly because of Egypt’s superpower status at the time. Given their dominance, the Egyptian throne may have had the best brains in the land and a reliable record-keeping system. So, Joseph’s memory couldn’t have fizzled out like that! But in another breath, could Pharaoh and his advisors be faulted? This was a new generation. Besides, had Joseph and his generation not played their part and moved on? Maybe this was a sign for the new generation of Hebrews to not bask in the glories of the past, but to rise up and do something for themselves …
This conversation is perhaps an endless one. But no matter which way we choose to look at things, it’s shocking how Joseph’s name and legacy could have been wiped out in a matter of decades. His sweat and toil, stunning counsel, and matchless wisdom couldn’t save the generation after him! Was the succeeding generation a lost cause then? No. Friends, though people may forget our sacrifices and efforts over time and our names may fade in human minds, what we do may not be wasted. Returning to the Joseph story, I want to call to memory parts of Joseph’s response to his brothers in Genesis 50: “Do not be afraid! … God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people …” This was after his brothers had approached him for forgiveness for having sold him into slavery. Again, remember how in previous sermons, we explored together how God was with Joseph right from childhood through the years of enslavement to his appointment as governor? The point is that we may be answering the wrong question by dwelling on Joseph’s forgotten name and legacy in Egypt. He led his life to please a higher power, God, not humans. And this mindset of his showed in how he conducted himself throughout the narrative – always giving credit to God; always leaning on God’s strength.
As the reading projected, forgetting Joseph was the least of the things Egypt did. The Pharaoh after Joseph pursued an agenda of widespread genocide against the Israelites – one that involved all Egyptian citizens (verse 22). But even in the midst of such marked heartlessness and cynicism, God’s goodness shone through! The very God who exalted Joseph to that high standing of governor and still remembered his faithfulness had a redemption plan for the Hebrews. In such difficult times, God would bring Moses onto the scene and use the king’s own household to raise him. Yes, even in the midst of such draconian times, God had a plan – one that couldn’t be thwarted.
Joseph and Moses’ stories may be asking about where our allegiance is today. What is the foundational reason for our toil? What is the “why” of our very existence? For whom are we doing life? Sometimes our motivations may include family, friends, bosses, professors, wealth, food, shelter, and clothing. While these are good and noble, they shouldn’t be our primary motivation – God should. In God, all things fall in place. in God we can engrave our names in heaven’s hall of fame. In God, like Joseph, though our names and works may be forgotten some decades from now, God will cater to the needs of generations after us. Indeed, God will bring succeeding generations out of all precarious situations and will be there to deliver them long after we’ve left the scene. Hallelujah!
In our Romans reading, Paul encourages us to consider God’s mercy (or “goodness,” as per the Contemporary English Version) and offer our bodies to God. As is typical of divine offerings, our bodily sacrifice must be blameless – “pure and pleasing” (verse 2). As though Paul preempted the possible anxiety that such a call might arouse in most, if not all hearts, he goes on to request that we allow God to transform our thinking to God’s liking.
And Paul’s reasoning isn’t far-fetched – if our desire is to please God, then isn’t it better for God to guide us on how to present ourselves? Jesus says he “knows” us because we are his “sheep” (John 10:27) and that nobody can pluck us out of his hand (John 10:28). This should encourage us to follow his lead day by day. And as we follow Jesus, we also yield to the guidance of God’s Spirit who indwells us (believers). That’s when God’s transformational work in our hearts and minds comes about. Notice, however, that allowing God to change us is voluntary (purely our choice) which is why Paul urges us to “offer ourselves” in response to God’s goodness. God doesn’t violate our will because God knows that our obedience to God’s word proves our love for God.
Paul further encourages us to work together with other believers, not in silos. To him, though we responded to Christ’s call individually, we were born again into a new family – the body of Christ. Our efforts must therefore be directed at flourishing together, not projecting our individual selves above others. Paul zeroes in on gifts which are often a source of discord among believers. Our gifts make us prone to pride – thinking less of others and perceiving ourselves as favorites of God. Over time, spiritual gifts have been instrumentalized in the church to abuse unsuspecting parishioners and God-seekers; they are used to form cliques and to create dominant cultures, and so on and so forth. So, Paul’s Romans 12 exposition should cause us to retrace our steps to why those gifts were given – i.e. for the joy of the church and the glory of God. Could you imagine what it may have been like had Joseph stored grain only for his household? What might it have been like if God had sent Christ to benefit only his immediate family? So friends, we have a calling that transcends ourselves and our immediate families – God has called us to employ our gifts for the growth of the church and for the care of creation.
I’m not an avid follower of soccer, but talking about building up instead of tearing down with our gifts, I remember a humane reaction by England’s forward, Chloe Kelly, in the just-ended FIFA Women’s World Cup. Kelly and her teammates played the Nigerian side in the Round of 16 which England won on penalties. Kelly took the winner for her side and instinctively jumped into celebration mode with her teammates. But almost immediately, she broke away from the circle of jubilant English players to console the Nigeria goalkeeper, Chiamaka Nnadozie, who had collapsed to the ground in tears. Her act of classic sportsmanship drew a couple of her colleagues and together they helped Chiamaka to her feet. Kelly’s sportsmanship didn’t end there. She further blocked a curious cameraman who wanted to film Chiamaka’s moment of sorrow and was infiltrating the ring she and her colleagues had formed around Chiamaka. Again, I’m no close follower of soccer, but Kelly’s sheer empathy and prompt display of sportsmanship seldom happens in the game – a departure from the norm; a clear variation from how most in the soccer world think.
Friends, Kelly’s example fits into our reflection around the need to yield to God. Heaven’s culture is not only superior to the culture of this world; it is eternal. This morning, could we come humbly to God, asking to be filled with the perspective of heaven? Could we let go of all other motivations and fully turn to God? As we do, we can rest assured that we won’t be toiling to please a generation which may be gone decades from now. Our efforts will be for God’s pleasure alone. And this God isn’t forgetful – i.e. nothing can erase the sacrifices done in God’s name for God’s glory. Again, this God is faithful both to make sure that our good works outlive us and to register our names in heaven for the hereafter. May God help us to please God, not the world. Amen!
Loving God, thanks for revealing Yourself to us through Your Son, Jesus. Thanks for the Good News we have through his sacrifice on Calvary’s Cross. We ask that You fill our hearts with Your unconditional love for Your work among creation. May our actions and our words build up; not tear down. And may Your beauty and joy reverberate from us wherever we go. In Jesus’ name. Amen!