Redeemer Seminary / Chapel
1 October 2015
Jon Marq Toombs
May the grace and love of God be with you all.
Today I want to talk about perspective and rhythms in life and gospel ministry.
As you know, things are not always as they seem. Especially from a distance. Sometimes we need the perspective that comes from being up close and personal to truly know and understand an event or experience. To illustrate this I want to share a story from recent news.
As you know, Pope Francis recently paid a visit to Cuba. What you probably don’t know is the story of his encounter with two young men. A Cuban paper called La Fabula Cotidiana reported that two young men were arrested, detained, and questioned when they were caught sneaking away from a private event held in honor of the pope. The young men — Ernesto and Javier — who hail from a poverty-stricken barrio in Havana, said they took a risk in hopes of seeing the pope and perhaps getting a blessing. Upon learning that a wealthy plantation owner was to host the pope for an evening, the young men decided to sneak passed heavily armed guards and enter the venue through a thick grove of banana trees that lined the back-edge of the plantation. They waited in the humid grove all day from morning til evening. As the sun set they made their move. They decided to split up, to cover more ground and reduce the chance of getting caught. According to a report, Ernesto ventured onto the lawn first, and carefully picked his way through the garden plants and flowers towards the patio of the hacienda. At on point he paused behind a sculpture and looked around for Javier. To his shock and surprise, Javier was still close to the edge of the trees, standing with raised hands. All of a sudden, he clasped his chest and fell to his knees. A moment later Ernesto saw someone clothed in white move towards Javier and wave his hand over Javier. It was the pope! Ernesto did his best to sneak back over there without getting caught by the guards. But by the time he arrived it was too late. The pope was gone. The guards caught them and loaded them in a truck. On the way to the station, Ernesto leaned over whispered Javier, “Oyes, manito. What was it like — to see the pope and get a real blessing?” And Javier shouted, “Blessing?! He didn’t give me no blessing! He say to me (making the sign of the cross), ‘Leave the bananas alone. Pick up the scraps. Get your friend. And get outta here!” 🙂
That’s a “true” story according to La Fabula Cotidiana — which translated means the Daily Fable. (Note: This is my version of an old “worldview” joke I heard many years ago.)
+ CANONICAL READING
The psalm I have chosen for the message today is Psalm 105. This psalm gives us a fresh new perspective on the faithfulness of God in the experience of his people. The psalm is located in Book Four of the psalms. This is significant because the psalms of Book Four tend to portray God as our provider and protector. The psalmist sings the praises of the God who is personally involved in the life of his people, who makes promises and keeps promises for his people, who works all things together for the good of those who love him for a thousand generations. This psalm sings the praises and tells the story of the God who entered into the real life experience of his people, not as a passive observer, but as an active participant.
Psalm 105 is recited by the Chronicler who attributes it to David, Asaph, and his brothers. They sang this psalm when God brought the ark of the covenant back to his people. The Chronicler probably recited it to remind the exiles returning from captivity that God is with them. He still loves them and cares for them and keeps his promises to them. Just as he was with their forefathers in Ur, Canaan, Egypt, Philistia, and beyond, so he was with them in Babylon and Persia. And he is with them now.
Psalm 105 gives us a fresh perspective and helps us see with new eyes the powerful works of the Lord and the ever-present word of the Lord in the ordinary rhythms of our life.
With that in mind, I would like to turn your attention to Psalm 105:16-23, which tells the story of Joseph in a poetic way.
If you are able, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. Hear the word of the Lord:
Then he called a famine upon the land;
all staff of bread he broke.
He sent before them them a man,
as a slave he was sold — Joseph.
They afflicted his feet with a fetter;
iron came to his life (neck);
until his word came to pass,
until the word of the LORD proved him true.
A king sent and loosed him;
a ruler of the peoples set him free.
He made him lord over his house,
and ruler of all his possessions,
to instruct his princes with his life (throat),
and to teach wisdom to his elders.
Then Israel came to Egypt;
Jacob immigrated the land of Ham. (Author’s Translation)
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessing to reading, preaching, and hearing of his word.
Here the psalmist tells us the story of Joseph. Joseph’s story reads like the cartoon that shows up Facebook: Your Plan in one frame, and God’s Plan in another frame. Your Plan shows a straight and smooth line that leads immediately to victory. God’s plan shows a sudden drop off, sharp turns, and a steep incline that leads ultimately to victory.
Joseph’s story is more like God’s Plan — it’s a story of descent and ascent. Like your story, it is full of twists and turns.
Recall how God gave Joseph a dream of the stars, moon, and sun all bowing down to him. And he gave him a dream of sheaves of wheat exalting him above all others. God showed him the end from the beginning. But he did not show him anything in between. So Joseph did not know how his story would play out.
In the story, Joseph reached out to take hold of the stars (so-to-speak), but when he stepped forward, he went over a cliff and he “fell” down, down, down.
Little did he know that he had been set apart by God and sent on mission to save the world.
As the story goes, Joseph was raised up by his father and then cast down by his brothers. Then he was raised up by Potiphar and cast down again by Potiphar’s wife. Then he raised up by the captain of the guard and cast down by a baker and cupbearer.
The psalmist says “Joseph was sent ahead of his family; he was sold as a slave. His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron, until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.”
The psalmist wants us to know that Joseph was on mission with God. But look at what it cost him!
Joseph was sent on mission, and he experienced separation, loneliness, hardship, sorrows, and pain. He was on mission, and he felt trapped and limited by his circumstances. He was sent on mission, yet he endured hardships.
Again and again, he was exalted and humiliated; dressed and stripped; offered hope and dropped into despair.
I think it is safe to say that Joseph reached the lowest point of his life in the prison cell — in the pit.
The psalmist says, Joseph went down, down, down, “until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him.”
Now, whether you are a professor, a pastor, a priest, take note: your story is like his story; if not now, it will be. You will teach and preach and counsel with the gospel, and you will suffer heartache, and sometimes you will be falsely accused, and you will feel yourself going down, getting lower, and lower, and lower.
But do not despair. Descent is part of the rhythm of the story. We must be willing to lean into the descent, to get low, and go down into the pit, and get our hands dirty and our hearts broken and our pride stripped, for the glory of God and the good of others.
And we must do so trusting that the Lord is with us every step of the way, even to the lowest depths of the pit and grave.
So, humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand — and he will lift you up in due time.
After Joseph was tested and tried by the Lord, the Lord made his word come to pass.
“A king sent and loosed him; a ruler of the peoples set him free. He made him lord over his house, and ruler of all his possessions, to instruct/command his princes with his life and to teach wisdom to his elders.”
This refers to the way he counseled Pharaoh and instructed the people in order to save them from the famine.
This ascent happened after thirteen years of slavery; after two years of solitary confinement in prison.
Everyone thought Joseph’s dreams were crazy. And for many, many years his message seemed to be empty and vain. But the word of the Lord never returns empty; it always accomplishes the purpose for which it was sent. At the end of the testing, the Lord raised him up. At just the right time, he fulfilled his word.
We might say it like this in our language: God made his message fruitful, and he made his ministry flourish — but only after years of testing and trial.
The psalmist wants us to know that Joseph was still mission with God when he hit rock bottom. (And that rock was Christ!) And he still on mission when he bounced back from rock bottom. Just look at what he gained!
Joseph was sent on mission, and he experienced reconciliation, communion, relief, joy, and pleasures. He was on mission, and he felt free in his circumstances by the Lord. He was on mission, yet he experienced peace.
Now, whether you are a professor, a pastor, a priest, take heart: your story is much like his story; if not now, it will be. You will teach and preach and counsel and serve and love with the gospel. And sometimes you will experience untold joys, and you will feel yourself being lifted up, higher, and higher, and higher.
Rejoice! Ascent is also part of the rhythm of the story!
We must be just as willing to leap into the ascent, as we are to lean into descent — to go high, and get up out of the pit and go into the palace, for the glory of God and the good of others.
To misquote Job, we must receive good from the Lord and not just “evil”.
If that seems odd to you, let me remind you that we must forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead, and we must press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)
I want to echo the psalmist and remind you that God is faithful. He loves you and cares for you and keeps his promises to you in Christ. Just as he was with our forefathers who were aliens and strangers in Ur, Canaan, Egypt, Philistia, and Babylon, so he is with us now. Even in America, where we are immigrants and exiles who eagerly await a Savior from heaven, who will change everything when he comes: sorrows to joys; weakness to strength; shame to glory; crosses to crowns.
Now, getting back to Joseph. How did he do what he did without cracking up or caving in?
Joseph learned to be content in every situation. He knew how to be brought low, and how to abound. In any and every circumstance, he learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, of abundance and need. He was able to face all those things through the Lord who was with him and gave him strength. (Philippians 4:11-13)
I hope and pray you and I learn the same secret of contentment: namely, that God is our faithful protector and provider.
+ CHRISTOTELIC READING
Now, you have heard that it was said to seminarians not long ago (perhaps in the last hour or so), “Story shapes life.” And that is so true! But I wish to add a tiny footnote to that statement: “Life shows story.”
Story shapes life and life shows the story in which, and by which, we live. The way we live, move, and exist reveals the story that shapes our life.
A person who lives in the story of the gospel acts one way. But a person who lives in the story of the law acts a different way.
The story in which we live is the story of Jesus. Apart from Jesus, Joseph’s story makes no sense. Neither does your story or mine.
Jesus’ story is the gravitational center of all (true) stories. Joseph’s story, your story and my story, are all tied to Jesus’ story. It is a story of descending and ascending, of going down and coming up, of falling down and rising up, of dying and rising in union with Christ.
Joseph’s story is a shadow that points forward to Jesus; our stories are echoes that point back to Jesus.
The psalmist could have said to Israel, “Have this mind in you which was also in Joseph.” But the apostle says to the church, “Have this mind in you which was also in Jesus — the true and better Joseph.”
As Joseph was stripped and emptied as a slave, so Jesus emptied himself by taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.
As Joseph was humble and obedient to the point of suffering the pain of shackles and a collar of iron, so Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross.
As Joseph was exalted by Pharaoh and given a name above other names, so Jesus was highly exalted by God the Father, and given the name that is above every name.
As the people bowed the knee before Joseph and kissed his mouth, so every knee in heaven and on earth and under the earth, should bow before Jesus and every mouth should confess “Jesus Christ is Lord” to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus Christ is the true and better Joseph, the son who became slave, the slave who became the savior, the savior who became the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth.
His story shapes our life, and our life must show his story.
For the dreams set before him, Joseph endured the hardships of the pit.
For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame.
For the crown of life set before you, what will you endure?
What shame will you despise? What sorrows will you bear?
What sacrifices will you make? What service will you render?