Religion Magazine

(Not Such An) Idle Thought

By Richardl @richardlittleda

Collaborative preaching wins

I have posted on here before about the collaborative possibilities of preaching. In these days of connectivity there is neither need nor excuse for the preacher to be a ‘loan ranger’. After consulting a wider audience on here about preaching on Mary, yesterday it was Joseph’s turn. I asked people whether Joseph’s magnanimous words in Genesis 45 were anything more than an Old Testament version of Eric Idle’s “always look on the bright side of life’. To date there have been 115 visits to the page, and 14 comments.

  • Some of the comments were about the ‘tenor of the passage: ‘we see the transformation in Gen 45 of Joseph from spoiled favorite son to a forgiving brother’; ‘We cannot but be moved when we read the account of reconciliation. Each one of those mentioned in this account was important to the whole scenario’
  • Others engaged more specifically with the question about what kind of positivity Joseph was displaying ‘The ‘bright side’ brings to mind a false cheeriness – rather than seeking to look for the ‘good’/learning opportunities in the ‘realities of life’. Again: ‘I don’t think this is a superficial glossing over the bad things and “looking on the bright side” approach, but a deeper realization that God can bring good out of all circumstances
  • Still others spoke out of their own considerable pain and anguish ‘A discipline of gratitude even in pain is v different to a superficial cheeriness’ and ‘Allowing God to use what seems so difficult in order for Him to bring blessing out of brokenness.’
  • I was led to two specific resources, both of which were mentioned in the sermon. One was the searingly honest alternative version of All things Bright and Beautiful, from the Monty Python team, which you see below.It makes for uncomfortable reading/ singing – but makes a good point. The other was Ann Voskamp’s book ‘One Thousand Gifts‘, with its practical advocacy of setting a habit of gratitude.

In the 90 minutes before yesterday’s evening service, ,many of these ideas were incorporated, with two particular results. The first was that there were numerous voices in the pulpit rather than just my own. The second is that I was able to provide far more specific and practical application than I had anticipated. The narrative introduction and outline of the sermon follows.(Podcast will be available here in due course)


The sound of the doors clanging shut was heard throughout the household. They were vast, twice a man’s height, and no-one could remember seeing them shut.  The last time their carvings had been seen, the last time anyone had run their fingers over the rows of seven cows and the bowing sheaves of corn had been years before. Their suns and moons and stars had been hidden, their faces turned inwards to the wall.  Since the Hebrew boy had come to live here, bathed in the fragrance of the Pharaoh’s pleasure, fewer doors had been shut, and life itself had been more open.  Servants bowed to him because their hearts, rather than his command, required it. They all knew their families were fed because of him.

And now, the mighty doors were shut – their cows and corn and suns holding a secret that no man might see. Servants shuffled outside helplessly, like extras unsure of their moves.  Furtive glances and half shrugs of the shoulder were exchanged. Something…something was going on.  Then it began – a long, drawn out wail like an animal in pain.  Some would say afterwards it was the sound of the she-jackal finding that her cubs had been stolen.  Others talked of mysterious birds of the night – shrieking as the moon rose and silvered their outstretched wings.  Either way it went on and on until the servants could bear it no more.

One, then two, then three men pushed open the doors to behold what lay within.  To do so without permission was to risk the wrath of their master, but they could not leave him thus.  Inside was a glorious tangle of reconciliation and gladness like the house had never witnessed before.  Grown men, their faces wreathed with smiles, bore the tracks of tears down their dusty cheeks.  The moment’s agony, it would seem, had been one of surprise and joy.  These men had thought their brother dead – lost for ever.  And now here he was – resplendent in the Pharaoh’s robe,the royal signet ring upon his finger, the chain of office glittering on his breast.

Over their heads the servants caught young Joseph’s eye and knew that all was well.  Runners were sent to the Pharoah’s palace to share the news.  Beasts were saddled, carts were laden, and a caravan of bounty set out for the land of Canaan to bring the rest of Joseph’s family to him.  After that, the doors were never closed again.


How ever does Joseph pull it off – this feat of magnanimity?

Firstly, he does so by choosing to give all around him the benefit of the doubt. He chooses to accord to their negative words and actions only the most positive motives. We see this also in Job, as his ‘comforters’ heap layer after layer of theological nonsense upon him. Ultimately we will see it in Christ as he calls upon God to forgive his murderers for they ‘know not what they do’. After that, others would pick up the same torch and run with it – from Helen Roseveare in the jungles of the Congo in the 1960s, to persecuted Christians in North Korea and elsewhere today. These men and women choose to see the best in their captors. Like Joseph, it is a soul-skill learnt at every step of the way, and not just ‘saved up’ for the end. These are habits we set.

Secondly, Joseph sets the habit of giving God the benefit of faith. When eh emerges, blinking, from his prison and is asked whether he can interpret Pharaoh’s dream – he says ‘no’ – going on to clarify that God alone can do such a thing. When he sends a message back to his father, the first words from his lost son for many years, he chooses to emphasize that God has done all these good things. He does the same with his brothers, saying that it was not so much that they sold him as that God sent him.

Seeing things this way will never come naturally to any of us. Instead, these are skills we must learn. If we ever want to see God’s hand in both good and bad, we must set the daily habit of seeing both good and God in all things. At times this is harder than others – but do it we must. Maybe, like Ann Voskamp, we just need to start writing a list…


(Not such an) idle thought

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