Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Lent. The last in the Old Testament Family series. Note the scripture connections are blended into the text of the sermon. Also, I shared a video which is provided as a link within the text. This was primarily to help the kids connect into the saying, “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”
Journeying through the stories of the Old Testament families, one question continues to echo through my thoughts: What is the message for the 21st Century?
The stories were preserved through generations orally before captured in print. The Old Testament stories were then carefully reviewed before publishing as a collection of writings for Christians to study. Now these stories continue to serve as a textbook for living in relationship with God.
Certainly life is not easy and each of the families that are included in Genesis is a testimony that humans make mistakes. Remaining faithful to God is not easy and sometimes we try to do all the right things and still struggle.
Sometimes life just hands you lemons.
Let’s consider Joseph, son of Jacob, grandson of Isaac, and great-grandson of Abraham. Certainly his story should be one that models how to be faithful to God, especially since he follows generations of the faithful.
Even though Jacob’s first choice of a wife was Rachel, through her father’s trick, she ended up being the second wife. The trick resulted in ten sons and even a daughter born before Rachel gave birth to Joseph. Later a second son Benjamin was born to Rachel and Jacob.
Joseph’s story begins in Genesis 37, as the story of a favored son. He is given special attention by Jacob represented by the gift of a special coat, familiar to the 21st century world through the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat”.
Sadly, being a father’s favorite led to family conflict and a plan develops (Genesis 37:18-20, 23-24 & 28):
18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!” . . . 23 So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. . . . 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces[d] of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.
Joseph’s comfortable life is abruptly changed. Fortunately one brother Rueben convinced the others not to kill Joseph, but life changed from freedom to slavary. Life handed Joseph a lemon.
Part B: (return to reflection after prayer time, Kids Chat & offering)
The common saying, “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”, certainly is true for Mikaila who made two bee stings into a successful business selling lemonade. [Access You Tube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSQ9KLEMuUg&t=75s&list=PLFlOzfWR7LMU1BiEH3yLviw7MsLD0uI6O&index=2]
Joseph, too, took the negative experience of being sold into slavery by his own brothers, and turned his life into a success story. As a slave, he quickly proved his value (Genesis 39:1-6a):
1When Joseph was taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelite traders, he was purchased by Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. Potiphar was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.2 The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. 3 Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. 4 This pleased Potiphar, so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned.5 From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake. All his household affairs ran smoothly, and his crops and livestock flourished. 6 So Potiphar gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn’t worry about a thing—except what kind of food to eat!
Looking at the story through our 21st century saying, Joseph took his lemon and made lemonade.
Unfortunately, when everything is going well, someone gets upset and this time it was Potiphar’s wife. She decided she liked what she saw in the young man Joseph and made inappropriate advances. Joseph, being raised to respect other’s relationships, refused and even ran away from her leaving his coat in her hands (funny how his coats just get in the way, isn’t it).
Because he refused her advances and being a servant, she made up a story and told her husband. The result was a second lemon—being thrown into prison (Genesis 39:17-23):
19 Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her.20 So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. 22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. 23 The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.
Joseph took the lemon of being thrown into jail based on a lie, and made lemonade.
The ancient story could easily be overlooked by today’s Christians since the real life experience of being tossed into jail without due process is unlikely, but the story is a lesson for us just as much today as it has been throughout history.
Joseph did not give up. Instead, he used his gifts for organizing, serving his fellow prisoners and management so well that he befriended the warden. The additional gift of interpreting dreams added to Joseph’s list of successes and ultimately led to his freedom again.
The lemon-like experience of jail turned into lemonade-like results again. His reputation of correctly interpreting dreams was eventually (2 years later) shared with the Pharaoh who was struggling with two very unsettling dreams. Joseph was called and interpreted the dreams. This pleased the Pharaoh (Genesis 41:41-44):
41 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and placed it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in fine linen clothing and hung a gold chain around his neck. 43 Then he had Joseph ride in the chariot reserved for his second-in-command. And wherever Joseph went, the command was shouted, “Kneel down!” So Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of all Egypt. 44 And Pharaoh said to him, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval.”
Even at this point, Joseph’s story could have failed.
One of the additional lessons in his story is the fact that he remained faithful to God. He never gave up his beliefs in terms of what he ate, how he avoided the Pharaoh’s wife, and even the interpretation of the dreams. He gave God the credit for his own abilities. He knew living a faithful life was key to a life that was sweet like lemonade.
Joseph’s story is not simple; it is filled with twists and turns. Just like your lives right now, thousands of years later. Life is never simple, and challenges come in all forms from trickery, to temptation, to bullying, to lies, to natural disasters. Yet, when life hands you a lemon, the decisions you make determine whether the end result is lemonade.
When famine hit the region even beyond Egypt’s boundaries, a twist of fate brought Joseph and his birth family back together. No one can predict what worldly life lemon-like experiences you encounter; but remaining faithful, following the teachings of God through the Word, through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ his son and through the Holy Spirit speaking directly to you, life can be made into lemonade.
Joseph’s story ends with his beginning after his family reconnects with him during a time of need. Joseph’s skills created a resource that sustained the life of the Egyptians, but also his own family.
The long story ends with his older brothers learning he was alive when they came to Egypt to find grain. One can only imagine their surprise and resulting sense of guilt. But Joseph’s lemonade story reached past the lemon experience with his brothers and again he sees God in action (Genesis 45:8-11, 21-28):
8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser[b] to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.
9 “Now hurry back to my father and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me master over all the land of Egypt. So come down to me immediately! 10 You can live in the region of Goshen, where you can be near me with all your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and everything you own. 11 I will take care of you there, for there are still five years of famine ahead of us. Otherwise you, your household, and all your animals will starve.’” . . . 24 So Joseph sent his brothers off, and as they left, he called after them, “Don’t quarrel about all this along the way!” 25 And they left Egypt and returned to their father, Jacob, in the land of Canaan.
26 “Joseph is still alive!” they told him. “And he is governor of all the land of Egypt!” Jacob was stunned at the news—he couldn’t believe it. 27 But when they repeated to Jacob everything Joseph had told them, and when he saw the wagons Joseph had sent to carry him, their father’s spirits revived.
28 Then Jacob exclaimed, “It must be true! My son Joseph is alive! I must go and see him before I die.”
True, life is not easy, and the stories of the Old Testament families prove that repeatedly. The stories share how the families handled and mishandled their lives while remaining faithful to God. Life is full of lemons, but the attitude and the decisions we make that are God-centered create lemonade.
Joseph remained faithful. He led by example even forgiving others who tried to hurt him. And Joseph continues the lineage leading to the human birth of Jesus (Genesis 50:22-26):
22 So Joseph and his brothers and their families continued to live in Egypt. Joseph lived to the age of 110. 23 He lived to see three generations of descendants of his son Ephraim, and he lived to see the birth of the children of Manasseh’s son Makir, whom he claimed as his own.[c]
24 “Soon I will die,” Joseph told his brothers, “but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”
25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath, and he said, “When God comes to help you and lead you back, you must take my bones with you.” 26 So Joseph died at the age of 110. The Egyptians embalmed him, and his body was placed in a coffin in Egypt.
Joseph’s life story was an example of the 20th century saying, “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” Today, keep in mind that living a God-centered life is the difference in whether you see life filled with lemons or whether you make it into lemonade. Make the choice to make lemonade.
Dear Almighty Father,
How easy it is to see life filled with lemons,
Yet you provide the gifts to make lemonade.
The stories of the Old Testament families
Teach us how to live a God-centered life.
As you gifted Joseph, you gift each one of us
With the talents and skills to love one another.
Guide us to find the ways to take life’s lemons
And transform them into cups filled with lemonade. –Amen.