Oh God, the strength of all who put their trust in you mercifully grant that by your power we may be defended against all adversity, Amen. Defended against all adversity. The Bible is full of examples of the Lord defending his people against all adversity. Take Joseph for instance, he suffered all kinds of adversity, and in the midst of all, it's like he lived out our Gospel reading 1900 years before Jesus spoke those words to his disciples. And was Joseph ever sinned against? Big time. His foolish father gave him a multicolored coat to make sure that all his brothers knew not you, but he, he is my chosen boy, thus making him a target of envy and bitterness.
Now, I don't know if that's actually being sinned against, but it's probably not a good thing for a parent to do, to tell all the other kids, “You're not my favorite, he is.” Then after that, after being sent out to spy for his dad and tattletail on his brothers, they caught him, and some of them hating him so much, wanted to kill him. But instead, because there's always been money in human trafficking, they sold him into slavery, to a wandering band of Ishmaelites. Being sold into slavery is definitely being sinned against. Then while in Egypt, Joseph prospered as he managed his master Pharaoh's house, but then he was sinned against some more. He was framed for a crime he didn't commit. Potiphar's wife, his boss's wife, hit on him. And when he wouldn't return the favor, she claimed Joseph raped her.
It was all a hoax of course, a total lie. Potiphar even knew it was a lie, but Potiphar also needed to save the reputation of his royally connected wife. And so he had Joseph thrown into jail anyway. No good deed ever goes unpunished. Joseph was good as dead as he rotted away, buried and forgotten in the bowels of that Egyptian prison, but, and you'd never know it by what you see with the eyes that are in the front of your head, you'd never know it, but the Lord was with him. Now, you might be thinking with a God like that on my side, who needs a devil? But still it was true, the Lord was with him.
And that's the constant refrain in Joseph's life. God defended him against all adversity, thrown into a well by his brothers, he wasn't killed. Sold into slavery, he was sold again to a wealthy Egyptian who recognized Joseph's managerial skills and put them to good use. Accused of rape, he was again, thrown into a prison where the jailer, seeing Joseph's skills, knowing that the crime really hadn't happened, made him the inmate prison boss. Then nearly forgotten, he interprets a few dreams by the wisdom of the Lord, of course, and that gets him placed into the service of Pharaoh. And in the end, God raised Joseph up from what was certain to become an Egyptian death camp for Joseph and made him as the Scripture says, “A father to Pharaoh and Lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Gen. 45:8). In other words, Joseph became the prime minister of Egypt who could among other things call all the agricultural shots, which in the end saved all of Egypt from starvation.
So from adversity to an Egyptian prison, Joseph becomes an intimate advisor to Pharaoh who palled around with Pharaoh's immediate circle of family and most trusted friends. He became one of the most powerful men in all of Egypt, and thus at that time, in the entire Western world. A rags to richest story, if there ever was one. And the constant refrain in Joseph's life was that God was with him, defending him against all adversity. As Joseph takes over the reigns of Egypt, his father, his rather diabolical brothers, and his family faced adversity of their own back in Canaan, famine. They say we're in a mega drought here in the west. Well, this was a mega famine, so intense that the whole region was going to starve to death.
Death in the grave was staring Joseph's family in the face if they didn't get anything to eat. And the only place in the known world where there was something you could buy to eat was Egypt. And guess who's in charge? Joseph, of course, although they didn't know it. So as brothers make the trek to Egypt, all the way from Canaan, where they stand before one of the most powerful leaders in all the world, their lives in his hands, they come as pure beggars.
Oh, certainly they had some money, it tells us to pay for the grain, but the money they had was a pitance compared to the wealth of Pharaoh. They were total beggars, totally dependent. Well, you can just imagine what Joseph's brothers thought when Joseph, after 20 years of being gone, by the way, when he revealed himself to them, when after a long series of events, he told them that he was their brother, the very one they'd told him to slavery, the very one they'd almost killed. Talk about adversity, talk about fear of getting what you deserve. “Surely he hates us surely in vengeance he'll kill us. He'll certainly make us pay for our wickedness against him. We'll have to answer for our sin. It's the gallows for us for sure. Our older brother Ruben was right when he told us after we'd thrown Joseph down into the well.” Not that Ruben was a Buddhist, but he told his brothers, “You better watch out. What goes around, comes around.” And boy, did it ever.
No doubt the brothers prayed like we just did:
“Oh God, the strength of all who put their trust in you mercifully grant that by your power we may be defended against all adversity.”
Defended against all adversity. And God did. Weaving events, replete with hatred and horror into a finished product no one could have ever foreseen, God provided a rescue for those rather useless brothers through as good as dead but brought back to life Joseph. Through Joseph, who'd been given all authority in Egypt. Listen to what “Lord Joseph” says to these sinners, “And now do not be dismayed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here for God sent me. It was not you who sent me here, but God.” And instead of sentencing them to death, as they expected, in fact, you could argue, as they deserved, Joseph embraces the convicted culprits. He doesn't hold their sin against them. He forgives them. There's no need to fear their brother now who holds all the power of Egypt at his beck and call.
As he later told his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today. So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.” Somehow by the gift of the spirit of God no doubt, Joseph had come to believe that God works out all things for good for his people. So all powerful Joseph is, if you will, at the service of his brothers. Lord of all Egypt, Joseph willingly uses his office to care for and provide for his brothers and their families instead of dishing out they're just desserts. “Hurry,” he tells his brothers, “and go to my father and say to him, thus says you're a son Joseph, who's alive by the way, God has made me Lord of all Egypt, come down to me. Do not teary, you shall dwell in the land of Goshen and you shall be near me. There I will provide for you for there are yet five years of famine to come. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth” (Gen. 45:9-11).
By now you’ve figured it out. It almost sounds like Joseph is foreshadowing Jesus. It almost looks like Joseph in Egypt – 1800 or 1900 years prior – is a forerunner of the Messiah himself. In fact, you could almost write Jesus’ story directly from the story of Joseph, favorite son of the father, betrayed by his brothers, good as dead, raised, ruling, forgiving, feeding, caring for, helping, lord of all in order to be servant of all. And that's the key to the story of Joseph. God didn't include this amazing technicolor dream-coat story in Scripture to be an entertaining musical or tale, the story of a guy who went from favorite son to rags to riches again. God, didn't put this story here to primarily teach us lessons on morality, don't sleep with your boss's wife, which by the way is not a good thing to do. No, this whole narrative is about Jesus. The real theme is God's direction of Joseph’s life for his saving purposes.
The designs and plans of wicked sinful brothers, the frailties of his own people, the private schemes and complications of international borders, none of these adversities were able to frustrate the accomplishment of God's plan of salvation. God always has a remnant, a remnant of believers, faithers we could call them – trusters – and they face adversity always. God saves Joseph and his brothers from starvation and certain death in order to have an Israel, in order that the promise God made to Abraham many years earlier might be fulfilled, in order to always have a church, if you will, a bunch of his “hangers-on”. And such a remnant was never permitted to perish in the Old Testament.
God made sure that he defended his remnant against all adversity. His little remnant of “hangers-on” survived catastrophic judgments, constant fights with Egypt, horrible Kings, crooked judges, despicable bureaucrats, numerous border scourges with the nations around them, invasions first by the Assyrians and then by the Babylonians. Exile, and then returned 70 years later to a land they hardly recognized, Persian conquest and Roman oppression. Isaiah preached it like this, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have become like Sodom and like Gomorrah.” In other words, we'd be gone from the face of the earth. But the remnant lives on even now, the remnant of “hangers-on” called the church. In spite of all of its warts, and wrinkles, and broken actors, even this little group here beset by our own set of adversities, in the face of all of it, Jesus says, “Fear not little flock, for it is the father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). And by the way, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Guilty as sin, we stand acquitted, absolved, forgiven of every guilt you know you are justly guilty of by faith in his innocent suffering and death for you.
If this story is really about Jesus, and it is, then we are all like Joseph's brothers standing before the bar of divine justice ready as anyone can ever be to hear the just and fair verdict we deserve to hear, “Depart from me you accursed into the eternal fire.” But our Joseph, our Christ, who was thrown down the well of the cross to do his Good Friday thing, and who spent holy Saturday buried in a tomb, seemingly dead and gone and forgotten, did his Easter Sunday thing as well and rose, and now reigns with all authority, not over just the principality of Egypt, but overall of heaven and earth. And get this, according to the author of the letter to the Hebrews, he is not ashamed to call us brothers. He's not ashamed to deliver all those who through fear of death, were subject to lifelong bondage. With his Good Friday wounds showing, Jesus embraces you and forgives you for all your sins against him.
Guilty as sin, we stand acquitted, absolved, forgiven of every guilt you know you are justly guilty of by faith in his innocent suffering and death for you. You – his sisters, his brothers – are children of God and heirs of eternal life according to John. Oh God, the strength of all who put their trust in you mercifully grant that by your power, we may be defended against all adversity, and defended we are throughout this life in ways we recognize and in ways we will never even know.
But what about death? When does he defend us against death? I mean, the big and final one that comes for all of us. Isn't this where his defense against all adversity fails us? So it would certainly seem. Well, St. Paul tells us the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Through every adversity, Jesus defends you, even and especially the adversity of death and the grave. For by his death he has conquered death, and by his resurrection, he knows the way through the grave to life again.
And because in Holy Baptism, you have been linked to Christ, and where he goes you go, and where you go he goes, that means you have nothing to fear, not even death. In Christ, shall all be made alive, he the first fruit and us to follow, and that includes you. On the last day because of Jesus resurrection, regardless of all the adversity you go through in this life, you too shall be raised from the dead. The enemy of death is defeated forever. Jesus, Lord of all is your servant. He doesn't give us what we deserve because of our sins, instead, he washes us clean in Holy Baptism and declares us to be his sons, his daughters. He forgives us, he feeds us with his Good Friday body in the grain of the bread and his blood shed for you in the wine of his most holy supper. He saves you, given in shed for you for the remission, for the cancellation of your sin.
In that feeding, and with those words of promise, know this, he does defend you against all adversity. So let us pray one more time. “Oh God, the strength of all who put their trust in you mercifully grant that by your power we may be defended against all adversity through Jesus Christ, your son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.”