August 01, 2021
• Rev. Mindie Moore
Welcome back to Week 5 of the Connecting the Dots series. We’ve spent the last several weeks in the book of Genesis learning from the life of Joseph. And during this series, you know, it hasn’t always been the most uplifting story. We’ve seen Joseph go through some stuff. He’s been thrown into a pit by his brothers, been betrayed by the important people in his life, put in jail, been forgotten about by people he helped, he’s watched every dream he’s had be put on the backburner, just waiting for something to go right.
And finally, FINALLY, we’re here.
We're at the happy part of Joseph’s story! No one is in a pit, the jealous brothers are out of the picture, he’s got a good job, a wife and 2 kids and life is good!
And as I read this next chapter of Joseph’s story, the word that immediately came to my mind was JOY. We see him using his gifts. We see him creating a family. We see all that hard stuff he’d been through in the past finally be part of the past.
And if the story of Joseph was a movie, it’d be right about now that we’d be breathing a sigh of relief, watching the closing credits roll up, we’d be getting off the couch and we’d be going to bed. And we’d think, wow. That’s great, that movie actually had a really nice, happily resolved ending.
And we’d be right...kind of. We ARE to the good part...But Joseph’s story isn’t over yet.
So before we write this off as just another story with a happy ending, before we assume there’s nothing more to see or learn here...I want to ask you a question- the question that the video at the top of the service asked us- (slide) when did you last feel joy? Think about it. In the
middle of your busy life, when did you last slow down to just enjoy it? In the middle of the ongoing struggle that won’t let up, when did you get a glimpse of the good things? When was the last time you took some time to lay out all the places of joy in your life and really see the big picture clearly?
If we’re not careful, it can be way too easy to miss out on the joy that’s right in front of us. We’ve got to do lists to check off, we’ve got schedules to stick to, we’ve got conflict in the family, we’ve got long and difficult pasts to untangle. That’s all there. Sometimes it feels like if we could just get all the dots to connect and all the stuff taken care of, THEN we would be able to experience some joy.
But you know what? We don't have to wait. You don’t have to connect all the dots, heal all the pain, figure every piece out, to see the joy right in front of you. In Joseph’s story and even in our own stories, there’s plenty of room for both if we can just pay attention. And sometimes it’s in the seasons that feel the most complicated, where we face the hardest things, that joy can be at work the most.
One of my friends from seminary, Angela Williams Gorrell, wrote a book called “The Gravity of Joy” (show picture) where she uses her own story to talk about this exact thing. In her book, she tells about the season of her life when experiencing joy seemed almost impossible. In the span of just a few weeks, she lost three close family members including her own father. And this all happened while she was in the midst of beginning a new job...a faculty position at Yale, teaching on and researching JOY. So her whole work life was spent finding out what created a joyful life, and in her personal life, joy couldn’t have seemed more out of reach.
Angela’s story is POWERFUL and I loved one of the quotes she shares in it that sums up what she was discovering joy to really be in that season-
Joy is what we feel (when) what is lost is found; what was missing is restored; what constrained is lifted; what we desire arrives; or what arrives satisfies a desire we didn’t know we had. (Adam Potkay) (slide)
Have you ever thought about joy like that? I like that definition because it’s got a little bit more depth to it than just having it all work out; it’s a little more nuanced than just feeling happy. This definition of joy speaks to the fact that no matter what our stories look like, we’re all people who are longing and looking for something...and that we’re all people who are trying to connect the dots. And it’s encouraging- because no matter where we are in that process- whether the connections are made or the dots are more like a jumbled mess, it reminds us that joy is possible.
When we have more questions than answers, joy is possible.
When we’re sitting with disappointment, joy is possible.
When we’re living life on autopilot, just trying to get through the day, joy is possible.
And Joseph is a living example of the possibility of joy. Because remember, a lot has happened before this point in the story. Even though things are going well NOW, for so long they absolutely did not. There has been hard time after hard time and YET- even through all that, Joseph can see that God’s been up to something.
And Joseph claims this truth about Joy through the way that he names his children. Now, even though the naming of our kids was important to me- I was that person with 4 baby name books and a list of about 12 possible names to choose from- I could not have predicted how well
their names fit them. Our oldest is named Hazel, which means wisdom- if you know her, it fits. She is almost 8 years old and is for sure the most responsible member of our family. Our youngest is named Rhys, which means enthusiasm. If you know him, you know this also fits, and if you don’t know him, just meet him and you will believe me!
And so while it’s been a fun surprise to us how our kids have lived into their names, Joseph names his children in a way that claims a bigger truth about where he’s been and what the future holds. His first son, Manasseh means God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house and his second son Ephraim means For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.
So these names, they’re more than just a name- These names tell a story and claim a truth.
And these names show a choice that Joseph has made-even though he has the scars and trauma to prove that his life has been hard, that’s not what he chooses to lead with into this next season. Instead of building his future around the things that have failed him- and there’s plenty of material for that- instead of becoming a bitter and spiteful person, Joseph chooses a different way. Joseph chooses to see clearly how God has been with him every difficult step of the journey. Joseph can see joy and he can see hope. And that’s where Joseph starts to connect the dots in what has happened in his life and starts to build a future.
It’s a powerful thing that’s Joseph’s doing, because it’s moving on with a different mindset. It’s not that he’s forgetting about the past or trying to deny it- I mean, look at the names! Hardship and misfortune- it's right there! So he’s not forgetting, but he is letting the joy be bigger than the pain he’s experience. And it you've been through something or you’re going through it right now, there’s a huge lesson here- our ability to feel joy doesn’t require us to erase the grief we’ve experienced. I
don’t think it even requires us to be fully over that grief. We can feel a lot of pressure to shake it off and move on but I don’t think that’s what joy asks us to do. Because joy doesn’t ever promise take away the memory of what hurt or erase the pain completely.
But here’s what joy does do- Joy dilutes pain’s power. (slide) And when that happens, Joy changes our perspective. Joy helps us see clearly because it lets us look at life in a new way- instead of a series of endings, it helps us see the beginnings and the workings of God that are all around us. It opens us up to things that maybe we couldn’t see before. It lets us be curious instead of cynical for what might come next.
So if we want this joy, if know what God can do, if we believe that joy is possible the natural next question for me is how do we find it? How do we not miss it in the middle of all the things?
Now, if you know me, you will not be surprised at where I turned to find this answer. For those of you who are already laughing at me because you know what I’m going to say, I promise I tried to find a better source. I googled, I podcasted, I TRIED. But at the end of the day, yes, it’s a Pastor Mindie sermon, and yes, she’s going to quote Brene Brown again. Know thyself.
I’ve been listening to her podcast, Unlocking Us this summer, and the other day she was talking about the relationship between joy and gratitude. And it was so interesting to me, because she shared that for years, she assumed that joyful people were grateful. I mean, it makes sense. If you’ve got a lot of joy in your life, that seems like it would naturally lend itself to a lot of gratitude.
But she went on to say that as she researched for one of her books, she found out that she was wrong. It wasn’t that joyful people were
grateful, but that grateful people are joyful. Do you hear the difference? It’s tricky because they sound similar but there’s a huge implication for us if we understand this difference. See, the research didn’t support the idea that an easy or “good” life is what brings people joy- what it did show was that a consistent practice of gratitude gives us the ability to experience joy no matter what.
(slide) More than anything, Gratitude breeds joy. It gives us this access we didn’t know we had- in those moments where we want to believe that joy is not for us, there’s no way, we just can’t find it...we just start here. I know it’s simple, but that basic act of just naming the things that we are grateful for can open the door for joy to creep in, even when we were sure that it couldn’t possibly be part of our story right now.
If we take the time, if we make the space, I really believe that gratitude can be the spark that starts to lead us toward joy. And it’s those sparks, that commitment to seeing our circumstances clearly that make all the difference. Joseph didn’t just accidentally stumble into joy because things got better for him. His joy was a result of a lifelong practice of turning to and trusting God and watching how God worked in the middle of some really difficult circumstances that set him up for joy in the first place.
Because the thing is, Joseph could have had the tide of his story change, things could have started going right for him, he could have had all the success in the world, and he could have STILL MISSED OUT ON JOY. We all know people like this, we’ve all seen these kinds of stories. The truth is, if you’re someone whose been waiting on joy to just show up- A change of circumstance does not guarantee a shift in perspective. That’s the spiritual work for us, whether we’re in the best
time of our lives or things couldn’t possibly get worse. No matter what is going on around us, we can commit to look toward God and find joy.
I won’t lie, sometimes it’s a fight. It’s a fight to find joy. It doesn’t always come quickly or easily and sometimes we can feel stuck. But finding joy is worth it and getting unstuck matters. Not just for us, but for the world and people around us.
That’s the final lesson we learn from this part of Joseph’s story. Our joy is bigger than ourselves.
Look at verses 48 and 49 (slide): He gathered up all the food of the seven years when there was plenty[c] in the land of Egypt, and stored up food in the cities; he stored up in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance—like the sand of the sea—that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure.
So what’s happening here is Joseph’s ability to move forward with joy has an impact. In these verses, he’s doing the work of storing up food for the famine that is coming. This is a famine that has the potential to wipe out this whole country that Joseph is now in charge of, so the stakes are high here. His doing this work and doing this work well MATTERS.
But imagine how this story could have ended. Imagine what would have happened if Joseph would have went into this new season full of success, but with a bitter heart.
Imagine what would have happened if he had said, “well, these people in this country? They did me wrong. Their leaders threw me in jail, they forgot about me, I was nothing to them for years! So good luck not starving to death.” The consequences to choosing bitterness instead of joy would have been catastrophic.
But that’s not what happens. Joseph ISN’T bitter, his joy has led him to a new place where he not only moves on but he’s able to see the bigger picture- it's not just about his pain and his own story, but he sees himself as someone created for a bigger purpose.
Sometimes we think our spiritual work is just about us, that our stories are pretty insignificant and not very far reaching. And I get that, especially when we’re looking at a story like Joseph’s. This story feels BIG. It’s significant. I mean, it’s in the Bible!
But it’s not just Joseph. It’s you and me, and the fact that what we let God do in HERE impacts what happens out THERE. All these things we talked about today, all the work it takes to see our stories clearly and to fight for joy, it’s not just good for us, but it’s good for the world.
And so, while I really wanted to end this sermon with a profound inspirational story- and I mean the Olympics on, this seemed like a pretty easy win here...I couldn’t do that. Because I want you to walk away not just believing that this is true for someone else, but knowing that this is true for you too.
So let me tell you a little bit of my own spiritual work to see clearly, to connect the dots, and choose joy in a hard season. Many of you know that in 2020, our son Rhys, that child who personifies enthusiasm, had a health crisis and was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. So we’ve lived with this for over a year now, and it’s going to be part of our lives forever. I don’t think I realized that I was teetering on the edge of bitterness about this diagnosis until we were having dinner with some friends a couple months ago. They were asking us if we had rescheduled the cross country no kids trip we’d had to cancel because of COVID. And I heard myself say out loud, with my child within earshot, “No we don’t get to do those kinds of things now. We can’t just do whatever we want anymore.”
I thought about what I said and how I said it the rest of the night. And I realized- I am making a choice to let my grief and bitterness over this diagnosis have more power over our life than they ever should. It’s a hard, lifelong diagnosis, yes. But there is so much goodness in our lives, not despite type one but alongside type one. Rhys is still Rhys, whether his pancreas does its job or has to be replaced by a little pod of insulin outside of his body. We have family and friends who are committed to learning how to help care for him, we have a church that loves him and makes sure he’s safe here, a school that does everything they can to make him just another kid.
And I’ll tell you, it’s been in this season that I have seen God tend to me and my fear in the most concrete way I could ever imagine. My biggest fear is that something will happen, that he won’t make it to be an adult. And before Rhys was diagnosed, I knew about ONE adult with Type 1. Since his diagnosis? I can’t even count how many adults have RANDOMLY popped up in our life who have type 1. Amazing, dynamic, healthy adults doing all the normal things adults do.
Over and over again, in the middle of all the hard things, God keeps reminding me- THERE’S JOY. There are things to be grateful for, there are opportunities to make community and be part of a story that’s bigger than our own. I am not obligated to be bitter about this new part of our lives- and there’s an invitation to see that joy if I’ll just be open to it.
I told you, it’s a work in progress. I need that reminder all the time, over and over again. And when I can be open to joy, it’s so much better than the alternative. There’s so much possibility and goodness that I can’t even imagine.
I don’t know what you’re going through, but I do know that no matter what it is, God is right there next to you. God didn’t leave Joseph in the
hardest times of his life, and God doesn’t leave us either. And even in the most difficult moment, there’s a spark of joy, just waiting for us to see it clearly. Let’s pray.