Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany [c] February 20, 2022
3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on Earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.
In the Name of Jesus.
God has made a promise to you. His Name is on it.
Promise is gift. An oath made. When you give a promise, you put your name at stake. Break a promise, you bring dishonor to your name. It’s not a contract, not a deal, not a quid pro quo. Promise is pure gift.
I might say, I made a promise to the bank to pay my mortgage every month. But that’s not really a promise. It’s a contract.
A promise is an oath made on your name. It’s a man telling a woman he binds himself to her and will be husband to her until parted by death. He put his name at stake. It’s a mother promising her child that she loves him and will never give up on him, no matter what. Her name is at stake.
Outside of promise, things are tradeoff, deal made, Law. The Law gives no gifts. If I pay by electric bill, PNM keeps my power on. If I don’t, the power goes off. Just transaction, Law.
A promise knows none of this. It’s gift, it’s oath, it’s the promiser’s name at stake.
A bride and groom treating marriage as transaction, that marriage lasts as long as the deal is good—the bride and groom have departed the promise. A young boy thinking his mother loves him only as long as he picks up his toys—that little boy knows life as transaction. He’s departed his mother’s promise to love him where she put her name at stake.
You have a promise. It’s gift, it’s oath. God put his Name at stake with you.
In Holy Baptism, he gave you his Name—the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Lord said he would be with you always, even until the end of the age. If he doesn’t keep you, his Name is empty.
The problem with a promise can be that it never seems sure. Not, anyway, by what we see, by what we experience.
God gave his Name to you by oath, you are a child of the promise, but does it seem that way? When your conscience is struck by guilt, does it seem that you belong to the promise? Or does it maybe seem that God is far off, as if he doesn’t need to hang around sinners?
Maybe a husband laments breaking his promise to his wife. In his shame, does God’s promise still seem sure and certain to him? Or would he rather not think about how God regards him now?
That’s the problem with a promise. It always seems in danger, at jeopardy.
A contract, that’s a sure thing. If I don’t pay my electric bill, they cut me off. Black and white. The Law leaves no room for doubt.
A promise?—room for doubt, it seems. Will God keep his oath to me, even if I see no reason why he should and certainly I know reasons he should not?
Joseph’s brothers show up in Egypt. Back home, it’s famine. People driven off farms, families hungry, no hope to be seen. So, off to Egypt. Egypt has food. Maybe they’ll get lucky and be able to take some food back home to their elderly father, Jacob.
Joseph’s brothers are men of the promise! They are the sons of Jacob. And Jacob is son of Isaac. And Isaac son of Abraham. To Abraham was given the promise. Genesis 17:3:
And God said to [Abraham], “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.
So Abraham is a man of the promise. God made an oath. The Lord’s Name is at stake. If Abraham doesn’t live, God’s Name is no good. If Abraham doesn’t have many generations of offspring, God’s Name is no good. If Abraham’s son dies, God’s Name is no good.
These brothers of Joseph looking for food in Egypt, they’re Abraham’s offspring. They belong to the promise. If anything happens to them, God’s Name is empty.
But here they are, starving, looking to live one more day. How sure does God’s Name seem to them?
Not only that, but these brothers had earlier tried to kill Joseph, before selling him into to slavery in Egypt. If Joseph had been killed, how would the promise to Abraham have stood? If they had succeeded, would the Savior promised of Abraham’s lineage have been able come forward? If that had happened, would we have Jesus later born of Mary as our Savior?—because Jesus came in the lineage of Joseph and his brothers.
Take a look at Abraham. The promise would come from his offspring. But he messed things up. He took another wife—the Lord never told him to do that.
Then we look at Abraham’s son Isaac. Isaac had trouble even getting the blessing transferred to one of his sons.
Then we see how Isaac’s son Jacob ends up under threat of death from his own brother, Esau.
At every step, the promise is in jeopardy. The promise always seems shaky.
The Law, that doesn’t seem shaky. You break the Law, you’re guilty. The Law comes easily to a sinner, no confusion. The Law is clear as a bell.
But the promise—the promise is the Gospel. It always seems shaky. Always seems hidden by what we’re actually living through.
We know the Law by our flesh. It’s written on our hearts. It’s all around us. Never in doubt.
The promise though—we will never know that by our flesh, never by our reason or rationality.
The Gospel comes to us from outside of us. It comes to us by the preaching of the Word of God.
When God has his Gospel preached, he’s making an oath to us. That’s the promise. It depends not on what we see, not on what we do, but on what we hear when God speaks in his Word.
So Joseph’s brothers—they are all men of the promise, they belong to God’s oath, but they’re distressed; they fear for their lives; they’re doing everything they can just to try to live another day.
So God, in his kindness, speaks the promise to them again. This time he speaks it to them by using the mouth of Joseph, the brother they had sold into slavery. Genesis 45:3:
And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on Earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.
It was not you, who did this, says Joseph, it was God.
We think it depends on us. That’s our sin. If it depends on us, it’s by our works, it’s by the Law, and the Law gives no gifts. Joseph preaches to his brothers and says, it’s not you, it’s God.
It’s God who made the promise that the Abraham would have many generations. It’s God who made the promise that from Abraham’s offspring would come the Savior by whom all nations are blessed.
It’s God who put his Name at stake with the promise.
So every step of the way, when we’re thinking it’s us, we’re departing the promise just as did Joseph’s brothers.
For, you live either by your works or by the promise. Either by your worthiness or by grace. Either by the Law or by the Gospel.
No sinner, though, will live by his works under the Law—that is death. The sinner is given life by the promise, by grace, by the Gospel.
So what does God do? The God who made the promise to you, who gave his oath to you, who put his Name on you in Baptism?
God does not depart his Name. He will not forget his promise.
God keeps having his promise given to you again and again—it’s called, the preaching of the Gospel of Christ crucified.
God keeps calling you back to the Name he put on you in Baptism. That’s why every Lord’s Service begins with the pastor facing the congregation and re-announcing the promise by saying, In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The promise God made to you will always seem at jeopardy, until we are no longer in our sinful flesh. Because, we do not know the promise by our flesh. We don’t see it in our lives with our eyes.
The promise is known by faith. Faith lives by the Word of God. So we know the promise by the preaching of the Word. By God bringing his Word to us in the Sacrament.
And we know it by the Word as God gives us to keep speaking this Word of promise, this word of Gospel, as we speak to one another the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus.
He made the promise to you. It’s his Name. It’s his oath. He is keeping you.
In the Name of Jesus.