To be “with” is at the heart of our own being
But further, to be “with” is at the heart of the universe.
Maybe one of the first times we learned to articulate this great profound truth was in first and second year at school, when we approached the other half of ourselves, perhaps the in playground, perhaps just after getting off the bus, perhaps to the soundtrack of Showaddywaddy at the school disco
You used to talk about it when you were asking someone out “Would you go with me?”
And how did this blessed paramour respond to this incantation of the one of the rites of the universe, by choosing to dance with our mate instead.
But we laugh now, but this thing was massive then, huge, because we had stumbled on something big.
It is about who inhabits the space around us being very important.
Who are you with…
You want people to be with.. you
Processes of being un-withed – of divorce, or bereavement, or of moving city, or of job
Of loneliness, or being in a crowd and unknown, misunderstood
Are amongst the painful that we can go through.
One of the worst things that you can ever do to someone is to put them in solitary confinement
We express with through everything that we can lay our hands on to express the connection
Being, holding, touching, eating together, kissing, hugging,
Speaking, phoning, writing, texting, emailing, facebook commenting.
It is pull at this thing that God does, of being “with”, being around, together.
We are called to be with God
More than “under God” of “for God”
The name that God chooses when he comes to earth, is “Immanuel” which means “God with us”
When we are told about the end of time, we are told “God will be with his people.”
We are told of a few people in the Bible, that God was particularly “with them”
And if you have an image, think of that Gorilla surrounding them, with all God’s strength,
All God’s love
All God’s desire simply to be
I want to share an image of being “with” this morning.
This if of a conservationist Damien Aspinall, who had kept a gorilla called Kwibu in his zoo in England, before releasing Kwibu into the wild
He has not see Kwibu for five years, and now returns to go and see him
Others are worried that this might not be such a good idea, because Kwibu has been seen recently and has been behaving aggressively.
The image I want to have this morning is of Kwibu holding the man, this great strength of whom others are afraid, but for Aspinall is with, he even dares to use the word “love” here,
A picture of the “with-“ness of God.
Story Of Joseph
This story of Joseph, highlights three aspects of with-ness,
- With is bigger than Down
- With is not the opposite of Work
And these two truths mingle with each other through the first part of the story we hear today
And then towards the end of the passage, a third truth emerges
- “WITH” is in competition with “with”
Let us look at the first verse here, this is the verse in a literal translation of the Bible.
1Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and(A) Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian,(B) had bought him from the(C) Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.
Now I want us to notice the word Down, for the ancient Israelites
The highest point that you could get on earth was Zion, other mountains were jealous of Zion, because they were not so high, literally they might be high, but somehow they were not near God;
And then there was Israel,
And there were other places that were down, because they were far from God
There was the sea, that you go down into
There was hell, or Sheol, where you were far from God
And then there was Egypt
They were down,
Down is the place that is uncelebrated, far from God, it is the pit
It is the dark place,
The place where God is far
If up is health, then down is disablement
If up is promotion, then down is redundancy
If up is prosperity, then down is bankruptcy
If up is freedom, then down is prison
If up is company, then down is loneliness
If up is home, then down is alienation
And it is the place where God is not, where God is far.
And Egypt is down, but we notice something here;
Look at the next verse…
2(D) The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.
One of the messages of this passage is in every down place, there is a way of being with God.
So Joseph is down, but he is also with.
He is put over the whole of Potiphar’s house, because his master recognizes that God is with him.
Notice here, that Joseph is a worker
He is someone who is not out in a monastery being with God
He is with God, in a busy administrative role,
Doing that role well
And people see that God is with him
A greatly admired Quaker writer, Thomas Kelly, in a book “Testament of Devotion” said this
From Thomas Kelly, great Quaker writer, “Testament of Devotion”
“There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once, on one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs but deep within behind the scenes at a more profound level we might also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship, and with a receptiveness to the gentle divine breathings. The secular world today values only the first level believing that this is where the real business of humanity is done, but we know that the deep level of prayer is the most important thing in the world. It is at this deep level that the real business of life is determined.”
God is with us, in that which is done well
Be that prayers or labour
There was a famous monk of the 1600’s, Brother Lawrence who felt that that his life had been a failure,
He entered a monastery but he did not pray all day,
His job was to be in the monastery kitchen – so much of the goodness of a Church can happen with what occurs in its kitchen.
Lawrence struggled at first with his lowly position, a position from which he was never promoted.
But he came to terms with it, terming himself the Lord of the pots and pans
He would imagine himself worshipping with God
I have reflected that different people in this Church have reflected God in the way that they have organized children’s parties,
The way that they have played musical instruments
The way that they have dried dishes
Delivered Christian Aid envelopes
If you do dishes, or fold laundry with God, then it becomes a holy part of ministry, because nothing done with God is not sacred.
Another story of Billy Graham, appearing on network television, and the television people asking if Billy Graham wanted a prayer room before interview. His assistant replied that “Mr. Graham prayed before breakfast, during breakfast, prayed on the way here, will be praying before the interview, and probably during the interview”
It is to have that “with-ness of God”
The Benedictine monks have a practice called Stattio where they pause between activities, thanking God for what has just passed, and praying for what is about to be.
Today, I am with God,
I may be down but I am also with.
So how does it fare for the man who is with God, who is successful, who is beautiful of form
He goes further down.
Joseph Blessed With Obedience
Now Joseph was(I) handsome in form and appearance. 7And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and(J) he has put everything that he has in my charge.9He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and(K) sin against God?” 10And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he(L) would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
Notice what Joseph manages to do here, he manages to obey in a pressurized situation.
I wonder when I read this how tempted Joseph was by Potiphar’s wife.
The Wrong With
I guess the answer is irrelevant, because Joseph does not let that enter his thinking.
Notice the double use of the word “with” here – Joseph is with God
Lie with me
Joseph is being tempted to get his with’s mixed up.
The with of Lying is a different with in Hebrew, it implies something weaker
But the temptation for us is to imagine that with can compete
That our other with’s “with her”, “with the team” with the chocolate
With the curry,
Can ever compete with the with of God
It was once said that a man knocking on the door of a brothel is actually looking for God
He got his “withs” mixed up
You go after the wrong with,
This is what Joseph is tempted with here.
Look at her reply to her, when she wants to lie with him.
Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and(J) he has put everything that he has in my charge.9He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and(K) sin against God?
There are four reasons for Joseph why he cannot do this thing
- It dishonours his own own relationships
- It causes others to dishonour their relationships
- It breaks the moral order – great wickedness
- And it mars his relationship with God.
What is remarkable about Joseph is that he manages to think about these things
Perhaps he isn’t interested in Potiphar’s wife at all, in which case these are the things he says not to hurt her feelings
Or perhaps he is attracted to her, but he allows this not to be the only thing about Potiphar’s wife that he knows about.
The old puritans were obsessed by sin, and how to avoid sin, the word they used was mortification, the putting to death of sin. They used to spend a lot of time meditating on the avoidance of sin, how sin works and how God’s people could lead lives that were more like Jesus.
One of them Thomas Brooks, wrote this book here, he said that Satan when he tempts us is to present the bait and not the hook.
Brooks’ first device of Satan is to present the bait and not the hook. Here is the bait, the sweet, the pleasure the profit. Oh, but he hides the hook – the shame, the wrath, and the loss that would certainly follow!
1. Keep the greatest distance from sin and from playing with the golden bait that Satan holds forth to catch you.
Many are miserable by loving hurtful things, but they are more miserable by having them.
Anselm wrote that “The if he should see the shame of sin on the one hand and the pains of hell on the other and must of necessity choose one, he would rather be thrust into hell without sin, than to go into heaven with sin.”
He that may be so bold as to attempt to dance upon the brink of the pit, may find by woeful experience that it is
So Joseph sees the bait, this beautiful woman,
But he is also given by God, because God is with him, the ability to see the hook, the damage that will be done by swallowing the bait.
In our moments of temptation, may God be with us, to show us not only the bait
But also the hook, the damage that the temptation does to us.
Joseph Goes Down
So Joseph has God with him and he is successful – yet still he goes down
Joseph has God with him so he is obedient, yet still he goes down.
11But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12(M) she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.
How do you think Joseph felt at that moment, as he fled with the garment left behind, he has to wait and wait until Potiphar gets home.
13And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” 16Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me.18But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”
Look at the way that Joseph gets pestered.
Some of you have been in emotionally abusive relationships,
Where you are surrounded and twisted by someone who surrounds you with a lie
Look at how she twists things when the men of the house appear
“See, he “ – a dig at her husband “has brought a Hebrew to laugh at us”
And then with her master
“The Hebrew servant whom you have brought among us, came into laugh at me”
See how the lie gathers strength,
So Joseph has God with him
And he goes down to Egypt
And he has God with him
He is tempted to sin
But he has God with him
He has to wait for Potiphar to get home
But he has God with him
So he has lies told about him
And he has God with him
So he goes to prison, a foreign prison
But is God still with him?
And even in prison he shows that you can be with God.