Save All You Can
Joseph’s rise to becoming an Egyptian courtier is a complicated story. It is complicated because of who Joseph was but also because of who he was not. Joseph should have never risen to the station he did. He should have never gotten to the point socially and economically where his own brothers would not recognize him. Everything that Joseph achieved ran against the grain of the cultural norms he was raised in as well as the cultural norms he found himself forced into.
Joseph’s journey from younger son of the favored wife is not as clean cut as Andrew Loyd Weber and Donnie Osmond would have you believe.
Joseph was on the younger end of 12 sons born to Jacob. He wasn’t even the cute youngest son that everyone loves because they’re the youngest. Jacob, Jospeh’s father, had three wives - Bilah, Zilpah, and Rachel - and Joseph’s mother, Rachel, was Jacob’s favorite wife.
Culturally speaking, during this time the oldest male was favored because he would be the heir to whatever financial and land holdings his father had. I say oldest male because that is how the economic system was structured. Jospeh being favored by Jacob as one of the younger sons ran counter-cultural to the norms of the day, creating jealousy among Jospeh’s older brothers ignored by Jacob as he favored the one that should not have been favored by their father.
Sibling rivalry is a real thing, I’m the oldest of four, so I know what it is like to be the favorite and the rivalry experienced by Jospeh’s brothers when they did not receive what they felt was due to them.
This sibling rivalry led to a plot to have Joseph thrown into a pit without the ability to escape, or at least that was to be the plan. The plan was to leave him to die on his own and not at the hands of his brothers. Anther plan presented itself, a plan that was more economically beneficial to this brothers that wanted to see him gone. Jospeh was sold into slavery and taking to a foreign land and held against his will.
The situation could have been dire but Jospeh prevailed, climbing the ladder within Potifar’s household becoming head of the household. Joseph had found favor with his master and things are going as well as they could, for a man betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, until Poitfar finds Jospeh lying with Potifar’s wife which led Joseph to be thrown into prison.
He was a younger son, slave, and now prisoner. Joseph is not the type of character that screams royal courtier.
Jospeh had a unique skill that caused his brothers to hate him but would later help him find favor with Pharaoh. Joseph could interpret dreams. He did this with his brothers and it only fuels their already poisonous sibling rivalry.
He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. - Genesis 37:6-8
But when he interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh while imprisoned in Egypt the unlikely rise of Jospeh began to become a reality.
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land.
Seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine. Joseph’s likely rise to power was possible through his ability to convince Pharaoh of the unthinkable in a land of prosperity and plenty.
Famine would strike.
Everything leading up to Jospeh’s rise was counter to the cultural norms. His rise to Pharaoh’s court forced Joseph to enter into the “culture of now” and convince them it was time for a change to prepare themselves for what was about to happen.
We live in a “culture of now”. Thursday night, on my way home from class I drove up Wilson Blvd through Clarendon, and I could not help but notice the number of delivery drivers out at 9:30 PM. The “culture of now” tells us that when you want something, or convince yourself that you need something, you should have it as quickly and as conveniently as possible, which means someone else will bring it to you. We are sold convenience but the reality of the “culture of now” is a “system of commodity,” requiring us to “want more, have more, own more, use more, eat and drink more.” And we, people like me are buying into this.
I am convinced that I need the latest Apple product that was unveiled last week. Some of us are convinced that having more in our homes, more from certain stores with certain labels are what we need to have the complete home so that we can have the complete life. We buy new things - electronics, clothing, seasonal decorations, and more - that sit in our homes, going unused until it is either put on the curb with a free sign or donated to a charity. On any given third Sunday volunteers organize clothing in this room for Community Assistance, and more than you would think of that clothing is brand new. Tags still on them, unworn.
The “culture of now” tells us we need more, but our reality is different. We have more than we need and still we spend. The “culture of now” blinds us to our own realities.
Millennials, my generation, the generation many of you have living in your homes or the generation you taught and mentored, are saving money at rates lower than previous generations and yet the economy they live in, we are told, is surpassing all previous financial records.
From 2016-2017, the percentage of millennials saving $0 annually increased from 37% to 41%, while at the same time taking on massive amounts of student debt and credit card debt. There are famines coming but our “culture of now” tells us not to worry about, or to at least not to worry about it today.
We know we need to save. We know that 61% of Millennials have at least $10,000 of credit card debt and 52% of Millennials carry a credit card balance month-to-month.
While we all love to talk about Millennials, they are not alone in these startling statistics. Baby-boomers, well 45% of them, have $0 set aside for retirement.
Saving all you can, whether during plentiful years of harvest or steadily throughout the entirety of our lives does not just make good financial sense for the longterm, it also is a way for us to be stewards of what G-d has entrusted to us. So often stewardship in church is about convincing you that the ministries of the local church are worthwhile, transforming our community into the community G-d longs for but rarely do we talk about saving as part of stewardship. Rarely do we talk about our spending habits and debt as a spiritual discipline in addition to building our portfolio. We will talk about being good stewards of creation, the environment, but rarely do we speak against the cultural norm of “if you have it spend it, if you don’t have it spend it anyway.”
During times of prosperity, say seven years of it, it can be easy to fill our minds with ways of convincing ourselves that we deserve more because we have worked hard, and if we do work hard and are financially successful that is fantastic, but our Christian understanding of money is different from what the “culture of now” tells us.
The “culture of now” tells us that we earned this and thus we deserve it, but when we read stories like Joseph we see that the plenty we enjoy is a gift from G-d, a generous gift placed in our lives by our Creator. Stewardship means caring for something that ultimately is not ours, which is why talking about stewardship of creation is so easy while talking about stewardship of money is so difficult. When we talk about saving all we can as an act of financial stewardship we are acknowledging that what we steward is not our own but instead something we care for that has been placed in our lives by G-d.
The “why” for this placement may not always be obvious.
Without Jospeh’s attentiveness to G-d’s inspiration the seven years of plenty in Egypt would have been just that, a time of prosperity only to be followed by a time of famine that no one was prepared for. Pharaoh could have used the excess grain during the prosperous seven years and profited, buying all the things John Wesley warns us about in his sermon titled “On the Use of Money:” idle expenses, desires of the flesh, and things to gratify your eyes. Pharaoh could have lived into the “culture of now” but Jospeh, G-d’s unlikely servant on Pharaoh’s court listened and spoke. The unlikely courtier was able to cut through the “culture of now”.
When it comes to stewardship, finances, and church, pinpointing the Good News is difficult. So often we treat money as tool instead of something given to us by G-d and as a result stewardship is turned into a pledge campaign instead of being a response to the “culture of now”.
Grace, G-d’s unmerited blessing to each of us is still extended to us regardless of our ability to successful save all we can. Regardless of our ability to always follow John Wesley’s prescription to save all we can and to follow Joseph’s lead of preparing in times of prosperity for times of famine G-d does not abandon us, leaving us to face these moments on our own. We have the example of the church in Corinth, which was enabled by the communion of the Holy Spirit to sustain one another, caring for one another. We will face years of prosperity and G-d’s overwhelming abundant grace will be given to us, and when we face times of famine, while the hardship might seem more than we can bare living in the “culture of now”, G-d’s unsurmountable grace will sill be given to us.