My Work, Christ’s Home - Jesus Working Beside You: Genesis 41 Sermon Notes
Note: the preacher may want to shorten this passage, summarizing parts of it.
Text: Genesis 41:1-14
1 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.
5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.
8 In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.
9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard.
11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.”
14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. 20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21 But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.
22 “In my dreams I also saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none could explain it to me.”
25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.
28 “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, “Make way!” Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.
Theological Point: The Joseph narrative is a Christ-like story of a man thrown into almost certain death, yet God journeyed with him through the pits and dungeons of life to an honored place in the throne room of the most powerful government on earth. From the perspective of work, we can view this narrative as the events of a man who went through both horrible and wonderful work experiences, trusting in God to lead and guide him, and winding up in a place where his gifts made the difference for thousands between life and death.
Hermeneutical Connection in relation to work and faith: The workplace is not always fair. Office jealousy can result in being demoted or terminated. Unjust accusations and blaming can end our careers. We can find ourselves in the pit of depression or barely hanging on to the lowest rung of our job ladder. Whether at the top of our game or the pit of disaster, God is with us, not only as a calming presence, but actually blessing us with the gifts and connections needed to work well and diligently, escaping difficult conditions to a better place. In this sense, God is like a work “colleague,” advising, suggesting, and gifting.
Introduction: The preacher will want to remind the congregation that this is the second in a three-part sermon series on faith and work. These three sermons on work and faith hinge on each other, resembling the theme of Dr. Munger’s book My Heart—Christ’s Home. The first is about Jesus as job applicant—Jesus gives us the opportunity to include him in our work. The second is about Jesus as work colleague—Jesus is not only present with us at work, but serves as a guide to us in the workplace. The third is about Jesus as Lord of our work who not only guides and instructs us in our work relationships and activities but becomes Lord of them.
The Christian life is allowing God into more and more of our lives including the workplace. In this sermon, Jesus “advances” from one who we sense is present with us at work to one who now guides and instructs us in matters of faith as they relate to work. In the first sermon, Jesus applies for a job with us symbolizing God’s desire to respect our free will yet also be invited into more of who we are. In this sermon, we open up more of our work life to the Lord who is able to help us succeed, even through colossal failures.
A. The meaning of the text. The preacher may want to describe vividly the Joseph narrative, giving context to the passage read. The broader text is colorful and illustrates some of humanity’s most common—and hideous—traits: sibling rivalry, jealousy, envy, arrogance, betrayal, misuse of power, attempted murder, and unjust accusations. The text also displays loyalty, grace, forgiveness, redemption, and the act of rewarding one who has performed well. In summarizing this Scripture passage and its context, I suggest the preacher look at the congregation deeply, bringing out the pain of the story, so that the congregants can connect their own pain to that of the narrative’s characters. By feeling their trauma, the congregants have the opportunity, led by the Spirit, to also experience hope, redemption, and grace. Further, and more appropriate to our theme, the listeners will have an opportunity later in the sermon to find the spiritual context for workplace troubles and recognize that, even there, God walks, instructs, guides, and gives direction and hope.
Describe, for example, how it must have felt to be a son of Jacob who was asked to submit to a younger brother strutting around in a multi-colored coat symbolizing the father’s favor. This younger brother acted with pride and arrogance and made his brothers furious. Draw out the emotions and note how biblical people are so “real” to human experience rather than stick figures or holier-than-thou caricatures. Describe the passion of the moment to hurl Joseph into a pit, the awful decision to sell him into slavery (a horrific and usually deadly fate), and the later cover-up of the crime. Move then to the hopeful moment of being rescued from the worst of Egyptian slave camps to the home of an officer as a trusted servant only then to be unjustly accused of attempted rape by the officer’s wife resulting in losing all again. Walk through the narrative, making it real and noting the experiences that connect with us: Have you ever acted arrogant and prideful in a way that others wanted your neck? Have you ever burned with anger and acted on that emotion inappropriately? Have you ever been betrayed? Have you ever been unjustly accused, resulting in great losses? Help them make connections.
B. Workplace Trauma. The preacher here might want to read a variety of articles (even books, if time) on the topic of workplace conflict. A simple Google on the topic will produce a plethora of material and statistics describing this growing problem. The workplace is a microcosm of humanity: over time, the best and worst of human life occurs there. Problems in workplace conflict, bullying, trauma, and even hostilities are on the rise as reported by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). I suggest the preacher paint a portrait of real life in the workplace as described by this research. Note the problems of jealousy, envy, betrayal, bitterness, hostility, sibling rivalry (coworkers in relation to a boss or supervisor), unjust accusations, unfair dynamics, and even feeling enslaved.
Illustration: The preacher can draw from experience or the above-suggested research to illustrate the difficulties in today’s workplace. Churches certainly have their share of these problems, though they may be too close to home to mention! One article published by CNN in association with CareerBuilder.com has the following statistics: human resource managers report spending 24 to 60 percent of their time dealing with employee disputes; nearly 60 percent of HR managers responding to a survey reported violence had occurred in their organization during the past three years; 53 percent of workers said they lost time worrying about a past or future confrontation with a coworker; 28 percent of those surveyed said they lost work time due to confrontational colleagues, and 37 percent reported a hostile altercation that caused them to reduce their commitment to the organization; 22 percent said they put less effort into their work because of bad blood at the office. For the article, go to http://www.cnn.com/2007/LIVING/worklife/12/31/cb.work.conflict/.
C. Workplace Hope. Now the preacher gets to bring this message home! Having read the Scripture describing some of the worst in human behavior and then noting the growing conflicts and hostility in the workplace, the preacher can now offer hope for the problem and challenge congregants to take Christ’s message and meaning to the workplace. It is important to remember that, as a preacher, you are doing two things: proclaiming grace to the worker or manager who is acting inappropriately and issuing a challenge for us all to open ourselves up to God to work through us to soothe tense work environments and create trust with coworkers.
The preacher can use the metaphor consistent in all three sermons: the illustration of a Lord who wants more of our lives at work. In the last sermon, Jesus appears as job applicant who asks the congregant, whom we imagine to be the hiring manager, to be invited into his or her workplace. This sermon imagined Jesus as present in the workplace. But today we see the need for a Lord who is more than simply present, but one who guides and informs. We need the Lord to advise us, to work with us and through us to create more meaningful work and workplaces. We might imagine the Lord coming into our office after being employed with us for a few months and saying something like: It’s been wonderful working here with you. I’m glad you invited me in. I’ve enjoyed seeing where you work and how you relate to your workers. It is good for me to see the struggles you have here and how hard you try to make a living to support yourself, your family, and give your tithe to my ministry. It’s all quite inspiring. But I would like to suggest we meet regularly to discuss your work and how together we can make a difference here. Your boss is a tyrant, I know, but I also know what he is struggling with at home—did you know his young son has leukemia? He’s keeping it a secret, but he’s worried sick about it, and it is affecting how he manages. I want to help you look deeper and not be afraid to care about people here, even the most difficult ones. I want to bring out all of your gifts, not only the ones that make you such a good worker, but the gifts of listening and compassion and patience. I know, together, we can make a difference here if you will let me. Let’s meet for a few minutes every day and see how we can together bring my peace to this place.
The point is to help the congregant include the Lord more and more in his or her work life in order to bring Kingdom hope and meaning to troubled places.
Conclusion: The preacher may want to conclude the sermon with Jesus in the office of the worker offering to meet regularly to help resolve some of the traumatic workplace issues. Perhaps the ending could be something like: Jesus wants more of you in the workplace. Are you willing to open up more of your life to the Lord at work? Never before has this so badly been needed! Other preachers might want to end with an illustration such as:
Illustration: James Kouzes and Barry Posner wrote a widely acclaimed book on organizational leadership called The Leadership Challenge (Jossey-Bass, 4th Edition, 2008). The authors note the importance of building trust to create a productive workplace. The absence of trust results in suspicion, sabotage, internal conflict, and loss of productivity. Trust building results in the opposite climate: collaboration, helpful information sharing, encouragement, heightened morale, and greater effort. One of the best ways to create the trust environment is for all parties involved to show vulnerability and a listening spirit. These business authors essentially note that by bringing what we value in faith into the workplace—open sharing, helpfulness, a trusting spirit, and a desire to collaborate—we can have a huge impact on the workplace.
These sermons are by Dr. George Cladis. He is Executive Pastor of Liberty Churches in the western suburbs of Boston. He also serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the New England Dream Center, a faith-based social service agency created by Liberty Churches in Worcester, Massachusetts. Cladis authored Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders (Jossey-Bass, 1999), and he is adjunct Assistant Professor in the Fuller Theological Seminary Doctor of Ministry program teaching church leadership and team-based management. George and his wife Martie live in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, with their rescue dog, Emily.
Other sermons in this series on My Work, Christ's Home: