When God calls your name: Joseph “I’ll do it my way”
How many of you are like me and consider it an insult to have to look at the directions to figure out how to put something together? You know I’m smart enough that, like a 2-year-old, I can do this myself!
I’ll admit sometimes I get in a little over my head and get something like this.
And then there is GPS. Does anyone else ever think, “Oh, I know where I am, I’ll just ignore the GPS because ‘I can do it myself?’” A lot of times that doesn’t work out so well does it?
I never cut my own hair but did any of you try this as a child? Did it work out well for anyone? Probably not.
We must come to grips with the fact that sometimes we do not know best. And we never know better than God. God is very clear about that. Isaiah 55 says, “‘My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways’ says the Lord.”
The book of Proverbs says: “There is a way that seems right to us, but in the end, it leads to death.” (Prov 14:12, NIV). Now, contrast that Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Prov 3:5-6, NIV)
In some ways I’m a “my way of or the highway” kind of guy.
I have never liked to do things the way everyone else did them. In school, a had a math teacher tell me, “You get the right answer, but boy you take the hard way to get there.” Turns out my way is usually the hard way.
To this day, if I get an email that says this is a mandatory event all pastors are required to attend, I automatically dig in my heels and resist doing what I am told. I’ll be the first to admit that too often I still try to do things my way.
But as I have grown in my faith I have come to see that there are two ways to do things, Not my way or the highway, but “My way OR God’s way.” God’s way may not always be the easiest, but it sure creates fewer problems than my way.
I take comfort knowing that I am not alone. The Bible is filled with examples of people who preferred their way over God’s way.
• Adam and Eve? We all know what happened because they had to choose their own snack God forbade.
• 2 weeks ago, we talked about Sara and Abraham rushing God by a child through Hagar.
• God told Moses to speak to the rock and water would come out. Moses thought if speaking was good, striking the rock would be better. He did, and water came out. But God told him because you couldn’t follow directions you will never enter the promised land.
• God told King Saul, to wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice on the altar. Since Samuel was late It seemed okay to the King to offer the sacrifice himself. He did. But God told him, I have now rejected you from being King over my people.
• David thought he could ignore the law and follow his own urges with Bathsheba… his hole just kept getting deeper and deeper.
When God speaks our name, we must listen to all the directions. I vividly remember a test we were given in about 3rd grade. The instructions were to read the entire test before beginning. Those who did not, got an automatic “F” because the instructions at the bottom of the page read, “Write only your name on the top of the paper and turn it in.” We were taught an unforgettable lesson that day. There is a good reason to follow the directions.
There is a way that seems right to us, but the Bible is very, very clear that it is GOD’S WAY OR THE HIGHWAY.
Joseph was faced with a dilemma in today’s story.
Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel to announce to her that she would have a child.
Her fiancé, Joseph found out and he made plans to divorce her quietly.
It is hard for us to understand Jewish marriage customs. The bride and groom were not married until the groom took her to live in his house. The betrothal, however, as more than an engagement. If a man died before the wedding, his betrothed was still considered a widow. If a woman was unfaithful it was not fornication, or sex outside marriage, it was adultery for which Mary could be stoned to death.
The story says Joseph was a righteous man. In other words, he knew and respected the law. But it is also clear that he was a merciful man and cared for Mary very much. He did not want to publicly humiliate her, he did not want to expose her to public condemnation, he did not want to have her harmed in any way let alone stoned to death.
We are not sure what it would mean to “divorce her quietly” but it almost certainly means with as little fanfare and as little attention as possible. He just wanted to put this behind them and move on.
The thing is, don’t you suppose Mary had told Joseph about what happened? Undoubtedly when she told him she was pregnant she explained that she had not been unfaithful. She explained that this was an act of God through the Holy Spirit, but Joseph couldn’t hear that. If he heard it, he couldn’t understand it. She explained that she had never been with a man, but he couldn’t hear that either. She explained that the angel had come. She explained that this was a child of the Holy Spirit. She explained that this was God’s doing. She explained that this child would be named Jesus because “he would save his people.” She explained all of that, but Joseph couldn’t get around the thought that she had been with another man. I don’t blame him. I can’t imagine that any of us would that thought differently.
Apparently, Joseph was not angry with Mary. I would think anger would have been natural. I kind of think that if he didn’t believe her, he might have been harsher with her, but maybe he believed what she said (at least on some level). If he believed her, it would explain why he didn’t want to humiliate her. So, he made his own plan. He would quietly divorce her.
OK, that’s the plan and he could wash his hands of the whole thing.
Or maybe not. Remember Joseph was a righteous man. He was a good man. He was a faithful man. He knew that God spoke through dreams so when the angel came to him in a dream he listened carefully. “Joseph son of David do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.”
The angel said, “She’s telling you the truth and are to be part of this.”
Joseph had a decision to make. This is where we often find ourselves.
• His heart said divorce the girl, the angel said marry her.
• His head said there was no explanation besides her infidelity, but he kind of believed her and in his heart, he wanted to believe that the angel was right.
• His head knew that marrying Mary would mean that Joseph himself would be subject to public disgrace… you know, “Poor Joseph couldn’t even handle Mary before they were Married. Or maybe he did and maybe HE made up the crazy story to cover up the consequences of his decision to be with Mary before they were married.” Under these circumstances, that would have essentially amounted to rape.
• In public opinion, he was either a gullible doormat or a lying horndog.
Which will it be? When the voice of God calls your name… what is your response?
“Don’t worry God, I’ve got this under control.”
“No thanks, God, I have other plans for tonight?”
Maybe a whiney, “but God… I really want to do it my way.”
Maybe a stand your ground response… “Leave me alone, I can do it myself.”
When God changes your plans, it can be hard…
• I have had some weeks when practicing the sermon on Saturday night it became painfully obvious that this was not the message God wanted the next day. That’s hard to swallow.
• I have known people who have their lives all planned out and God calls them into pastoral ministry. They were teachers, doctors, stay at home parents, and retired people who have all felt that call. It can be hard to say “no” to what we have in order to say “yes” to what God has for us.
• I have known people who are quite comfortable sitting on their couch reading the newspaper while the kids are in Sunday school, but I’ll never forget the dad who came in and said, “I’ve never done anything at the church, but if you need help, let me know.” Little did he guess he was just the ticket for a hard to handle middle school class. Sometimes we don’t have any idea why we open ourselves up to something.
• I remember every bone in my body telling me I couldn’t take a chance on this troubled kid begging to go on the mission trip. Thank goodness there was something about him that convinced me. Because God was working in him to call him into ministry. Now he is a wonderful pastor.
It comes down to a question. “Are we going to GET in God’s way or DO IT God’s way.” Are we going to insist on our way? Are we going to submit to God’s way?
A Sunday school was putting on a Christmas pageant which included the story of Mary and Joseph coming to the inn.
One boy wanted so very much to be Joseph, but when the parts were handed out, the part was given to a boy he didn't like, he was assigned to be the inn-keeper instead.
He was pretty upset about this, but he didn’t say anything to the director.
He came up with a plan of what he could do to get even with Joseph.
Finally, it was the night of the performance, and here came Mary and Joseph walking across the stage. They knocked on the door of the inn. The innkeeper opened the door and asked them gruffly what they wanted.
Joseph answered, "we’d like to have a room for the night.
Suddenly the inn-keeper threw the door open wide and said,
"Great, come on in and I’ll give you the best room in the house!"
For a few seconds poor little Joseph didn’t know what to do. But thinking quickly on his feet, he looked inside the door past the inn-keeper and then said, "no wife of mine is going to stay in a dump like this. Come on, Mary, let’s go to the barn."
And once again the play was back on track!
In a small way, the innkeeper tried to do things his way… but Joseph wouldn’t have anything to do with it. He wanted to stick to the story the way God wrote it and he was flexible enough to stay faithful to the story.
How about you? Whose story will you act out? Whose sign will you follow? What will be your answer when God says, “Here do things my way?”
Will you stand in God’s way or do things God’s way?