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Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b

The Psalm selection this week is comprised of verses from one of the longer Psalms in the Bible. The lectionary selects verses out of Psalm 105 that draws the hearer’s attention to the story of Joseph, which is introduced in the Old Testament lection for the week. Psalm 105 is also connected with the 16th chapter of 1 Chronicles. The first 15 verses of the Psalm are a part of hymn written by David that corresponded with moving the ark of the covenant. So, this Psalm connects two significant, yet different, stories from the history of God’s covenant people.

The Psalm begins by instructing the hearer to be thankful and to give praise to God. Those who seek God have great reason to rejoice. Seek and praise God. This is a proper approach to worship regardless of the circumstances in which one might find themselves. But the Psalmist was not offering a general invitation here. Rather, the praise and thanksgiving are in response to the works that God has done. Children of Jacob, praise God and be grateful because God has done great and miraculous works!

One might expect the Psalmist to then catalog several of these wonderful works of God in order to demonstrate how great God’s involvement is in the world. However, the lectionary jumps suddenly into God at work creating famine and destroying all the food. The designation of the famine being a work of God seems to create an immediate and harsh contrast to the good works that merit praise and thanksgiving. Is famine a work worthy of praise?

After describing God’s work of creating a famine and the general suffering that would cause, the focus is narrowed significantly to the person of Joseph. Joseph was sent by God as a slave into Egypt. The Old Testament selection for this week tells the story of Joseph’s brothers plan to kill him; a plan they abandon when they realize they can monetize his suffering, selling him into slavery. God sent Joseph, but in a manner that caused great suffering.

At this point in the story, the Psalmist has not done a very convincing job of demonstrating a God that is worthy of praise and gratitude. These works seem to be less than wonderful. There is a devastating famine and God’s servant is suffering. The account of Joseph’s story in Genesis provides greater detail of Joseph’s troubles, but Psalm 105 describes a quick turn of fortune in which Joseph is set free and made lord of the Pharaoh’s house. He is tasked with providing leadership and guidance to Pharaoh’s men. From his new position of authority, Joseph prepares Egypt to handle the famine and also directs them to provide food for all the people.

What then are the good works of God that are worthy of praise? Through the experience of one of God’s chosen people enduring suffering in a righteous manner, many people are rescued from suffering and death. God’s chosen did not escape suffering, but rather endured it while remaining righteous. And through the process of suffering, Joseph, who started out being lowered into a pit, was raised up to the highest authority in the land. But his position was not a reward for his own benefit, but a vocation from which he blessed nations. Praise God and be grateful because God has taken the evil works of Joseph’s brothers and used them for good!

Right now, as we wake up each day to a seemingly endless variety of violence, conflict, disease, and suffering, we may find it hard to praise and be grateful for God’s work in the world. We find darkness everywhere we turn; in our communities, our nation, and around the globe. There is suffering and violence on social media, on the news, in our schools, and even in our churches. It is hard to escape or find shelter. Are there any parts of our lives unaffected by chaos and evil? We may find ourselves suffering as part of a broader community, just as many suffered in the famine of Joseph’s day. Or we may find ourselves suffering as individuals, walking through our own specific challenges as Joseph did.

But the Psalmist’s invitation is still meant for us to hear. “O give thanks to the LORD!” Because right now, there are women and men who, like Joseph, are enduring suffering righteously. Children of God are being moved into positions to which God has prepared for them. These women and main have not escaped the hardships and sufferings; God did not provide an escape route. Rather, these chosen people of God have found themselves in positions to be vehicles of blessing, peace, and life because they have endured the challenges presented to them. These people are present in the chaos, but they are not a part of it. In the midst of it all, they are guides for us who help us to find the way forward toward life. They are doing the work of God by speaking prophetically against evil powers and systems. They are organizing efforts to bring healing and hope to those who need both desperately. Their presence and actions in the world are evidence of a God who is at work bringing light into the dark places.

We can sometimes get things confused and believe that comfort is evidence of God’s presence and suffering is a clear indicator that God is not at work. But the Psalmist implores all of us to seek God in the middle of the suffering. For as we seek God our hearts will rejoice. God is at work doing miraculous and wonderful works worthy of praise. And we are again reminded this week that one of the ways that God works is by sending people like Joseph, who endure great trials and suffering faithfully, in order to bring blessings and life to others.

Praise the LORD!