Sermon — August 13, 2017
Joseph, Origin Stories, and Loving Enemies
August 13 — Origin Stories — The Next Generation
The preaching text this morning comes from Genesis 37.
“Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives’; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 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.
Let’s jump down to verse 18, when Joseph rejoins his brothers in the field later…
“They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, the conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’”
Here this, the word of the Lord. Let’s pray.
Origin Stories Recap
If you’re just tuning in, this summer we’ve been walking through the Origin Stories of the Bible, looking at many of the main narratives from the book of Genesis, the stories of how God’s people were called and set apart by God to bless all creation. Stories of messy people being used by God despite their faults to bless others, to show the world a different way, to stand up to systems of oppression and superstitious religion and instead turn to the One God who provides in abundance, the God who loves, the God who liberates.
Today, we begin to close this series by looking at the final narrative arc of Genesis. This week and next, we’ll close our Origin Stories series by hearing about the Next Generation of the family of Israel, the sons of Jacob and specifically, the role of Joseph as the continuation of the line of God’s blessing.
This week, I’ve wrestled with how to come at this text. “Joseph and the technicolor dreamcoat” just did not seem to resonate. Honestly, it’s been a difficult week to consider how this story about a dream fits in to all that is going on around us.
This last week, we’ve had our president flinging threats of nuclear war back and forth with the North Korean regime, surely, in what seems like the best scenario, sending us into a full on Second Cold War. Lord have mercy.
We’ve heard stories of how farmers here in our own county, in the city of Sumas, have denied their workers adequate food, rest, and pay for their hard, honest work. The tragedy of this is not simply poor working conditions — lives are threatened and lost! Lord have mercy.
I’ve personally wrestled with the grief of losing my grandfather. He died moments after our service last week and I will join my family to mourn and celebrate the resurrection this coming Thursday. We feel the weight of life’s impermanence and hold hope for Christ’s resurrection power. Christ have mercy.
And then, in the last couple of days, we have seen domestic terrorists, white supremacists and Neo-Nazis storm the city of Charlottesville, VA, protesting the removal of a statue commemorating the Confederate army. They have spit their racist, antisemitic, white nationalist vitriol across the headlines of our news sources and social media. They have been emboldened to speak up by the passivity of our nations leaders. And we have seen counter-protestors stand up in the way of Jesus, using nonviolent, silent and faithful resistance to proclaim a different way than the way of terror. 3 people are dead, many others injured. Lord have mercy.
How to speak about the dream of Joseph? What Good News does this text have for us today?
Thankfully, this origin story gives us an excellent place to start as we contemplate what it means to live as the people of God, responding to the tragedies of our world with lovingkindness and solidarity.
Joseph is unsettling, he’s brash, he’s a tattle-tale, he seems prideful. He’s waltzing around in his technicolor dreamcoat and getting his brother’s all riled up.
I don’t want to like Joseph — he seems pretty full of himself.
But…when I’ve explored this text more and more, the dream actually begins to look like something good. It’s a good thing for his brothers.
The dream is about weakness bowing down to abundance. Joseph’s sheaf is healthy, his brothers’ were sick — it’s a good thing they have found the source who has enough for them all. It is to their advantage — regardless of how it impacts their egos or pride.
But we don’t like when people give us a word or a dream or a vision that unsettles our way of life. We don’t want to hear that we’re going to struggle and need assistance.
Kill him — the brothers have the honest, reasonable solution to this jerk-of-a-little brother telling them he’s going to be better.
Shoot the messenger, the one who brings the unsettling word.
Perhaps, though, Joseph is actually prophetic — he’s telling the truth about what will be. He’s observed, he’s listened, he’s dreamed and he can tell that something is up.
Dreams are thought to be the way the mind sorts through lots of information, the way it processes and organizes all that we encounter throughout our day. There is a sense that Joseph’s intuition, aided by God’s care for the nation of Israel, sets him up to have these dreams — he sees something prophetically that his brother’s don’t and he’s warning them.
Notice in the text that it’s not Joseph who’s bragging about the dream or even drawing the conclusions about it’s implications for his brothers or parents. No, it’s them who make it out to be a negative. Joseph is playing the part of the prophet.
Dreams die in silence
My friends, we must speak up about a better origin story, a better dream, a better future
We must risk naming the darkness, we must expose what we see as lack or famine, whether they be physical, psychological, social, or otherwise. Darkness must be named in order to call out the light.
My dream: I dream that the Church today can rise up and bring hope and light in the midst of all the horror and darkness we see around the country and the world. My hopeful, prophetic, audacious, risky dream is that we would find our backbone to name racism and white supremacy as the evils they are. That we would call for the deescalation of hatred and taunting of nuclear warfare. That we would become a model for caring for our world and reclaiming our rightful place as stewards of God’s creation.
But this is risky, my friends. When you start naming the darkness, the darkness will come after you.
Joseph’s brothers come up with a plan, later in the story, to deal with the dreamer.
Genesis 37:19–20: “They said to one another, behold, here comes the dreamer. Let us kill him…and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”
Speaking up about the dream is going to get you in trouble. Even when the dream is something that is going to bless all people.
I think about the horrors of the last couple of days in Charlottesville, VA. Neo-nazi and KKK supporters rallied to protest the removal of a Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee. Counter-protestors joined them, speaking up for the cause of love and a more excellent way, the way of peace. But these protests turned violent. When you call out the darkness, it bites back. As of last night, 3 people have died.
The white supremacist cause is evil, a mark of the antichrist, counter to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is our call as the church to name this and to speak of a different dream. We must live like Joseph — we must own our prophetic vision of a world where all of God’s people are treated as beloved bearers of God’s image. This is prophetic only in that it is naming the truth. We must name the truth.
The thing that I get so caught up with in this is that Joseph’s vision was actually good, in the end, for his brothers — they benefited, lived, thrived, because he had the foresight to store up grain in Egypt (as the story goes on to tell). In the same way, the cause of love and the Gospel of Jesus is good news to the enemies of our country — to the Neo-Nazi, to the KKK, to ISIS. We don’t proclaim a truth of American power, which actually places these and many other groups into places on the margins and only seeks to radicalize their terrorism further. NO, we proclaim a gospel of love which accepts each of them (and all of us) as broken, flawed and completely, utterly, wholly held in the arms of God’s unconditional love.
The dream we must speak of is good news to all people. It is the seed of hope that Isaiah speaks of. It is the proclamation of the angels who sing of Jesus’ birth, good news of great joy to all people.
And yet, while this news and dream is truth for us all, we must never compromise the power of love to accept hatred as it is. It must be transformed. We do not accept violence. We do not accept racism. We call out the light in each person that they might be transformed and made whole by the dream.
Until this transformation takes place, we will always risk being killed and thrown into the pit. This is cost of the dream.
But isn’t this a story worth living, and dying, for?
Love your enemies
I want close with a reminder of Jesus’ commands to his followers concerning what to do with our enemies, with the KKK, the neo-Nazi, the white supremacist, the terrorist, the oppressive farmer, the nuclear missile threatener, the street-corner hate-monger, and with each other, when we commit our continual acts of small aggression and cause each other harm.
Jesus said to his followers, in Matthew chapter 5:
“You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors (or the white nationalists) do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
Friends, the origin story of love, of blessing, of living from a more perfect, excellent dream — this wins. Love wins, love triumphs. To love is to stand up and speak for the oppressed, to resist terrorism, to celebrate compassion. To love is to speak truth to systems of power that marginalize and alienate. To love is name darkness for what it is to call out the light in the world.
Outside our church, we have a small sign that says — “Let love be our legacy”. May this be a simple, provocative call to you today as you live out the dream and embody the reality of the way of Jesus in this broken world.
Grace, peace, and the love of God be with you all. Amen.