Feelings and Dreams

Passage: Genesis 37-50
Date: September 22, 2019
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Newman
Guest Preacher:

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Which part of today’s story grabs you? The angry and envious brothers? Joseph’s bereft father? The broken family? Joseph, in his exile from his family? Not every exile is physical. Exile can be felt in the ending of a relationship, in the changing of a job or retirement. It can be felt as alienation from what once was familiar and loved. What speaks to you in the story? Will you pray with me?
Sing:God invites us to the home of peace… 

“You were always Mom’s/Dad’s favorite.” Have you ever spoken those words? Or have you heard them spoken to you? If you are an only child, have you felt the grip of envy toward a best friend with cooler parents? Better grades? A fancier bike? I still have a vivid memory at age six, in Kearney, Nebraska, at our family’s large-porched, green house. I was about to walk to school. As I was about to leave the house, I saw my lucky toddler brother with our mother. They were excitedly preparing a picnic to happen while I was at school. They were going without me! How COULD they? (She must have loved my brother more.)

This season at Westminster, we are preaching and teaching over large swaths of the Bible. As we read these stories from the Hebrew scripture, we encounter characters who are very, very human. They make flawed choices, and their actions are often destructive. Even Yahweh God comes across as human at times, prone to petulance and anger. Remember that the Bible is not a journalistic account or a history. These are not true stories, but truth stories. They reveal somethings about our humanity, our relationships with God and with one another. The Holy Spirit works through reading and sharing, and it works across the centuries to give us some insight on us and our world today.

Last Sunday, Gregg covered elderly Abraham and laughing Sarah, being promised a child and many descendants. Today, we jump to Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph. We heard how his brothers sold him to passing slave traders. What happened next in the story was that he was sold into the home of an Egyptian, Potiphar, but Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. When Joseph resisted, she accused him of rape, and he was sent to prison, innocent of the charges. While in prison, he befriended some of the Pharaoh’s staff. He helpfully used his skills to interpret their dreams. That led to him being released from prison, and given the position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man.

A famine hit the whole Middle East and many people starved. Joseph foresaw this in a dream and was given the authority to reserve crops that helped people to survive. Joseph’s brothers ended up coming to Egypt for food. They did not recognize that the powerful man in charge was their brother. Joseph helped them, and after a bit of trickery, the brothers realized that their treatment of Joseph was going to be exposed, and they were in trouble. It says: “Joseph could no longer control his feelings… He made himself known to his brothers, and he wept loudly. He said: ‘I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. Do not be distressed that you sold me into slavery here; it was God who sent me ahead of you to save people’s lives…’” Then, Joseph was reunited with his father.

Somehow, in the midst of the hatred and envious action of the brothers, God worked out something good. “It was God who sent me ahead of you to save people’s lives…” Throughout our journeys’ twists and turns, God loves us and continually brings new life from our failures, conflict, and tragedy. This is what we proclaim every Sunday in our prayer of confession and assurance of pardon. It is a message that we need reminding of, often!

This scripture is both a personal story, the micro-story of a dysfunctional family that carries on through generations, and it is a macro-story that gives an explanation for how in scripture, the Hebrew people came to be in Egypt. Intimately and universally, God journeys with us through disaster, and together, with God, we work out God’s purpose of love and grace. Our small stories—the personal, family stories—often carry with them the intense feelings we experience in human communities including envy, anger, vengefulness, forgiveness, and love. In the big story, there is the massive famine, a crisis that affects everyone, and a dream of nations, working together for the good of all.

Now that we have an overview of the whole Joseph saga, I’d like to draw attention to the first sentence in the chapter: “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.” 

Aliens, settlers on indigenous land, people seeking home, immigrants struggling to survive. These are today’s headlines, and they are ancient stories, too. It’s vitally important that we step back from our personal stories to get the big picture, the God’s-eye view.

This past August, I did some traveling. I encountered a couple of people from other countries who had experienced exile and immigration. On a train from Prague to Vienna, I happened to sit next to a young Canadian who was traveling abroad on his own for the first time. From my very first impression of him, he appeared to be kind, calm, joyful. We began by talking about our travels and the people and places we’d encountered. The conversation went deep, quickly, as we spoke of our loved ones and hopes. Then he told me that he was originally from Afghanistan. When he was eight years old, his parents and he, and his two older sisters, escaped in the wee hours in a van, driving out of Afghanistan to avoid the Taliban, who were pursuing his father. His father was a doctor, and the family had been prosperous. They were forced to leave everything behind, quite suddenly. On the night of their escape, he remembers their van being stopped and seeing other drivers forced from their vehicles and shot. Randomly, his family escaped. When they arrived safely to Toronto, the father began doing manual labor to support his family, which he still does. Now, their son, my seatmate, was attending law school and working as a legal assistant. Now, he is called to help people who encounter injustices. 

Most striking from all of this was the peaceful spirit this young man exuded. He (and his family) had escaped death and overcome many obstacles. Despite their losses, they remade their lives and carry forward with hope.

Where does your story connect with the exiled? Though it is easier to see in hindsight than in the crisis, it is my hope that we can trust in the twists and turns in our journeys. Even in loss, loneliness, and our fears,we trust God, who holds us in love. God will take what is painful and work out of it a new path, a new life, new love.

Today at Westminster, we are celebrating life journeys that are both long-lived and short-lived. We celebrate with Monteith Macoubrie his 100th birthday this last Friday. Also, this morning, we are baptizing young Emma Grace Bednar. We promise, as her church family, the body of Christ, to love her and teach her about Jesus’ love that is with her now and will be with her at every turn in her life’s journey. Not too long ago, we made that same promise to her older brother, Wyatt. Now we cannot expect that sisters and brothers won’t experience anger and envy of one another sometimes. But what we can do is be a place that welcomes each person with Jesus’ radical love so that as they grow, they will experience this church as a place of mercy, forgiveness, and joy. 

Remember that God is with us, whether we are one or one-hundred. And, for those of us in transition, in loss, in worry, in exile from peace, I close with this Blessing for an Exile, by John O’Donohue.*

When you dream, it is always home.
You are there among your own,
The rhythm of their voices rising like song
Your blood would sing through any dark.

This country is cold to your voice. 
It is still a place without echoes.
Nothing of yours has happened here.
Though your work here is hard,
It brings relief, helps your mind
In returning to the small
Bounties of your absence.

Now is the time to hold faithful
To your dream, to understand
That this is an interim time
Full of awkward disconnection.
Gradually you will come to find
Your way to friends who will open
Doors into a new belonging.
Your heart will brighten
With new discovery,
Your presence will unclench
and find ease
Letting your substance
And promise be seen.

Slowly, a new world will open for you.
The eyes of your heart, refined
By this desert time, will be free
To see and celebrate the new life
For which you sacrificed everything.

*To Bless the Space Between Us:A Book of Blessings, pg.109“For an Exile”