So I’m wondering,
are you enjoying these stories?
We’re winding our way through what some call the Hebrew Patriarchs,
the big men of the first testament,
and yes, the stories center, perhaps unfortunately,
around the guys.
But I’ve been arguing that if we can get a bit past the anachronism,
that is, the fact that these stories are three thousand years old,
and if we can get past some of the patriarchy
that comes with stories that are that old,
I mean, just look at stories that are 50 years old,
much less three thousand years old tales..
If we can try to understand the point of these old stories
about the foundation of our faith:
the ancient promises of God to Abraham
and God’s steadfast love throughout all of
our human folly;
the shaking of tradition and conventional wisdom
the blessing of questions and doubt
we can come to understand that even these ancient stories
have some meaning for us.
Life giving meaning.
Today’s reading is no different in that regard.
All of these stories offer a worldview, a way of thinking about humanity
and about our relationship with the divine,
who created us—you and me,
with the divine Ruach, the divine breath
each of us with the image of God imprinted in us.
If there was ever any question in your heart whether you matter,
whether you are important,
whether you have a purpose,
well, there’s an answer:
these ancient stories affirm that we are created by God and are loved by God
and are destined, each of us,
to live fully the lives God wants for the creation,
lives marked by that Hebrew word Shalom,
which means some combination of peace
you know, where Lion will lay with the Lamb
and all will be fed
the whole bit.
One way to understand faith, and the diverse religious options out there,
is to see them as various ways of giving us a worldview,
a way to see and to live in the world.
And these ancient stories are the foundation of our worldview,
bequeathed to us, given to us by our Hebrew ancestors,
the forbears of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So we’ve been walking through these ancient stories,
and we’ve been seeing how humanity, from our very beginning,
has demonstrated all the characteristics we might expect
from looking at our own living:
crazy jealousy, passionate yearning, family conflict,
and also the capacity for deep empathy,
And throughout it all is the God who walks alongside God’s creation,
inspiring, nudging, picking up broken pieces,
mending broken hearts.
I mentioned it in an earlier sermon that this stuff
would be great in a reality television show,
and since then I’ve read at least four other commentators
who said basically the same thing.
For instance, this line from Wendy Joyner:[i]
The story of Jacob’s family would make a wonderful television miniseries.
But there is something different about these stories you won’t get
watching Big Brother, no matter that they often
bring on a caricature of faithful living, a pastor or a zealot type
who proceeds to offer an awful image of what the life of faith
actually is for most of us.
No, in these stories, you see people of faith wrestling with what it means to be human
in relationship with their creator.
And that, I would argue, is extremely valuable for us.
There is one thing that is a little different about today’s reading, though.
Here’s how Elie Wiesel puts it:[ii]
This is a story of dreams and dreamers.
A frivolous, profane story.
Seemingly concealing nothing in its depths, it brings into play
every facet of human passion:
love and hate,
ambition and jealousy,
glory and spite.
Only one element is missing: the passion of God.
This Biblical tale is unlike any other (Wiesel says).
Expressed in terms of psychological intrigue,
or political conspiracy,
there appears to be no metaphysical or theological dimension.
God is not part of the cast.
As if to illustrate that in a situation where brothers become enemies,
God refuses to participate,
and becomes spectator.
Or, to put it another way, sometimes we learn as much in these stories
by God’s absence, as we do from God’s activity.
God isn’t an active player here, not overtly.
But the author of Genesis knows, and implies that the reader knows,
that God is behind these dreams.
The dreams of Joseph.
In Genesis, God comes to the protagonists in many different ways:
Through wrestling partners
Maybe, depending on your reading, even face to face from time to time.
To Joseph, though, God comes through dreams.
So its not entirely true that God is absent,
but he’s certainly not an active character here.
God is speaking to Joseph through dreams.
Now, I don’t know about you, but my dreams are rarely as vivid
as Joseph’s: clear, concise, to the point.
And not all of my dreams are all that relevant.
Last night, for instance, I dreamt about ice cream
sitting on a boat that was perched on a mesa in New Mexico,
and I was wearing a Royals Jersey and boxer shorts.
See: not all that germane.
I imagine Joseph had some dreams like that, too.
Well, not LIKE THAT, but not all that relevant.
Joseph probably dreamed about all sorts of things:
family, games, girls, you name it.
But that’s not the point.
The point was that there were others dreams that were relevant,
and more to the point, Joseph shared them and,
as we will find out next week, interpreted them too…
Sure, as we read the tale of the twelve sons of Jacob,
we can see so many elements of the story that ring true
not only of ancient times but our modern times as well.
Like some of the previous stories we’ve explored,
we see clear signs of sibling rivalry and family dysfunction.
We can get that. Many of our own families, unfortunately
are similarly dysfunctional.
or we have friends families who are like that.
We are told outright that Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son.
Jacob “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” (Genesis 37:3).
Many of these early patriarchs seem to play favorites with their children,
and it almost always gets them into big trouble.
Jacob demonstrates his favoritism, the gift of the colorful robe,
the text doesn’t say “Technicolor dreamcoat” but read what you will…
and it causes resentment among the brothers.
Then, to make matters worse among them, Joseph is a tattletale.
We are told that he was a helper to his brothers in their work
and that he “brought a bad report of them to their father” (v. 2)
So, all of these factors create animosity between the brothers,
and “they hated [Joseph], and could not speak peaceably to him” (v. 4).
Yet I think the straw that broke the camel’s back
causing true division among the brothers
was not simply the favoritism or the tattling, but Joseph’s dreams.
The text goes on.
Joseph dreams vivid dreams, of sheaves of wheat bowing down to his sheaf,
and the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him.
Now, one might argue, and they’d be right,
that human beings often dream of grandeur, of power,
of being in charge. These aren’t always noble, not always helpful.
In fact, they can often be destructive. But lets bracket that for now.
In this story, as we are reading the narrative of the formation of the Hebrew People,
this dream continues the trajectory of God fulfilling his covenant promise
to make of Abraham a great nation.
And God is going to do it, in part, through Joseph’s strength.
We aren’t yet privy to what that strength is going to be,
the HOW God is going to do it.
We just know that this vision ticks the brothers off.
As you might imagine,
It is in the sharing of these dreams that “they hated him even more
because of his dreams and his words” (37:8), as the text says.
Joseph’s dreams places him in a position of honor and authority,
and neither his brothers nor his father respond well to this vision of the future.
Yet, we know that these dreams are from God,
and speak to the future of not only Joseph
but also his family for generations to come.
So the dramatic tension is set,
and the story unfolds with the Brother’s plotting against him.
Things come to a head rather quickly in the story after Joseph
goes to find his brothers as they shepherd the flocks.
“They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them,
they conspired to kill him.
They said to one another,
‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him’ ” (37:18-20).
Their articulated concern isn’t Joseph’s arrogance, bad though it was,
or their father’s inequitable love, which is hurtful and psychological damaging,
or Joseph’s position of managing while they work,
elevating the youngest over the others…
No, its the dreams that Joseph articulates most threaten the brothers.
And they capture him, and throw him into a pit,
and would leave him for dead if not for Reuben
and instead sell him off to slavery, in Egypt.
Thus tying the covenantal line to the most important historical retelling
of the Hebrew people: the coming exodus.
We have come to learn a lot about God in the years between then and know.
Jesus would have a thing or two to say about dreams of grandeur, of power
and the dangers of associating power with claims of God’s design
particularly when that power is wielded to keep people hungry
or subjected, and not free.
But I’m still intrigued by the way God works through dreams.
History proves that it is sometimes the dreamers in our world
that society finds most threatening, or sometimes the most inspiring.
Some of my biggest heroes were dreamers:
I think about Martin Luther King, Jr., articulating a dream of unity.
We remember his sermon on the Washington Mall,
where he spoke of a day when people
would be judged by their character and not the color of their skin.
This was a dream from God about a future of hope and inclusiveness.
The dreamer was a threat to the status quo,
and, ultimately, those who resisted his words and his dream silenced him.
I think of Archbishop Oscar Romero,
archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in San Salvador.
Archbishop Romero was a pioneer in liberation theology,
and he worked with the poor and oppressed.
He spoke with a strong, clear voice
about the need for basic human rights to be observed,
in the middle of a brutal civil war.
He lived his life among those who had the least in terms of material possessions.
Romero was a dreamer, and he was assassinated as he presided over worship.
I got to visit that church back when I was a teenager,
and was forever grateful for the witness to peace, to shalom,
that remains there as an homage to Romero’s work.
I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
a German Lutheran pastor who fought against Nazism in World War II.
He was a leader in the Confessing Church of Germany
and became involved in the anti-Hitler resistance movement.
He was arrested, charged, and found guilty of sedition
in a plot to assassinate Hitler.
He was hanged for his resistance to Nazism,
but he continues to speak to us through his writings,
as he encourages the church to live out its prophetic calling within community.
Bonhoeffer was a dreamer who bravely lived out what his conscience dictated,
even when it meant going against the powerful structure
of Nazism and public sentiment.
These three major figures of the last century
are just a few examples of those who have been spoken to by God,
and who showed great courage in living out their convictions.
They had a dream of what a just world would look like.
They spoke the truth of God to all who would listen.
But I was thinking about more humble ways that churches do this all the time,
dream big dreams for God in their own contexts.
The Presbyterian Church USA, our denomination,
just launched an initiative to help educate a million children in places
where a basic education is next to impossible to receive,
not to mention the incredible work they do
with disaster relief, or hunger abatement. Big dreams.
Or our partners down the way at Cherith Brook,
who had a vision to serve homeless people. Just serve them. Just love them.
So they bought a house, on a “dangerous street”
and now provide showers, and food, and humanity. Big Dreams.
Or this church, in the ten or so short months I’ve been here,
I’ve been inspired by the dreams that have been spoken to me.
In memorial services, I’ve lifted up the dreams of some foundational members
who have given so much of themselves for this community.
I rarely do this in sermons, naming names like this,
but I think its helpful for us to remember
the dreams of say a Don Duncan or a John Gibson
or a Bob Baskin or, as we will this week
a Lucia Holston, or so many others
all of whom helped us dream about God’s future
and inspired us to take risks to make it our own.
Years now of love and service to our community. Big Dreams.
The church today continues to need
those who are open to the movement of God in their lives,
and who will dream divine dreams of what the world might become
through the power and grace of God.
Sometimes dreamers sound naive at best and crazy at worst.
Dreamers proclaim that the meek are blessed
Dreamers demand that the outcasts be welcomed.
Dreamers beat plowshares into pruning hooks.
The world is in need of dreamers.
So, the Kirk recently adopted a new tagline for our immediate future.
The Kirk: Community Minded, Loving and Serving.
Its part of our conviction that our future will be molded around Loving and Serving
both our church community and the community in which we find ourselves.
It is an invitation, of sorts,
for us to explore what that will look like in the next few years.
So I invite you to close your eyes for a moment.
Take a comfortable posture, and ask yourself
what is your dream for the Kirk?
Can you come up with two or three words, maybe, that
captures what you think God is calling us to do and to be right here.
Anyone have anything they’d like to share. Speak up, and loudly.
[Responses are solicited as I move from pulpit to lecturn]
I confess, I’ve been dreaming a bit about that myself.
I have ideas for where God is calling us: where God’s crazy inclusive love
leads us to love and serve and build a hopeful, faithful, diverse community.
But this isn’t about my dream. Or just about your dream.
This is about the heart of God in our midst, how God is inspiring us
through God’s word and God’s community,
to become alive again.
That can be risky: You saw what it did to Joseph.
But just wait until you see how the story turns out next week…
In the meantime,
may we all go forth and start listening to the dreams that we have
about this place
may we start walking out in faith that God will have our back,
that if we embody God’s love, all things are possible
as we enact the realm of God in this place
at 114th and Wornall…
Let it be so. Amen.
[i] Some parts of this center section of the sermon draws from the work of Wendy Joyner at http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/5245/dangerous-dreamers accessed August 10, 2014.
[ii] Wiesel, Elie. Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends (New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1976) p. 139
Image source/credit: “Finding Technicolor,” original art and t-shirt design by David Creighton-Pester. Info at http://www.wanderingbert.com/projects/finding-technicolor and T-shirt available at http://shirt.woot.com/offers/finding-technicolor