Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Genesis 37:1-28: Dreams, Fratricide, Slave-trading and Pits!

Dreams. Whether we remember them or not, we all have them. Some are lovely and vivid. Others are hazy or terrifying. And then there are the dreams that we consciously build as our lives unfold and we grow and change. Vocational dreams, family dreams, travel destination dreams. For many of us our dreams are influenced by many factors and people, including God and spiritual mentors, throughout our lives.

Joseph was a dreamer, and that was probably a good thing because from what I can see, he had very little common sense! I mean, really. Our reading today tells us that his brother’s “could not even speak peaceably to him”. And yet, not once but twice when he has a dream that indicates they will bow down to him, he runs right up to them and tells them, and, well, yes, the predictable result is that they “hated him even more”. And, Dad, well, I’m not so sure he’s got any more common sense…we all know, right, that playing favorites is never a healthy thing in families for one thing. He who knows Jacob had Joseph doing now while the brothers were out in the field, but now he thinks it’s a good idea to send Joseph to make sure that all is well with his brothers and the flocks.

His brothers see him from a distance and decide, “Let’s kill him”, except for Rueben who schemes to improve his standing with his father, by convincing the group that they should just throw him into a well that way they don’t have to worry themselves with the blood from his death, instead, let him die slowly from no water. But what the others don’t know is that he wants to rescue Joseph and turn them all in to their father as having planned harm to the favorite son. So, Joseph ends up in a pit. And, these sons of Jacob, after planning their brother’s death sit down to eat. They must have stomachs of steel! And, then they unwittingly foil Rueben’s plan as he is off who knows where by selling Joseph, the dreamer, to passing traders who take him to Egypt.

It’s an interesting story that we have before us, that’s for sure. Joseph’s own dreams of a changed reality are his brothers’ nightmares and cause them to take hateful actions. For Joseph’s dreams to come true there would have had to be a total change in reality; a shift in the distribution of power and resources in the family. And, it’s a vision that his brothers can not accept – they will not accept that they will bow down to Joseph, that he will have power over them.

It’s not only Joseph who has dreams. Like Joseph, we all have dreams. We dream of better economic times. We dream of peace between races, nations, and countries. We dream of a renewed natural world. We dream of ending terminal diseases like cancer and HIV/AIDS. We dream of the end of human trafficking and drug trafficking.

Each of us have our individual dreams, too…vocational dreams for a job or outlet that lets us share our skills, be fulfilled, and be challenged. Dreams of personal health. Dreams of healthy children. Dreams of quiet evenings and untroubled sleep.

Before the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams, he experiences hell. In Hebrew, the word for the “pit” they throw him into refers to the underworld or hell. And in the continuing story of Joseph there are many pits, or, times of hell, to endure before his dreams are realized.

Maybe you’ve been in the pit, too; maybe more than once. If not, you will be.

There is a saying: Life happens. Joy is optional…So true when we are unemployed, underemployed and uninsured. A hostile workplace or supervisor driving you insane can make you repeat: “mortgage payment, mortgage payment” over and over again just to get yourself through the day. A relationship that was lovely and the best you’ve ever been in that turns high-conflict or dissolves for lack of love by the other person can make you feel like you are in a pit with no water.

It is perhaps the pits that delay the fulfillment of our personal dreams and the dreams of those we love where it is hardest to see God at work. It is easier, like Joseph’s brothers, to see those who stand in our way, those who seemingly have control and block the pathway to the realization of our dreams. Or sometimes, there isn’t an obvious responsible person and so we blame God, or turn the anger and despair on ourselves. I believe it is also the personal hells, the immediate pits where we are most in danger of those pits turning into Lazarus tombs of darkness and silence.

So, amidst the favoritism of the workplace or our own families, the scheming, pits and hells around us where is the Good News for us today? I think the Good News is that “the dream of God prevails over the plans of human beings. Maybe not in the forms God intended at first, and there may be long and trying times before it comes about, and it may come about it ways that we never expect, but the dream of God, God’s desire for the world and God’s people [was achieved then and] is still being achieved” today.

The overarching story of God’s dream for freedom, forgiveness, grace and love for us and for the world is seen in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

As God moved over the chaos of wind and water at the creation of our world, we dare to dream that God will move over the chaos of our world restoring order and peace.

As Jesus healed and re-membered the sick, marginalized, shunned and sinners, we dare to dream of healing and re-membering.

From God’s reconciliation with us through Jesus’ death, we dare to dream for reconciliation with our sister, brother, mother, father, ex or soon to be x spouse or partner.

As body and blood become sustaining bread and wine, we dare to dream of community efforts to meet the needs of the spiritually and physically hungry in our neighborhood.

Dear friends, the pit is never God’s dream for us.

And, like Joseph, it is not the end of the story for any of us.

Thanks be to God.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The spirituality of Welcome

There has been a convergence around the theme of welcome and hospitality from the many communities of my life, so I have spent a lot of time thinking about these practices over the last few weeks. The monastic tradition of St. Benedict has gospel hospitality and welcome at it's center.  First Trinity strives to be a welcoming community for all who walk through the doors on Sunday mornings, or Thursday nights, or that ring the bell at any time, any day of the week.  501 Church welcomes young adults into Journey Groups, service projects, and new ways and thinking about worship and "being church".  In our home, Jonathan and I have welcomed a new housemate who is with us temporarily while she looks for a job.  Each of these examples of welcome and hospitality comes with a sense of richness, joy and deeper sense of knowing and being known by those to whom hospitality is extended and by God. 

There is another side to welcome, too; well, perhaps, almost certainly, more than one other side to 'welcome'.  But, there is the side of being turned down, turned away in your moment of need.  I spent a lot of time this last week feeling unwelcome as I looked for a place for 501 Church to meet on a Sunday evening at 5:01pm.  For many reasons, a space outside of a church building was not working a very real way, 501 Church felt the 'other' side of welcome.  We simply wanted "space" - not even the opportunity to evangelize or convert anyone who walked by...yet, space was not open to us.  In the book The Ten Most Common Mistakes Made by New Church Starts this is referred to as spiritual resistance to a new church beginning.

And, truth be told, I have turned down other churches, music groups, or the random non-profit that have called asking for space for many reasons: some good, others not as good.  So, in a way, I understand.  And, I'm not demoninzing or condemning to hell, or trying to be self-righteous over and against any of those that turned me down for requesting space. 

The point is, I believe, that welcome is a spiritual practice that is center to our lives as spiritual beings.  It is in welcoming another that we are known, and know others.  To welcome another - an individual or group - is to welcome the God who shows up in the most unexpected of places and people.  We are but smudged reflections of the God who welcomes everyone, anywhere, anytime and invites us to take a risk and do the same.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Arizona Shooting – What does a Christian response look like?

In the 5 days following the shooting in Tucson, AZ I lead our Sunday morning Bible Study and our Shalom Group discussions, focusing each on the events and our feelings, perspective and responses to the tragedy. The emotions ranged from sadness and grief for those killed or injured to anger at the gunman and the media response and coverage afterward. I would say this is pretty akin with the rest of the country.

There are two points to our discussions that I want to share with you. In our discussions, I was disheartened to hear someone say that when I preach, I’m preaching to the choir and really the people outside of the walls are the ones that need the message. Because what happened is so violent and tragic, it is tempting to distance ourselves from this and say that this is something we’re not a part of, have no responsibility for, or can do anything about. I disagree. As people of faith, followers of Christ, we have a responsibility to step into the conversation and bring a message of light and life. In the Holden Evening Prayer on Thursdays, there is a call and response sentence that goes, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” There is darkness in the world and we are called to be light.  When tragedies like Arizona occur, it is our responsibility to examine our own actions, the places of intersection with those we are trying to live well among, those who enter our path and become our neighbor regardless of place, race or style.  Often, bringing light means to first take responsibility for the mistakes we have made, the hurt we have inflicted and the sorrow we have caused.  And, it means feeling the grace in the opportunity to fall and get up and fall and get up again on the journey to follow the way of Jesus. 

The second point from our discussion that I want to highlight is this: what or, more pointedly, where was the Christian response to the shooting? The only coverage of a response that I or anyone in our Shalom group heard was discussion of whether or not the Westboro Group would protest some of the funerals that were taking place. I am disappointed that our ELCA Presiding Bishop Hanson or any of his colleagues from other denominations didn’t step into the darkness and make a statement. Our lack of voice does nothing to alleviate the impressions of people that I talk with who have become disillusioned with the church. It gives no counter to the impression that Christianity is irrelevant and all Christians are judgmental and absorbed with our buildings and Sunday morning worship only.

So, what does a Christian response look like? I’m sure that neither I nor any of my colleagues preach for the words to reverberate off the 4 walls of the church sanctuary and to stay there. We preach praying that the Holy Spirit will take the message into the listener’s heart and mind and then we are sent out to be Christ’s hands, feet and voice in the world. Your claim, “I am a Christian. Living out my faith is the most important thing in my life.” will open avenues of conversation you didn’t know existed and show others that Christians are compassionate, thoughtful people seeking the grace and mercy of God and that we are dependent on the love we learn from one another. Let us go out into the world with good courage to proclaim light in the darkness.

Pastor Wendy