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.


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