The Story of Joseph: Part I – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, August 6

When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, my best friend, Danny who was like a brother to me came over to my house to hang-out as we so often did that summer together.

During that particular summer, we were really into building clubhouses.  I lived on a farm and we had plenty of places to build clubhouses.

My favorite clubhouse was one that we built in a large maple tree in my front yard.  This tree had really big limbs to allow us to build a small floor, four walls and a roof.  It wasn’t fancy, but it served us well.

On one day that summer, we had built a clubhouse in the middle of our large meadow.  We didn’t do a very good job in building it but it did take us a full day to complete it.

The day after we had built this clubhouse, Danny came over.  And I can’t recall all of the details of what exactly happened, but my friend Danny and I got into an argument about something.

And Danny decided to tear down the clubhouse we had just built the day before.  When I saw Danny knocking down the walls of this clubhouse, it was like I became a different person.  Anger set in and I ran toward Danny and pushed him over.

He pushed me back and before too long, we were in a fight.  Here I was fighting my best friend.   And we were bruising and scratching each other.

That little incident taught me at an early age of how fragile relationships can be, even the relationship of best friends.

This morning, we begin a two-part sermon series on Joseph and his brothers as part of our summer long focus on stories from the Book of Genesis.

Our scripture reading this morning shows us how not to do relationships.  It’s a painful verse by verse scripture reading on the lessons of how to have a dysfunctional family.

One of the reasons why I am convinced that the Bible is true and can be trusted as the inspired Word of God is because it is not afraid to reveal the character flaws of the patriarchs and the matriarchs of our faith.  One would expect these very obvious flaws to be swept under the rug by our holy book.

Instead, the dirty laundry of our biblical heroes of faith are hung out on the line for all to see.

I mean, what kind of patriarch is Jacob in this story?  “Parenting for Dummies,” he did not read.  No.  Instead, he just does what feels natural to him.  If you’re drawn to one of your kids more than with the others, just favor that one over the others.

As I read this scripture I just wish an angel would send Dr. Phil to Jacob and ask him his famous question – “And how’s that working for you?”  Or wouldn’t you just love to hear Dr. Phil say to him, “What were you thinking?”

      We are told up front that we’re going to have major problems.  All you have to do is read verse 3.  “Now Israel, (which was the new name for Jacob) now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his children” (keep in mind that he has 12 children total) and it goes on to say that he loved Joseph more because Joseph was his youngest.  Actually, Joseph wasn’t the youngest, Benjamin was.  But still, Joseph was very special to his dad.

Now I’m the youngest of four in my family, and whenever we get together, my two sisters and brother love to remind me of just how much I was spoiled simply because I was the youngest.

And it’s true.  The rules were much more lax for me.  I think my parents were just plain tired of parenting after raising the first three.

For example, they weren’t as strict with me about getting good grades.  I guess it was about six years ago now, I went back home to see my mom who has since died, and I ended up rummaging through some of my things that were still in the attic.   And one of the things I found was my elementary grade school cards.  I couldn’t believe that these were still saved in pristine condition and tucked away in a shoe box.

Just to show you what kind of student I was, here is what my first grade teacher, Mrs. Maddox wrote about me on the grade card. She used the sandwich approach.  You know what that is right?  You begin and end with something positive and stick the negative part in the middle.  Here’s what she wrote – “Robert is working nicely. He is easily confused on new materials but is not timid about asking about things he does not understand.”  Is that me or what?

     And here’s what my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Umberger wrote about me on a different grade card.  And she did not use the sandwich approach.  She got straight to the point. “Robert’s grade is low because he gets very low grades on his workbook.  He doesn’t take time to read directions carefully.” That is so me even to this day!

Every so often, my dad would simply tell me his oft quoted line, “Son – you better buckle down.”  And that was all he said to me. No repercussions.  No extra chores.  Just – “Robert.  You better buckle down.”  I never understood what he meant by that.  Were my pants too loose?  “You better buckle down.”

     This was my dad’s way of reminding me to study a little harder, but he was still a lot softer on me than he was on my sisters and brother.

     I’ve always been able to relate to this story of Joseph because as the youngest, I guess you could say that I enjoyed my share of privileges.

I am told by a very trusted authority (namely my wife) that the psychological reason for this family dynamic is because parents don’t want their little baby to grow up.  The others grew up so fast and they want to keep the youngest a baby forever.

And so, right off the bat, we know that trouble is brewing in the Jacob household.

To make matters worse, Jacob has Joseph wear this pretentious coat of many colors.  And did you catch the little detail that this coat had sleeves?  In Bible times, you were somebody special and set apart if you had sleeves.

It was understood back then that anyone with long sleeves would not be expected to do manual labor.  Now, here’s where Jacob and my father were very different.  I was expected to bail hay, mow the grass, and work at a factory over the holidays and during the summer months.

Even though I may have been spoiled and got away with a lot, my dad never gave me a robe with sleeves.

You want to talk about a recipe for disaster.  Picture Joseph’s brothers sweating and dirty out in the fields and watching Joseph all clean and fresh coming toward them in his fancy “daddy loves me more than you” robe.

Which is exactly the scene we have in our scripture reading this morning.  And as Joseph approaches his brothers from a distance, the brothers are fuming.

One of them sarcastically says, “Here comes this dreamer.”  If you recall, Joseph had told his brothers about two dreams in which his brothers had bowed down to him.  Not surprisingly, this did not go over very well with the brothers.

So as Joseph walks toward his hard working brothers, one of them says, “Hey, guys, this is our chance to kill Mr. Dreamer.”

     And this story goes from bad to worse.  There’s a glimmer of hope when Reuben begs his brothers to not kill Joseph but to just throw him in a cistern that doesn’t have any water.

They strip Joseph of his long sleeved robe and they throw him into a pit.  And how they managed to eat lunch after this I will never know, but while the brothers were eating, they noticed a caravan of people on their way to Egypt.

That’s when they decide to sell Joseph to this traveling group for twenty pieces of silver.  So Joseph officially becomes a slave and is sent off to Egypt.

The brothers grab the robe, dip it into some blood of a goat, and make up a story that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Their father is devastated upon hearing this news and grieves the loss of his youngest son, Joseph.  Meanwhile, the band of travelers arrives in Egypt and Joseph is sold to one of Pharoah’s officials.

Let’s stop here for just a moment.  This story of Jacob and his dysfunctional family is just one of many dysfunctional stories that we find in this first book of the Bible.  Welcome to the wild and whacky world of the Book of Genesis!

You would think that these kinds of crazy stories would be few and far between among God’s people.  Sometimes the community of faith doesn’t look all that different from the Kardashians. Actually, the Kardashians are much more functional that Joseph’s family.

But none of this should surprise us, right?  I mean, the first few pages of the Book of Genesis tell us the story of how sin entered the world.  It was when we disobeyed God and ate from the tree of good and evil even though we were clearly told not to do so.  Even though we got to live in the beautiful and amazing Garden of Eden and had everything we wanted, we still chose to do what God had told us not to do.

Theologians call this decision to disobey God, original sin.  And it’s something we struggle with throughout our life – the temptation to do the wrong thing because of a desire for greed, or pleasure, or power, or to take the easy way out.

Leonard Sweet is Christian speaker and author. He put it so well when he wrote, “The only thing original about me is original sin.” Is it any wonder then, when new members join the church that they respond to this very heavy question?  And the question is, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?”

Because of original sin, we always face the temptation, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to disobey God.  That’s why Israel often strayed away from God.  And the same is true of the church.

Some people look long and hard for the perfect church where there is no gossip, no jealousy, and where differences of opinions are always handled in loving and mature ways.

The story of Joseph is a story of how God’s own people struggle in being the community of faith that God has called us to be.  I wonder if the reason the bible is willing to air all of this dirty laundry is to help us come face to face with our own pettiness and hurtful actions toward each other.

While I was serving as pastor of one of my previous churches, I was having lunch with a couple of parishioners in a local restaurant.  One of the members of our church was also eating in that same restaurant and she came up to our table to say “Hi.”

And she said to everyone at our table, “Isn’t it great that we voted down the proposal?  That would have been a big mistake if we would have passed it.”

She was referring to a very controversial vote that our church had recently made at a special Church Conference.

What this church member who had come to our table didn’t know was that the people sitting with me voted in favor of the proposal.  Her words hurt them deeply.  She had assumed that they voted the same way that she had voted.

It was an awkward moment and I don’t think she ever realized how hurtful that comment was to her fellow parishioners.

Sometimes, we needlessly hurt one another in the Body of Christ.

Even though I am not naïve enough to believe that a church can be perfect, I still am amazed at how flippantly we can say things to brothers and sisters in Christ without thinking.  And often, it’s not so much the opinions we share because I think we all realize that we are a church of diverse opinions and thoughts.  The problem is in the way we share them.

If the church isn’t perfect, that what is it?

Christian blogger, Rachel Held Evans, in her book “Searching for Sundays” talks about a radio station that interviewed her. They asked her why she chooses to participate in the church even though much of her writing denounces the hypocrisy and judgmental attitude that is often associated with many churches.

She writes, “I talked about Jesus—his life, teachings, death, resurrection, and presence in my life and in the world. I talked about how faith is always a risk and how the story of Jesus is a story I’m willing to risk being wrong about. And then I said something that surprised me a little, even as the words left my mouth.

“I’m a Christian,” I said, “because Christianity names and addresses sin. It acknowledges the reality that the evil we observe in the world is also present within ourselves. It tells the truth about the human condition—that “we’re not okay.”

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” instructed James, the brother of Jesus. At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another. Sometimes the truth is we have sinned as individuals. Sometimes the truth is we have sinned corporately, as a people. Sometimes the truth is we’re hurting because of another person’s sin or as a result of forces beyond our control. Sometimes the truth is we’re just hurting, and we’re not even sure why.

The practice of confession gives us the chance to admit to one another that we’re not okay, and then to seek healing and reconciliation together, in community.”

Rachel Held Evans speaks truth, does she not?

Naming and confessing our sins both individually and collectively is how God helps us to have a world where brothers and sisters in Christ find unity in the midst of our many political and theological differences of opinion. It helps us to have a world that seeks peace rather than war. It’s also how we can have a world where all races live in harmony and where the Statue of Liberty torch is raised higher than the torches carried by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Naming and confessing our sins is what the story of Joseph and his brothers has to offer us in our broken, hurting, and dysfunctional world that God created and seeks to make new.

And so maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised that the Bible didn’t edit out the dysfunctional stories of our matriarchs and patriarchs of faith.  These dirty laundry stories aren’t only found in the Book of Genesis. In the New Testament we read of Peter and Paul, two giants of the faith, two pillars of the church, sparring at one another over a delicate issue which the early church was facing at the time.

And what about those twelve discples who were around a table with Jesus at the Last Supper.  Twelve men.  Not brothers in the biological sense of the word.  But brothers in Christ.

One of those brothers left the table to proceed with his plans to betray Christ in exchange for 30 pieces of silver.  Joseph’s brothers got 20 pieces of silver for their betrayal.

Another brother who was sitting around that table would end up denying Jesus three times.  And at one time or another, all of these brothers would forsake Jesus during a time when he needed them the most.

The soldiers stripped Jesus of his robe before crucifying him.  Joseph was also stripped of his robe.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end with Joseph being sold into slavery.  And the story of Jesus doesn’t end with him on the cross.

Today, we, the brothers and sisters in Christ, gather around the Lord’s table to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, to receive forgiveness for how we have intentionally or unintentionally hurt one another.

It’s ironic that we who have broken Christ’s body because of our hurtful words, our jealousies, and our unloving ways, are the same people who will also be reminded in just a few moments of Christ’s words to us when he said, “This is my body broken for you.”

The Story of Joseph: Part I

Small Group Questions

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

August 13, 2017

The stories from the Book of Genesis that we’ve been looking at this summer, especially today’s story of Jacob’s dysfunctional family reminds us of how the bible isn’t afraid of airing the dirty laundry of the matriarchs and patriarchs of our faith. Jacob favors Joseph over his other sons. Joseph flaunts his favoritism. Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and lie to their father, Jacob about what happened to him. Dr. Phil would have loved to interview these biblical characters!

If you were Dr. Phil, what question would you like to ask Joseph’s family?

Christian author, Rachel Held Evans claims that what makes Christianity special for her is that we don’t need to pretend that we don’t struggle with sin. Our faith invites us to share our struggles with each other, especially in a small group where we accept each other for who we are.

How has your small group helped you to feel free to confess your struggles and sins with each other?

Pastor Robert referred to the recent events of the white supremacy march in Charlottesville, Virginia as well as the threat of war with North Korea as examples of how our world is broken and dysfunctional in so many ways.

As a small group, offer this prayer together for world peace and mutual understanding:

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In his sermon on Joseph, Pastor Robert listed parallels with Joseph and his brothers and the story of Christ and the disciples. For example, Jacob had twelve sons and Jesus had twelve disciples, Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery for twenty pieces of silver and one of the disciples betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver, Joseph’s brother stripped Joseph of his robe and Jesus’ robe was stripped from his when he was crucified. The good news is that Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection three days later opened the way for us to be forgiven for our sins and our dysfunctional ways.

Share a time when you felt forgiven and loved by Christ.