Passage: Genesis 37:1-11
Passage 2: John 13:34
Preacher: Dr. Jim Standiford
Keywords: family stories
Individually and in families, churches, nations, we fracture relationships when we favor one over others. Jesus calls us to love one anotehr.
Eternal God, pour out your spirit upon us that we might be sensitive to your presence, attentive to your word, and faithful always to your way, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In the commissioning and ordination service at Annual Conference this year I watched Jessica kneel and saw the Bishops lay their hands on her. As we sang the verse after her commissioning my mind did a bit of daydreaming. I recalled my own time on that same stage and kneeling on that same kneeler forty-two years ago, and all the places I have been appointed since then and what a blessing each was. Then I heard a voice as clear as a bell say, “You know, you didn’t deserve a single one.” In my heart I answered, “Yes, I know, but I pray Jessica has such grace-filled appointments in her ministry.”
In our Genesis passage today, Joseph, who is seventeen and full of himself, has dreams too, and therein is the problem. In ancient times the people believed there were three ways to consult with God: One, was through the casting of lots. Many people even today stake their future on this method in Las Vegas and at reservation casinos. Second, was to consult with a prophet. Third, was in dreams. It was even possible to have someone else dream for you. This process was called “incubation” and a “dreamer-for-hire” would sleep on the temple steps and dream for you. It was a widespread belief that dreams were messages from God.
Joseph was the first born son of Rachel, Jacob’s second, beloved, and favorite wife. His father very unwisely showed his favoritism for Joseph by giving him a robe with long sleeves, which made it impossible for him to do any manual labor. And Joseph was also a dreamer. He has two dreams that are reported in this part of scripture. One was that his brothers’ sheaves of wheat bowed down to his. The second was that the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him. Both of these we can see now were portents of his future great roles of service, but in his youthful ego development he uses them to lord it over his brothers. The family is fractured because of the father’s preferential treatment and Joseph’s boasting of his dreams. The brothers hated him for it. Joseph needed to learn what we all must learn, you don’t always have to tell all you know! Even his doting father rebukes him after he tells the second dream. In time we see Joseph mature beautifully and his life turns from self-aggrandizement to service to others. His attitude toward his own dreams changes, and that makes him more useful for God’s purposes, but not at this point.
It was been said there are dreams, and then there are dreams. Sometimes the cause of our dreams is indigestion. Remember Scrooge’s dismissive statement to Jacob Marley, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There is more of gravy than grave about you, whatever you are!” Sometimes they are the product of our individual unconscious trying to work things out, trying to make sense of unsensables in life. Sometimes they address what Jung called the collective unconscious, and are filled with symbolism and archetypal figures. Sometimes they are messages from God meant only for us, for our growth, correction, and maturity. They are not for the telling to the world. One of the measures about telling of a dream is to ask the question, “Who would this hurt if told?” If it is a message from God it is not intended to hurt anyone, so we need to carefully measure what to tell and what to keep to oneself.
Individuals have dreams, groups have dreams, and nations have dreams. Again, the rule applies, we need to be careful about boasting of our dreams. One of the great motivating dreams of our nation was and still is “liberty and justice for all.” These are great and high ideals to which we still aspire. However, there have been times we have called other nations to these high ideals, even as we have continued to struggle with how to live them ourselves, and thus we have fractured relationships with others. Another of our big dreams has been manifest destiny. This was the idea that we were to be a great influential presence in the world of nations and we were to span the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This dream framed much of our self-understanding as a young developing, growing nation, and was a necessary motivator for us, yet it was probably a dream that was best kept to ourselves and not broadcast to others.
Scholars reading the account of Joseph’s dreams point out that humility and prudence on Joseph’s part would have greatly reduced much of the pain, suffering, and division in his family. Humility and prudence often seem to be better choices for us to make at any level of relationship.
The context of our gospel verse for today is Jesus has just shared with the disciples his last supper and proclaimed that the bread and wine represent his body and blood given in love for them. This is the “Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” we just sang about. Then in our verse he states that his disciples are to give themselves to others. Their calling is not to boast of what they have, but in humility to give life to those around them. That is our calling as well.
James Moore is a retired United Methodist pastor and author in Texas. He tells of a scene at Norris Dam in the hills of East Tennessee. One evening shortly after it was built, a night shift worker was on an outside walkway listening to the hum of the powerful dynamos generating incredible amounts of electricity. Yet, as he looked out across the lake, he saw that every cabin in sight was lighted by oil lamps rather than electrical energy.
When he asked why, he was told that the transmission lines had not yet been run. James Moore writes, “Think of that. Those folks lived in the shadow of this magnificent hydroelectric dam, but they could not receive its power because they were not connected to it.”
This could be a similar picture in communities where churches are surrounded by poverty, injustice, spiritual emptiness, loneliness, despair, and all that robs life of meaning and joy. The church is supposed to be like a power plant, the place where Jesus said we are to receive life and power, a dynamo! Yet, all around are folks disconnected from this power. What are the transmission lines of the Holy Spirit? You and me! We are to be conduits of Jesus’ love, mercy, forgiveness, healing, and blessing. You and I are not the dynamos, we are the connecting lines. Our calling is not to promote ourselves, or to fracture relationships. Our calling is to humbly help others find new life in Jesus’ love, to get connected to him, to serve individuals, groups, our nation, and others with the presence of God. By God’s power we can!
Thanks be to God.