Sermon – Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 13, 2017
A friend of my daughter’s recently had her second baby. She and her husband brought baby Lily home to her older sister, an articulate and very excited 3-year-old. The wonder and joy were palpable as the toddler gingerly held her brand new baby sister, as she peered into her bassinette as she slept, as she sat at her mother’s side during feedings. A few days passed and when the heretofore reigning princess began to feel her parents’ time and attention shifting towards the new baby, she had no problem whatsoever in articulating her desire: “Mommy, Lily is so cute, but can we send her back now?”
Baby Joseph came into his eleven older brothers’ lives and completely stole the show. He, too, must have been very cute given that Donny Osmond played him on Broadway decades ago. He is the apple of his aging father’s eye and scripture tells of Joseph’s several dreams as a young boy pointing to his own future greatness…and his having no problem articulating those dreams to the rest of the family.
Probably the one dream that finally made his brothers want to send him back was the one where he told of the sun and the moon and eleven starts bowing down to him. Of course, it didn’t help that their father Jacob chimed in with his interpretation that the heavenly bodies were Dad and Mom and Joseph’s eleven brothers bowing down to Joseph. It probably didn’t help either that Joseph seemed to be a bit of a tattletale, bringing a “bad report of [his brothers] to their father”.
We meet the clan this morning as father Jacob sends baby Joseph, now 17, out to check on his brothers in the pasture and to bring word back to him. Now, I’m one who believes that parenting is not always instinctive and I know that parenting classes were not available in the ancient land of Canaan, but Jacob, Dad, what were you thinking? Making a long robe with sleeves for just one of the kids? Chiming in to give credibility to these dreams of grandeur? Sending one of your children to spy on the rest?
You see, I’m really trying to understand how, in heaven’s name, had family dynamics reached such a low, that these eleven men would want to murder their youngest brother. Wanting to send him back is one thing, but actually plotting his demise, planning their alibi? That’s first degree murder, right? Willful and premeditated. Shocking, sickening, stomach-turning.
Rev. Kathryn Matthews of the United Church of Christ threw me off this week as I read her query in the introduction to her commentary on this passage. She prods with this: “Where is the good news in this text?” Where, indeed. As we try to interpret this story to find meaning for ourselves in our own time, I’m afraid it gets rather discouraging…because things haven’t changed much. We know too well of the divisions and ill will among families, members who cease speaking to each other to their graves, siblings who are outcast by the rest. We are not the only country in the world who has experienced civil war, brother against brother. And the events in Virginia yesterday only point to how divided we still are. We read this story in the Bible from thousands of years ago and we know, too, that the vulnerable are still sold into slavery by their own families to this very day. Where is the good news in this text?
We have to search for it. Joseph’s brother Reuben, the oldest of Jacob’s sons, comes to the rescue, at least temporarily. He says, “Let us not take his life…Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him,” and scripture tells us that was so Reuben might rescue Joseph out of his brothers hands and restore him to his father. But somehow, because the story is not clear on this, Reuben leaves the scene because we read in verse 29 following our passage, “When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. He returned to his brothers and said, ‘The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?’”
And, we wonder which is worse: murdering their brother outright or selling him? Is the good news that they allow him to live? Is the good news that at least one of the brothers had the right intentions?
My friends, we are all faced at one time or another in our lives with situations that contain little, if any, good news. I don’t need to name all the possibilities here. We comfort ourselves with “well, it could have been worse” or “at least it wasn’t…” We search for the good in the horror to find hope, to survive.
But there’s another way to find the good which this story will go on to illustrate next week and that is to wait for it. Wait for the good. God is forever working behind the scenes and next week when we read the conclusion to this story, eight chapters later, we will hear a tale of uncanny coincidence, incredible forgiveness and extremely emotional reconciliation.
Sometimes, if we cannot b ring the good news ourselves, we have to wait for the good. Sometimes we have to really lean on our faith that God has not and will never abandon us; that sin will not win; that evil will be revealed; that goodness and love will eventually show up in ways we can neither predict nor even imagine. But while we’re waiting, it can’t hurt to keep searching. The good is there; maybe we just can’t see it yet. Amen.