Genesis 37: 1 – 4; 12 – 28 Dreams from the Deep August 9, 2020

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Dreams from the Deep
Genesis 37: 1 – 4; 12 – 28

(Preached on August 9, 2020)

Last week, I had to go to Staples to get more paper for the office. As I walked around the store, I found myself remembering trips to Staples with my kids years ago, in this late summer season. It was a yearly ritual for us to shop for school supplies: shiny new notebooks, colorful markers, fresh pencils and pouches to keep them in. As I reached up to adjust my face mask, I realized that this year back to school time will be different.

We don’t yet know what school is going to look like. Since the pandemic began in March, parents have had to re-work their schedules to help educate their children. Fathers and mothers who never expected to home school their kids have found themselves sharpening their pencils and sitting down at the kitchen table, helping with math problems like the ones that used to stump them when they were kids.

For families, the pandemic hasn’t only changed school work. It’s changed the rhythm of family life. Schedules that used to be full of soccer practice and dance lessons and playdates now are empty. This isn’t all bad. Parents and kids are spending more time together. In my neighborhood I see whole families on bicycles, riding past my house. I see fathers and daughters with softball gloves in hand, heading for the nearby field. But the stress this pandemic has put on families must be hard to take at times. After all, parents want to keep their children safe, and help them grow into happy, independent adults.

Was it different in the days of Jacob, Joseph, and his brothers? In some ways, for sure. But some things haven’t changed. The parents of Joseph, in our passage for today from the Bible’s book of Genesis, surely wanted their son to grow into a happy adult. They must have been heartbroken by what happens to their son, especially since it happens at the hands of his own brothers.

It’s one of the most horrific stories in the Bible. Joseph’s brothers brutally gang up on him and throw him into a deep pit, a dry well in the ground. Then they sit down for a lunch break. When traders come by on their way to Egypt, the brothers sell Joseph into slavery, for twenty pieces of silver.

In their desire to hurt Joseph, almost to the point of death, the brothers take sibling rivalry to a horrible extreme. It’s not something we would wish on any family. Why would they do such a thing? If we go back in the story, we can get a sense of why his brothers do something so awful. This doesn’t excuse the awful things they did. But it might help us understand them better.

Joseph is one of the twelve sons of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. Joseph is also his father’s favorite, and here’s why. If you’d like to read the whole story, you can find it in the 29th chapter of Genesis. Like a lot of men in those days, Jacob has two wives. The first woman Jacob married was the family’s elder daughter Leah. But Jacob didn’t love Leah. Jacob was in love with the younger daughter Rachel. His father in law tricked him into the marriage. Still, Jacob and Leah have children together. Jacob is still in love with Rachel though. Finally he marries her, the woman of his dreams. When Rachel conceives and bears a son, they name him Joseph.

From the beginning, Jacob favors Joseph over the sons he has with Leah. He gives Joseph a beautiful coat to wear, unlike anything his brothers have. Joseph is pampered and spoiled. He’s also a tattletale. When his brothers goof off instead of watching the sheep, he tells on them. Joseph also brags to his brothers about the dreams he has, dreams where his brothers all bow down to him.
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that Joseph was annoying. More than annoying – he was infuriating to his brothers. So I guess you could say they had it in for him. Of course, that’s not the same as saying that Joseph had it coming. Did Joseph deserve to be treated the way they treated him? No. Did he deserve to be thrown into a pit and sold into slavery? No.

It must have been terrifying there at the bottom of that pit. Joseph must have been scared stiff and angry at being so harshly treated by his brothers. But Joseph was also, after all, a dreamer. Does he think about his dreams as he sits in that dark, damp hole? As he thinks t about his brothers’ vicious words, does he wonder what will become of his dreams?

As we will hear next week, Joseph’s dreams do lead him to a better situation. Eventually his life is saved because he continues to dream, even when things are at their worst. He continues to dream, and his dreams convince him that a better life is possible.

In the course of our lives, you and I might feel at times as if we’re at the bottom of a pit. We might feel abandoned and betrayed, as Joseph was. It might happen when a relationship crashes and burns, going down in flames of bitterness and blame. It might happen when we’re overcome with disappointment because a friend we had counted for help leaves us in our hour of need.

Life isn’t always lived on top of a mountain, enjoying the beautiful view. Sometimes we find ourselves at the bottom of a hole, a pit we can’t get out of. We feel battered and afraid. At those moments, may God help us to dream as Joseph did. When we’re in a hopeless place, may God’s Spirit raise us to new hopes. May God give us dreams of loving families and faithful friends. When it feels as if the world is falling apart, may God inspire us with dreams of a world made whole again.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle
Pentecost 10

And the music!   “Pie Jesu” by Gabriel Faure