Created to Belong: The Story So Far
September 25, 2016
Preaching: Lindsay Small
Text: Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34, 50:15-21
If I ever teach a parenting class, I’m going to have everyone in the class read book of Genesis.
Parenting is hard…a seemingly endless battle to have kids not fight with each other, pick up their rooms, do their homework…and you know, grow them into faithful followers of Jesus…it can often feel like a losing battle.
Parenting is hard…and sometimes the best consolation is: well, at least my kids aren’t THAT BAD.
And never have I thought that so much than after reading Genesis…
Because at least…my kids have not tried to kill each (ala Cain and Abel), We have not been asked to sacrifice our firstborn (ala Abraham and Isaac…although that just turned out to be the world’s most extreme object lesson)…Madeline has not stolen Micah’s birthright…yet (ala Jacob and Esau)…and none of our kids have been thrown into pits and sold to Ishmaelites (more on that in a few minutes)…
So…really in comparison, I’d say we’re all mastering this parenting thing…
Genesis is the ultimate ‘feel-good’ book…I feel good because ’at least my kids aren’t THAT BAD.’
And today we land on a story that truly embodies family dysfunction…
-A Father with blatant favoritism…
-Brothers seeping with jealousy…
-And a favorite son who likes to rub it in a little too much…
Yes, maybe we aren’t THAT BAD, and yet at least for me, there are still entry points. Characters that I take on when playing out my many parts as parent, sister, spouse, and daughter.
Joseph, Jacob, Reuben, the angry brothers…characters that are extreme but also familiar…
But there was another reason these characters were so familiar…another reason these characters came to life in my head this week… I was in a perpetual flashback to my freshman year of college…when our entire class took the EL downtown to the Chicago Theatre and saw Donny Osmond as Joseph in the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
I have had the songs in my head for a week! And Kyle has not missed any opportunity to play them as loud as possible…
And so after countless family sing-a-longs…I actually started seeing the text in Two Acts…that’s really how the readings for this week are broken up:
ACT ONE: Sibling Rivalry
ACT TWO: well, I don’t want to give the whole story away just yet.
So settle back in your seats, get comfortable…and let’s hear Act One:
Hannah: “Remember this portion of the story of God as it is written in the book that we love…Act One:”
Right away in Act One, you can smell trouble. “Israel, or Jacob, loved Joseph more than any other of his children.”
No, no, no, no, no…you do not do this….there is no quicker path to therapy…for both child and parent…than to blatantly love one more than the other.
And yet here is Jacob…and he is unapologetic. In fact, he seems to want to get the word out there! Joseph is my favorite…and as a token of my blatant favoritism…here, have his amazing coat…with SLEEVES no less!
His bare-armed brothers stand there watching this whole thing unfold…seething with jealousy, feeling utterly unloved by their father…
How could Jacob not see trouble coming?
But Jacob, himself a youngest child, had cheated his older brother out of his birthright…He was never one for older children. He was not the favorite of his father…Esau was. And perhaps was anxious to bestow his favor on a younger child.
And so a hopeless triangle unfolds: a boy, a father, and his brothers.
Joseph seems to live somewhere between pride and utter ignorance. He is pleased to receive such a gift of his father…and seems to like to show it off a little…
He’s got a lot going for him…after all, to quote Andrew Lloyd Webber, “He is handsome, he is smart, he’s a walking work of art…”
But then, to make matters worse…he has a dream…a wonderful dream…if you’re Joseph. And he makes the terrible choice of sharing it gleefully with his brothers:
“Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.”
The text goes on to say, ‘So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
If you ask me, Joseph was being a bit of a tool. If you are the KNOWN favorite, a little humility goes a long way. If you have a dream where you come out on top…you may not want to pronounce such dream to the people who are doing the bowing.
So there’s trouble…right here in Canaan City…wait, wrong Musical…
But whatever is brewing, both father and son seem oblivious…so Joseph heads out to a remote location to give his brothers a message…without a thought in his mind that his brothers are about to invite him to a new future.
At first when they see him, they conspire to murder him, and then in a laughable move towards compassion…to merely throw him in a pit…and sell him as a slave…after all, they concede, “he is our brother, our own flesh…”
Oh…how nice of you. Don’t hurt him…just sell him off and fake his death and make your father to believe his favorite son is dead. After all, he is our brother…
See, at least our kids aren’t THAT BAD…
These brothers seem so vile to us…how could they do this?
And yet, if I’m honest, I know that I’ve played their part before.
-I’ve seethed with jealousy towards a more preferred, a more beautiful, a more talented…
-We delight when the mighty fall…when people get what they have coming to them…just as long as it’s not us…
Reuben seems at first like a glimmer of hope…maybe we can play his part…but even Reuben shows us the underbelly of the human condition.
He wants to return Joseph to his father…in hopes that in returning him he could gain some much needed favor with his dad.
When he learns his brother has been sold…indeed he tears his clothes, but his words are telling…“The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” The repetition of the “I” in the Hebrew is even more emphatic than it appears in the English.
Reuben is focused on himself instead of on the fate of his brother:
And so instead of confessing all to his father, Reuben goes along with the lie the brothers tell their father, that Joseph has been killed by wild animals.
Act One: the human condition.
Jealousy, rage, favoritism, pride…this is what happens when we are left to ourselves.
This is a pretty typical ending to Act 1…This is when the trouble peaks…when life unravels…when hope is lost…
At the end of Joseph…Act 1, he’s in prison. After a few good years in Egypt managing Potiphar’s house, Joseph is wrongly accused and thrown in jail.
Act 1 ends in loneliness: a father mourning the loss of his son, the son far away in a jail cell, and the brothers are alone with their burdensome secret.
Poor, poor Joseph…what’s he going to do?
Can you imagine if the story ended here?
Can you imagine if there wasn’t an Act 2?
-Joseph would stay in prison…
But not just in Joseph…what if other stories ended with Act 1?
-Simba would never take his place as rightful king of the Pride Land…
-Elsa would never bring back summer to Arendelle…
-The rebels in Les Miserable would be left singing ‘One day more” without…One more day!
And not just in these stories…what about in our story?
What if our story ended with Act 1?
-Left in our sin, our shame, our regret, our poor choices…
Act 1: the human condition.
But never, ever the end.
Our story…God’s story…ALWAYS has two acts.
There is always an ACT 2…
In my story, your story, and Joseph’s story:
And so hear now…ACT 2:
Hannah and Jackson
13 chapters have passed during intermission… and a lot has happened…Pharaoh, freedom, famine… a long expected reunion between Joseph and Jacob…
But this Act 2 is about restoration.
Brother to brothers.
With Jacob dead, the brothers are at first a little uneasy…will they finally get what they have coming to them? Will Joseph throw them into a pit?
And so instead they throw themselves before their brother…weeping and bowing down before him and presenting themselves as slaves…(huh…sound familiar?)
But Joseph has learned about humility…and forgiveness…and despite any temptation to proclaim, “See! I knew this would happen…remember that dream???” He resists.
And instead, Joseph says to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.
What you intended for harm…God intended for good.
If Act 1 is about our human condition…
Then Act 2 is about God redeeming our human condition.
God brings good out of bad. It’s as simple and wonderful as that.
Paul will echo this later in Romans, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
In everything…God means it for good. He said so in at the very beginning in Genesis 1 and again here in Genesis 50.
This is the plot to this story and every story.
Walter Bruggeman says, “The evil plans of human folks do not defeat God’s purpose. Instead, they unwittingly become ways in which God’s plan is furthered.”
Act 1 is the mess we’ve made.
Act 2 is God bringing about forgiveness, grace, and redemption from our mess.
Act 2 is the cross. God’s ultimate work of bringing good to the world to reign over evil.
Perhaps some of you feel like you’re stuck in Act 1…you feel resentful and hurt…maybe towards a sibling…or maybe a spouse, a friend, a parent.
And maybe throwing them into a pit hasn’t crossed your mind…until this morning…but certainly writing off the relationship has…
What would it take to get you to move to Act 2?
To charge ahead with reckless forgiveness and grace?
After all, that’s what God did with us. He brought us into Act 2 well before we deserved it.
Joseph forgave his brothers. God forgives us.
Friends, if nothing is out of the realm of God’s forgiveness…surely nothing should be out of the realm of our forgiveness…
There is always room for Act 2.
This morning, put down the script of Act 1: we know the lines all too well.
Time to watch and see how God is moving us all into Act 2:
Taking what we intended for harm, and intending it for good.
We thank you, Holy God, that there is always an Act 2. We thank you for the ultimate redemption you offer us through the cross. May we embody this Act 2 in all our relationships, so that we may be a conduit of your GOOD in the world.