Nov 9, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 37:1-36
Sermon Title: "Hatefulness to Hopefulness"
We just heard a story of extreme violence and violation done by the children of Israel to a child of Israel. To counter balance it, let us meditate on these words found in 1 John, chapter 2:
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world..." (v: 1-2)
Today, let us, as children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ, recipients of the Spirit, learn a little bit more about how to walk in the ways of our Lord.
When we last met, Israel was limping towards Canaan and reconciled with his brother Esau. It was a poignant moment in which Israel was able to see the face of God and experience the gift of forgiving love.
Unfortunately, things have not gone smoothly. Sibling rivalry and dysfunction has reemerged in the family.
You would have thought that in his spiritually enlightened state Israel would not make the same mistakes of playing favorites as he and his mother once did.
But family dysfunction is hard to run from, and Israel returns to old habits: he favors Joseph over his other children. It’s a favoritism he doesn’t even try to hide, making Joseph a gorgeous robe with long sleeves.
The brothers grow angry when they see their father’s latest display of affection. "The spoiled brat," they probably say under their breathe.
They hate their brother, and to make it worse, Joseph begins share his dreams of sheafs and stars bowing down to him. It’s clear what the dreams mean, and so they hate him even more.
Then to make it worse, Israel sends Joseph to check on his brothers, and when they see him their hatred comes to a boiling point: "Let’s kill him!"
Viciously they descend, tearing off his robe, casting him into an empty pit, and in an act of indifferent cruelty, they casually share a meal while selling him into slavery.
This is the perfect picture of a family addicted to chaos; the family system at its worse: the father showing favoritism, Joseph the spoiled tattle-tale brat, and the brothers seething in hateful rage.
Is it any surprise that this erupts in unforgivable acts of violence and abuse?
...except I wonder if it was really Joseph they were angry at and they were trying to hurt.
There is a saying that goes "it’s never about what it’s about." And I wonder if that is the case here.
Yes, we’re told the brothers hated Joseph with his beautiful coat and fancy dreams. Yes, they conspired to kill him.
But I don’t believe they were truly angry at Joseph. I believe they were actually angry at their father, and they were angry at God.
First of all, Joseph had no control of his dreams. They came from somewhere, and back then people understood dreams to be a gift from God.
The brothers disliked the content of Joseph’s dreams and the way he shared them, but if dreams were a gift from God, shouldn’t it be God they are angry with?
But how does one take out their anger to God? How does one say "Hey God: I’m mad at you?" if no one ever taught you how to do it?
And if its that hard to speak to God, imagine how much harder it would be to talk to Dad.
Yes, Joseph was an immature tattle-tale, but wasn’t it, in some ways, Dad’s fault? After all he coddled him, favored him, reinforced his behavior.
Wasn’t it Dad who made it blatantly clear that he loved Joseph above everyone else when he gave him that stupid coat?
And wasn’t it Dad who foolishly sent Joseph to go check on his brothers? Didn’t he know just how full of anger they were?
The brothers may have been jealous of Joseph, they may have despised his very being, but I believe it was actually God who they were angry with and their father who they hated and wanted to hurt.
Attacking Joseph was just their unconscious way of doing it
With that being said, let me ask this: what if?
What if the brothers had taken a moment to pause, what if they had taken a moment to pray, and approached the actual targets of their anger?
What if they had collectively approached God with their jealousy, with their questions of why him and not us?
What if they had went directly to their father and told him just how they felt, venting their anger in a safe, healthy way?
They could have let it all out, using prayer, "I" statements and listening ears.
If they had taken their feelings of hate and anger to God and to Israel they probably would not have attacked their brother.
They probably would not have left him crying out for mercy, and they wouldn’t have to listen to their father’s endless cries of grief and mourning.
They could have shown their brother grace and mercy and given the family an opportunity to learn and grow closer to one another.
What if, what if, what if?
The trouble with "what ifs" is that they can never be realized, for what is done is done, and all we can do is move ahead, and learn from the mistakes that have been made.
Today’s story is a story of family dysfunction, of the unmerciful way we treat one another. It is a story as old as time, but it does not have to be a reality for us anymore
For as John writes in his letter, "My little children, you do not have to sin, for we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins."
And in Christ, we do not just have an advocate, but we also have someone to take all of our grievances, to vent all of our feelings, to release all of the hatred and rage we feel for one another.
And this is the Good News that I wish to share with you today: that Jesus Christ has become for us the most fantastic sounding board and intercessor.
After all, he knew what it was like to be human, he knew what it was like to feel emotions, and he knew all to well what it was like to be a victim of others unchecked rage.
In Jesus we have someone who will listen patiently as we pour out our hearts, hearing our every complaint about every injustice we feel.
You know those times when you are so angry? Those times when someone has hurt you so bad?
You can take that to Jesus.
The anger and the resentment you have about your parents? The things they did and did not do that still haunt you?
You can take it to Jesus.
The rivalry you’ve had with your sister or brother? The petty squabbles? The anger at the one who made a name for themself and the anger at the one who dragged the family name through the mud?
You can take it to Jesus.
Oh, you may try to pretend it doesn’t bother you. You may act like it’s all OK. But it’s not.
You can take it to Jesus.
He will listen. He won’t judge. He won’t shame you. He won’t tell you to be quiet.
We can turn to Christ to honestly say what we feel and in doing so, to be freed from the forces and feelings that enslave us, dehumanize others, and separate us from closer union with God.
We turn to Jesus with our anger, our jealousy, our suffering, and he will unload that burden from us.
And the way he does that is by taking it to the cross.
On the cross he bears the burden for us so we can let it go. On the cross all those feelings can be laid out, exposed, where they can be left to die.
And an amazing thing happens: we become free, and are freed to love that person as God in Christ has loved us.
On the cross those feelings don’t just die, but because of the resurrection, they are now transformed into opportunities for growth and healing, where we each have the chance to be heard, and the chance to heal
And then, because the burden of those feelings have died and been transformed, we are empowered to do the hardest task of all: to got the person who as hurt us, to share our honest feelings with them, to ask the things that need to be asked, and to say the things that need to be said.
In closing, anytime we remain quiet and become enslaved to feelings of hatred and jealousy, someone will pay the price. But it does not have to be that way.
Because we can go to Christ with all of our feelings, no matter how dark or scary they are, and he will transform them into opportunities for grace and mercy.
And the more we turn to Christ, the easier it becomes to confront those feelings, preventing us from actions that can hurt another and pull us away from God.
Through the death and resurrection of Christ we are granted the gifts of grace and mercy so we can go out into the world, walk amongst his children, and shamefully reflect back to them the same gifts God has granted to us.
No more does Israel’s children need to be thrown into the pit. No more do others have to be victims of our unchecked hate.
For in Christ, we now have a sure way to walk in the ways of the Lord and to be dressed in coats of righteousness.
In Christ the family is restored into loving closeness, where each person is given the chance to grow into their own individual, with their own unique talents and dreams.
And as John writes, we can walk just as Christ walked, being the face of God for all to see.
Thanks be to God who is Mother and Father almighty, to Jesus the self-giving sibling and to the Spirit who works to renew and transform the family, whatever shape or form they may be.
Amen and amen.