Sunday, August 9, 2020
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Today we turn from Jacob to his favorite son, Joseph, whose story many of us may know best from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Yours truly happened to star in the extremely minor role of “Issachar’s wife” in my high school musical production, and I have to say the story is pretty accurate to the telling in Genesis, except you may have noticed that in Genesis 37, it’s debatable whether Joseph’s coat was actually multi-colored, or if it was just a nice long robe with sleeves. That detail put aside, Joseph’s story is long, going from this chapter all the way to the end of Genesis, and we will look at the ending next week in worship. What I want to focus on today is how Joseph is the best “dreamer” in all of scripture – he describes and interprets his own dreams, and the dreams of others. He pays attention to these important dreams as a way God speaks. And he uses these gifts even when he is going through difficult circumstances to keep dreaming, and to draw strength and hope from God.
Joseph seems to have inherited the ability to remember and interpret dreams from his father, Jacob, who had the dream of the ladder to heaven at Bethel. In this chapter, he has two dreams, both about his other brothers bowing down to him first as sheaves of wheat and then as stars. It’s not surprising that his brothers don’t really care for the meaning behind Joseph’s dream, as he is the second to the youngest of them all. Jacob blatantly calls him his favorite son and gives him gifts like that long-sleeved robe in front of the other brothers. Maybe Joseph should have kept those dreams to himself – and maybe he does learn his lesson when he is sold into slavery by his brothers. He never shares any of his own dreams again, but Joseph will go on to interpret dreams of a cup bearer and baker in prison in Egypt, and then interpret the dreams of the Pharaoh himself to save Egypt from a seven-year famine and earn himself a place as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. Scripture is clear that dreams are an important way of God speaking to and through people, and God uses Joseph’s ability to understand dreams, his own and others, for good.
In this story, two words that are very similar in Hebrew are used to describe Joseph’s situation. The word for “calamity” or “disruption” is shever in Hebrew, but the word sever means “hope.” Joseph’s dreams initially get him into trouble, and yet in the end, it is his God-given understanding of dreams that bring hope to a calamitous situation for Egypt and for his own family. We live in a world that quickly dismisses God’s dreams for his kingdom to come on earth as it is on heaven. There are people who actively work against God’s vision for the world. There are others who approach life with apathy, especially during this pandemic, there are those who have given up on dreams. It’s easy to get down, especially in weeks where we endure the aftermath of losing power and property damage of a storm, read about the explosion in Beirut, among other bad news on top of the persistent coronavirus. Certainly even Christians can start to lose hope. Today, we can dismiss dreams as fantastical and irrelevant – they are not based on rational, conscious thought. Yet in our waking and in our sleeping, God is still at work, giving us hope. God gives us dreams, sometimes for a reason. And God’s hope helps us to dream for a brighter future even when others want to doubt or squelch our dreams. Like Joseph, every time we find ourselves in a tough spot, God gives us hope, sometimes even through our dreams, that God’s will for the world is a better world and a better future.
In times of crisis like we are facing now as a country and as a global community, it is important as Christians that we do not give up on God’s dream. Thanks be to God, New York continues to be on a trajectory of this “new normal,” which doesn’t mean that we abandon all caution and live our lives as if coronavirus isn’t still a thing. However, I do think Joseph’s perseverance through slavery, imprisonment, and hardship can cause us to reflect on what God’s dreams are for us, right now, within our new normal. Like Joseph, let’s keep dreaming dreams! We are planning on reopening our Nursery School, continuing in-person and online worship and Sunday School opportunities. We have hope that one day this pandemic will be over, and we have some concrete plans for what can happen next. We have dreams of beginning English as a Second Language classes at church and offering more music events to the community. With larger numbers of people in our community being in financial need right now, we have an opportunity to respond with God’s love and care through our food pantry and in other ways. We have new families moving into the neighborhood looking for more space and a healthy community outside of the city to raise their children. What are our dreams for our church, and how might that connect to God’s larger dream for us and for this world that God so loves? Throughout the Bible, God sent dreamers to bring about his vision for the world, from Joseph in Genesis to Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, from the prophet Daniel to John of Patmos, otherwise known as John the Revelator, the author of the book of Revelation. Today, may Joseph’s story inspire us to never give up on God’s dream for us and for the world. In God is our hope and our strength! Amen.