*artwork: Joseph's Dream, by Evelyn Mary Dunbar, evelyndunbar.com
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Monday, August 14, 2017
I Dreamed A Dream….
A Sermon on Genesis 37:14-36
By Griff Martin
For the Beloveds of First Austin: a baptist community of faith
On the Eighth Sunday Following Pentecost
August 13, 2017
Before we begin this morning, I think it’s appropriate and necessary for a time of pause, so I invite you to close your eyes and picture this, imagine this with me:
Dietrich Bonheoeffer, the German pastor who so boldly spoke up against the Nazi movement and those in power, who gave his life to that cause- imagine him seeing the images of so many young men walking through our streets carrying torches and waving Nazi flags and chanting “no more Jews…” Imagine his reaction today.
Imagine Dr. Martin Luther King, our Baptist pastor who spoke out against racism and any system of power that enabled racism, who gave his life to that cause… Imagine him reading the front page of any paper in America this morning. Imagine his reaction.
Imagine Jesus, whose entire ministry and message is based on the Great Command: love God and love others, seeing the images of the events of this weekend…. Imagine his reaction.
Imagine God, our God whose very dream for this world has always been one of beloved community, witnessing the displays of hate and evil we saw yesterday… Imagine God’s reaction.
And Jesus wept.
And Dietrich Bonheoffer wept.
And Martin Luther King wept.
And God wept.
So may we weep.
And may our weeping move us out of silence.
May our weeping move us past our own selfish fears of protection.
And may your weeping move us beyond of our fear of stirring things up.
And in our weeping may you confess the support we give to systems of systemic racism that still exist today.
Because if we are not moved and if we are not weeping and if we are not vocal, then we are not part of the dream God dreams for this world.
And if we are not part of that, than we are not part of anything.
So may we weep. May we our weeping lead us to action. Amen and Amen.
Incarnate God, we ask that you once again take the Word and transform it into a living and breathing Resurrected reality we can all together experience. Be present here in this space and in these words God for if you are present here then nothing else will matter, but if you are not present here then nothing else will matter. In the name of the Creator, the Risen Christ and the Comforter. Amen.
I approached the text this week like a detective trying to solve a case of attempted manslaughter, which is a hermeneutic I don’t get to use nearly enough, but one I am quite well suited for since I am a person who loves true crime stories, murder mystery thrillers (movies and novels) and as such I have learned some basic rules: 1) The easiest and most obvious motive is rarely the final answer 2) You trust your gut on what feels right and what does not feel right 3) The answer is usually hidden in plain sight, if you know how to look.
So as I read this story of attempted manslaughter of the youngest brother, I did a bit of detective work and my gut told me that the answer to the question: why do they kill their youngest brother was not the entire answer. That the answer because of his coat of many color was the title of a musical and not the answer of this mystery. That this story is about way more than just favoritism or a simple moral lesson guiding us to not kill our siblings, albeit that lesson is very popular in Genesis and obviously still needed this day.
My murder mystery skills told me there was more.
The story starts off with Jacob and his sons and the family dynamics are not that different than the family that Jacob himself grew up in, he has not learned that it does not promote family harmony to have a favored child. He loves his youngest son a bit more than the others, in fact he loves him so much that he does give Joseph a special outfit.
And Joseph is something special. Joseph is the youngest son and as we have learned this summer as we have studied Genesis, being the youngest did not come with many perks. And the older siblings don’t want much to do with Jacob, he is not good to them and they are the powerful ones. He is overlooked and forgotten by them most of the time. He lives in a powerful system in which his voice truly does not matter.
Until he starts having dreams, two dreams are recorded in Genesis right before our text picked up today. Both dreams have to do with power dynamics and who is in charge and who will help whom. Both dreams created new systems of power. Both dreams challenged the status quo. Both dreams changed the way things had always been done. Both dreams were a direct threat to those currently in power. Both dreams disrupted things.
And those brothers did not want to hear those dreams. Those brothers did not want their power brought into question. Those brothers did not want the status quo challenged. They did not want change. They did not want someone pointing out flaws in the system. They did not want to be put in their place.
Which might explain why when the text picks up today, they are all out tending to the sheep and Joseph is back home. They don’t want him around, his words are not what they want to hear. This is a strategy we know all to well: what do we do when we don’t want to hear someone? We find a way to get away. We stop listening. We decide that person is not really all the good of a friend. We change the channel. We get on facebook to be reminded of how many people agree with us. We stop listening to the sermon or we find another church home. We start arguing and we think of all our responses. We find a way to get away.
So off to watch the sheep they have gone.
But soon Jacob sends Joseph to find them, to look after them. And it’s quite a journey, they are not in Shechem where they are obviously supposed to be, they have moved on to Dothan…. Because sometimes you have to keep on moving to avoid hearing someone or something.
And eventually Joseph finds them and they see him coming and then the thing they have been thinking about in the secret of their hearts is finally told aloud, the plan to get rid of him. Because when you can’t avoid hearing someone or something, you find another way to silence it.
And here is where I find the evidence about the reason for the attempted manslaughter and it has nothing to do with an amazing Technicolor coat, it’s the words they finally speak aloud: “Here comes the dreamer!”
And because they can’t silence the dream, they kill the dreamer.
And sadly that is a story that repeats itself in our history over and over and over.
Mahatma Gandhi spoke out against a system of violence, he spoke out against unfair labor practices, he spoke out against war. He advocated for equality and peace. He spoke against the status quo. He challenged the systems around him. And on January 30 1948 on his way to a prayer meeting he was shot and killed.
He spoke his dreams too loud so his dreams were silenced.
Martin Luther King spoke out against a system of racism and inequality, he spoke out against unfair practices and laws that kept the black race under the thumb of the white race. He questioned every tradition we had in our country. He spoke truth to power. He spoke against war. He advocated for nonviolent resistance. He praised peace making. He formed incredible community. And on April 4 1968 on his way to a prayer meeting and rally he was shot and killed.
He spoke his dreams too loud so his dreams were silenced.
Oscar Romero was willing to preach about poverty. He took on all forms of social injustice. He claimed the words and the dreams of Jesus Christ. He spoke out against the assassinations and the torture that were widely used in his country. He too spoke truth to power. He worked for peace. And on March 24 1980 having just finished delivering a sermon during Mass, he was shot and killed.
He spoke his dreams too loud so his dreams were silenced.
It’s what we do when someone speaks dreams that scare us, challenge us and would force us to change something we like, something that empowers us, something that benefits us. We find a way to silence them and their dreams.
Which is why one of the things we have to sit with today is the reported statistics that of those who participated in the alt-right Torch rally this weekend, 70% of those were millennial. It’s not the old guard, but a new guard who has picked up the rhetoric of hate, which means that an evil and dangerous dream is still alive today as well… and when the Gospel dream is spoken a whole new generation is going to try silence our dream.
And this story of killing the dreamer has happened so many times that we have made the very words of Les Miserable true: “I had a dream that life would be so different from this hell I’m living, now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”
And it starts right here in this chapter of Genesis, Joseph has dreamed- or maybe it’s more truthful to say that through Joseph God has dreamed- and the dream did not match what the community around him desired, so his dream was silenced.
He is thrown into a pit, where he will surely die because as the text tells us there was no water. His destiny in that pit was just a few miserable days until death. They throw him into the pit and then they see a traveling caravan and they decide that death is much less messy and there is much less evidence or a chance of escape, this is a great way to silence the dream.
So he is sold and an elaborate story is thought up, the coat is dipped in the blood of a animal and they return home to show their father the bloody coat and to tell the story of the horrible animal attack and the death of his son.
And Jacob mourns the loss of the dream and the dreamer, stating he will mourn this loss every moment he is alive. Maybe the question today we need to sit with is who is mourning the loss of the dream and dreamers?
Because I am not sure.
Instead I have a different thought, I think we have forgotten about the dreams and the dreamers. Because that is what a story told enough in history will do, it can surely impact history and make us believe something that is not quite right. Stories like this have power and can make us silent, because who wants to be a dreamer when dreamers get killed? And we have heard the story enough about the risks of being a dreamer and as a result we are scared to share our dreams, we might even be scared to dream our dreams.
We are scared to risk challenging the status quo.
We are scared to speak truth to power.
We are scared to change the world around us.
We are scared to challenge how things have always been.
And this is not only about the big social justice issues that are plaguing our world today- although God knows it is about those things- but it goes even beyond that today. This fear affects every single part of our lives.
We are scared to challenge and to change things here in church. How many things are we doing simply because we have always done them that way? How many things do we know need to change but none of us are brave enough to stand up and say so? How many things do we accept simply because they have always been like that? You see dreams will take traditions head on. How many of us are scared to be prophetic about the things we must save but will challenge our institutions to their core?
It’s so deep that we are scared to challenge and to change things in our own souls. Built into our minds are systems of dysfunctional and sick thought and thought patterns, but we don’t dare to change them because we know how to operate around them. We silence the dreams of the person inside us trying to be born because that would interrupt the world. We don’t pay attention to that in our soul which goes against the norm because we don’t want to upset things. We are still struggling to admit our own part in the systemic racism that we see all around us today because admitting that will change everything.
And God knows we are scared to challenge and to change things in our world today. What we have seen this weekend must finally wake us up, we are so far from the dream God has for our world….As many of us heard a mother cry last week in her testimony on the steps of our capital, words aimed at the bigger church: “Christians, your silence can be deafening to those of us being oppressed and we need you to finally speak up.”
The truth today: We’ve stopped dreaming with God and God knows we need some dreamers.
Back to our story: Verse 36: “So Jacob tore his clothes and he began to mourn, saying ‘I will continue to mourn my son until I join my son in the grave.’ And he wept. And then Verse 37, the word of Gospel: “Meanwhile Joseph was sold to Potiphar in Egypt.”
And there is the Gospel word, the word of Resurrection: meanwhile.
You see while Jacob is busy mourning what he thinks is the death of the dream and the dreamer, God is busy finding ways to bring that dream back to life, to make that dream a reality… because our God is in the business of resurrecting dreams.
And the God who resurrects dreams will not be silenced, cannot be silenced. And neither can the dreams of that God.
Jesus was willing to talk about things that no one else talked about- money, violence, power, sin, brokenness. Jesus spoke out against those in power and he included those he was not supposed to include. Jesus broke all the rules of religion. Jesus loved the wrong people and he sat at tables with the untouchables. Jesus advocated for peace. Jesus challenged status quo and Jesus urged us to change.
And on a Friday afternoon, he was crucified.
He spoke his dreams too loud so we silenced his dreams.
Meanwhile God was up to something new and God found a way to resurrect God’s dream and God’s dreamer.
Meanwhile, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill God’s good purpose.” (Phil 2:13)
Meanwhile, as Jesus said “My Father is always at work to this very day and I too am working.”
Meanwhile… the very word of Resurrection.
Meanwhile, I think God is wanting to do the same today, to resurrect some dreams and dreamers.
May we be willing to dream the dreams that will change our very souls, that will bring us salvation. May we be willing to dream the dreams that will change our church, that will bring us salvation. And may we be willing to dream the dreams that will change our world, that will bring us salvation.
Amen and Amen.