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What a family!!

Pentecost +10, Common Lectionary Year A
Genesis 37:1-28

©2020 Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

Introduction and Scripture
Sermon video

“Way, way back, many centuries ago, not long after the Bible began,
Jacob lived in the land of Canaan,
a fine example of a family man.
Jacob! Jacob and sons!….”

How many of you know the story of Jacob and his favourite son, Joseph
through the lyrics and tunes and performances of
Andrew Lloyd Weber, Tim Rice and Donny Osmond?
I grew up in the Technicolour Dreamcoat generation,
and it would be tempting to just break all the public worship copyright rules
and play a bunch of your favourite tunes from this show.
….But you can do that for yourselves later! Youtube is full of them!

What I want to do today, in turning this Tale from the Torah,
is deal with an issue that came up this week
when some Cedar Parkers gathered with me to explore this text.
One person said,
“I know he’s in the Bible, but if Joseph is supposed to be the hero, he’s pretty stupid.” At that the floodgates opened,
another person said “what a tattletale!”
We joked about 17 year olds we’ve known and been,
noting that wisdom or regard for others
are not traits common among late adolescents.
And as for the brothers… well, some of you have been brothers, or had brothers, or been the female equivalent….

What a family!
Parental favouritism
– you’d think Jacob would know better,
but then again, he was always a self-centred heel.
Sibling rivalry, in this case, justified, the pompous twerp!
…though, not to the extent of murderous, “self-deceiving” mob brutality,
(except we know how easy it is for that to overtake families, nations, dreams).

What on earth is this story doing inside the covers of a book called holy?

That’s the issue.
I asked the group,
“Where do people get the notion that the Bible is about Good People?”
Answer; “From you! from the church, from parents, the way we were taught the Bible…. Veggie Tales, even 1970s rock operas… “
We’ve somehow gotten the erroneous notion
well and truly embedded in ourselves and our culture
that this “Good Book” is a guide for holy living,
and therefore everyone in it is supposed to be a role model,
a saint, a hero.

Well, for any dreamy teenagers, be warned,
do not share self-aggrandizing dreams about your future fame and fortune
at the expense of your family with that family.
It will not end well!
If Joseph is a hero, he’s an anti-hero, a model of what not to do.

Six weeks we’ve been turning these Torah tales!
We’ve twisted and squirmed as Abraham lied his way out of trouble,
as infertile women machinate and scheme,
and foreigners and slaves and concubines
are used, abused and hung out to dry.
We’ve shaken our head as birthrights are gobbled up with lentil stew,
and Jacob’s close encounter with the Holy
leaves him hip-wrenched!
And we preachers, Darryl, Helen, me, Shaun,
have contorted ourselves to find some Gospel,
some good news in these twisted tales
of the most dysfunctional first family we’d ever dread to encounter!

So, my job today is impossible, but I’ll do it anyway.
This book, from beginning to end, including the Gospels,
is not about holy people.
It is about ordinary people, good people who mess up,
bad people who get it right,
and the vast middlin’ group of people who are a complicated mess
of good, bad, hopeful, despairing, arrogant, feeble, fraught,
depressed and ecstatic, settler and invader, weak and strong,
faithful and feckless, compassionate and selfish,
poor and rich, insider, outsider….
in rapid succession through the course of every hour of every day!

This book
is a human record, deposited over millennia,
passed down, cherished and abandoned,
translated and cast in stone,
wielded, hated, loved, and sometimes read,
a motley compilation of humanity’s oh-so complicated relationship with the holy,
with God.

What makes it “holy,”
is that these human encounters with divine mystery
that despite our infinite capacity to screw up,
God has an even greater infinite capacity, fidelity, love,
and shows up in the messiest of families with forgiveness, new life, redemption
(even when in my puny judgmentalism, I think God should
let the rotters rot).

I’m getting ahead of the narrative here, I know.
We are left today on a cliff-hanger,
a hit-play and binge-watch the next episode
to see what happens with Joseph.
Spoiler alert, it will take decades
for those odd-dreams of Joseph to work their way through
to a God-filled redemption.
You’ll need to come back next week for that.
But it’s there!

This book of human crassness
is punctuated by the heartbeat of God
from beginning to end.
It’s a trigeminal heartbeat. Ba – Ba- Boom.

Into the thick of anti-heroic human fecklessness,
God comes with a love so stupendously fiercely faithful
that it wreaks redemption for the world.
It’s a trigeminal heart beat that is repeated,
from slavery to exodus to promised land
from the rise and fall of kings to exile and return
from the birth outside the walls of a refugeed child, through death to resurrection,
from cradle to cross to spirit-filled communities of the Way.
The book is holy because of the stubbornly eternal,
forgiving, redeeming love of God for the most ridiculous
dysfunctional family of humanity you could ever dream of!

There are no heroes, just people like us,
who are every bit as capable as Joseph,
of parading in our spectacular coats for a season,
until we find ourselves at the bottom of a waterless well,
unable for the life of us see redemption even when it drags us
up by the scruff of our neck, and plonks us on Egypt-bound camels.

Let me bring this home to August 9th, 2020.
If the trigeminal heartbeat of this story and this book is to be believed,
and I do.
Then, let dare to believe that
• there is hope for the abolition of nuclear weaponry from the planet, 75 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
• there is hope for a global, sustainable, redemptive response to climate change.
• there is hope for this growing groundswell of recommitment in our generation to uncouple humanity from the sin of racism.
• there is hope for our generation of the dysfunctional human family to learn how be reconciled to one another.
• there is hope for a recovery from pandemic that is kinder, more humane, and leaves no-one outside, behind.

Not because of human heroes,
but because ordinary people,
dysfunctional people like Jacob the Heel,
and his vain, twerp of a son, Joseph,
ordinary people like those of us worshipping
in our jammies on the deck this Sunday morning,
get caught up, and dare to believe
in the redemptive Dream of God,
that will not rest until all are forgiven and free,
all is just, and all is good,
as God always intended it to be.

Link to a non-commercial version of Joseph and the Amazing Tecnicolor Dreamcoat

Image “Joseph 2008 – 001” by rcasenhiser is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

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