First Lesson: Genesis 37: 1-4, 12:28
Responsive Reading: Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Second Lesson: Romans 10: 5-15
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 14: 22-33
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning with an apparent statement that families don’t always get along.
The most common tensions are related to money and possessions. For example, I had a great-aunt Bonnie Jean, who had a sister named Corrine. When their father Henry died, he left Bonnie Jean with over 900,000 dollars, while leaving Corrine without a penny. So these sisters never spoke the last thirty years plus years of their lives due to jealously.
The second cause of family conflict is power dynamics. For example, I have an Aunt in California who works as a psychologist who loves giving other people advice whether solicited or not. I have a Sister who is in law school who doesn’t like hearing what to do. So when my aunt contacts my sister let’s just say that the combo of Facebook, late-nights, natural combativeness, and wine tend to produce some contentious outcomes.
But a family not getting along isn’t anything new; Today’s Old Testament lesson comes from the Book of Genesis. There are more dysfunctional families in Genesis than an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.
The first family in the Bible was Adam and Eve. Boy was their family dysfunctional! Genesis 3:6 describes Adam and Eve falling into sin at the same time by eating the forbidden fruit together, but as soon as the Lord confronted Adam and Eve for their sins, Adam blamed Eve for all their problems.
As is the case with couples who are quick to blame each other, but never acknowledge their faults, the bickering would continue for years and years. As is often the case with dysfunctional parents (Adam and Eve), they tend to produce dysfunctional children (Cain and Abel). Cain killed his brother Abel over jealously because the Lord preferred Abel’s offering. Cain then tries to pass off any blame for his actions by declaring to the Lord “Am I my brother's keeper?”
Then you move further into Genesis to see the Patriarchs, the fathers of the nation of Israel only to see more family dysfunction.
Abraham marries Sarah. Sarah is unable to get pregnant. So Sarah encouraged Abraham to take a second wife (her handmaiden named Hagar). Abraham and Hagar have a son named Ishmael. Only for Abraham to later have a son with Sarah named Isaac. Plenty of family conflict followed. Ishmael and Isaac didn’t get along, so Sarah wanted and got Ishmael and Hagar kicked out of Abraham’s family out of anger.
But just as Abraham’s family was dysfunctional so was his son Isaac’s family. Isaac had two sons. Isaac’s favorite son the rugged hunter Esau and Rebekah’s favorite son the chef Jacob, it was the tale of the hunter versus the mama’s boy. Well, eventually momma and younger brother trick father and older brother out of dad’s inheritance. Feelings are so bad out of this that Jacob flees for twenty years fearing that his brother was going to take his life.
Now we come to the last major story of the Book of Genesis, the last story of family dysfunction. Today’s Old Testament lesson tells the story of Jacob’s most famous son Joseph.
The thing to know about this story is Joseph was hated by his brothers, on account of a couple different reasons.
The first reason was jealousy. His father absolutely adored Joseph. Joseph was the son of Jacob’s favorite wife the beautiful Rachel, whereas Jacob’s other children came from his ugly wife Leah or his slave-wives. So Joseph from the time of his birth was special to Jacob because of his mother. What had really gotten the brothers going was Joseph’s latest gift of a beautiful multi-color coat. The coat would have been the Ancient Canaanite equivalent of ten brothers walking to school while the younger brother gets a mustang to drive. Joseph’s brothers were jealous of him like anyone’s brothers would have been jealous of him.
Joseph’s brothers might not have hated him so much if it wasn’t for this fact, as can be summed up in the title of the sermon in that Joseph was an annoying little brat.
Joseph had a big mouth; he lacked common sense; he was arrogant, he was aloof and uncaring. Joseph was self-impressed and in love with himself. Joseph was the guy that we all know who was always bragging about his income, his or his kid’s athletic prowess, or his sake of genius. What Joseph’s brothers hated to hear him talk about were his dreams.
The first dream, Joseph bragged about was of eleven sheaves of wheat bowing down to Joseph in reverence. Joseph interpreted this dream to his brothers as telling him that a day would come when they all would bow down before him at his throne. Considering Joseph was the 11th of 12 brothers, the older brothers didn’t think much of baby-bro predicting a day when they kissed his feet.
Let me tell a brief story, when I was working as a substitute teacher I had a student who was a short, stocky little redheaded ninth grader who could not be quiet in class. Every two seconds were a disruptive comment, so I eventually sent him out into the hall to carry out in the classroom proceedings in peace. Only for me to be told that sending this kid into the hall was a terrible idea, when I inquired as to why “I was told that he would run his mouth to the seniors then they would beat him up”. I had a hard time comprehending that such a small kid would do such a reckless and foolish thing. As soon as I opened the door, I saw this kid shooting off his mouth to kids’ way, way bigger than him. This kid reminds me of Joseph in that he just couldn’t stop his mouth from moving.
So the question is not why Joseph’s brothers did try to get rid of him, rather the question is what took Joseph’s brothers so long to try to get rid of him?
So the brothers then began to consider their options for the next time they were alone with Joseph in their father’s fields. They were debating between killing Joseph or just throwing him into an empty well. They decided the best option would be to make a little money in the process, so they encounter some Egyptian slave traders passing through, saw an opportunity to make twenty pieces of silver along with never seeing their obnoxious, big-mouthed brother ever again.
The brothers then as a way of covering their tracks, took his multi-colored coat dipped it in Goat’s blood and told their father Jacob that his most-beloved son was alive no more. Jacob’s grief was such that he would never recover.
But the story of Joseph was by no means finished. Once Joseph arrived in Egypt, he was purchased by one of Pharaoh’s officials, a man named Potiphar. Joseph initially was a highly valuable worker to Potiphar. But soon Joseph would become embroiled in scandal as Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph as he was “handsome” and “well-built”. Joseph turned down her advances on account of his morals, so Potiphar’s wife became angry enough and bitter enough at Joseph to accuse him of attempting to seduce her and away to prison Joseph went.
Once Joseph went to prison, he ended up meeting two men who had been sent there by Pharaoh himself in a Butler and a Baker. Now both of these men were deeply troubled as they had dreams of which they could not figure out their meaning. Joseph figured he had a knack for interpreting dreams, so he went about revealing the Butler and Baker’s future. Joseph predicted the Butler to be set free and return to working for Pharaoh within three days, whereas Joseph predicted the Baker’s dream to have a less happy ending as he was going to hang within three days. On the third day, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was proven to be right on the money. As the Butler goes free from prison, Joseph’s only request for the Butler was to remember him in Pharaoh’s presence.
Around this time, the Pharaoh of Egypt began having dreams that made no sense. Pharaoh saw seven healthy cows standing next to seven sickly cows, along with seven healthy heads of grain, standing next to seven sickly heads of grain. Eventually, cows began to eating cows, and grain began eating grain. Pharaoh had no clue what to make of any of it. So Pharaoh started asking anyone who would listen to make sense of his dreams, Pharaoh was getting nowhere until he encounters the same Butler who encountered Joseph in prison. Joseph appears before Pharaoh’s presence where he interpreted the dreams to mean that Egypt would have seven years of plenty during the harvest followed by seven years of famine.
Joseph’s prediction was right on the money. So not only was Joseph set free from prison after two years, he became the manager of all of Egypt’s agriculture (second in command to Pharaoh himself).
Joseph was the complete story of rags to riches as he had all the clothes, gold, or feasts that he could ever want. Egypt was thriving being the only nation in the world that saved its grain during bountiful harvests, so that they made a ton of money during the famine as the only country in the world with food to distribute.
The situation at this time wasn’t good at all for Joseph’s brothers as famine plagued their land. They eventually had to leave their Canaan home behind and travel to Egypt bowing down before their brother begging for grain. Joseph’s dreams had come true. As Joseph’s brothers walked into his presence, they did not recognize him. Soon Joseph’s brothers would be given a very strange request; Joseph would give them enough grain to tie them over, but for more grain, Joseph needed to see their youngest half-brother Benjamin. Benjamin was Joseph’s only full-blood brother.
Upon hearing this unknown man’s offer, father Jacob would have rather starve then see anything happen to Benjamin in Egypt. Jacob had already lost Rachel’s older son; he was going to make sure that nothing happened to her youngest. Jacob eventually relented as the famine became a matter of survival not only for himself, but everyone around him including Benjamin.
Joseph was moved upon seeing Benjamin. For Benjamin was many years younger than Joseph and merely a young child at the time that Joseph entered into slavery. Joseph wished to reunite with his brothers, but was worried that they were the same backstabbers that had always been. So Joseph came up with a plan to try to determine if his brothers were who he thought they were. Joseph was going to frame Benjamin with stealing a silver cup to see how his brothers would react. So after his brothers received their grain, and began their journey back home, Joseph sent his guards after them with instructions to find his missing silver cup.
When the guards found the cup in Benjamin’s bag, the brothers were forced to head back to Egypt fearing for their life. They began to figure that this was God punishing them for all they had done against Joseph years before. As the brothers stood in Joseph’s presence, they confessed their sins against their brother Joseph from years before unaware that it was their brother hearing their confession. His brothers’ repentance shocked Joseph causing him to send everyone else out of the room.
It was at this moment that Joseph revealed “who he was” to his brothers. The one that thought might have been dead; Joseph was alive and stood before them. Finally, Joseph asked the question he had been waiting for years to receive an answer to as he said “Is my father still alive?” The family would soon reunite, a reunion that would have seemed impossible years before.
Joseph’s story has the happiness of endings. But what is the point of this tale?
Joseph summarizes the story quite well in Genesis 50:20 when he says “What you (his brothers) meant for evil, God meant for good.”
On the surface, this line spoken by Joseph seems ridiculous. We often have encounters in our daily life from which we think that no good could arise out. The idea that God can bring forth good from disaster seems incomprehensible.
As Joseph mouths these words, this is the part of the story where Joseph’s story becomes our story. God uses Joseph’s weaknesses to bring him to Egypt to save multiple nations. God took Joseph’s pride and arrogance to lead to one day reunite with his family. God’s plan for Joseph and his brothers probably didn’t seem real obvious at the time, as Joseph’s situation took years and years to play out towards a resolution. At the moment that Joseph got sold into slavery it merely got the ball rolling on this tale.
For today’s lesson reminds us of some very famous words from Romans the 8th chapter which say “And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
We hear on this day that God works through dysfunctional families; God works through undesirable jobs, and God even might work through personal pain and tragedy. We remember that God is with us today through the pits of our lives and that God sees resolution even when we cannot. Our answer to the will of God is ultimately found for us on the cross.
For my good friend, Pastor Donovan Riley said explaining how God can work all things for good “God keeps the church impoverished and struggling, so we don't worship and preach the church. God keeps the pastor a broken, feeble man so we don't worship and preach the pastor. God keeps the Christian weak and needy so we don't worship and preach the Christian. God raised Jesus from the dead and made His the Name above all names so that at the name of Jesus every knee bows [in worship]; those in heaven, on earth and below the earth.” Amen
 Genesis 4:9
 Genesis 16:1
 Genesis 16:3
 Genesis 16:11-16
 Genesis 21:2
 Genesis 21:9
 Genesis 21:10-12
 Genesis 25:27
 Genesis 25:29-34, Genesis 27
 Genesis 27:41
 Genesis 35:23
 Genesis 37:3
 Genesis 37:5-8
 Genesis 37:18-24
 Genesis 37:28
 Genesis 37:31
 Genesis 37:35
 Genesis 39:1
 Genesis 39:2-6
 Genesis 39:6-7
 Genesis 39:8
 Genesis 39:11-20
 This story appears in Genesis 40
 Genesis 41:1-36
 Genesis 41:37-57
 Genesis 42:1-8
 Genesis 42:8-9
 Genesis 42:34-38
 Genesis 43:13
 Genesis 43:30
 Genesis 44 contains this tale.
 Genesis 44:13
 Genesis 45:1
 Genesis 45:2
 Genesis 45:3
 Genesis 46:28-34
 McDavid, Will. “Hopelessly Devoted: Genesis Chapter Thirty Seven Verses Three Through Seven”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 14. Jan. 2014. Web. Aug.4.2014.
 Romans 8:28
 McDavid, Will. “Hopelessly Devoted: Genesis Chapter Thirty Seven Verses Three Through Seven”.
 This is a quote from a 2011 Facebook post from Pastor Riley.