Monday, August 21, 2017

Sermon: Chosen

Genesis 37: 1-28
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
August 20, 2017

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.

He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, ‘Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, ‘What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?’ So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.

He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’ ‘I am seeking my brothers,’ he said; ‘tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’ The man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’

So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’

But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
- Genesis 37: 1-28

Our text today moves us into the fourth generation of the chosen family of Abraham. Each generation has certainly had their share of conflicts. Most of these conflicts have centered upon who seems to be chosen to receive the family blessing.

Joseph was the next to youngest of twelve brothers; he was the son of Jacob (Israel) and Rachel. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. Jacob did not hide his favor. When Jacob had prepared to meet his brother Esau, he divided his wives and children. He placed Rachel and Joseph farthest away from the scene in case violence erupted (Genesis 33: 1-3).

And now Jacob expressed his love for Joseph in a demonstrative way. He clothed Joseph in that coat of many colors. And when the brothers saw this they hated Joseph (Genesis 37:4).

These older brothers hated Joseph even more when they heard this young teenager’s dreams of being chosen as a central figure of leadership. Joseph was not mature enough to interpret these dreams. Joseph’s dreams do come true as God acts behind the scenes of this young man whom God has chosen save God’s chosen people of Israel. We will talk more about that next week.

The text today zones into the older brothers’ jealousy and hatred towards Joseph. They saw him as less than: a tattle-tale, an attention seeker, and daddy’s golden boy. The brothers hated Joseph and could not even speak peaceably to him (Genesis 37:4).

Jacob sensed the turmoil. He sent Joseph to join his brothers in the pasture to interpret if a sense of shalom or peace was among the brothers. I wonder if Jacob hoped that some distance would help the brothers cool off just like it did with his own brother Esau.

Joseph walked some 50 miles. When he met his brothers, Joseph discovered peace was indeed missing in the most horrible way.

Joseph’s brothers allowed their hatred and jealousy to rise to the most grievous plan of killing their brother. They stripped Joseph of his chosen status by stripping him of his robe. They switched gears throwing Joseph into a pit and sold him into slavery. And then they deceived their father Jacob allowing him to believe that Joseph was dead.

Joseph’s story is not solely a single family narrative in Scripture. It continues to reveal God’s desire for reconciliation. It also ushers in the communal story of God’s chosen people of Israel and how the family of God interprets and responds to chosen identity.[1]

The past week our country has been grieving for Charlottesville, Virginia. While the removal of historical statues is a debatable issue, our nation is grieving something greater.

We are grieving because we have seen our white brothers filled with such hate that they could not speak peaceably to fellow humanity.

We have seen God’s peace missing in the most horrible way.

We grieve the loss of life and the many who were injured because of violence and hate.

We also grieve the fact that hate groups still exist today in 2017.

These hate groups have chosen themselves to be superior over all other races. Along the streets of Emancipation Park white men no longer hide their faces to raise lit torches, wave Nazi flags, and shout dehumanizing phrases grounded in the ideologies of White Supremacy and Neo-Nazism.

The moral fabric of our society says there is no place for these racist ideologies. While Scripture has been used throughout human history to justify racism, I am grateful that more churches across denominational lines are lifting the voice of the Church Universal to denounce racism and speak into this place where God’s peace is missing.

Rev. James Herbert Nelson, II, The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the PS(USA) made the following statement this past week:

White supremacy and racism stand in stark, irreconcilable contradiction to God’s intention for humanity. They reject part of the human family and are utterly contrary to God’s Word made incarnate in Jesus. They are idolatries that elevate human-created hierarchies over God’s freely given grace and love. They are lies about the human family, for they seek to say that some people are less than other people. They are lies about God because they falsely claim that God favors some people over the entirety of creation.

I thank God that hate did not have the last word last Saturday in Charlottesville. Hate never has the last word!

A large group of clergy, walked along the streets in silence. They were diverse in age (some over the age of 70) and from various denominations and faith traditions. One clergywoman stated, “With each step forward, I just kept holding onto the call to love.” Another clergy member shared, “It felt like Selma after Bloody Sunday.”

They walked arm in arm to proclaim to the world what chosen identity means according to God’s Word. Those clergy stood side by side in silence as a profound image that the whole of Scripture says we are made in the image of God. God has chosen to live in relationship with us out of a great love. This divine love that is to shape our relationships with one another.

Four days later thousands of faculty and students of The University of Virginia gathered around the heart of the university to reclaim their community. As the sun went down, a candlelight vigil permeated light in the darkness. The image was powerful as they walked the same paths where torches had been lit and Nazi flags waved days earlier. The faculty and students sang “Love Wins,” “We Shall Overcome,” and “Amazing Grace.” The candles illumined those faces with hope of unity, peace, and reconciliation.

And yet one young adult’s comment from this experience gives me pause. He said, “If something else happens next week, are you going to be here? Are you going to engage yourself?”

Are you going to engage yourself? It is not an individual question but a communal question of how do we respond in the days to come?

As people of faith, our baptism informs us how to engage one another and how to engage the brokenness of the world.

We respond to the free gift of God’s amazing grace by receiving the sacramental marks of Baptism. The water and Holy Spirit claim and clothe us in God’s love. We are freed from sin and death. We are no longer divided by social constructs because we are united as one in Jesus Christ as the Church Universal. And we are joined to Christ’s ministry of peace, love, and justice.

Listen to the questions we are called to respond to:

Do you renounce all evil, and powers in the world which defy God’s righteousness and love?

Do you renounce the ways of sin that separate you from the love of God?

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior?

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love, to your life’s end?

These questions are not simply questions to receive the sacrament. These questions are to shape our hearts daily in the ways we are to individually and communally respond to our chosen identity as children of God. These questions are at the heart of God’s vision for reconciliation. These questions direct us to be the reconciling body of Christ wherever God’s peace is missing.

So in these difficult days whether the hate of racism is palpable or subtle, I urge each of us to engage our faith to proclaim the truth of what it means to be chosen. It is not easy and it is not comfortable. But God’s grace gives us the courage to say “Yes” to what the gospel and the ministry of Jesus Christ requires us of.

We renounce hate and racism with our words but also with our deeds. There are peaceful protests and candlelight vigils, but we must educate ourselves on how to dismantle systemic racism for the sake of right relationships. This is an important step for us to work towards reconciliation and healing.

We confess the ways that hate and racism divide us and what is implied if we remain silent.

We follow Christ alone and his examples of peace, love, and justice by uniting with our community and local leaders in fellowship and working together on social issues that loose the bonds of injustice.

“The only thing that counts is faith working through love. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right” (Galatians 5:6b, 9).

May it be so for you and for me.

In the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] New Interpreter's Bible Commentary: "Volume 1 - Genesis" (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015), p. 222

[2] Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), pp. 403-408.

No comments:

Post a Comment