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Navigating Change

Sermon - 5/20/12
Rev. April Oristano
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Genesis 37 2b-11; 40:1-15

Thank you John for reading Genesis 37 to get us started here, about Joseph's dreams:

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. 3Now 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.* 4But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7There 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.’ 8His 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.

9 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.’ 10But 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?’ 11So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.


Some of us remember our dreams and some do not.  I’ve always had an ability to remember great details of my dreams at night and have kept a dream journal at different points in my life to help me remember more details and also to reflect upon their meaning.  I think our dreams have meaning.  Now, lying next to me at night is Kelly, who also dreams, but can’t remember them very often and doesn’t think they hold much significance even when he does. 

Since I’ve been pregnant there have been a lot more details – some wild and crazy dreams, some that seem so real – others that tell me a truth(like the baby’s sex) – others that I’m Natalie Portman missing her flight.  I find myself asking myself each morning – just like Joseph and Jacob and Pharaoh’s servants – what the hell does that even mean??? Am I revealing some deeper truth?  Or just sorting through the day’s images?  What was my brain doing?  Where is God in my unconscious mind? 

We could break into small groups and start a debate as to the meaning and purpose of our sleep cycles and what it means when we dream.  Let’s save that for coffee hour.

Whatever their intended meaning, Dreams are utilized a lot in both the OT and NT – Job, Samuel, the prophets Jeremiah, Joel, Daniel all mention dreams and visions.  Joseph, in Matthew has an angel appear to him in a dream that helps him to act.  Pilate’s wife is said to have had a dream about Jesus and she instructs Pilate to let him go. 

We are not going to settle this morning what Dreams mean and in reading Genesis 37, we don’t know what Joseph’s dreams mean.  It’s UNCLEAR.  A reflection of the present –how hate surrounds him?  A prediction of the future – that he will come to be Prime Minister of Egypt and save his brothers from famine?  At this point we don’t know –

What I can say today - I believe there are important themes in Joseph’s story that are relevant to the lives of all people – people of faith and those who do not claim to be so.

So- Genesis Fun Fact #1: The story of Joseph and his family is really a novella, that most scholars now believe has been inserted at the end of the book of Genesis.  13 chapters in all.  Its placement at the end of Genesis serves the Hebrew people in great ways.  It helps explain the movement of the Hebrews from Israel into Egypt, where the book of Exodus begins.  Explains how they got there. 

But on a more spiritual note, this novella develops a new idea of how God works in our lives.  Fun Fact #2:

This story is not just about dreams revealing the future.   The story as a whole reflects a new way in which God works in and through people.   Up to now, in Genesis, people who dream or who converse directly with God: think Noah, think Abram, think Jacob, Joseph’s father  - they all experience God’s direct intervention – a sort of “this is the way, I’m gonna make it happen”.  Genesis 28 is where Jacob’s dreams are told – this dream is God’s way of telling Jacob what to do when he wakes up.

Joseph too is a dreamer.  But The people involved in this story do not simply perform the will of God – in the story of Jacob’s sons, there is a distinct turn.  Genesis Fun Fact #3:  Joseph is the first person who is not specifically a prophet, a king, but a common person with spiritual gifts – gifts that he must use everyday. And not just Joseph - each person in the story is born with gifts, abilities, and independence (choice is a big deal in this story), and all play a role in revealing God’s will.  And you know where there is freedom of choice there will be unexpected turns and twists in the plot, obstacles.  And God is hardly mentioned – he is way more passive than ever before.

Everyone in this story has a different interpretation of the dream, ranging in emotional response – The Brothers are angry at a perceived arrogance in Joseph.  They aren’t entirely wrong – Joseph is the youngest son of 12 and is said to be the most loved of the 12.  The brothers are already jealous because of this repeatedly stated love of the father for the youngest.   And then of course the early mention of Joseph giving Jacob “a bad report” on his brothers – shows he’s a bit of a tattletale.   Joseph is partially responsible for his “black sheep” status because of his outspoken-ness - and his own interpretation of the dreams.  You see he doesn’t say he knows what they mean, but does think it’s all about him.  That’s what I do when I have a dream too – think it’s all about me.  <Natalie Portman, right?>  Joseph’s father, wants to keep peace among his sons, but does wonder what possible significance these dreams have. Well Jacob does not keep the peace, the hatred grows so strong that they will not even speak to Joseph anymore – not even a good morning or a shalom.  They decide to kill the dreamer to keep his dreams from coming true.  Not what Joseph was expecting.  “Killing the dreamer” – isn’t that an upsetting turn of phrase – sometimes we hold so tightly onto our own dreams we sabotage another’s dreams (consciously or unconsciously).  Or consider how our own fears, on any level, can self-sabotage a dream.  

I was with the Eugene Progressive Clergy this week and listening to some representatives from Occupy Eugene – and one woman commented how a couple of new gangs, emigrating from California,  are now in Eugene and are upset at the gang culture of Eugene – some gangs in Eugene have of  successfully transitioned OUT of violent, criminal acts, left them behind – while salvaging the important values of security, protection and caring for one another like family.  And this notion is a threat to the old school gang culture that  by any means necessary, they plan kill the dreams of these freshly reformed communities – it boggles the mind to consider how much energy is invested in hurting another on their way to success. 

Back to Joseph though – The killing of this dreamer takes a back burner and the brothers decide to only tell the father he is dead, and sell Joseph as a slave, make a little money on the side.  Over the years Joseph is sold from slave owner to slave owner – and though he is an upright person, fulfills his duties as a slave responsibly and treats others fairly and ethically, he is eventually falsely accused of a crime and put in jail. 

Whatever his dream might have meant to him at first, wherever he thought his life would be at this point - he seems far from it now.  But even in jail he models to the jailers and other prisoners his strength of spirit and uses his gifts and abilities in whatever circumstances – and becomes a dream interpreter.

Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. 2Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he waited on them; and they continued for some time in custody. 5One night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own meaning. 6When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. 7So he asked Pharaoh’s officers, who were with him in custody in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces downcast today?’ 8They said to him, ‘We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.’ And Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.’

9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, ‘In my dream there was a vine before me, 10and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.’ 12Then Joseph said to him, ‘This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days; 13within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. 15For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.’

There are several new pieces between the first and second set of dreams: 

  • He is far from his vision and dream in Chapter 37 now. 

  • He has developed a gift even in the midst of great hardship – he is a dream interpreter.

  • It’s not all about him anymore – his life situation teaches the reader that Even when your dreams are put on hold, you can help others dream.  Even when you are in a dungeon you can be a light and help to another. 

  • And in turn for helping someone else, he asks that they might do the same – “Don’t forget me,” he says to the cupbearer.  I need your help too.  He still has hope for his future.  As readers we are to gain hope here too. 

This is significant for the Hebrews because soon Moses will come with his gifts and call out the gifts of everyone to help make it through the Exodus. 

And did you know – I didn’t know until General Minister Sharon Watkins pointed it out to me on Friday afternoon – Biblical Fun Fact #4 - Moses, in Exodus 13, as he’s preparing the people to leave Pharaoh – it says Moses carries with him Joseph’s bones.  That is creepy, yes, but it is also very cool to me.  I remember Moses’ uncertainty, his fear, all the obstacles he saw before himself and how little he thought of his ability to complete the job God asked him to do.  Joseph’s bones provide strength.  It is good for the soul to remember that We are not the first to navigate constantly changing and unclear circumstances.  We are not the first to face numerous obstacles in the course of achieving our dreams.  Carrying Joseph’s bones, remembering Joseph’s story is a way to remember God will be there to guide you.  God will be there to guide you but you have to show up too – bring your best game along with you.   

Most folks today would agree that we don’t experience God as the chess player, ourselves simply the pawns in his storytelling.  There are times we feel alone and distant from God.  And there are times we feel “divine” timing – meeting the right person at the right time, hearing a good word from a friend or a stranger that effects our outlook or interpretation.  There are accidents – or so they seem – that change the course of events we so carefully had planned out.  But somehow, though unclear in the moment, we find we overcome great hardship and struggle in life. And will have to do it again and again, with determination, with patience, with God’s help, with our abilities and with one another. It’s maybe the one thing we do know about our world today – there is no obstacle we will over come on our own, we have to do it together – this is what Diana Butler Bass calls providence – not God intervening on our behalf but  “God's intentions unfold as we practice faith in humble gratitude. Providence is not divine Mapquest. Rather, providence is a pilgrimage of God's people in time as they seek to live in mercy, kindness, and grace-and that is where God's will is made known.”

This is not the end of Joseph’s story but its where we will end today.  We can hear some of the end next week.


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