Today is the second Sunday in a three-week series about dreams. Last week we began wrestling with our dreams with Jacob who is the father of THIS week’s dreamer Joseph.
Joseph was one of Jacobs 12 sons and the stories tell us that he was Jacobs favorite son because his mother was Jacobs favorite wife. Our scripture reading today picks up when Joseph is 17 years old and we will hear the first of his many fantastic dreams.
37 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 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. 3 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.[a] 4 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.
5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7 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.” 8 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.
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.” 10 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?” 11 So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 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.” 14 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, 15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 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. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 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.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 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. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves[b] that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25 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. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 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. 28 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.
May God bless to our understanding the Words that we hear today.
Dreamers can have a difficult time with the harsh realities of life. I have found this to be true as I proceed through my life, when, despite all of my dreaming I came face to face with this reality…I.Am.Not.Perfect!I am not perfect. There, I said it! I know this comes as a shock to many of you, especially my family…that even though I dream of being Mary Poppins who is practically perfect in every way, I am not. And oh let me tell you, I had dreams, such dreams of perfection…brilliant straight A student, the girl everyone wanted to be friends with, the best dancer at the school dances, talented actress, model daughter, exceptional sister, incredible wife, the best mom, the homeroom mother with the perfect treats for all occasions, decorating skills that would rival Martha Stewart, able to juggle a FABULOUS career and family without blinking an eye, always the right word, a lovely lady-like laugh, teller of funny, and yet tasteful jokes…kind, patient, generous, strong and all those other words we want attached to ourselves, I had dreams of being all that AND a bag of chips. I’m not saying I have failed…I’ve done pretty well on some of those things…but alas, my dream of perfection is probably rambling around in that pit with Joseph, dreamer of big dreams who just found himself sold into slavery in Egypt…talk about lost dreams…will you pray with me please?
May the Words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams the last few weeks. Not our sleeping dreams but our waking dreams. The dreams that hold us, the dreams that shape us. Last week we looked at wrestling with dreams and what it means to sometimes let go of a dream, but what if the dream is taken from us, what if, like Joseph our dreams upset other people, what if our dreams land us in a pit?
Joseph had a dream actually, as we heard today, he had several dreams. Dreams that seemed to indicate a place of superiority over his brothers. At 17, he is the apple of his father’s eye and his father shows his favoritism for his son by giving him a long robe with sleeves. It is a sign of favor and his brothers don’t like it. In fact, I think we could go so far as to say that they hate him for it. Their hatred only increased when Joseph begins dreaming of the future and his dreams seemed to indicate a different distribution of power in his family.
In a massive display of sibling rivalry Josephs brothers decide to get rid of him and his dreams so they throw him into a pit. In Hebrew, the word for pit is “bor” and it literally refers to the underworld, basically Joseph and his dreams are thrown into hell only to be taken out of one hell and is sold into another one, Egyptian slavery.
In that moment ir would seem that Josephs dreams are dashed and will not be fulfilled. It feels like his dreams are lost and lost dreams can be the pits sometimes. But through the story of Joseph we learn that dreams often don’t happen overnight;
Joseph was a dreamer, but his dreams took him to places he never counted on going as a 17-year-old. As the Psalmist said in our reading today “until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord kept testing him.” In other words, Joseph had to spend some time watching and waiting for the right time and the right place for his dreams to live. And while he was watching and waiting God had some learning for him to do.
When Joseph first had his dream, he must have thought he had made it in life, but the reality turned out to be much different and much more difficult. We know how the story ends, but Joseph didn’t and at the time, as it was happening it must have felt very discouraging. But even in the pits, Joseph held onto his vision and he held on to God.
I don’t know about you, but I wonder a lot about why stuff happens the way it does, how is God working in those moments that feel like everything is lost? I personally don’t buy the whole, God is testing me line of thought, but I do wonder what I am supposed to be learning? I can only imagine that Joseph was feeling the same way, how can he possibly reconcile those magnificent God, given dreams with where he is now? I began to understand that maybe what we are seeing here is Joseph and his visions being put through a refining process.
Refining is when impurities or unwanted elements are removed from something which usually makes it stronger. Refining improves something by making small changes to an idea or a theory or a method to make it subtler and more accurate.
Were Josephs dreams lost or just deferred in order for some refining to take place? After all the kind of leadership that he dreamed of was probably not very safe in the hands of a cocky 17-year-old. Nor could he have been who he needed to be if he wasn’t in Egypt. But did it have to happen this way?
Joseph was an arrogant teenager whose brothers hated him so much they wanted to kill him, but instead they “just” sold him into slavery. Suddenly he is no longer the favored son of a wealthy man, but a slave with no rights at all, no family and no home. That kind of change in any one’s life would be a reason to stop and to reflect on one’s life and dreams. The frustrating thing is that too many people don’t take that opportunity. Either we get belligerent and blame God and others for our lost dream, or we lose all hope and refuse to do anything. Very rarely do we take a step back and let our dreams just be for a little bit. It seems to be all or nothing with us and we don’t seem to be able to take a deep breath and understand that maybe we are not ready for that dream yet. Joseph, when we first met him, is not ready for his dream yet. He has some important lessons that need to be learned first as part of his refining.
We don’t read about it today, but Joseph becomes a very good servant, the very thing by-the-way Jesus continues to encourage us to be. Not the served but the serving, meeting the needs of others before our own needs are met. Learning to serve was part of the long and winding road for Joseph the young dreamer, but why did it have to be such a long and painful process? Why did it take years of suffering, or years of doing something else before he could begin to live the dream he had in his youth?
The answers to that seem to be built into the nature of what it means to commit yourself to a dream. In a very real sense, this is part of how we truly “live” our dream for the world. I think that dream must get inside of us. Until that happens, until it gets inside us so that we live, eat, and breathe it we are in no position to try to go out and see that vision realized in life. We cannot hope to bring compassion to the world if we don’t have compassion in our hearts for other people-all of them.
Those dreams of your youth, or middle age or senior years…that feel like they have not been realized, they may not be lost, Like Joseph we may have to go through a refining process to get there. It may be frustrating for us to continue to try to hold on to our dreams, only to keep being disappointed with the way life actually works. As I think about it, maybe our dream wrestling is a refining process…learning what dreams to let go of and what dreams to hold on to. Maybe the lessons we learn when we are going through the refining process is that the first step toward living the dream is to surrender our expectations of what that dream is going to look like and to accept life, the world and others as they are. That’s the only way that we can hope to learn how to respond to real people in a real world with compassion and peace.
It is not easy being a dreamer in the world and it sometimes feels like our dreams have been thrown into a pit, stomped on and lost, or they feel out of reach to us, unattainable and too lofty and high to pursue.
Maybe we need to look again at those lost dreams from our vantage point as people of faith. When we stake our life on a vision of the way things can be different, we will need to wrestle with it. It may feel like it is lurking just out of reach, taunting and teasing us, but maybe the reality is that it is just waiting for us to get through our refining process. It may take years for the vision of God’s compassion and peace and justice and freedom to really get inside of us, but when it does, when we can learn how to be excellent servants and take pride in the fact that we are able to put others before us, maybe, just maybe we will find that our dreams have just been deferred and not lost and we will live into the dream that God has lead us to be. HA