There are parts of this week’s readings that might make you stop reading and give up. Manipulation, subvergence, genocide, theft, rape, blackmail, and lying are just some of the things we read about in the last half of Genesis. Fortunately, reconciliation, forgiveness, restoration, and unification — things that lead to life — are included too. So, don’t give up on your reading. Remember, God’s faithfulness never ends.
We open this week’s readings with Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright and ancestral blessing. When Isaac discovers what he has done, it can’t be fixed (kind of like the officials of the Oklahoma State vs. Central Michigan football game this weekend incorrectly giving Central Michigan an extra play to score the winning touchdown — it’s done, over and through and time to move on), Jacob understands there are serious consequences around Esau’s anger. So Jacob runs away and builds a family.
Twenty years later, it’s time to meet Esau. Both brothers have built families and wealth. While Jacob is emotionally troubled and works to regain Esau’s favor, Esau has moved on — has been the older, more mature brother — and discovers ways to reconcile and rebuild the relationship with his brother. I often wonder what else was going on so that Esau and Jacob understood their relationship so differently? Was it just a matter of it being easier to forgive or be forgiven? How does that manifest itself in our relationships today?
Some of these difficult passages, specifically the stories of Dinah, the Edomites, and Tamar, might lay some epistemological foundations for the people of Israel, but that doesn’t make them any easier to read. Reading about Dinah and Tamar, I can’t help but ponder the role of women in the society of ancient Israel and how (whether we like it or not) those foundations are still in play today. While many of us like to believe the evil subjectification of women doesn’t exist in America, we still have a serious domestic violence problem, human trafficking, women are still (on average) paid lower wages than men, and the exploitation of women for money is greater than it is for men. How do we stop rationalizing these issues and cut to the core of the issues? What is our role as people of faith to stop these practices? Are we more of the problem than we like to think?
Moving on to Joseph, everyone needs a sibling like Joseph (notice the tongue in my cheek) — clearly daddy’s favorite, gets a fancy coat, flaunts it in front of his brothers, then, to top it off, has these dreams that infuriate his brothers by saying they will bow down to him. At least when my parents might have favored me over my sister and brother, they we consistent to balance out the favoritism. Jacob created a monster in Joseph. You can’t really blame his brothers for acting like they did. Joseph had a gift to interpret dreams. His interpretations were accurate because God had given him the gift.
I suspect that I am like many of you when it comes to sharing dreams. I don’t do it. Whether these dreams put me in a favorable light in contrast to others (a la, Joseph and his brothers), the fear that they might come true (cupbearer and baker), or the need to change the way I live and plan more prudently for the future (Pharaoh), sharing your dreams with others is risky business. I know that I have had plenty of dreams that would make me look crazy if I shared it. I know that I have regretted not speaking up to share a dream — a vision — that would have enhanced the life of the community.
I have a three point dream for First Christian Church:
1. I have a dream that everyone who attends First Christian Church comes to worship the God of Scripture in both the Hebrew and Christian texts – and that they know who that God is.
2. I have a dream that everyone who attends First Christian Church does not view the Bible as a fine piece of literature, a dead document, a nice story book, or a grand historical artifact – but a living, breathing, life giving, transforming guide that informs every hour of everyday.
3. I have a dream that everyone who attends First Christian Church participates in at least one educational event each week in the life of the church in the daily quest for knowledge of God and formation of a deeper faith in Jesus Christ.
OK, I’ve said it. I have a dream of a stronger, more faithful church. I have a dream that what we do makes a difference in the life of the community. I have an innate distrust of Christians I don’t know — mainly out of a fear that I will be accused and convicted of things they see in me, but I don’t see in myself. I still have a fear of those faith groups that ruled my hometown — that if I wasn’t one of them, then I was not just less than them, I was damned and hopeless. I have a fear that someone has encountered me in that way and I deeply regret it.
Joseph’s dreams became a bridge to a path of reconciliation with his brothers. I hope that we can share our dreams with others as we build a bridge toward healing the human condition, a health that gives glory to God, and a wholeness of the body that endures far beyond the life we live.