Have you ever looked at your family system and felt shame and/or disappointment? “How is God at work in this mess,” you wonder. This sermon comes from the Narrative Lectionary text, Genesis 37:3-8, 26-34; 50:15-21, and reminds us that, even in a messed up family system like Joseph’s, God is faithful through it all.

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I invite you once again, to take out the Big Idea insert in your bulletin. There’s a nice overview of the text, some discussion questions, and a daily reading plan. There is also a place to take notes on the other side.

Right down the first thoughts that come to your mind when I say the word family.

As I look around this room I think its pretty safe to say that the majority of us grew up in a white, middle-class culture that had particular ideals framed around the notion of family. This famous painting of Norman Rockwell’s has become an icon for this idyllic scene.

When I was a kid, I actually thought my family was like this. We got together at holidays with my grandparents, aunts, uncle, and cousins. It was nice an cozy.

Then I grew up and things changed.

I don’t know about your family system, but maybe it was more like this.

(redneck family)

Or, maybe yours was more like this…

(The Simpsons version)

Then there’s this family…

In case you don’t recognize this crew, this is the cast from a TV show called…

Modern Family.

This is a comedy that throws every way that you can challenge the “traditional family” into one show and makes you squirm a little bit.

You hear a lot of people talk about how our nation is going down the tubes because we’ve lost our family values, OR we need to get back to the “Biblical model for marriage and family.”

Well, I’m hear to tell you, our culture is not a case of modern problems.

I want to tell you the story of an

Ancient family.

If you want to hear about a dysfunctional family system, you don’t need to go any further than the book of Genesis.

You think your family is whacked, wait till you hear this story.

OK, so we begin the story where we left off last week. We ended with God making this huge promise—an impossible promise—to Abraham and Sarah, that God would make this childless couple into a great nation, and that through this nation all the families of the earth would be blessed.

Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Doesn’t that sound like a set up for the idyllic Norman Rockwell family to emerge?

Let’s see…

God does keep the promise. Sarah has this miracle baby in her old age. She laughed when she heard that she would have a child, so she named him Laughter: otherwise known as Isaac.

Hold on, though. We can’t forget that before Isaac came along, they doubted God. Sarah convinced Abraham to conceive a child with her servant named Hagar. She gave birth to Ishmael and he became the father of the Arab people. When Isaac came along Sarah kicked them out and that sibling rivalry is still going on today.

Nice family

Back to the miracle boy. Isaac gets a wife named Rebekah. He didn’t choose her, she was hand-picked for him by someone else. It seems like they liked each other, though.

Isaac and Rebekah have twin boys: Esau and Jacob.

Esau was a big, burly, hairy man. Jacob was a trickster and a momma’s boy.

Jacob steals the birthright from his brother, and then lies to his blind father while he’s on his deathbed in order to steal the blessing that belonged to Esau.

Who does that?

Jacob is an interesting character. His name was changed to Israel, which literally means “Wrestles with God.” I think Jacob and his family are a picture of the human condition as each one of us is a mixed bag of sinner and saint.

Jacob finds a woman that he really wants to marry. They’re second cousins, but I guess that’s not weird.

Her father, Laban, who is Abraham’s nephew, tricks Jacob into marrying his oldest daughter Leah. Because, that makes sense…

Rachel is not pleased and the sisters get into a baby battle.

Leah and Jacob produce six sons and one daughter. Rachel is barren.

So, Rachel throws her maid, Bilhah, and Jacob and she has two sons. But Leah, not to be outdone, throws her maid, Zilpah, at Jacob and she has two sons.

Rachel is still down 8-2.

Finally, Rachel has two sons. The oldest is named Joseph. The youngest named Benjamin. Then, Rachel dies giving birth to Benjamin.

Whew. That’s a big family.

Can you guess which son Jacob favored? It was the oldest son of the woman he actually wanted to marry.

Imagine how that made Reuben feel, who was the actual first born son and, by law, deserved Jacob’s blessing. But, we already know how Jacob felt about that tradition.

Jacob makes a really BAD DAD move and publicly displays his favor of Jacob by giving him an expensive coat.

If that weren’t bad enough, Joseph is a dreamer.

Here is our first reading. You can find it on page 34 of your pew bible.

It says,

Genesis 37:3–8 (NRSV)

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. 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.

Then he has another dream where the sun and moon and eleven stars bow down to him.

This made the brothers mad.

Genesis 37:29–34 (NRSV)

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days.

Joseph spends the rest of his life in Egypt. He is a servant who gets framed for rape and thrown in prison.

Then, he gets a reputation for interpreting dreams and the Pharoah has a really weird dream. Joseph interprets the dream to mean that there will be seven years of bountiful harvest followed by seven years of famine. He suggests that Egypt stores up grain for those seven years and Pharoah makes him second in command to manage the process.

The famine strikes and the brothers are forced to come to Egypt and beg Joseph for mercy.

This is our third reading,

Genesis 50:15–21 (NRSV)

15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” 16 So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, 17 ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.’ Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. 21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

That’s the story of Joseph’s family

I’d like to make a couple observations about this story:

  1. Joseph’s family MESSED UP!
  2. Joseph had every right to HATE his brothers and seek VENGEANCE.

What would you do if you were Joseph?

Let’s look closely at what Joseph says in Genesis 50:20.

The translation we read said, “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.” The word intended, however, is the same word used last week in our key verse in Genesis 15:6. “and the LORD reckoned it to him.”

Here, Joseph says, You reckoned it for evil, but God reckoned it for good.

This is important, because we need to keep one thing clear…

Evil is not God’s PLAN. God didn’t make Joseph’s brother sell him as a slave. They did that on their own.

God’s PROMISE is to work good out of the messes we make.

Let’s put it this way.

No matter how much evil we create, God can work it for good.

Now, that is not to say we should try to do evil. Of course not. Evil leads to pain and destruction.

Here’s the Big Idea for today.

No matter how messed up you think your family is, or the world is, or your own life choices are…God’s is faithful to the promise.

I want to leave you with the two key words to work for good out of evil.

  1. Believe God’s Promise. Remember last week we said that believe is the word Amen. It is complete trust, even in the impossible. Can can redeem your situation, no matter how bad it seems.
  2. The way out of most evil is through forgiveness. Forgive the brother who has done the evil.

Forgive means, Let it go.

Believe God and Forgive.

If we all worked on these two things, then we could step further into the Promise of God for Everyone.

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