July 7, 2013: Faith in, Dysfunctional Families

Posted on : Jul 2nd, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Faith In, Dysfunctional Families

Setting out to kill the brother you hate.

Of all the things we discovered about the UCC before we became a member, the one thing we missed was that the UCC is heavily into punctuation, especially commas!  The “God is Still Speaking” comma made it into our new church logo, but little did we know that comma would be found in other places.  For example a year or so ago, the UCC came up with the slogan: “FAITH IN, (then the name of your City).  “Faith In, Los Angeles.” or “Faith In, West Hollywood.” It was a fun play with punctuation.  It could mean “We have faith in Los Angeles” or it could mean “We have faith, and we live in West Hollywood; therefore, we have faith in, West Hollywood.”

That sequencing of words got me thinking about the places where we find or have faith, especially in places where we don’t expect to find it.

One of the things I love most about the Bible is that it is a collection of stories about finding faith in unexpected places, or as we in the UCC would say:  Faith in, unexpected places.  However, it has always amused me that most religious folk, especially pastors, try to round off the rough edges of people’s faith experiences in the bible.  Personally, I think that takes all the fun out of the story.  Nowhere has this been more true than in the construct of what has recently been called “the traditional family.”

Let me tell you, there is no “traditional family” in the bible, at least not in the sense in which the “traditional family values folk” use those words.  Almost all of the families in the Bible are as dysfunctional as dysfunctional can be.  They are filled with jealousy, rage, rape, murder, incest, evil and/or sinister plots to kill off family members they don’t like, and some of them even succeed!  I’m trying to think of even one Biblical family where they actually love each other and function as a somewhat healthy family unit.   I’m sure there is one somewhere, but it’s not coming to my mind at the moment.  Even “families of choice,” like Jesus’ own family of choice, are pretty dysfunctional.  Just when Jesus needs them the most, they run scared and deny even knowing him.

Well, what that means is, you and I are safe.  The 99% of us that come from dysfunctional families can certainly relate to 99% of the families in the bible.  We’re kin!  And yet, in the midst of this dysfunction, these families have much to teach us about faith.  When you get right down to it, there is Faith In, Dysfunctional Families.  During July, we’re going to look at a few of those families and the lessons of faith they teach us.

This Sunday, we begin with a five-star dysfunctional family, Joseph’s family.  Joseph is, for lack of better words, a spoiled brat.  He is the twelfth brother in the family.  Joseph had at least one sister, Dinah, who – yes, you guessed it – was raped.  She was not just raped by any old troll; she was raped by Shechem, Hamor’s son who was the Prince of the Hittites.  After raping Dinah, Shechem’s “soul was drawn to Dinah … he loved the maiden and spoke tenderly to her,” and Shechem asked his father to obtain Dinah for him, to be his wife.  Nice guy, huh?  Wait!  Just wait!  It gets better!

Hamor came to Jacob (Dinah and Joseph’s father) and asked for Dinah to be his son’s wife.  But “the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah,” saying they would accept the offer if the men of the city agreed to be circumcised.

So the men were deceived, and were circumcised; and “on the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came upon the city unawares, and killed all the males. They slew Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away.” And the sons of Jacob plundered whatever was in the city and in the field, “all their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses.”

Joseph’s brother’s didn’t stop with “the revenge of the circumcised men of Shechem,” they decided to get rid of their father’s favorite son, and their own brother, Joseph.  Just as his brothers were about to kill Joseph, his older brother stepped in and said, “better to let him die naturally than to have his blood on our hands.”  So they threw Joseph into a pit and left him there to die in the scorching hot desert sun or be torn to bits by predatory animals.  Luckily for his brothers, Joseph didn’t die.  He was found and sold into slavery and later imprisoned, yet he even overcame all that!

This story has a magnificent ending.  It is truly a wonderful story about “Faith in, a Dysfunctional Family.”  More on Sunday!




~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

The Story of Joseph

Genesis 37 – (edited & updated by Dan)

When Joseph was seventeen years old, he used to accompany his brothers, the children of Jacob’s wives, as they herded the flocks.  Joseph would tattle to his father, Jacob, about his brothers who were prone to excessive drinking and wild sexual escapades, while they were away in other cities, tending their father’s herds.

Now Jacob, Joseph’s father, loved Joseph more than any of this other children and gave Joseph a richly ornamented (or multi-colored) robe.  When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved Joseph best, they were jealous and had nothing but words of contempt for him.

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his bothers, they hated Joseph all the more.  Joseph said to them, “Listen to my dream.  We were all out in the field binding sheaves (of wheat) when all at once my sheaf straightened itself and remained standing upright, and your sheaves circled around my sheaf, bowing down as if paying homage to my sheaf.”

The brothers came back with a sharp response, “So you want to play Sovereign over us?  Do you really intend to rule over us?” – and they hated Joseph all the more because of the dream and how he interpreted it.

Then Joseph had another dream, which he told to his father and brothers: “Listen to me,” he said.  “I had a second dream.  In this dream the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to me.”

When he told them the dream, his father scolded him.  His father said, “What is all this dream stuff?  Are you saying that I, and your mother, and the rest of the family will bow down and pay homage to you?”  Joseph’s brothers went away angry, but Joseph’s father did not forget the incident.

Sometime later, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are out tending the sheep.  I am going to send you to them so you can check and see if things are going well and report back to me.”  So Joseph went off.

When Joseph’s brothers saw him approaching in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to murder him.  They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer.  Now’s our chance! Let’s kill Joseph and throw his body in one of these pits.  We’ll say a wild animal devoured him.  Then we’ll see what becomes of Joseph’s dreams!”

Reuben, Joseph’s oldest brother, intervened to save the boy from their hands, saying, “No bloodshed!”  Throwing him into a pit in the wilderness is one thing, but let’s not kill him.”  Reuben’s intention was to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

So when Joseph came upon his bothers, they stripped him of his robe, the ornate robe his father gave him and picked him up and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty, and there was no water in it.

Then they sat down to eat.  As they were eating, they noticed an Ishmaelite caravan coming from Gilead, with loads of gum, balm, and resin, on its way down to Egypt.  Judah, another of Joseph’s brothers, said, “Why not sell Joseph to these traders?  That way his blood with not be on our hands.”  The others agreed.  Meanwhile some Midianite traders passed by, and pulled Joseph out of the pit.  They sold him for eight ounces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took Joseph with them into Egypt.

When Reuben came back to the pit to recuse Joseph, he found Joseph gone, and he tore his clothes in grief.  Returning to the others, Reuben said, “The boy is gone!  Now what will I do?  What will become of me?”

So they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood.  Then they took the ornate robe and brought it back to their father, saying, “Look what we found!  Isn’t this Joseph’s robe?”

Jacob recognized the robe and cried in anguish, “It is Joseph’s!  A wild animal has devoured him.  Joseph was surely ripped to pieces!  Jacob tore his clothes, dressed in sackcloth, and mourned Joseph’s death for a long time.  His daughters and sons tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted saying, “I will go to my grave mourning for Joseph!”

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