Hi everyone! I’m glad to join the RevGalBlogPals community with my first post today. This week’s lectionary text is familiar, yet it’s bothering me in new ways. Firstly, where are the women? To place myself in a meaningful way in this story, I yet again have to engage it through male eyes. Or do I? Is there a sermon here on the missing women?
Many sermons preach from the perspective of oppressed Joseph. Yet what about seeing the story (or at least beginning the story) from the brothers’ standpoints? To put it bluntly, they see Joseph for what he is at first: a snot-nosed, privileged mansplainer.
When we encounter injustice, however, we’re often tempted to assign blame to those downstream. Why did the brothers confront their younger brother Joseph, and not their father Jacob/Israel, in response to their family’s conflict? What would that have looked like?
I’m also wondering if the brothers had other options besides the responses they offer. Would it have been possible for them to seek an identity and social position apart from their current one? Maybe not, but after the familiar patterns in Genesis of parental favoritism, trickery, and everyone thinking they’re the smartest ones in the room, I find myself dreaming of a new way.
Let’s say more about dreams. We know Joseph is a dreamer, like his father. Today’s text includes one of Joseph’s dreams, yet Joseph does not interpret it—only his brothers do. Joseph himself says in Genesis 40:8, “do not interpretations belong to God?” How is this passage inviting us to interpret dreams and symbols in our lives today?
Some other possible sermon directions:
Servants only to God: When the brothers agree to enslave themselves to Joseph in chapter 50, Joseph instead asks them, “Am I in the place of God?” Joseph rejects a relationship of authoritarian rule over his siblings, instead modeling that they are all “servants of the God of [Jacob/Israel]” (50:17). Affirming their service to God alone is a crucial declaration given the Exodus story that’s coming.
God working for good in creation, Egypt and all: Genesis ends where it began, with God affirming and working for creation’s goodness. Joseph clearly names his brother’s actions for what they were: evil. Yet in the end, Joseph pivots to good by not only exhorting his brothers to “have no fear,” but also by promising to seek the benefit of their progeny and shared future. What role did, and will, Egypt have in this story? Isaiah 19 could be an interesting conversational partner here.
An invitation to focus on love: Jacob declares in 37:33 that Joseph is “without doubt” torn to pieces. But just as today’s lectionary text doesn’t tell the entire Joseph story, Jacob did not actually know what was happening. This passage invites us to be humble about our knowledge, and to consider the primacy of love. The Gospel text this week is Luke 6:35, which says, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.”
We could also pull in other texts, such as the prayer in Ephesians 3:19 “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Notably the verses before and after this Ephesians passage highlight the relationship of power and love; focusing on love first, and our limited knowledge second, empowers us to “have the power to comprehend”(Ephesians 3:18).
Another possibility is to teach on centering prayer and its roots in the 14th Century text The Cloud of Unknowing (as well as Thomas Keating’s contemporary teaching on it with Contemplative Outreach). Why have centuries of contemplatives and mystics taught us that the deepest place we can know God (and meet God in love) is in our subconscious, unknown to our intellect, imagination or memory?
Melanie Weldon-Soiset, a #ChurchToo survivor, served as a pastor at a nondenominational church for immigrants in Shanghai, China, and preached regularly at a United Methodist congregation in Washington, DC. She’s now a poet and contemplative prayer leader. Check out her blog, or sign up for her newsletter on prayer and poetry resources, at melanieweldonsoiset.com.
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