Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
You may not hear this very often from me, but this spring I found myself in agreement with a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. There was a case befo
re the Supreme Court about violent video games, and whether to prevent the sale of them to young children. His ruling, I believe, was there could be no restrictions.
I paid attention to this case because I know something about these games. I have children. They have video equipment, and yes, some of these games can get pretty gory. And yes, there are some sadistic people who seem to be “inspired” by some of the things they see depicted on various kinds of screens before them – video screens, tv screens, movie screens. And yes, of course, we want to shield our children from seeing horrific things depicted before their eyes.
But this is where I found myself in agreement with Justice Scalia, the Italian American father and grandfather of many. Most people – children even – know the difference between these cartoonish depictions and real violence. I was a little girl when I watched the road runner drop an anvil on the not-so-wily coyote; in the next frame, up jumped the coyote and the antics continued. In his ruling, Justice Scalia mentioned the Grimm’s Fairy Tales which we read to children – stories full of murderous mothers, abandoned children and death by all sorts of brutal means. And how about all these stories from Genesis we have been reading in church this summer? Just today, a story of vengeful brothers, deceptive sons and polygamous patriarchs. Like Justice Scalia, I am afraid that no amount of social engineering can prevent the dark side of human nature from creeping in to our consciousness.
The two big stories we read today are unsettling; the characters are full of fear. The jealous brothers throw Joseph in a pit, and then sell him into slavery. The disciples do not know what to make of Jesus, out on top of the water in a rough sea. The passage from the letter to the Romans urges us to tie all this up in a neat bow: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" Ay yay yay. Neither Jacob nor his sons can claim such beauty, and the disciples think Jesus is a ghost. Everyone here is angry, fearful and confused. We have caught these two stories in the middle; we, too, are confused, and left hanging.
Our story of Joseph comes from the part of the book of Genesis where God does not seem to be present. Certainly God does not speak, or get involved in any direct way. It is only through dreams that God begins to creep back into human consciousness – Jacob, who as a young man wrestled with God; Joseph whose dream of his brothers bowing down to him made them so murderously angry and jealous. Where will those dreams lead the people of Israel? Will they find God’s redemption, even through famine and wilderness and slavery? How do these primal, Old Testament dreams speak to us, when we feel lost or confused or betrayed? We, whose own life stories are no more “finished” than the Joseph we read of today?
Lost in the desert – in peril on the sea: our gospel story has inspired Christians to think of the boat as an image of the church. In some decades of the church’s life, that boat floated securely on a serene sea. We would set sail for Jesus and everyone would come along, pledge cards in hand, eager to volunteer, all hands on deck. It was easy to jump right to the end of today’s passage. Ah, yes, everyone would nod; we are not of little faith. We all knew just what it meant “to go to church.” “To follow Jesus.” “To be a Christian.” And especially, “to be an Episcopalian.”
In “the old days,” like when I was in Sunday school, the lessons read in church would have never included this story of the abandoned Joseph. Such vivid “tales of terror” would be reserved for the children; “church,” as our parents knew it, was calm and serene. Now, it seems, everything is topsy-turvy. We give our children happy stories, while we sit here in church, quaking in our pews, and wondering if our little boat of a parish church – or a diocese – or a whole nation-wide Episcopal Church, or global Anglican Communion -- will run aground.
My old friend Beverly Messenger-Harris, who preached at my ordination, used to tell the story of the woman minister who was new to her church. This was a rural church, where everyone seemed to like to go duck-hunting. …
I don’t think I can walk on water. But I am happy to get into this boat with you, whether the seas ahead are stormy or calm. I am so glad that Jim picked that Leonard Bernstein song to sing this morning, one of my favorites. The days ahead will be like that song. Some of it we will know; some we will make up as we go along. We pray that it will be simple, but sometimes it might be hard. But it will all be beautiful, and it will all be well.