Ashland UCCSermon for September 25, 2016
Marie Bat’el, MDiv
My my my. Talk about dysfunctional families!
In looking closely at this family I noticed some things that I had not taken the time to think about before. That happens with these very popular stories – stories that have often been made into plays or movies even. There can be limited perspectives on different aspects of the story.
Jacob had only two sons with Rachel, Joseph and the younger son Benjamin, his last son. He had twelve sons in all. The future leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel with a few modifications – you can read about it in Chapter 48.
Earlier in Genesis we learn of how Jacob came to be married to Rachel. It is one of the great love stories in the Bible. Hence the great love of his two sons borne by her and the jealousy of his other sons.
Now Joseph was 17 years old when his brothers conspired against him. So we have this young, egocentric boy, because they all are at that age, and a father who adores him. Add insult to injury (as far as the brothers are concerned anyway), Joseph has been given the gift of prophecy which comes through dreams. And as we see later in the story, the gift of interpreting dreams; the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker of the king, and then the dreams of Pharaoh – warning of the great seven-year famine.
Joseph shares his dreams of being somehow over his brothers and even his mother and his father. This drives the brothers over the edge. Even Jacob is irritated with Joseph’s display of arrogance at the telling of the second dream. But the scriptures say that Jacob “kept the matter in mind.” Jacob has the wisdom that comes with years of walking with God. He has seen God do interesting things in his own life. When I hear certain things now, I know that it is the Spirit giving me a message and I tend to “keep the matter in mind.” Many of you can no doubt relate.
For instance, a short time ago I was surfing Facebook as I often do. I tend to get most of my news articles from it, as I do not have cable TV, as well as inspiration and laughing fits! If you haven’t seen the video of Ellen DeGeneres taking Michelle Obama to CVS
to learn how to shop like a “regular person” which she will now be very soon, this minister is prescribing it as laughter therapy. Laughter is so good for the soul. I make sure I get a regular dose – often.
Anyway, I came upon an article by an ex-police officer who claims to have the truth about race and policing. Backed up by information from a friend of his who has trained thousands of officers across the country on use of force, the conclusion he comes to is that, and I quote, “On any given day, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. 15 percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending upon who they are working with.” His friend who published the report expounds on the 70 percent in regards to the culture that reigns in the departments that they work in stating that they are “highly susceptible” to that culture. And it doesn’t just affect white officers. It affects all the officers in that department.
When I began to think about the message I would bring on this age-old familiar story, mob mentality came to mind. The news this past week, the on-the-spot news that I am privy to through social media – just about Every 28 Hours in fact, inspired me to speak about this sociological phenomenon that exists in communities. If you are not familiar with the Every 28 Hours project, it is a collection of short plays on the subject of race and policing.
I decided to think longer, harder, deeper, into Joseph’s brothers. Were all 10 of them really down with this plot against Joseph? Did all of the brothers experience Jacob’s favoritism of Joseph in the same way? With seething anger and jealousy? As a psych major and having studied human development, I see Joseph as a normal, happy, egocentric teenager who was benignly sharing his dreams with his family. And in living as long as I have and studying personality types, there is high im-probability that the brothers were all affected in the same way by the family dynamics. So, I began to look into herd mentality.
In looking at some studies of herd behavior, I read that some reasons why people tend to imitate others, to exhibit “herd behavior,” is that they assume that the others have information that justifies their actions.” It seems that loyalty, so as to be in accord with group members, may be in affect. Herd behavior is prominent where many pieces of information are relevant, but certain limitations prevent each individual in the group
from individually discovering all the relevant information to make a truly informed opinion. An example of a response from participants in the study to an experiment that was used was “To me it seems I’m right, but my reason tells me I’m wrong, because I doubt that so many people could be wrong and I alone could be right.
The study also focuses on the affects of conversation, which is common across of cultures of course. Conversation is the exchange of information and is also the thing that reinforces memories of pieces of information to be held in common by a group.
Some of the things that can transpire in a conversation are feelings of support from the other member or members, but also feelings of being put down, losing face, and so on.
Also, somehow, a set of topics, commonly sanctioned as appropriate for conversation,
becomes established in groups. In another journal I read on herd behavior, and I quote “A group of people will often engage in actions that are contrary to the private moral standards of each individual in that group, sweeping otherwise decent individuals into herd behavior. It goes on to state: “Although humans exhibit strong preferences for equity and moral prohibitions against harm in many contexts, people’s priorities change when there is an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’
So let us take a look again at the Joseph story. Over the 17 years of Joseph’s life there had to have been countless conversations in this family. If I look at my own family or remember the stories of others who have shared with me the dynamics of their family life, we can assume that the favoritism that Jacob showed Joseph was not an “appropriate” subject to bring up in family gatherings. We can also assume that this suppression manifested differently in each of the brothers, who we have been led to believe worked in unison to plot against Joseph.
Going back to the proposal by the ex-police officer and the 15/15/70 theory, we do see though that it is Rueben, the eldest brother, who is in no way comfortable with killing their own brother. Then we see Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, conspiring with the other brothers, behind Rueben’s back, to sell Joseph into slavery. So Rueben is not angry enough with Joseph to kill him or even sell him into slavery. He wants to return him to their father. He wants to do the right thing. The story implies that Judah may have been the first mover that factors in to the studies that have been done. So in a police force, 70 percent are influenced by the kinds of conversations that happen in their department. They are influenced by those first movers. They are influenced by what is “appropriate” to talk about and what is not. They are “educated” if you will, on the simple facts about the local environment. Such as, how tasks are performed, about how to build bonds, about the local gossip, about who is deviant and not to be trusted. These topics are not usually pursued in depth.
Now I noticed in the Joseph story in Chap. 37 v. 14 that Jacob sends Joseph to “check”
on his brothers and he says “bring word back to me.” Jacob set Joseph up to be unlikeable at the very least by some of his brothers and hated by others. All in all, Joseph was pretty innocent in this story. We see later the kind of integrity that he has
though he has endured immense cruelty and even his character has been maligned
when Potiphar’s wife was believed about Joseph’s alleged advances towards her.
The different personality types in the 10 brothers gives us at least one that was not going along with this plot at all, Rueben. We have Judah who is going to see Joseph suffer at all costs. And we have silence from the other brothers.
Our beloved Martin, Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham jail
that is addressed to the local clergy, white clergy, is grieved by the non-action, the conversations, the misinformation, which is propagated by these clergy members. The first thing he addresses is that he has been considered an “outsider” coming in to their community, their “group” if you will. He shares that he was in fact, invited.
By the way, if you are new or newer here today, you have been invited by the Spirit of the Living God. I am convinced of that.
There was the idea in Jacob’s family and the culture of that time, that the last
shall be last. The first! shall be first! Who was Joseph to intimate through the sharing of his dreams that he would ever be called to be a leader over his own family? In fact we see the wisdom and inspiration in the writers throughout the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, of the youngest and/or the most unlikely one, being called by God
to be raised up as a leader.
God is no respecter of persons.
It doesn’t matter how long you have been a member of this dysfunctional family, you HAVE been invited here by the Spirit of the Living God and you are every bit as likely to be called to lead, for your voice to be heard.
God exalts those who honor God – regardless of their background or birth order.
If you are feeling overlooked or neglected, you will find recorded in our sacred texts
that those same feelings are expressed all throughout the Bible by people whom God was using, whom God greatly loved and treasured.
Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message, says, “Christian communities are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out into the open, faced, and dealt with…It is only in community that we learn how to serve, how to forgive, how to struggle, how to pray, how to beg for God’s mercy, how to fall and rise over and over.”
The Joseph story has all these elements in it to show us what can happen, what to do,
and how to move forward. It is a story that has a happy ending with forgiveness, grace, reconciliation.
If you are anything like me you are feeling frustrated and helpless in the lack of civil rights movement – lack…of civil rights movement that we see played out before our very eyes, like I said, Every 28 hours…
I want to leave you with good news today. As I, as you, grow closer to God and seek to walk in the way of God’s son, our brother Jesus the Christ, we are less likely to be seduced away from our individual moral standards and to stand strong against injustice.
And that make us part of the solution.
You may have heard it said that the SUCCESS of one’s life is in direct proportion to the number of uncomfortable conversations that they are willing to have. I saw a variation of that on… you know it….Facebook! That said the QUALITY of one’s life is in direct proportion to the number of uncomfortable conversations they are willing to have.
I have had at least four “uncomfortable conversations” regarding white supremacy in the last couple of months. One of which was with one of my closest friends. One was with an avowed Constitutional conservative but he was hoping to date me so I had an audience! I have decided to take a stand on this issue, and others, but this one in particular that is such a hot topic for our nation right now. I have decided that I will refute misinformation when presented with it. I have decided that I will not back down from the reality of the affects of slavery and white supremacy in this country. I have made a commitment to being uncomfortable and I know that many of you have too, regarding the issues that you are passionate about.
YOU, beloved of God,
YOU, beloved of God
YOU, beloved of God
WILL CONTINUE TO BE
that needs to be brought about in this world.