“It Seems Hopeless”
Genesis 37: 1-8, 12-14, & 23-28, August 9th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Communion and Read Statement of Faith
“Hear now the accounting of Joseph and his brothers, as recorded in the book of Genesis, chapter thirty-seven, verses one thru eight, continuing on in verses twelve thru fourteen and verses twenty-three thru twenty-eight.”
Genesis 37: 1-8, 12-14, & 23-28
1 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 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.
12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.”
23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
“Having heard of the anger Joseph’s brothers had for him, and their betrayal, let us now consider what our story can tell us about our lives in our current time in history.”
“It Seems Hopeless”
My friend and I, in response to the large puddle of water all around the hot water heater, presumed that the tank had sprung a leak. Joseph, in our scripture lesson, presumed his brothers would want to hear about his dreams, never thinking that they might hear them differently than he. We changed out the hot water tank at considerable expense, only to find our assumptions were wrong. Joseph’s father sent him to be with his brothers a long journey from their home. What was meant to be a helping hand turned into a mighty tragedy. The real source of the leaking water was a main water line which had broken loose in the cement foundation. It was not a tragedy such as what happened to Joseph, but it was a crisis, until the plumber arrived. New piping throughout the house cured the demise of old brittle pipes that needed replacement. The saga of Joseph’s hopeless situation had only just begun as we ended our reading for today’s lesson. It will take another reading or two and another time in history to hear the end of the story we have only begun this morning. The pipes have been restrung and all is in order, other than a few minor patches needed in the six openings made in the walls. What was seemingly hopeless for a time has passed.
Within these lessons are an opportunity for us to consider what we might do as we are stuck in a time, a situation, or set of circumstances beyond our control. Moving away from history accounts from out of ancient societies and setting aside the plight of one set of leaky water pipes, let us consider some of the overwhelming hopeless moments in our lives, past, present, and future. Let us first look to the past and see what difficult situations seemed hopeless. Can you think of an example, I dare say, if you cannot, you have lived an exceptionally good life? When we are feeling hopeless it is a time when we have lost or given up hope. Despair often goes hand in hand with feeling hopeless. You lost that job, just when things were coming together, the bills were all current, and you were beginning to feel financially secure. Then the credit card became maxed out and you were unsure how you were going to pay the rent or the mortgage. If you have been in this situation you perhaps can have empathy for the millions who are experiencing this in the present time.
Before we dig too deeply into present realities lets continue our reflections on our history as a society. The history of our country is filled, filled to overflowing with hopelessness and times of utter despair! How did folks cope during the revolutionary war when our forefathers fought for independence! How did the families of soldiers on both sides cope with the loss of their sons who were killed in battle? Where did they find the strength to continue onward with their lives and rebuild after such massive losses and devastating destruction? They did and our nation was formed. We celebrate our independence every July 4th, to observe the sacrifices of those who fought for our freedom. We all know that there have been many battles fought within our borders and beyond and we acknowledge those that sacrificed so much during these struggles. Surely, there were a great many that stood wringing their hands feeling hopeless as these events occurred. Yet, many others responded with action! How did so many find the courage, the strength, and the tenacity to push onward during these national moments of crisis?
We could go on and on with historical times of seemingly hopeless situations and I would encourage you to do so, especially if you are feeling hopeless right now! Surely, millions of citizens, nations and inhabitants around the world know this feeling: hopelessness! Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, and children, mothers, and fathers, know what these words mean. The disruption has been felt round the world due to this pandemic, this COVID-19! The loss of a loved one is always hard, yet, the feeling of hopelessness is especially difficult when families are unable to be there with a loved one as they are ravished by this cruel virus! How are folks coping with these difficult times? How are you finding the strength to persevere? Today’s reading from the scriptures only tells us about Joseph’s early dreams and the situation he finds himself in as he is sold by his brothers for twenty pieces of silver. The traders then take him to Egypt. From here its sure is sounding like and seeming like a hopeless situation which Joseph now finds himself in. For a moment it may have seemed like he was being rescued as they pulled him out of the pit in which they had thrown him. Yet, being sold into slavery by your own brothers was and is cause for alarm in any society at any point in history!
Today’s reading does not tell us how Joseph handled his new life situation which he found himself in, that is a conversation for another day. He, like ourselves are forced to adjust ourselves to our realities as they present themselves! His father, Israel, clearly loved him a great deal; Joseph was his favored son born in Israel’s old age. His show of affection was seen in the robe with long sleeves which he had made for his younger son. In the King James version of the Bible, the one I received while in Sunday school many years ago, speaks of this robe being made in many colors, thereby making it even more special! His brothers had even striped their younger brother of this cherished robe. It may not seem self-evident from here, yet, one of the first challenges which Joseph would need to face, even after giving thanks he had survived the wrath of his brothers and was indeed still alive, was that of his new situation as a slave! Even as my wife and I celebrated that our plumbing had been rectified, we had to accept that our savings account had shrunk. Likewise, on a more concerning note, folks who are out of work and had depended on their weekly pay checks to pay the bills and buy food, now must face their new reality, and change their life priorities to adjust to their new situations.
Acceptance is a challenging action word that is good for discussion and easy to preach about, but it is often a ‘really’ hard pill to swallow and oftentimes seems impossible. Although, even having said this, millions are forced to live with impossible situations every day. And we know that far too many try their best to run from their realities through drugs, alcohol and an assortment of emotional crutches we humans use to escape life’s realities, even if just for a short time. Clearly, none of these props work indefinitely, as life has a way of catching up to us no matter how well we hide! Even fixing or having to call someone to come fix a problem, like a broken water pipe, means accepting the fact one cannot fix it on their own. Joseph was forced to accept he was being dragged off to somewhere he knew nothing about; to live a life he had no idea of, not knowing where these new roads and paths would take him. Adjusting to new realities is a process even after we accept the inevitable and start putting one foot in front of another, even when we seem to be heading in the wrong direction.
So, just as it is written, what happens next is the important thing! It must be, as there is no other pathway ahead of us. Somehow, we are all trying our best, even when it does not seem that way to our neighbors or friends, as we each come to this point carrying the tools, the abilities we truly possess, to move ahead even if it is slowly and with a great deal of effort. Let me share an example. I recall a business trip many years ago which I was on. Working for a high-tech manufacturing company, I was sent out to train salespeople who were working for distributors that were carrying our line of equipment. It was August, and I was flying from Boston into Atlanta Georgia, on my way to Huntsville Alabama. It was a typical August; thunderstorms were playing havoc with flight plans and schedules. The Atlanta airport was very large, even back thirty-five years ago. Our flight was late landing and I had a connecting flight into Huntsville. It was quiet an ordeal, but by the time I got to the departing gate, my flight was long gone. My new situation, including the jeans and casual tee shirt I had worn for the trip, left me with no luggage and no place to go. To move forward I had to adjust to the circumstances before I was able to get a hotel and a complementary toothbrush and such from the front desk. Life is like this; one must adapt along the way.
As we move forward, in life, we become humbled and prayerfully, we begin to realize we are not in charge of what happens next. We are only responsible for doing the best that we can. I have learned that my true strength comes from the God of my understanding; the understanding of those who came before me… for many, many generations. So many before us, so many have come to trust in the will and guidance of God! Who are we not to do likewise?! Even during this pandemic, or perhaps even more so, I have come to rely more fully on God’s guidance. I pray a lot. Let us all pray together, seeking the light of God, the guidance of God, that somehow, our response to life’s realities will propel us into the new world order which God is currently redesigning for us!