“When All Seems Lost”

August 13th, 2017

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28,

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear now the words of this Old Testament reading from the book of Genesis, chapter 37, verses 1thru 4 and continuing on with verses 12 thru 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.
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.”  So, he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, 15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?”  16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.”  17 The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’  “So, Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him.  19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.  20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”  21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.”  22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” – that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.  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.

“May God bless our hearing and open our minds as-well-as our hearts, as we consider this narrative surrounding the jealousy and hatred the brothers of Joseph have for him.”  


Have you ever woken up and thought, oh… this is going to be a bad day!  We all know that feeling of gloom and doom.  We think our fate is sealed today, it is just not going right, everything is upside down and you are just not ready to face the realities of this day!  Most of us here this morning knows what I am talking about.  I sure know what it feels like when everything seems hopeless!  I look out the window… the grass is about ten to twelve inches high.  The lawn service guy came just five days ago.  More rain expected in the afternoon.  The swale out front is still full of water.  The heat index is expected to be 105 degrees again.  That’s just the weather!  There are chores to do, errands to run, and a sermon to be written!  My tooth, the one I had pulled last year, it is aching again!  You know what I’m talking about… it is going to be a long, long day!

Consider our scripture this morning and the situation which Joseph finds himself!   Joseph is the victim of his brother’s jealousy and he is sold into slavery in Egypt!  Now that’s a bad day!  Sometimes, this is exactly what I need to hear about… to get my mind, my attitude into proper focus.  Just how bad is my situation today?  ‘Compared to what’ is a question I sometimes ask myself!  I learned that line when I was in sales.  A customer complains that the price for the item they are considering buying – is too high!  As the salesperson, I simply start off by saying: “compared to what sir?”  Then I often would start pointing out the other choices and how they do not stand up to the product in front of them!  In my role as pastor, one fellow told me how ‘hard’ it was to go get his treatments – for the illness that was plaguing him.  I asked him what were his alternatives.  After a bit he concluded, he was lucky, his illness was treatable and with gratitude he got up to go get his modern-day treatment!As we look deeper at our scripture we come to realize Joseph’s situation was the result of his brother’s jealousy towards him.  Seems Joseph was a dreamer.  He kept having dreams that gave him dominion and authority over his brothers.  As he was the youngest, this was a problem.  Well the real problem was he shared these dreams with his brothers and his father.  That is where the problem began.  Father started to treat Joseph differently, had a special robe made for him with long sleeves!  You have heard the children’s story about the coat of many colors right!  Well this is where that comes from.  Although, there was no mention of the many colors in our lesson.  Well, you know how stories are.  Regardless of this, his father spoiled him and elevated his status by doing so and Joseph’s brothers were ‘really’ angry about it!  So, when Joseph shows up, a long distance from home, they decide to kill him.  After discussion, they decide to put him a pit and ultimately sell him into slavery.  Later, they split the money amongst themselves.  When they go back home they tell dear old dad his favorite son was killed, by wild animals they say, and give him the fancy robe all torn as poof.

Today’s lesson will cause many of us to reflect-back on our own families.  Hopefully, we all have many good memories of our childhoods.  However, some of us may not.  Some of us here gathered may have been the favored child and felt good about it, possibly never feeling the consequences of the status.  Yet, this is not always the case.  Families are an entity all unto themselves.  There are untold volumes of stories of children who grow up with dysfunctional relationships with their siblings.  Brothers and sisters are often not treated the same, when they are growing up.  One is the eldest the other is the youngest, and then there is the lost one, in the middle of the pack of six or seven children, in the same family.  One has prettier looks; another is a great fisherman!  Maybe, the middle child becomes a scholar and her awakening disrupts the order of things in the family.  So many possible scenarios to be sure! These realities cause friction for the developing child.

Consider this story I found in my studies on the web.  It pointedly speaks about how one child’s upbringing causes her some personality flaws.

Sally was starting her first day at school and she was very nervous.  The thing about Sally was that she was very spoiled.  She was spoiled rotten in fact!  That is what she was worried about.  She was scared she’d be the odd one out.  So, Sally was driven to her new school by her dad. “Good luck honey” said her dad.  She was so spoiled she just stuck her tongue out.  She walked off and a few nearby kids started laughing at her expensive clothes.  They laughed at her!  They started calling her names because she looked rich.  “Don’t call me names” cried Sally.  She stormed off sticking her tongue out at the girls.  Everyone started laughing at how spoiled she was.  “Spoiled brat!”  They shouted.  Annie began to cry.  “That’s what you get for being mean to everyone.”  Said a girl.  ” I don’t care!  I get what I want when I want!”  Shouted Sally.  Everyone stopped laughing.  “Even a dog?”  Asked a boy.  “Yes.”  Pouted Sally.  “And a turtle?”  Asked another boy.  “Yep.”  Said Sally, crossing her arms showing off.  “And lots and lots of stuff?”  Asked another girl. ” You name it I’ve got it.”  Said Sally.  “She’s lucky!”  Shouted the children.  “I know!  I am and you’re not!”  Teased Sally.  “Lets’ go.  We don’t want to be friends with a spoiled brat!”  Said someone in despair.  Sally watched as everyone in the playground walked off and left her all on her own.  /Author Unknown/

Rather a sad story really.  Some parents do spoil their children.  And that can spoil their relations with others, leaving them feeling lost.  Perhaps some responsibility is upon us, as parents, as grandparents, and as aunts, uncles and even as friends.  We could also look at the story of Joseph the same way.  He was proud that he was given a fancy robe, better than all his brothers.  He liked the special attention he got because of his dreams.  Perhaps, he too was spoiled.  Surely, his brothers resented him for it.  So, what could Joseph have done differently?  Yes, he was the victim, but, well… did he kind of set himself above his brothers?  No, nothing justifies what the brothers did to him.  Their response was wrong!  But, did Joseph play any part in the rivalry and competition between he and his brothers that arose and resulted in their hatred!  Difficult to come to a clear conclusion about this, but it does cause one to stop and consider.  What responsibility do each one of us have, as we grow into adulthood to work on repairing some of these relationships?  Tough question I know all too well!

The harsh truth is, feeling lost is an all too familiar reality, for far too many people in our society today.  And it causes them and our social system a lot of problems!  There are so many… let me just name a few.  Jacob was sold into slavery.  Human bondage is still very real and alive even in these United States!  Human-trafficking they call it.  Pick up the paper and we hear of yet another missing person, often a young woman.  Sometimes we hear a follow-up story and they are found.  There are, however, way too many cases where the conclusion is tragic or never resolved.  We hear about gangs, rival gangs in big cities.  We perhaps find ourselves thinking: ‘at least it is not here where I live.’  Not true.  I am not current on this, yet, not too many years ago, in one of our neighboring communities, I sat in on a presentation from the chief of police about teenage gangs.  There is no reason to think that if it is happening there… it is not also happening here.

There are lots of lost people in our own communities.  Truly lost!  Daily Bread, the food kitchen and pantry we support, helps thousands of folks whom have lost their ability to live without help.  There are hundreds of homeless living in the woods and on the streets of our own community!  Lost… having been pushed into a pit of disparity and anguish which they must face every day.  Being lost is all too real.  Seeing and being aware of the plight of others; whether they be disenchanted teens, discouraged veterans or single parent families living below the poverty level, this is the first step.  Knowing that the list of the marginalized and lost folks in our community is much longer than this…  I am sure you can easily site a few more examples.

Some of the people living in homes and communities outside the walls of this church are feeling lost.  There is a newly activated Inter-Faith Alliance that has begun to meet monthly in Melbourne, seeking to serve this need in Brevard county.  I have gone to two of the monthly meetings.  Brian and I went to one this past Tuesday evening.  About 25 to 30 people, representing only a handful of local churches; present where the communities of Bahai, Islam, Unity, Unitarian Universalist, Episcopalian ourselves and a few others.  The folks there are feeling the pain of the diversity – even in our faith communities.  Some have been shut out of relationships with others of different theological views.  Some are being blocked out by association with groups that are only of the same ethnic or religious background.  So, so sad.  The Interfaith Council is striving to educate people about different faith groups, hoping to dispel a lot of the ignorance and fear of others.  These types of feelings, we know often turns into more powerful emotions, mostly negative, harmful, dangerous and hurtful ones.  Part of the format is to give each religious group an opportunity to tell their story of who they are and whom they represent.  If any of you would like to attend a meeting let me or Brian Devlin know, you are more than welcome to attend.

Finding viable ways to reach out to them, the marginalized, the lost souls in their individual and even unique pits, is the next step.  Not an easy step.  Learn to hear their stories.  Listening can be helpful.  This is where our faith – our commitment to care for our neighbors comes in.  Join me in praying for them.  Join together and reach out to the Joseph’s in our society.  They have many faces and differing ages.  Let us not forget their struggles!


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