Let me just tell you right off the bat that I have never seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I know, you're thinking, what kind of a musician are you!? Being in love with Donny Osmond when I was 10 didn't mean that I wanted to see him years later starring in what I thought was a musical version of a bible story. Hearing that Donny Osmond was involved, I may have thought the title included the word Dreamboat. I wasn't interested in the bible yet, and I wasn't interested in Donny Osmond anymore. I didn't think I was missing anything. Maybe I still haven't missed anything.
Imagine my surprise years later at first reading the whole story in the bible, when I realized (first of all that the coat isn't described as multi-colored at all – in the NRSV) how involved the whole story of Joseph really was. Our reading today begins in chapter 37, and jumps to chapter 50. So much happens in the chapters that are left out. The entire story is full of drama and intrigue and family jealousies and bitterness and competition, betrayal, loss, new life, redemption and forgiveness, and wholeness. The multicolored coat was only a small part.
Reading this story for today's scripture would be perfect for us to talk about so many subjects. Parents choosing favorites, competition between family members, what happens when people who love each other become afraid or jealous, worry about retribution after treating someone badly, how unexpected forgiveness can be. Indeed, the last time this story was in the narrative lectionary, this same reading was divided into two weeks, giving the preacher a second week of study to deepen the message. For this story as we have it today, the highlight may be Joseph's words to his brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”
That would preach in today's climate, right? It would be a good time to hear that all of the chaos and harm that seems to be around us today will be turned to good by God. I do think that's absolutely true. The nagging question for us always seems to be “but how?” “How will God do that?”
Well, I don't know specifically, but I know it involves us. The story of Joseph begins at Genesis 37, when Joseph is 17 years old. In Genesis 50 the story of Joseph ends and we read “Joseph lived 110 years.” There are a lot of characters in all of those chapters and God was present in each one of them that moved the story of Joseph to a better place. The work of God to turn the harm to Joseph intended by his brothers, to good, involved all of those people along the way.
In our lives today, God is present in everyone's life and will use us to turn the troubles of the world to good.
Now, Joseph's brothers were already jealous of him and hated him because he was their father's favorite. They knew this because their father gave Joseph a special coat. A long robe with sleeves. The Hebrew term used here is only used in one other place, where it describes a decorated robe. Multicolored or not, it was something special, and it was only for Joseph. The coat was a defining item for Joseph.
Given that background, it seems like all the trouble really started when Joseph told them about his dream. He didn't just have one dream either. He had a second dream not mentioned in the reading this morning. Genesis 37:9 reads, 9He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” A smarter 17 year old might have at least stopped telling his brothers about these dreams. Their interpretation, knowing that Joseph was the favorite, was that he would reign over them. That makes me wonder whether the dream was the problem, or their interpretation that was the problem. Either way, it's the dream that is the start of Joseph's troubles with his brothers.
So I may not have seen the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” but I have seen Les Mis and have heard “I dreamed a dream.” And I've heard Cosette sing “Castle in a Cloud” about a place she goes to when she sleeps. There's the Everly Brothers' “All I have to do is dream.” And “Dreamweaver.” Go for it, write all the titles of songs you can think of that have the word dream in them, in the comments section. You're probably even humming a few bars right now! I would even include John Lennon's “Imagine.”
Wikipedia, the ultimate scientific A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that usually occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.” I love to talk about dreams. There are so many theories about what they are, what they mean, how to know what they mean, different aspects of dreams, etc. I have a friend who has been in a dream group for many years. Some people think that certain symbols in a dream always mean the same things. Falling but not landing. Flying. Some people think that all dreams are snippets of our waking lives, in mixed up fashion. Some people don't focus on the events of the dream, but on the feelings in the dream. Some people hardly ever dream, and some people dream quite often. Some people put all of their confidence in the meaning of their dreams, and some people don't believe that there is any relevance to reality.
The other kind of a dream that mostly does not involve sleep, is something we hope to happen. Either way, a dream is something that occurs first in our minds. A dream is something that starts out as untrue, not real.
I believe that the way God will use each of us to work in our world to turn dark into light during this time when so many conventional, typical, usual approaches to an honorable life seem to be falling by the wayside – truth, kindness, honesty, integrity, fairness, teamwork, listening, -- will be through things like dreams.
The way things usually work is not working. Trust and civility are being eroded and paranoia is rising. Dreams, either while sleeping, or a dream for the future usually require a distortion of our way of thinking. Kind of like some puzzles.
Have you ever tried to fill in a crossword puzzle when the word is a verb and they meant it as a noun? Like a clue that says “Study” when referring to the thing you do before a test, instead of a room where one might find shelves of books. Or a clue that says “Box” when referring to a cube-like structure, instead of a sport that involves punching. Or those drawings that ask you if you see two faces or a vase?
That's what I think dreams do for us. Dreams are places where we take our usual way of thinking of something and turn it inside out. Dreams are those places where we can afford to leave all barriers behind. Places where our biases and our pre-conceived notions can be challenged. A place where our defenses can be down.
If we can dream or imagine, or practice seeing things another way, then we can prayerfully be a part of exactly what our country, our world, our city, our church needs right now. The only thing good about nothing being normal anymore, is that any of us can set the next path.
We can practice this and develop seeing things a new way as a skill. For example, let's say that I believe that every time the grocery store clerk sees me, she is mad at me. I experience her body language and facial expression as what someone who is mad at me would do. No matter what my friends tell me, I just KNOW that the clerk is mad at me! What if I said to myself, ok, fine, if she's not mad at me, what else could it be? I might pretend that she's mad at the person behind me. I might pretend that she has been lifting people's groceries all day and she is sore. Maybe she has a terrible boss.
It doesn't even matter whether any of my pretending are true. What matters is that I have forced my mind to choose another option. How many times have we made a decision about something, and turned it into a story in our own heads – that guy that cut me off in traffic, the argument I witnessed in my office, the tears on someone's face – that was completely wrong? Next time someone is curt with me in conversation, or seems to be distracted, instead of thinking they are rude I could try asking them if they're ok or if they need something.
Many years ago while I was on a private retreat, I experienced a guided meditation with a group of people also on their own retreats. We were asked to make ourselves comfortable standing or sitting or lying down, or even walking. We were guided through a situation and asked questions and so on. Part of the meditation involved Jesus speaking to us. When I went to see a spiritual director for the first time later that day, she said, “So, what did Jesus say to you this morning?” I said, “He said, whatever I wanted him to say, it was MY imagination.” “She said, do you think that because it's your imagination it's not God?”
Sometimes our imagination is God. What our dreams are made of, and what our imagination holds are things that are some of the most creative aspects of God working in our lives. We are created in God's image. We are not puppets or marionettes, or ghosts. All parts of ourselves are from God, including and maybe even especially, those parts that we least understand on a daily basis. Dreaming is where all good things begin. It's where all new things begin.
We all have dreams. We hope for things, we daydream about a future, we imagine better things for our country, our world, our communities, our families and ourselves. We make decisions based on those dreams. Our faith calls us to use our imaginations. If we can't see a way through, we can try to imagine something we've never known before. If it doesn't exist yet, maybe we will be the ones to help create it.
Listening to and watching the Bethany Story Project last night, I was so moved. In the discussion afterwards, someone described Lavonne Bullis as someone who was always saying “Yeah, yeah. I think we could do that.” In invite us to dream big, imagine bravely, and then be Lavonne. “Yeah. Yeah, I think we can do that.”
Please pray with me….
Reverend Debra McGuire
September 27, 2020