Dreams and Nightmares

Sermon by the Rev. Abby VanderBrug for Choral Evensong on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer

Family dynamics can be tricky. Maybe you have a family where everyone gets along all the time, but for most us, we navigate these relationships with care and caution. It’s not because we don’t love our families, and it’s not because they don’t love us, but more so that being in a close relationship sometimes means messing up, annoying someone, or holding a grudge. 

If you’ve been keeping up with the Bible Challenge and have successfully made it through the book of Genesis, you know that the characters in the Bible are not always very nice and have their share of family secrets, lies, and deception, proving that difficult family relationships are nothing new. 

Our reading tonight comes during the middle of one such story – Joseph. If you thought your family dynamics we’re tricky, just imagine putting yourself in Joseph’s shoes for a minute.

Joseph was his father’s favorite, as symbolized by this beautiful coat that his father gave to him and this really made his brother’s jealous. So jealous they decided something needed to be done about it by selling him off into slavery and then telling his father that he was killed. To convince their father that this tragedy occured, they put blood all over his precious coat and handed it to him. 

Can you imagine the nightmare Joseph found himself in? Can you imagine the sinking feeling in his heart as he was being carried off to a life of slavery, being riped from the undying love of a parent? It would be a nightmare and that was only the beginning of it.  

Joseph spends time as a house-slave,  and then ends up in prison, really it’s quite the drama and I commend the entire story to your reading. But Joseph has a gift and turns this nightmare around through interpreting dreams. He interprets Pharaoh’s dream correctly and warns him of a famine, and therefore the people are able to prepare for the disaster by storing food. 

Joseph was the hero of the town for saving the people and now is no mere slave, but Governor! Quite the step up from being a house servant. A dream come true.  

But no matter how far up we go professionally, we can’t change the past and the people we’ve come from. Joseph’s family comes to Egypt to ask for some stored food, to which Joseph had control over, but they did not recognize him. So what is Joseph to do? Remember, that they sold him into slavery because they were jealous. It’s not a sin that one just forgets. 

Joseph ends up testing his brothers and then when he realizes that they have really changed, he reveals himself to them and takes care of them for the rest of their lives. While his brother apologizes for what they’ve done, what is really amazing about this story is that Joseph doesn’t really need to hear their apology. Instead, Joseph views their betrayal as part of God’s plan to bring him into Egypt and set him on the journey to becoming who he is.

He doesn’t punish them, or hold his power over them, he doesn’t even scold them. It’s really an amazing response of forgiveness. I’m not sure I could do it. Joseph sees it all as God’s plan. His nightmare no longer a nightmare, but a candle lighting the way on his life path. 

I have been thinking about Joseph in the midst of this anxious time of the Corona-virus and wondering what Joseph’s story might be calling us into. I’m not sure that I can see God’s sovereignty as strongly as Joseph does, in which even the worst possible thing that could happen to him is used for good. I think that gets us into some murky theological waters that are not able to fit into this sermon. 

What I do know and trust, is that someway and somehow, God is with us through it all. That God holds us in the palm of his hand, in the midst of our nightmares and fairest dreams.

And the best way I know how to communicate that in the midst of this is a poem by Walter Brueggeman, he writes:

Last night as I lay sleeping,

   I had a dream so fair . . .

   I dreamed of the Holy City, well ordered and just.

   I dreamed of a garden of paradise,

     well-being all around and a good water supply.

   I dreamed of disarmament and forgiveness,

     and caring embrace for all those in need.

   I dreamed of a coming time when death is no more.

Last night as I lay sleeping . . .

   I had a nightmare of sins unforgiven.

   I had a nightmare of land mines still exploding

     and maimed children.

   I had a nightmare of the poor left unloved,

     of the homeless left unnoticed,

     of the dead left ungrieved.

   I had a nightmare of quarrels and rages

     and wars great and small.

When I awoke, I found you still to be God,

   presiding over the day and night

     with serene sovereignty,

   for dark and light are both alike to you.

At the break of day we submit to you

     our best dreams

     and our worst nightmares,

   asking that your healing mercy should override threats,

     that your goodness will make our

       nightmares less toxic

       and our dreams more real.

Thank you for visiting us with newness

       that overrides what is old and deathly among us.

Come among us this day; dream us toward

       health and peace,

we pray in the real name of Jesus

       who exposes our fantasies.