31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
September 23, 2018
1 Corinthians 12:27-31, 13:4-8a
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
We’ve heard part of Joseph’s story already this morning. The second youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons, he is the favorite, loved more than any of the others. Their father loves Joseph so much that Jacob gives him a beautiful, costly, robe – a robe that gives the impression that Joseph is royalty.
We also heard how, one day, when Joseph was out shepherding his father’s flocks with his brothers, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher, something they did was not right, so Joseph, in his seventeen year old wisdom, brings “a bad report” of them to their father. And instead of talking to Joseph, instead of addressing their feelings of jealousy and anger, his brothers begin to hate Joseph “and could not speak peaceably to him” (Genesis 37:4)
Then, Joseph has these dreams. Not fantasies, not sleeping dreams, but visions from God, and in his seventeen year old wisdom, he straightforwardly and honestly shares these visions from God with his brothers and his father. How could he not? They were messages from God. His brothers don’t see it that way, and they “hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.” (Genesis 37:8)
They hated Joseph so much that they conspired with one another to kill him, throw his body in a pit, and then lie to their father saying that wild animals devoured Joseph.
The Bible tells us Joseph’s story, but what about the tale of his ten brothers. They were the eldest, and in their culture, there was a clear pecking order. Birthplace correlated with honor and authority. First born was first. Eleventh born was never first. Never!
Joseph did not seem to understand that though. Because his mother was the favorite wife and he was the favorite child, Joseph thought somehow it was okay to upend their whole social, family order. Joseph acted like he was the one in charge, spying and tattling on his brothers, making them look bad to their father. Joseph paraded around in that lavish robe, acting like a king, shoving it in their faces that their father loved Jacob and his mother more than the rest of them.
And then, Joseph lacked all consideration of his brothers’ feeling, lacked all social awareness and told them about a dream he had where they, his older brothers, would all bow down to Joseph, and another dream where even their father would bow down to Joseph. The audacity! The arrogance! The total insensitivity! That robe had gone to his head!
The brothers could see that even their father was offended by Joseph’s words and dreams. Someone needed to restore order, restore the status quo. Someone needed to teach that tattle-taleing, disrespectful, upstart a lesson, and in their anger, in their jealousy, in their hate, the brothers knew just what they had to do. They would kill their brother Joseph, and they would be completely justified in doing so.
Two tales, two different points of view. Who is the hero? Who is the villain? It depends on whose telling the story.
It’s only natural that we tell our stories through the lens of our own experience and belief. God has made us splendidly; God has made us uniquely; and it’s okay to have different points of view. It’s even okay to disagree.
What is not okay is to go to the extreme of hate – because that is what hate is – an extreme. And once you go to that extreme of hate, it is very, very hard to come back.
Because once you’ve gone to that extreme, you start to see that person who is different from you, who annoys you, who perplexes you, whose views or behavior seem opposed to everything you hold dear, once you go to the extreme of hating them, you start to see them – not as a person, not as a child of God, but as a thing! As an object, the object of your hate, and then you begin to believe that it is okay to say or do anything you want to that person – including violence, including killing them, including throwing them in a pit to die, including selling them into slavery, as Joseph’s brothers ended up doing.
Multiple times this summer, the Hartford Courant has run Op-Ed pieces about civility, about respect and consideration. The Hartford Courant Publisher and Editor-in-Chief has begun a “Reach for Kindness” section in the paper and is asking people to submit stories of kindness and love – to “give us all hope”. (“Help Us ‘Reach for Kindness’” Sept 16, 2018) And this past Thursday, Frank Harris III, a journalism professor at Southern Connecticut State University, wrote an Op-Ed called “Finding Ways to Love All Thy Neighbors”. In the piece, Harris also writes that his church going is irregular and his prayers more ritual than faith, and yet, this is the man speaking God’s word of love to the world. (September 20, 2018)
Kudos to Frank Harris III; Kudos to the Hartford Courant; however isn’t that our job? Isn’t it our calling to nurture people to be kind and loving? Isn’t it our ministry to give people hope “In a world that can sometimes feel bleak and unsteady and harsh”? (Julien & Schoeffler, “Help Us ‘Reach for Kindness’” Sept 16, 2018)
It’s not just a nice thing we do as Christians, as people of faith. It’s God’s commandment to us. “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action….this is [God’s] commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as [God] has commanded us.” (1 John 3:18, 23)
And no longer can we keep silent. No longer can we be afraid. No longer can we justify or excuse hate by tolerating any and all behaviors. We aren’t being kind and respectful when we remain silent in the face of cruel words and behavior. We are being an enabling doormat. As Christians, as people of faith, we need to be bold and speak up about kindness, about how to be respectful, about what real love looks.
We need to teach our children and our neighbors and our neighbors’ children that it’s challenging to always be loving. We need to acknowledge that ourselves. Love is a choice. Love is a challenging choice. We will slip sometimes in our resolve to be loving.
And when we do, we also need to teach our children, our neighbors, our neighbors’ children, and ourselves that there are so many words and emotions we can express on the emotional spectrum before you get to the extreme of hate.
For example, “tell me more about why you believe that. I’m curious about what you are saying. I’m confused by that behavior. I disagree with what you said. I dislike that. I’m annoyed by that person’s actions. I’m not in a place where I can hear your story right now. Being in relationship with you does not feel healthy to me right now. Please give me space.” There are lots of respectful ways to be true to your own story and also honor another’s differences. We can even privately or publicly protest, peacefully protest.
What is not okay is to troll someone through email or social media. What is not okay is to discriminate because you are afraid someone is going to take something away from you. What is not okay is to intimidate or commit an act of violence against someone because their story is different, because they threaten the status quo. What is not okay is to hate someone because you are angry, hurt, and emotionally wounded. What is not okay is to hate someone because they hate.
We have been called to a better way, a more excellent way, and there are no loopholes, no exceptions to it. Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, to love our figurative and literal brother. In the first letter of John, the author writes, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love….No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:8,12)
The world needs our bold witness now more than ever. The world needs us, as followers of God and followers of Jesus Christ, to speak up about love and speak out against the extreme of hate. The world needs our role model. The world needs us to be agents of God’s love.
Believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ and love another. This is God’s commandment. No matter how you tell the story.