Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sibling Rivalry!

We often think of the Bible is about big theological concepts.
We think it is about the meaning of God, the meaning of existence.
And certainly there are theological concepts in the Bible.
But really what most of the Bible is about is family.
The Bible is a story about a really big family that struggles to live together, and love each other.
The Bible is about how God’s promises come true despite all of the complications that come with family.
This Lent we are going to be hearing and talking about one of the central Biblical stories about family.
Our Sunday school is going to be learning about the story of Joseph, and I thought it would be interesting and fun for us as a congregation to also hear that story in worship.
It will be the texts that I preach on this lent.

It is important from the start to understand what is going on in this story.
God made a promise to Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.
And most of Genesis is the story of the obstacles that make it difficult for that promise to come true.
What we hear this morning is that Joseph is the favorite of 12 sons of Jacob, who was Abraham’s grandson.
My reading of the story is that Joseph is a spoiled brat.
He likes to brag to his brothers about how great he is going to be, and he often tattles on them to their father.

Anyone who has had a sibling can identify with these things.
Within a family there is often sibling rivalry.
Siblings often tattle on their brother or sister.
They will often feel superior to the other.
In our house when one of our children are in trouble the other one seems to take great pleasure that their sibling is in trouble and they are not.
Sometimes they even brag about how good their behavior is compared to the other.
Sibling rivalry is part of life for those of us who have a sister or brother.
According to an article I read in Psychology today, “While few adult siblings have severed their ties completely, approximately one-third of them describe their relationship as rivalrous or distant.
They don't get along with their sibling or have little in common, spend limited time together, and use words like "competitive," "humiliating," and "hurtful" to depict their childhoods.
So that is what is so great about the Bible is that it helps us understand God by telling us stories we can identify with because they are about real life.
We can understand why Joseph’s brothers “hated” him.
Joseph’s story is a human story.
Today we see that it starts in a human way.
With a rivalry with between brothers, it starts with sin.

It is appropriate that we begin our Lenten journey here with sin.
In the start of this story there is plenty of sin to go around.
First, we have Jacob.
Jacob should know better than to favor one son over the others.
Sibling rivalry is often caused by parents who show favoritism to one child over another.
It is caused by a parent’s inability to recognize that all of our children are gifts of God.
Each of them come with unique gifts and talents and as parents we have to be careful not to try and make our children feel that they are less than their siblings.
We have to uphold the wonder and beauty of each.
We have to celebrate their accomplishments of each as they have the ability.
Perhaps the worst thing a parent can say to their child is “why can’t you be like your brother/sister.”
Jacob is guilty of playing favorites and stoking the sibling rivalry.

Second, is Joseph.
Like I said earlier he is a bratty kid.
He goes around telling his brothers about his dreams of greatness, telling on them to their father.
I can imagine showing off his wonderful coat.
He fails to recognize that being a sibling also means having some sense of humility.
Perhaps one of the best things our siblings can do for us is to teach us how to get along with other people.
They teach us that we are not the center of the universe.
They can teach us how to be humble and gracious as we allow others the spotlight.
Joseph is young and has not learned this.

And of course, the brothers.
I don’t really even need to talk about them.
No matter how much of brat he is Joseph does not deserve to be sold into slavery.
There is no excuse to lie and tell your father that your brother is dead.
That is the point it is hard for us to allow our siblings to have success.
But Joseph’s brothers go an extra mile in how much they let their hate for him overtake their actions.

There is plenty of sin in this story.
And we see right away that this sin is putting in danger God’s promise.
What will it mean for one of the brothers to be sold into foreign hands.
This is a big problem.
What will it mean for Jacob?
What will happen to Joseph?
What will happen to the brothers?
God can’t allow the brothers to prosper after what they did to Joseph?
Will Jacob recover after losing his favorite son?
Will Joseph survive in a foreign land?
The Promise of God is a promise of a family together being God’s people.
This story puts all that in jeopardy.

Isn’t that always the issue?
How will our sin, our petty jealousy, our immaturity, our mishandling of the things God has put in our hands, mess up God’s promises?
That is where our story begins.
Because we are in many ways like Joseph we have dreams of grandeur in our head.
We are seeing signs all around of how much we are special.
But we are unable to see beyond that.

In my last congregation there were two sisters who didn’t like each other.
I was told on my very first Sunday at the congregation that the two sisters did not talk.
They hated each other.
I was wondering how that was going to affect the ministry of that congregation.
I was wondering how I would navigate that relationship.
I don’t remember why they were fighting.
And I don’t remember it ever being a real problem, except that one of them didn’t come to church very often.
But when I first heard of it I didn’t know how this would affect the church family.
That is what we are talking about this morning.
How our sin gets in the way.
How it is always a question mark in the scheme of things.
And perhaps the biggest problem is that we don’t see it.
Jacob wasn’t aware of how his behavior was affecting his sons.
Joseph seems unaware that his dreams made his brothers hate him more.
The brothers don’t seem bothered by what they did to Joseph.
How would this story look different if the characters knew about how their sin affects others?

That is what lent can do for all of us.
It gives us time to take stock of how our sin hurts other people.
It gives us time to think about how we can mend the family of God by not being blind to the havoc our sin takes on others.
How can we repair the relationships of those we have done wrong?
How can we find a way to a kinder and gentler interaction with our family?

Families can be difficult.
The Bible is story about family.
About the ways we hurt each other.
This lent let us take time to consider how we have hurt one another and make amends to each other for it.
Let us put aside sibling rivalry to love each other, to celebrate each others gifts, to humbly allow others to shine in the spotlight.
Let us put aside our jealousy, our blindness to the needs of others, our immaturity, and our dreams of grandeur so that we can be part of God’s family that lives in God’s promises.

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