You can join this week’s worship service by visiting: https://youtu.be/S7wKelfrRR0
Thank you to Bob Childs for reading scripture, and to our very own St. Paul’s United Church Choir for sharing the gift of music with us this week
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and prayers for this week. In these exceptional times, please do stay in touch, with us and with each other. The peace of Christ be with you all.
Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture: Genesis 37: 1-4, 18-28
Music: Shadow and Substance, How Then Shall I Live
Musicians: St. Paul’s United Church Choir
My introduction to the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoatwas in 1992 at Berwick Church Camp. The children and youth rehearsed and produced the whole musical in one week. Because the role of Joseph is so central, the decision was to have two people play Joseph: a child for the first half, and a teen for the second half. I remember it vividly because I was that teen, and it was the first musical I would sing in since my voice had changed.
The story goes that Joseph’s brothers didn’t like the fact that he was favoured by their father, a favouritism symbolized by the fabled coat of many colours. In the musical, their jealousy prompted the brothers first to decide to kill Joseph, and then to sell him into slavery instead. From there, Joseph suffered in Egypt, was brought into the pharaoh’s court to interpret his dreams, rose to power, and eventually forgave his brothers when they came to beg his help.
That the brothers’ motivation moves so swiftly from jealousy to betrayal is troubling. We could chalk it up to this being an ancient story, “life was harder back then”, and so on. But if we look more closely, we uncover a greater meaning.
The 20thc. theologian Karl Barth once wrote that fear is the anticipation of a supposedly certain defeat, which has the power to shape our lives. The fear of vulnerability and loss can afflict our relationships. The fear of conflict can keep us from confronting someone who disappoints us. The fear of the unknown can keep us from changing jobs, or moving, or seeing the doctor. The fear of being judged weak can keep us from asking for help.
And underneath all of these lies the greatest human fear: the fear of death. This fear often manifests in more subtle ways, like the fear that we haven’t accomplished something memorable, or that what we do doesn’t have a lasting impact, or that in time we’ll be forgotten. When this fear comes to define the person we are, it also denies the person we want to be, and can be. The fear death can rob us of life.
In the story of Joseph, we’re told that the brothers feared that they weren’t loved as well as their youngest brother. And, truthfully, Jacob’s lavish attention to Joseph at his brothers’ exclusion was a recipe for disaster. There are always causes for jealousy among siblings, but rarely is it strong enough to want to kill. As C.S. Lewis writes in The Screwtape Letters, “Hatred is often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of fear.”
Perhaps the brothers feared that there was a reason their father didn’t favour them, causing their doubt to consume them. Maybe they also feared that their lives wouldn’t turn out as well as Joseph’s, and felt forced to turn the tables to their advantage. In any case, fear distorted their hearts and minds, caused them to deny Joseph’s humanity, and made him their scapegoat.
This story is important especially now, as we address fear and hatred in our community and world. It’s easy to point to racist behaviour and condemn it, but no one has ever resolved racial tension by simply calling other people racists. So, while part of our work is to oppose the words and actions that demean and diminish others, we must also examine the fears that give rise to hate, not in order to excuse or explain it, but in order to address it.
I believe at least one way of describing racism is as the fear of our diminished centrality. To speak of white privilege is not to suggest that all white people have it easy, or are healthy and wealthy. Rather, it acknowledges that in this country, having this skin colour means we’re not automatically subject to suspicion and derision, and therefore have more reliable and secure access to the resources that make a good life possible.
It’s been repeatedly demonstrated, for example, that a white person is more likely to get a bank loan than a non-white person, and that a non-white person is more likely to be suspected of criminal behaviour than a white person. When privilege is systemic, it’s also self-reinforcing; it guards against the possibility of the group that benefits ever losing the advantage they have come to take for granted.
On the surface, the story of Joseph and his brothers is about an extreme case of sibling rivalry – brothers afraid of losing their father’s favour. It’s also a story about a family that feared losing its privilege, a people (Israel) who feared losing God’s favour, and being abandoned, and cautionary tale about what happens when fear rules our decision-making and our lives.
But there is such great hope in this story as well. In the end, however, Jacob did not abandon any of his sons, just as God did not abandon Israel, nor indeed any of God’s people, including us. The story of faith teaches us that God’s love is not fickle, but constant; and, that love is not a zero sum game, where for one to be loved means the other is not. Rather, love is the power of life itself, it’s both the meaning and the purpose of our lives. To confess that we see that love embodied in Jesus is to say that love is exclusive of no one, neither merited by goodness nor forfeited by the lack of it.
To say that we trust in the love of God is to proclaim that there is love enough for everyone. When trust shapes our lives, then our fears are put in their place: the fear of irrelevancy; the fear of being judged less worthy; the fear of others, especially those who are different than us; the fear of failure; the fear of loss; even the fear of death. The life of faith doesn’t eliminate these fears, but it places them in the larger, gracious and more joyous context of love. This is what it means to live in God’s technicolour world. Amen.
God of Love, you walk with us on the moving edge between the known and the unknown. When we seek certainty for ourselves, you offer the assurance of your presence through all things; when we are afraid, you join us in our fear, and gather others to be with us, that we might know joy and peace even in the midst of trouble. For these boundless gifts to encourage us on our way, we give you thanks.
God of Abundance, we give you thanks for the warm of summer sun and the cool of evening breeze; we give thanks for fresh raspberries and corn, for fireflies and stars, for the unfathomable deep of lakes and the gentle wash of ocean waves. For all these gifts, we give you thanks, O God.
God of Mercy, we pray today for the people of Lebanon, especially those touched by the tragic explosion in Beirut. For those who have been injured, we pray for healing and wholeness. For those who have lost a loved one, we pray for strength in the days to come and, in time, the joy of memory. For those helping to mend, clear, clean and rebuild, we pray for support and encouragement. Hear our prayers for these your people, O God.
God of Healing, we pray for those in our community of faith who are ill in body or in spirit. For those in hospital or care home, or alone in their own homes, we pray for courage. For those caring for loved ones, we pray for strength. For those facing life-changing decisions, we pray for wisdom and patience. For those carrying a burden of concern or anxiety, we pray that they might know the support of others and the gift of self-care.
God of All, hear our prayer, as we lift our hearts and voices to you, with the words that Jesus taught us to pray, saying Our Father…