Text: Genesis 37:1-11, 17b-28
There is a new app for smartphones called “Push for Pizza.” Once you set it up, all you have to do is push one button and your favorite pizza will be delivered to you, piping hot, from the nearest pizza joint. It is being billed as “a dream come true for lazy students everywhere.”
A man named D.C. Barns, a huge fan of the Star Wars movies since he was a kid, heard about a UNICEF fundraiser that involved the upcoming Star Wars movie. He entered a random drawing and won the grand prize – a walk-on role in the movie. He described this as “a dream come true.”
This week I was on the lookout for people talking about dreams, and when you are looking for something, it is amazing how often you will find it. Ames High School grad Clifford Kwah-Mensah was a star high school football player but judged by recruiters to be a little undersized for major college football. So now he is a freshman walk-on at ISU and enjoying fall practice. “I’m living my dream,” he said.
Habitat for Humanity in Lexington, Nebraska broke ground on a new home for Lydia Saenz, a single mother of four. She calls owning her own home “a dream come true.”
Chuck Spence was a high-powered Wall Street banker who loved his job in New York but gave it up a few months ago to move to Hawaii, where he now runs a small resort. He said, “I knew I wanted to live on the island of Maui from the first moment I stepped onto her soil 36 years ago.” This had been his dream for 36 years.
Holding on to a dream and living to see the dream come to reality is a wonderful thing. And in our text today we have a young man with a very big dream.
Joseph wakes up one morning, comes to the breakfast table before the older brothers are going off to work, and says, “Wow, did I ever have a neat dream. Do you want to hear it?” Mistaking the silence for consent he continues, “We all had sheaves of wheat and all your sheaves of wheat bowed down to mine. What do you think that means?”
Stone cold silence. So Joseph continues, “And I had another dream -- the sun, the moon and the stars in the heavens bowed down to me.” At this point his father told him to shut up and eat his cereal.
What is the dream of Joseph? That he, the youngest child in the family, will be greater than all of them. So great that all of God’s creation will bow down before him.
As you might expect, this dream did not sit very well with Joseph’s brothers. If you were with us for worship at the park a couple of weeks ago, we talked about Joseph’s father, Jacob. Fearful that his past would catch up with him when he reunited with his brother Esau, Jacob had arranged his very large traveling party into two companies – figuring that if Esau and his men attacked one, the other might escape. Then finally came Jacob’s family, with those less favored in front, presumably closer to danger. Joseph and his mother Rachel, the most favored, were at the back.
From the moment he was born, Joseph was his father’s favorite – he made no bones about it. Among other things, he had given Joseph a special coat. Joseph wore this brand-new $1500 Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, while all the other brothers got was windbreakers on clearance at Wal-Mart. This favoritism did not exactly make for good family relationships.
And now, Joseph shares this dream of ruling over his brothers. It was more than they could stand.
In time, Joseph’s dream becomes a nightmare. His brothers sell him into slavery. They tell Jacob that he has been killed by wild animals and bring back the coat, with blood on it, as evidence.
We read much of chapter 37, but we are going to jump ahead and pick up the story as it continues in chapter 39. Joseph winds up as a slave in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials in Egypt. He has an amazing aptitude and good leadership skills and before long, he is in charge of the entire household. He prospers. He does have potential. Maybe his dream wasn’t all that crazy.
Mrs. Potiphar sees potential in this young man as well. Apparently, Mr. Potiphar wasn’t home very much. Joseph is young and good-looking. And Mrs. Potiphar doesn’t beat around the bush, she says to Joseph, “Come lie with me.”
What this is really about is power. Mrs. Potiphar is used to getting exactly what she wants. Joseph is just a slave in her house. And right now, Joseph is what she wants.
The question for Joseph becomes, which dream to pursue? Hey Joe, you’re in Egypt now, we do things differently here. Lighten up, go with the flow, go along to get along.
In this foreign land, just a slave but rising up the ladder, who could blame him if he opted for a different dream?
We all face obstacles as we pursue our dreams. There are competing dreams. Temptations. Attractions. Roadblocks. Other people who tell us what to dream or what not to dream. Alternate visions can be seductive.
A young woman dreams of making a difference by teaching inner-city children. With loans to pay, she opts for a more lucrative career, intending to someday get back to the dream. But as the years go by and life moves on she realizes that the dream is passing her by.
A couple dreams of raising a perfect family. At first, it seems they are living the dream. Wonderful children, active in church, they are happy. But over time, their faith commitment wanes. More and more time and effort are aimed at accumulating things. A big house, the latest technological wonders, a nice boat. There are a couple of risky investments that turn bad. The couple drifts apart, and they find themselves talking both bankruptcy and divorce. How did they ever get to this place? And what became of their dream?
Joseph finds himself in a position where his dream could die, or where he could easily latch on to another dream. But facing the power of Mrs. Potiphar, the power of the empire, he seems to know what real power is and where real power comes from. He tells her No, saying that he cannot do this to his master, who has placed great trust in him, and he cannot sin in this way against God. Joseph understands that the real power belongs to God.
Mrs. Potiphar is used to getting what she wants. One day she finds Joseph alone. She grabs his coat and he runs, leaving her with the coat. She concocts a story for her husband of how Joseph made unwelcome advance towards her, and once again Joseph’s clothing is evidence.
Potiphar is furious and has Joseph thrown in prison. But this punishment is less severe than it could have been and you wonder if Potiphar really doubts his wife.
In prison, Joseph still prospers. Time and again we read, the Lord was with Joseph.” Even in slavery, even in Egypt, even in prison, God was with him, God sustained him. God helped him keep the dream alive. Because this wasn’t simply Joseph’s dream, it was a dream given by God.
In prison, Joseph quickly gains the favor of the jailer and is given responsibility, put in charge of things. He is able to interpret dreams. When Pharaoh is plagued by a troubling dream, Joseph is asked to interpret it and winds up not only being sprung from jail, but he becomes Pharaoh’s Secretary of Agriculture and eventually chief-of-staff. An Israelite slave rises to become vice-Pharaoh.
Joseph’s family eventually came to Egypt during the famine. And his dream did come true. But it wasn’t exactly the way Joseph had thought of it in his younger days. The dream had shifted and could now be seen in a new light. Ruling did not mean being a dictator over his brothers. Rather, Joseph found himself in a position to serve and protect his family, to provide for them during the famine, and keep his family together.
The real test came when the old man died. After Jacob, now called Israel, was buried, the brothers worried that the only reason Joseph was letting them live was to keep his father happy. They went to Joseph, bowed down before him, pled with him to spare their lives.
And Joseph responds, “Of course you’re pardoned. Of course I forgive you. Do you think I’m God that you should grovel before me like this?” And the ironic thing is, God is exactly who the old Joseph thought he was. The dreams he’d had where they all groveled were his favorite dreams. Now the dream had been fulfilled, but not quite in the way he had imagined. But it wasn’t just the dream that was different; Joseph was different.
Frederick Buechner said, “Almost as much as it is the story of how Israel was saved from famine and extinction, it is the story of how Joseph was saved as a human being. It would be interesting to know which of the two achievements cost God the greater effort and which he was prouder of.”
This morning, I hope all of this has got you to thinking about dreams. Dreams you have, dreams that have perhaps been dormant, maybe some new dreams. Maybe it’s been a long, long time since you’ve let yourself dream. Some of us need to recover the ability to dream.
Our dreams can come from God. That was Joseph’s conviction, and it can be true even of our wide-awake dreaming. God gave us a heart and mind and imagination for dreaming, and when our dreams help to build God’s kingdom of peace and justice and goodness and wholeness, they may rightly be spoken of as dreams given by God.
One of the best-known dreamers of recent times was Martin Luther King, who dreamed of a time when people would not be judged on the color of their skin but the content of their character. Jesus, too, was a dreamer. In his very first sermon, he quoted from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This was Jesus’ mission statement; it was the dream he followed.
What are your dreams? Where do you dream of life taking you? What are your hopes and aspirations – for yourself, for your family, for our community? What are your dreams for First Baptist Church? It is important that we continue to dream.
Last week we helped Zoe move to Muncie, Indiana for graduate school at Ball State. It was hard leaving her there, as it will be hard for a lot of parents as they leave students here at ISU this week, but it is exciting to see her pursuing her dreams.
This I week I happened on an article written by Dan Boone, a university president - “My Top Ten Must-Haves for College Students.” Rather than listing essentials like a dorm refrigerator and flip-flops for the shower, the article listed some of the more intangible qualities that would serve college students well. It said to bring your roots, your history, your uniqueness. Bring space for new friends and bring social courage, a willingness to interact with others. And number one on the list was, bring your dreams. The college experience is supposed to help ignite one’s dreams.
We all need dreams, and at some level, we all have dreams. But sometimes, somebody needs to mess with our dreams. Some dreams need to change, as Joseph’s did. Some dreams need to die so we can dream new dreams. Some dreams may be too self-centered, or too small, or maybe we have just come to have a better dream. Sometimes circumstances in life change and with them our dreams change. But I suspect that often, we give up too easily on our dreams. Sometimes we accept dreams that others have for us, and sometimes we just plain stop dreaming.
But the good news is that the book is not closed on any of us. Even when he was sold into slavery, the book was not closed on Joseph.
Last year, Willadene Zedan graduated from Marian University in Wisconsin. She was a dean’s list student and graduated with a job offer. This doesn’t sound like much of a story, except for the fact that Willadene was 85 years old. She started taking a few classes several years after her husband died, found that she loved the college atmosphere, and wound up earning a degree. “All the students liked me,” she said, “and if you bake enough cookies they will love you.” She even spent five weeks studying abroad in Rome. In her new job she assists a doctor who makes house calls on homebound patients.
“Everyday is a new adventure. Everyday,” Zedan told the Fon du Lac Reporter. Up in years and having lost her husband, it wasn’t too late for a new dream.
No one would expect an 85-year old woman to complete a college degree and start a new career--but she did. Nobody could have guessed while Joseph was a slave and in prison to boot that he would become a powerful leader in Egypt, saving his people in the process--but he did. No matter who we are or in what situation we find ourselves, God can work in us and through us as we pursue God-given dreams.
How do we know if a dream is from God? Well, God gives us the ability to dream, so it’s not simply a matter of our dream vs. God’s dream. A better question might be, is yours a godly dream? Is it a dream that will help bring wholeness and happiness and healing, a dream that will use the best you have to serve God and others? A dream that will make the world a better place? We all need those kinds of dreams. The world needs those kinds of dreams.
And so I challenge you this morning to keep dreaming, and know that in your dreaming, God is with you. Amen.