Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church

To Be Continued

Genesis 37:1-28

Have you ever wondered why we continue to study the Old Testament. It's ancient history… and hardly seems relevant to us in today's world. A lot of it is very confusing… some of it is horrifying… and some of it is downright boring. When I left to go to seminary a friend of mine gave me a book entitled… "How to Read the Boring Parts of the Bible"… I mean, really… who cares about who begat whom!

You may have noticed that I sometimes refer to the Old Testament as the Hebrew Bible. It is, in fact, the Jewish scripture still in use today in Jewish synagogues. Actually… it's the story of their history. They are the descendents of Abraham who is the father of the Jewish nation. They were lead out of bondage in Egypt… they settled in the Promised Land. Today their numbers far outnumber the stars in the sky… at least the stars we can see with the naked eye! This is their story… so why should we be interested? It's bad enough that we have to study our own history… just ask any high school kid!

Actually there are a number of reasons why we study the Hebrew Bible… the scripture that we share with our Jewish sisters and brothers. For one thing… this is a story given to us by the same God we worship. Our God is the same God who called Abraham from his home land… the God who promised to go with him… the God who used his family to form a nation… the God who gave us Jesus Christ… the one who is a blessing to all nations. This is the Sovereign God we worship each Sunday… and this is His story… the story of how we came to be called his sons and daughters in Jesus Christ.

Another reason we might consider for studying the Hebrew Bible is the references we find there to the coming of the Messiah. Hindsight is always 20-20… and we can see many subtle references. Certainly the promise given to Abraham... "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you"... can be understood as a prediction or prophesy Christ's coming and of our inclusion in God's promise. Sometimes we can see parallels or similarities to our own lives in these stories. I often point out to you similarities I see between the events in the lives of these ancient people and events in our own lives. In all these years… since these stories took place… people have not changed a whole lot. We still think… and feel… and act the same. We still make bad decisions… we act rashly… feel jealous… manipulate one another… treat others badly… all those things we must confess daily. In reading these stories… in noticing how God dealt with these people… in observing the consequences of their behavior… marveling at how God used them in spite of what they did… we come to understand that even in the worst situations… and the story is always to be continued. God can… and does… use the bad as well as the good… in God's time… and in God's own way. God is always in control of the outcome… the end of the story.

Today our story is a remarkable parallel to the salvation story we read in the New Testament. Jacob sent his beloved son, Joseph, out to his hostile brothers… who plotted to kill him. They put him in a pit… then raised him up again and sold him to the traders…thinking that they were rid of him forever! But God had other plans… and over the next few years God's plan was slowly perfected until the final outcome when Joseph's dreams came true. Do you see the parallels? God sent his beloved son into a hostile world where those who hated him plotted to kill him. He died… was buried… and rose again. He went away to heaven but God continued to work through him to achieve his ultimate purpose… and we believe that God's dream for the world will be the final outcome.

I imagine that it was difficult at times for Joseph to believe that God was still at work in his life… that his dreams were not just dreams. He left his father's house where he received the best possible treatment… and went straight into hostile territory… where he received the worst possible treatment. Perhaps there were times when he lost hope… when he gave in to depression… when he doubted God's promises to be with him. Jesus also left his home with God… and came into a hostile world in order to make God's dream possible. We know that he struggled with God… he prayed… and wept. He too had many very difficult times… when he must have been uncertain of the outcome. Like Joseph… and like Jesus… there are many times in our lives when we lose sight of what God is doing in the world… and in ourlives. There are times when we don't feel his presence… and can't imagine that things will get better… let alone work out for the best… for God's purposes.

But you know… Joseph had big dreams… he saw his brothers and his father bowing down to him… he saw himself in a position of leadership… a position of great importance. Was he just a wild dreamer as his brothers and father thought?

Having big dreams is something I can readily identify with… my husband often says that "my balloon is going up again." Some of you have listened… and may have laughed to yourself… at how excited I have been about any number of ideas for making more money. Some of you have listened patiently… and gone along with some of my big ideas for this church.

Like Joseph… I am a dreamer… one who has visions of great things.

God invites us all to dream big. After all… what is more improbable than God's dream… peace and love among all people? What is more probably than God using us to bring about his purpose? Joseph's dreams contributed to God's purpose… and so can yours and mine. Don't be afraid to dream big. If you don't… what do you have to strive for? If you don't… what do you have to hope for? If you don't… how will you keep going through good times and bad? If you don't… how can God use you?

I agree… it's a risky business. Joseph went into the enemy's territory… and was ambushed by his brothers. Jesus came into the world and was condemned… and killed by his own people. Stepping out to follow a dream is always risky… if for no other reason than that we might fail. Goodness only knows I wasn't at all sure I could make it through seminary…and I really wasn't sure I could be a preacher. And my first church fired me! I wasn't at all sure after that experience that I could go to another church… and yet here I am!

Dreaming dreams… and taking risks… that's the stuff life is made of… and sometimes there are really tough times… like there was for Joseph… and Jesus. How do we get through the tough times? In times like these we trust God who is able to make all things work our for the good of those who love and serve him. The stories in the Hebrew Bible teach us that tough times are never the end of the story. This is a world that is being saved by God… and the story is always "to be continued" because God will achieve his ultimate purpose in and for the world. Amen.

A Sermon Preached on August 8, 1999
The Rev. Shirley R. Frazier
Carolyn Park Presbyterian Church, Arabi, LA

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