by Pastor Doug
Do you ever open up your mouth and your mother or your father pops out? What are some of the things that come out?
[Take responses from the congregation.]
Growing up is not just about learning the family’s stories, but internalizing the messages about what matters and how to do relationships—friendships, marriage, parenting, etc.. Some of those messages will save our lives, but some of them don’t seem like they work that well for us. In fact, the curious thing about us is that at times it seems like we are reading from a script, playing the same parts our parents or grandparents did. Wouldn’t it be great if we could escape the ready-made scripts of our families and our world? Wouldn’t it be great if we could really, truly be our best selves without all the hang-ups? Our passages for today help show us the way.
First, God is able to bring hope and new life out of darkness. You know how we are not supposed to have favorites with our children? Well, there’s a reason for that, and the way Jacob favors Joseph is a real problem in our passage for today. Look at what it does to Joseph? He’s a tattle-tale and arrogant to boot, and his brothers get so jealous of him that they nearly murder him. But Jacob picking a favorite son is nothing new in the family—Jacob’s mother and father each had a favorite child, and it was disastrous for their family as well. For that matter, in the previous generation, Abraham and Sarah have a similar dynamic with Ishmael and Isaac. Not all these factors have to be negative. Some just are. As a young kid, my family moved around a lot—I had lived in Kansas, Ohio (two different houses), Michigan, and California, and we were there for 8 years. That’s pretty typical for a pastor’s family, and through it I learned that home is wherever your family is. So what are some of the features of your growing up? What are some of the ways your family background affects you today? Why don’t we take just a moment to list some things—three ways your family has challenged us, and three ways we have been blessed by our family experiences. [Pause for reflection.] The Bible also understands family as a multi-generational system, and talks about how the sins of one parent can rest on their family for three or four generations. Peter Scazzero writes, “God never loses any of our past for his future when we surrender ourselves to him. Every mistake, sin, and detour we take in the journey of life is taken by God and becomes his gift for a future of blessing.”
Second, God brings healing to our hurts. Some of us may have had nightmarish experiences of family. Some of us carry deep scars on our hearts. Some of us wish we had made different choices. We may not want to look at our past. I remember the summer I spent working on a teen ward at a psych hospital, doing what is called Clinical Pastoral Education. It included deep reflection on my own life—my family, my choices, my prejudices, my future. Cynthia can tell you that I spent most of the summer all churned up inside as God and I looked for skeletons in my skeletons. Scazzero writes, “It can feel like a black hole or an abyss that might swallow us up. We wonder if we are only getting worse. Yet Joseph wept repeatedly when he reunited with his family.” God walks with us as we go back and encounter our old hurts. God can bring healing and fruitfulness.
Finally, we can partner with God to rewrite our scripts. One of the things I love about the Bible is that not everyone has it together. In fact, most of the book of Genesis is about Joseph’s dysfunctional, extended family. Joseph’s brothers are taking the whole dysfunctional thing to a whole new level by wanting to kill, and later selling their brother, Joseph, into slavery. But something happens as Joseph suffers setbacks, has chances to succeed and is forgotten—does he learn compassion? or maybe humility? or perhaps dependence on God? These are lessons most of us only learn when we go through dark times. After Joseph becomes second only to the Pharaoh in Egypt, still his brothers are worried that Joseph’s going to go back to the old scripts. Joseph says, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Are all Joseph’s old scripts broken? Probably not. Still, God was there with Joseph in the midst of all his hardships and challenges: “God intended it for good.”
When we open up our mouths, our parents often pop out. Sometimes we laugh about it, but some things our parents said or did, just make us want to cry when they come out of us. We can ask why it is so. Why did all these things have to happen to us? We can even feel trapped by the scripts into which we have fallen. But I don’t just have good news for you today. Peter Scazzero writes, “The great news of Christianity is that your biological family of origin does not determine your future. God does! What has gone before you is not your destiny! The most significant language in the New Testament for becoming a Christian is ‘adoption into the family of God.’ It is a radical new beginning. When we are spiritually reborn by the Holy Spirit into the family of Jesus.” Jesus is the brother we wish we had. God is the Heavenly Parent we have always wanted. And the longer we hang out with God, looking fearlessly at our families and scripts, the longer we have to lay them all before God with gratitude for whatever good we have received, and the longer we have to learn from this Jesus what our lives could be. So God helps us rewrite our lives with grace, and who knows? Maybe today we’ll open our mouths and out will pop our Heavenly Father.