This Weeks Sermon Began with reading the story Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems (click the link to hear the story)
Last week, we began our new series called the Hero’s Journey. We’ll be reading stories from the Bible and from some children’s books and movies – and looking at the ways the characters experience profound transformation – often by being taken out of their comfort zone and using the opportunity to learn something new about themselves and about God.
Each of these characters struggles with a different part of what it means to be human. We’re basing this a bit off the ancient typology the Enneagram. In the Enneagram there are 9 different types and personalities – representing the totality of the true human longings and struggles. And the Enneagram recognizes that as a part of our ability to meander and journey through this world – many of us find a default place – a pattern in which we find that things work best and we tend to then react and behave from that familiar place. It doesn’t mean that we aren’t motivated by other longings and needs – but there tends to be a particular need that more often than not – will shape our decisions and our reactions – particularly in moments of stress.
Todays characters were likely 4’s on the Enneagram – the Individualist – a person whose primary need is to feel special and set apart from others. They tend to struggle with constantly comparing themselves with others – often being jealous and feeling that they don’t measure up against what others have to offer.
Timi’s going to start off the story of Joseph and offer some reflections.
So, all of us have stories that run in our heads that are often not true. Part of Joseph’s story was that his place in the family – that his self-understanding, that his worth and role in the family was tied to being special – being special in his father’s eyes and being set apart from his brothers. In his story, his specialness compared to others is what made him meaningful.
And not surprisingly – the brothers had a story running in their heads as well.
As they interacted with their younger and not very self-aware teenage brother – spouting about his dreams and wearing his special coat…
But in their story – Joseph’s special / belovedness meant that they were somehow less than. Not as beloved or worthy. And they hated him for it.
In both stories – belovedness is contingent. I’m only beloved if… I’m better than these brothers. Or I’m only beloved if the favorite is gone. There’s a scale with winners or losers. Either or. And it is always based on how I compare with someone else.
Comparing ourselves to others will always make it harder for us to find connection with that person. Jealousy always results in disconnection.
Now you may know the rest of the story. When Joseph next heads out to his brothers – they plot to kill this dreamer – but in a moment of grace – they have this thought cross their minds – “maybe we shouldn’t kill our own brother” – so after leaving him in a pit to starve – they end up selling him to a caravan of traders as a slave.
That caravan ends up selling him to the Egyptians and eventually Joseph ends up in the house of the Pharaoh. He is given much responsibility and favor and starts becoming trusted in many ways. But just when you think his future is looking brighter, the wife of his master attempts to seduce him and when he says no – she sets him up and accuses him of trying to attack her.
Joseph ends up in the prisons and he stays there for many years.
Again he works his way up – until comes a time where he is able to interpret the dreams of a couple of members of the kings court who are also on the outs.
His interpretations turn out to be true and a few years later when the Pharaoh himself is having dreams – Joseph is called upon to interpret those dreams.
What he tells the pharaoh is that there will come 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine.
The pharaoh sees that God is with Joseph and so he puts him in charge of all that is necessary to prepare for this next season and reality.
When the years of famine come – Joseph is in charge of distributing all the grain that they stored up during the years of plenty.
And his brothers come to Egypt – in search of food.
Can you even imagine how he must have been feeling?
To see them – the same brothers who sold him into slavery – but now he is in the power position.
And so he isn’t initially so gracious. The old story returns. I’m special because I’m different than my brothers. I’m beloved because I’m better, I have more power…
He asks them about their father and about his younger brother Benjamin and then he even puts one of them in prison until they will return with the younger brother.
It takes some time before their father Jacob is willing to let Benjamin go – he doesn’t want to lose another son – but eventually they allow him to go.
And there is a very interesting thing that happens here – the brothers – once gripped by envy of Joseph – have a very different relationship with Benjamin.
Benjamin is also the special brother – the clear favorite of their father – but this time when they return they are protective of him. They are even willing to sacrifice themselves so that he would be able to return to their father. Somehow the experiences of life have changed them and their story looks different.
Until finally, Joseph decides to reveal who he really is –
What a difference…
A moment of humility
All the pettiness, all the ego from their earlier interactions is simply absent.
And healing –
An incredible moment of vulnerability and honesty – where I think they all finally saw themselves and each other as they truly were.
And the window to being able to see this seems to be the brokenness.
There’s no comparing themselves to one another. There is only connecting.
Connecting as brothers who have been through it.
And who can now see how very wrong their stories were – and can see the love that they truly do share.
For Leonardo – the moment came when he looked at Sam and realized that Sam was just as broken and scared and alone as he was. And that what he really needed wasn’t a person to push him down – but a friend in connection.
And for Joseph – I think seeing his brothers – just as broken and scared as he was on that day that he was sold into slavery – helped him to realize that more than anything he longed for relationship and love and connection.
This is the good news of the Gospel
That all of us have fallen short of the glory of God. And we all stand as sinners in need of a God of grace.
And that all of us are also beloved and made in the image of God.
Broken AND Beloved.
Both. Always both.
And when we can accept this and truly accept this.
Then we can get on with it…
We can stop comparing ourselves to others and we can be in connection and relationship in ways that bring light and life and joy into the world.
So may we find courage from the journeys of our heroes – who learned the power of connection and found the new discovery that God’s belovedness for us is part of who we are – broken and all.