A Really Bad Day
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-38
August 13, 2017
Have you ever had a bad day, a really bad day?
I had one recently. It started when I ran out of gas as I was mowing the lawn. No big deal, right? Take the gas can, fill it up, bring it home, pour it into the mower and off you go… which is what I did. Except that on the way home I was stopped for speeding. I was doing, are you ready for this, 30 in a mph 25 zone. In the end, I didn’t get a ticket but I did get to sit there for what seemed like two days while the officer checked with Interpol to see if I was a notorious jewel thief.
Later, after I finished mowing the yard, I discovered that one of our dogs had rolled in something very dead and very smelly. By the way, did I mention Oberon weighs 120 pounds and hates with a capital “H” getting a bath. By the time, I had finished, he was bright and shiny and I smelled like I rolled in something very dead and very smelly.
Then finally, I had bought three juicy tenderloins for dinner but when I went to flip them over on the grill, I realized that I had run out of propane. When I discovered the problem, I put them under the broiler but by the time they were done, they were no longer juicy or tender.
Have you ever had a bad day, a really bad day?
The author of Genesis tells us that Joseph had a bad day, a really bad day. At the age of 17, when he should have dreaming about girls and fast camels, he was having a nightmare of a day.
Joseph had eleven brothers, and as the youngest, you would expect some teasing, some brotherly rough-housing, some good-natured hazing but the Bible tells us that Joseph’s brothers despised him and threw him into a pit with murder on their minds for three reasons. First, they resented the fact that Joseph was the apple of their father’s eye, witnessed by the coat of many colors his father had given him. Second, the Bible tells us that Joseph tattled on his brothers. But a thousand times worst, they were incensed by his dreams. Here in his own words is the way Joseph described one of the dreams to his brothers. “ We (referring to he and his brothers) were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
Can you imagine anything more insulting coming from your runt of a brother? That would be hard to top, wouldn’t it? At first the brothers conspired to murder Joseph and make it look like he had been attacked by wild animals. But Judah, one of the brothers, came up with another idea. He said, “What will we gain, if we murder our brother? Let’s sell him to the Ismaelites. It will solve our problem.” And so that’s exactly what happens. Joseph is sold into slavery for 20 shekels of silver in part because he was his father’s favorite, in part because he tattled on his brothers, but mostly because his dreams foretold of a future that were not to the likely of his brothers in the extreme.
Dreams. Do you ever dream? Or perhaps a better way to frame the questions is: Do you remember your dreams? Let’ take a very unscientific poll. Raise your hand if you often remember your dreams. Raise your hand if you sometimes remember your dreams. Raise your hand if you never remember your dreams.
As the story of Joseph reminds us, there’s nothing new about dreaming. In fact, the argument could be made that we even see it in the Bible’s first story. The theory goes like this. Eve has a dream in which a snake appears and convinces her that there’s more to life if she and Adam will only take a bite of the forbidden fruit. In the morning when she wakes up, she remembers her dream and does what the snake tells her to do. But as she and Adam soon discover, her dream is actually a colossal nightmare.
Dreams, as the Bible reminds us, have been around forever. But it was left to Sigmund Freud to be the first try to make sense of them. In 1900, Freud dubbed dreams “the royal road to the world of the unconscious.” After analyzing the dreams of hundreds of his patients, he came up with the theory that dreams represent wish-fulfillment. Any dream, even if it’s terrifying, Freud said, can be looked at as a way of getting something that you want, either symbolically or literally. For example, say you wake-up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming that something terrible has happened to your mother, which begs the question how could that be a dream about wish-fulfillment? Well, Freud would argue that it might be a result of a conflict you’re with your mother which would be resolved if she was somehow out of the picture.
Notwithstanding Freud’s breakthrough interpretation of why we dream, scientist over the last quarter of a century have done extensive research on the brain, including the science of dreams. Scientists have discovered, for example, that everyone dreams on a regular basis, even if they never remember their dreams. They have also learned that we go through a series of states of sleep each night, including one called REM – short for rapid eye movement. And it’s during our REM cycles that our dreams take place.
But from here that things get a lot less clear. In fact, there are a number of theories of why we dream. For example, one theory says dreams are simply the accidental side-effects of the brain activity that takes place while we’re sleeping.
Another theory dubbed the “reverse learning theory,” argues that dreams are like paper shredders. They collect all the useless thoughts and information our brains have stored up during our waking hours and then shreds them in our dreams.
Another theory yet suggests that dreams are a kind of theater in which we rehearse how to solve the problems that life puts in front of us. This theory says that the reason why our brains use dream time to problem solve is because the electrical connections in our brains move at warp speed when we dream.
These theories represent just the tip of the iceberg of a vast array of other theories on dreams, which is to say that while the scientific world has progressed light-years in terms of knowledge over the last quarter of century, it is still a long way from being able to offer certainty when it comes to why we dream. But having said that, scientists are in full agreement with one fundamental point. They all agree that dreams, even if they’re nightmares, are essential to our mental health. Why do we dream? We dream because God uses our dream time to help us have healthy awake time.
A phrase that we often hear and use is the phrase, “dream big,” right? To dream big, of course, is a signal to us to think of something momentous that we want to do or accomplish in life, like climbing Mt Everest or writing the next great American novel or traveling around the world in a tramp steamer.
My first big dream was to be the top man on the garbage truck. When I was growing up, garbage pick-up was a three man operation. One guy drove the truck, another guy walked along side and tossed the cans up to a third guy, who stood in the back of the truck. His job was to empty out the cans at his feet, stomp the garbage down and then toss the cans back down to the guy on the ground. My brother and I were convinced that being the top man on the garbage truck was the most glamorous job anyone could ever hope to have.
But sometimes, in fact, often times, dreaming big doesn’t mean amassing ten million dollars by the time you’re 35.
In one of our previous churches, a woman, who had just become an octogenarian, suffered a stroke, causing paralysis in her left arm and leg. After a short stay in the hospital, she was moved to an assisted care facility with the understanding that if she didn’t improve, the facility would become her permanent home.
But Janet dared to dream big, even though her family members thought that it was a waste of time. They worried that when it became clear she wouldn’t be able to move back home, the disappointment would be more than she could bear. Janet didn’t say anything but she quietly went at her rehab exercises with a vengeance. It took a while to get to the point where she could take any steps at all but as she gained strength she began walking up and down the hallway until she worn a rut in the carpet. To her family’s surprise and amazement, the day came when Janet was able to move back home, walk in her garden and sleep in her own bed. Why was Janet able to make it happen? She was able to make it happen because she dared to dream big.
Now any time we’re talking about dreaming big, it’s fair to say that big is a relative term. Dreaming big for you might be running in the Boston Marathon but to someone else it may not be a dream at all, big or otherwise. In my case, sailing around the world in a tramp steamer isn’t a big dream for me for the simple reason that I get sea-sick taking the ferry across Lake Michigan.
By the same token, it’s also fair to say that sometimes our big dreams are beyond our reach. But even if we can’t achieve all of our big dreams, dreaming is important, regardless of where we are in life because dreams, as the Bible reminds us, are a gift from God. Dreams are not only a way that God speaks to us but they also help us keep our eyes focused on the future and not the past.
Friends, I’m wondering today about your dreams. I’m wondering if you remember your dream. I’m wondering if your dreams are ever prophetic in one way or another. But most of all, I’m wondering about your big dreams. Do you listen to God’s voice, like Joseph did, and dare to dream big? I’m wondering about your dreams today.
Sermon by Pastor Brad Mather