Our scripture this morning is not a typical Earth Sunday passage. Rather it is a confrontation and a conversation about the ways of world, specifically in how we care for the land and care for others in crisis.
April 16, 2023
The Church Needs to be A Joseph
Genesis 41: 14-36
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Genesis 41: 14-36
Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was hurriedly brought out of the dungeon. When he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile, and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. I fell asleep a second time, and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them, and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. But when I told it to the magicians, there was no one who could explain it to me.”
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous.
And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”
The Church Needs to be A Joseph Genesis 41: 14-36
I cannot take credit for the sermon title or Scripture. These two items were a part of the Earth Day material from Creation Justice Ministries. Within this material was information about the upcoming Farm Bill. There were also stories about how other people of faith and their communities are answering the call to care for God’s creation but I have to say, after reading through the material, I was still finding it a stretch to connect the story of Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams to Earth Sunday…that is until I started remembering the stories which have been filling our nation’s media coverage over the last few weeks.
From unprecedented flooding in California, Florida and Texas, to our own state which just a few weeks ago, experienced hurricane type winds and severe weather like never before, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard one or more weather person say, “In all my years, predicting the weather, I have never seen anything like this.” Storms and flooding which are supposed to be 100 year or or eve1000 year events are becoming the norm. These unprecedented storms are disrupting communities, creating chaos and unfortunately, taking the lives of loved ones in the process.
I realized after hearing story after story about how the climate is changing and how we as a community, as a state, as a nation, even as a world community, how we are experiencing severe weather like never before, I realized like the editors of the material from Creation Justice Ministries, we cannot afford to do another cute, Disney-isque, Earth Sunday celebration. You know where we only focus on the scriptures which remind us of the beauty of the world around us, you know the scriptures which tell us of God’s handiwork found in the stars and sea. Don’t get me wrong. These are great Scriptures and I am glad that they are there to remind us of the beauty and wonder of God’s creation which is all around us. But…
Here and now, Creation is crying out in pain and sorrow. It is displaying the side effects from years and years of our lack of stewardship and care towards it. Here and now, creation is falling into patterns of chaos and disruption because we as people of faith have not honored our connection to the greater web of life, a web which connects us to all creatures great and small. Here and now, as people of faith, and yes as people who are a part of a global community, creation is showing us a vision of things to come if we do not speak up, if we do not take a stand against practices which go against everything which God called good. Here and now, creation is showing us a vision of things to come if we as people of faith, if we as people who are a part of the global community, if we do not start paying attention and embracing practices grounded in the care of God’s creation
When we look at our Earth Sunday celebration in that way, this story about Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams is so appropriate because this scripture is a critique of the ways of the world, ways which are grounded in greed and power, ways which go against the very nature of the Kingdom of God. This Scripture is a confrontation, challenging the powers that be to open their eyes to the way their decisions are affecting not only people in their communities but affecting the very land which is supposed to sustain them. But more importantly, this scripture about Joseph interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams is a conversation about how we as people of faith are called to care for the land, called to care for others in crisis. For a time such as this, this scripture about Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream is a conversation about how we as people of faith respond to the side effects from years and years of our lack of stewardship and care when it comes to God’s creation.
You see, Pharaoh has two dreams which his let just say the people who make up his Cabinet, are unable to interpret. The very people who are in the room helping to make policies which affect the well-being of the country are unable to draw meaning from this vision.
In comes Joseph, a foreigner who was forgotten in jail for two years. This seemingly unimportant outsider has the audacity to point out to the Egyptian Empire that they cannot continue to function as they have been doing. He tells them a famine is coming to their land. In interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph “exposed the futility of Egyptians’ way of existence.” It is not sustainable. It will not support life.
Joseph tells Pharaoh and all his policy makers that they have come to a turning point. They are at a crossroads. Joseph wants Pharaoh and his policy makers to realize that what they do in the next little bit will have effects on their land, effects on their people for generations to come.
Joseph tells Pharaoh and all his policy makers that they can either decide to ignore the information that they have on hand, meaning that they can enjoy the seven years of plenty and pretend that the seven years of famine are not headed their way, which means that they just put their heads in the sand and ignore their responsibility to and for the people and the land which sustains them OR…or they can embrace a new course of action. Pharaoh and all his policy makers can respond to God’s plan by not abdicating responsibility. They can care for an entire nation because they are ready. They can embrace and acknowledge the climate changes coming their way and rise to the challenge of recognizing how their decisions are affecting not only people in their communities but affecting the very land which is supposed to sustain them.
In our Scripture for today, the greatest Empire at that time found itself at a crossford, a pivotal moment in time which would define their society, their culture, their communities for generations to come. And as people of faith in the year 2023, we find ourselves in the same position.
“Because in this time of climate crisis, disasters of Biblical scale are impacting our communities and the places we love. Today, just like in the Bible, floods and famines show us a deep truth about human life: that our lives are intimately dependent on the land. In these stories, we see how, in the midst of disaster, the land can be fertile ground to sustain ourselves and to take prophetic action for justice.”
For just like Joseph, who spoke up because he foresaw the radical changes in the conditions which his entire society would face, we as people of faith can do the same. Because we know one thing that this world will never understand…We know that Amid the turmoil and upheaval to come, there will be a constant: God and God’s loving concern for our wellbeing. We know that our God is still at work in this world, bringing about healing and wholeness for all of God’s creation. As people of faith, amid the turmoil and upheaval to come, we know that “We are stewards of the land, it is here for us to care for. God asked us to take care of all of creation….because we know that what we will do in the next little bit will have effects on our land, on our people for generations to come.
For Creation is showing us a vision of things to come if we do not start paying attention, if we do not embrace practice which align with all that God called good. Now is the time for us as people of faith to speak up, to take a stand against practices which use and abuse God’s creation. Now is the time for us to rise to the challenge, becoming the people God’s creation needs us to be… people of grace, people of love, people who take prophetic action for justice, joining in the work of becoming stewards of God’s creation so all may know the beauty and wonder of the world around us. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, April 16, 2023 – The Church Needs to be A Joseph Genesis 41.