Genesis 37:1-11 Tyler Amundson August 10, 2014
Covenant United Methodist Church – A partner in Helena United Methodist Ministries
Over five years ago people here in Helena started dreaming of creating a reality to help invite young people more deeply into the life of the Methodist church here. That solidified into a very real reality of them deciding they needed a young adult pastor who could explore this reality more deeply. I was hired as a result of a conversation of people dreaming about the possibility of a church where more young adults would be present in the church.
This is not an uncommon dream of churches, to have more young people around. You don’t have to look far of the next article describing a question of whether organize religion will survive the next generation. Between 2007 and 2012 the number of people claiming no religious affiliation jumped from about 15% to about 20%(http://www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise/). These unaffiliated folks are highest among the 18-29 demographic and with the number of people not going to church on the rise there is serious question if the next generation will continue to support churches in their communities.
What’s the drive behind having young people in the church? Is it just about institutions surviving? Do we seek to see the church survive it just because the church is the place we feel comfortable? Or is it something more unnerving that bothers us about the church disappearing?
I will get back to those questions.
Many times as I have taken part in committee meetings or planning sessions since becoming clergy I have found I have a tendency to accidentally call people “old.” I don’t mean to. Here is what happens. We might be discussing an education opportunity in the church or a mission project around the corner. In the conversation I will say something like, “That is a great idea and you need to make sure we do x and y to make it more possible for young people to participate.” I promise you I will inevitably here the comment, “Well its not just young people who need x or y.” Usually the suggestions I make are to consider doing the activity or project at a time that allows young working people to participate, or provide childcare for young families. I don’t do it to make people feel old, but our churches are older and we want young people to participate. What I need help with is figuring out how you say young people have different life needs than the average churchgoer, and yes it is based on age realities. The truth is every age has it challenges, but our goal is to involve young people.
A pastor friend of mine shared a story of his first church after seminary. When he left seminary he was in his early thirties. The members of the church commented during his first few years in the church how young my friend was. These comments continued until one day my friend got curious and looked up how young the pastor who founded the church was. Many of the members calling him young were around for the founding of the church. The founding pastor was no older than my friend was at the time he was working there, our churches median age has just gotten a little higher.
Our scripture today is following in a series of sermons I am preaching this summer on Genesis. Genesis is the book of the bible most associate with the creation stories, or perhaps with the stories of Abraham. However, there are more stories and they are full of intrigue and strange human interactions. Many would read these texts and associate them with soap operas. Stories that are not meant to teach us moral direction, but do offer us insight into human nature and our attempts at interacting with God to work to a future.
Today we find ourselves in the story of Joseph.
Genesis 37:1-11New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Joseph Dreams of Greatness
37 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.[a] 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
9 He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” 11 So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Joseph’s father is still trying to figure out who could be sharing this dream his wisdom is interpreting Joseph’s dream. I wonder perhaps if he wonders what truth there may be in it. If you don’t know the rest of the story Joseph’s statement has pushed his brothers off the edge. They are fed up with him and the favoritism his father shares with Joseph. They cruelly beat him, and toss him in a pit. Then passing slave traders capture him and sell him into slavery and his father is very sad. However, the dream comes true later. Joseph’s gifts provide him with a role to help Egypt survive a famine and it just so happens he helps his brothers and fathers survive it too.
Dreams that aren’t our own are sometimes hard to hear. People who follow their dreams are dangerous and unpredictable. They are also able to accomplish things that many people cannot imagine.
Dreams led by ego and self-importance can lead to very bad places. One of the warnings in this story, the reason Joseph’s father is nervous is his son’s dream sound like he is power hungry. It sounds as though he wants control over his brothers, his father, and everyone around him. Dreams of this nature have caused great problems in human history.
However, the young Joseph was just sharing the dream he had encountered. This dream was about how he would help to save his own people and another nation from disaster. Perhaps if Joseph’s father would have interpreted the story with Joseph, worked with him they could have worked toward the dream together. They could have worked together to find the truth in community with one another and with God.
For over a year now the idea has been worked on for us to think about ministry in Helena differently. We have two distinct church communities with styles that offer unique gifts to our community, but neither church is growing exponentially and the needs of our community are. There was a time when pretty much everyone went to church. It was the respectable way to be involved in a community. Church was ‘what you did.’ Jeremy Scott, our new conference ‘Vital Congregations Developer’ wrote an article last week that I think really helps us understand where we’re at. He observes that “that most of us have inherited expectations, buildings, budgets, and programing that were crafted in the 60s and 70s.” We, of course, have a new building . . . as does St. Paul’s. . . . but the rest of the statement is true. He says there is a reason for that:
“Two important things happened at once around that time. First, the baby boom kids were entering school age. Suddenly, there were more children in our neighborhoods than ever before. In response, we added education buildings, expanded Sunday Schools, and built strong summer VBSs.” And second, “was the rise of communism and President Eisenhower’s response to it. About a month before his inauguration, Eisenhower said in a speech, “Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply-felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.” The president was encouraging people to go to church to prove how truly American they were . . . The message was clear: Be American. Go to church. Any church.”
“Two years later, as if to cement the point, “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance. A large part of the argument for adding it was the idea that what really sets us apart from the commies is our belief in God. Most people today don’t know “under God” wasn’t originally part of the pledge, but it’s true. In fact, for most of the last half of the twentieth century, it was not Communism vs. Democracy, it was Communism vs. Christianity.
So, we have kids all over the place and massive social pressure to attend church to prove you were “one of us.” The challenge to churches was to offer the best religious goods and services possible. If you did that well, then your pews (and plates) would be full.
And this church, we are an example of that. Covenant was planted in that time period to attempt to meet the growing needs. The members that first formed the “Covenant” here were attempting to reach out and grow into the reality Jeremy talks about. Jeremy continues . . .
Fast-forward again to today where social pressure to attend church is near zero. Parents today face more pressure for their children to be at soccer practice than church.
What is the church to do?
First we have to recognize that times really are different. Truly, what worked before won’t work the same today. That is not to say that doing it before was wrong. Far from it. Most churches were simply reacting to the times in which they lived. Kids everywhere? Then build kid’s programing. It was logical and, frankly, appropriate.
Saying times have changed isn’t to say that what happened before was bad, it’s just simply stating a fact. There were plenty of quality buggy makers who were put out of business by the car. Not because they built bad buggies, or that they never should have built buggies in the first place, it’s that society changed how it moved around.
…. Once, not so long ago, having strong Sunday school and a good choir was enough to make the church grow. Those programs you cherish did, once, bring in a lot of people and expose them to the good news of Jesus Christ.
That was the dream that we could expose people to the good news of Christ, and we did that by making sure the right programs were in place to support all the people who went to church, because that is what you did. We simply showed them how to be Christians while they were here. However, they aren’t just coming in the doors anymore.
I don’t think people have been saying we want young people in our church because they just want to the church, the institution to continue. I think the reason people get uncomfortable when we point out what we might do to make things more hospitable to young people, why they feel they are being called “old,” is because we are kind of embarrassed. We are embarrassed as a church that we haven’t been able to find a way to share the dream of church with people because we haven’t learned the new way. We know that faith has helped us to live a life with God, to dream with God and one another, but we aren’t quite sure how to share this saving grace with the world.
Church is a community that dreams with God about a better world. Dreaming with God was what church is about, trying to reach with Jesus Christ to share the kingdom of God. It is a dangerous dream of a world where God’s justice and peace are shared with all people.
“Build it and they will come.” This motto was what church use to be about. What is our purpose as a community of Christ now? Where do we put our energy and what is God calling us to do now to share the Good News?
Jesus doesn’t even say a word in this film and yet God is speaking to us the whole time. Just help when asked, start to make a difference in my name, and the Good News will be shared. We will start dreaming together about how to change our communities when we reach out to those in need. The best part is we did it before. This is how Methodism came to Montana by starting children’s homes, hospitals, and by meeting people where they were. We didn’t start with a big church building; we started with sharing good and dreaming with God.
The more unnerving thing about the church declining, the reason we get uncomfortable when we say the things we have always done are not working is it feels we are watching the dreams of disciples die. If feels as if the things we have worked to build are crumbling beneath us.
Let’s have more faith than that because we are a people who saw fear try to end the Good News, and who know the Good News is resurrected. We are a people who know that we can sell our dreams away to fear, but if God is working on them they will come back to us.
Helena United Methodist Ministry is two churches joining together to Multiply Ministry and Maximize Impact for Good. It is United Methodists in Helena saying we are dream together to feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the afflicted, bring peace to conflict, and to dream with God. We are going to learn to live a disciple’s path, to walk with Christ to share God’s love in the world.
Dreaming with God changes lives because God works with anyone, big or small, young or old and everywhere in-between to bring God’s saving grace to the world. So instead of throwing our dreams into a hole let’s do what one of my favorite poets says, let’s say yes to God’s dream of a better world and yes “To handles on pillows so you can hold on to your dreams.”[i]
 Find the entire article by Jeremy Scott at www.yacumc.org