I preached this sermon a couple of weeks ago when it gave rise to no comment at all from the small congregation it was written for. Yet when I preached it (to video) for peer and tutor feedback at our Oxford Ministry Course Summer School last week, a tutor was surprised by my interpretation of these scriptures, and one particular CMS Pioneer colleague described it as prophetic and one of the top three sermons he’d heard this year! This was greatly encouraging, though I’m still rather uncertain what specifically I said that was so radical, so your thoughts and responses are VERY welcome. It also begs the question:
do you need to know you’re being prophetic?
I wonder how many of us are willing to listen to, and take seriously, the dreams of the next generation?
When our children, grandchildren and the youngsters of our community take the risk of sharing something of their hopes and dreams of the future, what is our reaction? Do we resent their bright ideas and feel they’re getting too big for their boots, or do we think we’ve heard and dreamt it all before and their ideas are doomed to failure, because our weren’t and the world just doesn’t work that way?! Or are we open-minded enough to at least mull over the ideas, pray and discern with them what they are saying so that we support and encourage them on their journey through life? Or, is it a bit of both… just like Jacob?!
With 12 sons, plus Dinah and unknown other numbers of daughters, you can’t tell me that Jacob didn’t have to be patient with plenty of bright ideas, dreams and stories from his children. We know for example that
- Simeon and Levi could over re-act to the offences of those living in the land around them, so that they endangered the lives of their whole family without realising it, until their Father pointed it out;
- Judah would prove himself quick thinking as he put Joseph in a dry well, but eager to tell lies to cover his own actions when he knows they’ll be disapproved of, which we become aware of as the story of the family unfolds;
- Ruben is a man able to speak up for the under-dog, but not quite with enough gravitas for his wisdom to be listened to by his brother’s, either in Canaan at the well side, or in Egypt .
It’s no different today is it. Being married to a teacher, I hear plenty of classroom tales: one child might boast to another, and their companions will over-react; tempers flare and not uncommonly parents get involved; good parenting demands that the manner of the doing is often rebuked before what has been said is reflected upon. Jacob’s reaction to Joseph’s dreams is an example of pretty reasonable parenting – correct the manner of the doing and then wonder what lies behind it.
But sometimes, though perhaps we’d rather not admit it, the situations we face as parents and adults, and our reactions as adults to the dreams and actions of the next generation, are actually dependent on our own previous failures! In Jacob’s case, it was the favouritism that he had shown previously to Joseph with his gift of the luxurious long-robe totally inappropriate to a lifestyle of manual labour, that had set up the atmosphere of tale-telling and jealousy which was dominating his family life.
Of course the reason we know about Joseph’s dreams and their interpretations is because, after there initial consequences lead to his slavery and imprisonment, they come to pass. Joseph’s were words that held truth, a truth that at the time wasn’t accepted or understood; a truth that perhaps wasn’t delivered with either tact or diplomacy; but in fact words of truth that held within them the promise of a future situation and earthly kingdom, into which Jacob and all his sons would enter, in an effort to save their own lives from the a pitiful death by starvation. Those dreams would lead to Jacob’s family becoming the people of promise; God’s people, a holy nation from which the Kingdom of God would be revealed in the person of Jesus.
Our Gospel this morning, announces God’s Kingdom. As he starts his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus was in effect sending the seventy ahead, to announce a new order, a new way of relating to each other and to God. Something not so dissimilar to what Joseph had done through his dreams, and to be honest, just as unpopular! And in both cases, the death of one life was required to bring to fruition a new way living out the life of God’s people. Joseph was stripped, beaten and thrown in a dry well before being sold into a new life of slavery, something that led to God’s purposes for Jacob’s family being worked out. For Jesus, his death on the cross was to bring the new life of resurrection, so that every person might be given the opportunity of a welcome into God’s family.
So what lessons can we learn from Jacob’s, let say erratic, parenting skills, and God’s eagerness to constantly move people into an awareness of his Kingdom being revealed here on earth?
I think we need to be prepared to listen and take the next generation seriously, and not make assumptions based on our own past failures or the negative over-reactions of others, even from within their own peer group. It might only be that young people come to us with ideas of their own future careers, or how they can best be enabled to care for us later in life. Both can cause us to be made uncomfortable and grumpy, because to be honest none of us like change, especially when it affects us intimately.
Equally, there are situations when despite their need to learn some tact or a sense of timing, actually God is speaking through the next generation about how to reach a mission field that needs to know that his Kingdom is coming. It might mean that our normal view of what attracts young people to God needs re-adjusting, that it might not be all about the loud music we’re not so keen on anyway, or that we need to support them as they go out to work inclusively with sections of the community that we find difficult to live with, or it might be something else entirely – but if we don’t listen, we won’t know.
Jacob kept Joseph’s dreams in mind, just as after Jesus’ seemingly uncaring behaviour in the Temple, Mary treasured the meaning of his behaviour in her heart. If we are to really live out God’s commission to go ahead of him and proclaim his Kingdom in the years to come, we need to stop, listen and treasure carefully those things that the next generation are dreaming about because just as much as Jesus offer’s it to us, theirs too is the Kingdom of God.