Jealousy, envy and the resentment they engender rear their ugly heads in our Old Testament reading today. Jacob (also known as Israel) has a youngest son Joseph. It seems as if Joseph is quite a bit younger than his brothers, he is the child of his father’s old age, Genesis tells us. And as such, he’s his father’s favorite, and maybe a bit spoiled.
And his brothers are jealous of him, jealous of the favor his father shows him.
But we might well ask why? What is it that Joseph has that his brothers do not? A fancy coat, but they have coats too, no doubt. Each of them in their turn would have been the youngest at one point or the other, and would have been the favorite for a time.
Their responsibilities might entail a bit more than Joseph’s, I guess. But in time, Joseph will have to quit helping around the house, and take up his duties with the flocks, venturing far from home, sleeping in the open air, accountable for droves of smelly sheep.
There doesn’t appear to be any serious degree of inequity between Joseph and his brothers, but still they hate him. They long for the time when it was just they who receive their father’s approval and attention. It’s not that they don’t have what they need, what is their due as dutiful sons of their father. They do.
They just don’t like it that Joseph has some of those things too.
So, they band together to plot against their brother. They’re going to kill him at first, and then they settle upon selling him into slavery in Egypt.
Jealousy, envy, resentment.
We saw similar motivations at work in Charlottesville, Virginia over the last few days.
As you know by now, a rally called ‘Unite The Right’ took place in Charlottesville this weekend. White supremacists marched on Friday night, seemingly unmolested and unrestricted by police, across the grounds of a public university, the University of Virginia. The next day, the same crowd was joined by more white supremacists and American Nazis at a protest in one of Charlottesville’s parks.
These crowds chanted slogans like, “You won’t replace us” which some amended to “Jew won’t replace us”. They chanted “blood and soil,” a favorite march chant of the Nazis in Europe in the last century. Their were taunts that people like me have heard often enough in our lives that employed two words beginning with the letter F, the latter one a slur against gay men. And chillingly, Nazi symbols and salutes and shouts of ‘Sieg Heil’ and ‘Heil Trump’ were seen and heard from the protesters.
We might well ask the same question that we just asked about Joseph’s brothers’ resentments. Why? What has been taken from these people? What is it that others have that these people do not? What are they angry about? In what ways have they been oppressed?
There aren’t attempts to take marriage rights away from whites as there are now in Texas against LGBT people.
Nobody is saying that these people should pay higher insurance premiums to cover the cost of white healthcare, like some have said women should do to pay for the costs of women’s healthcare.
These people haven’t been wrongly accused of voter fraud, with a federal government probe launched to investigate them. No one’s trying to take away their vote.
The laws of the United States never allowed their great-grandparents to be enslaved as African-Americans once were. The laws of the United States never sanctioned the theft of their ancestral lands as Native Americans have experienced. The laws of the United States never allowed them to be detained in concentration camps as Japanese-Americans were.
Junk science has never tried to prove that whites were intellectually inferior to blacks. They aren’t banned from traveling because of their religion as some Muslims are.
Their churches were never burned, nor have their prayer groups been assassinated. Their lawns have never been decorated with burning crosses. Their ancestors were not lynched. Their mothers aren't being torn away from them by ICE agents and deported. The president has not set up a hotline to report crime committed at their hands, as he did for undocumented immigrants.
The problem is not what they’ve lost. Like Joseph’s brothers -- the problem is that someone else is beginning to enjoy some of the same rights and privileges as they do.
There are other voices in the public square that are being heard now, not just white voices. We don’t just say Merry Christmas anymore; we also say Happy Hannukah and Kwanza and Diwali, and we wish our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters a peaceful fast at Yom Kippur and Ramadan; and they’re angry that it’s not just Merry Christmas, only Merry Christmas that’s heard in our land.
American Nazis, White Supremacists and White Nationalists are angry and resentful not because of what they’ve lost; they’re angry and resentful about what others have gained.
The story of Joseph has a wonderful and heart-warming end, as you probably know. He becomes the right-hand man of the pharaoh in Egypt, and is able to save his family from certain death during a famine. Then he is restored to his family and he and his brothers, and his father, and the child of his old age, are reconciled.
The story unfolding in our country doesn’t seem headed for any reconciliation, not anytime soon, at least.
So, how am I going to end this sermon? I usually try to end the sermon with some glimmer of hope, at least, if not a promise of God’s mercy and salvation. Every time I come before you, I try to proclaim to you the Good News in some form.
But today, I don’t have any Good News for you.
If that leaves us feeling downcast, hopeless, cut off from salvation; if it feels as if we’ve been left on the cross to hang there all Good Friday afternoon, then so be it. There are many people in this country who feel like it’s Good Friday every day.
They worry every hour about the harassment their loved ones might be experiencing at the hands of newly emboldened white nationalists. They fret over whether their parents or grandparents will be deported. They’re watching their livelihoods diminish because the workers they used to rely on to staff the counter and pick the crops haven’t been allowed into the country this summer. They wring their hands and they whisper to their black sons, “Remember what I told you to do if you’re stopped by a policeman. Don’t forget!”
This is life for many of the people we share this great country with, every day. Maybe it’s not too much for us to do to spend a Sunday afternoon thinking about that hopelessness and oppression. Knowing how blessed we are; and resolving to do what we can to extend the blessing when next we are given the chance.
I don’t know what form that will take. And I know as you do, that ridding this country of racism, misogyny, religious bigotry, and resentment is going to take nothing short of a miracle.
You might as well try to walk on water as try to reverse the ugly direction we seemed to be headed.
But the time may come when you’re asked to do just that. And when that time comes, when the opportunity next comes your way to do something, to strike a blow for righteousness, or to extend the blessing to more and more of God’s children, I charge you to take that chance.
Step out of the boat, in faith, and do not falter. Because we need a miracle, and the miracle we need this time is going to have to be one of our own making.
© The Rev. Mark R. Collins