Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 21, 2011

2011.08.21 Joseph, of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Part 1 – Genesis 37, 39, 40

Central United Methodist Church

Joseph, of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Part 1

Pastor David L. Haley

Genesis 37, 39, 40

August 21st,2011

It’s an amazing story, perhaps in itself an example of the
“Joseph” touch. What began as a 20 minute pop cantata with a Biblical theme in
a school hall in March of 1968, an initial collaboration between two promising
young musicians, was to become “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor
Dreamcoat”, the musical that was to put Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
on the musical map.

Here’s how it came
about.  A family friend, a music teacher
at a preparatory school, suggested that Tim and Andrew should write a pop
cantata for the annual school concert, ideally on a Biblical subject.  Tim’s favorite Bible story had long been
Joseph and his coat of many colors.  In
his autobiography, Oh, What A Circus,
Tim Rice explains:

“This great tale
has everything ‑ plausible, sympathetic characters, a flawed hero, and redeemed
villains … It is a story of triumph against the odds, of love and hate, of
forgiveness and optimism. As with all great stories, the teller has no need to
spell out the messages if he tells the tale well. Perhaps risking comparisons
with the youthful Joseph’s lack of modesty, I believe Andrew and I told the
story very well indeed.”

The audience at the
first performance agreed, and the show was repeated a couple of months later,
on May 12, 1968, in the Methodist Central Hall across from Westminster Abbey,
where Andrew Lloyd Webber’s father was organist. The place was packed with
worshippers as well as the proud parents of all the boys in the choir. One of
these parents, unknown to Tim and Andrew, was Derek Jewell, then the jazz and
pop critic for the Sunday Times. His unsolicited review on the following
weekend changed their lives:

“Throughout its
twenty-minute duration it bristles with wonderfully singable tunes. It
entertains. It communicates instantly, as all good pop should. And it is a
considerable piece of barrier-breaking by its creators.”

The rest, we might say, is history. It
had the “Joseph” touch.

What is the “Joseph” touch? It is
the ability to rise up out of whatever pit life throws us into, to surmount the
circumstances, difficulties and wayward temptations of life, to be the kind of
person we believe God has called us to be and to accomplish God’s purpose in
the world.

It comes, of course, from the story
of Joseph in the last part of the book of Genesis.  It is a story many of us have known from our
youth.  For some of us, it was a Sunday
School lesson about how to resist temptation ‑ as Joseph did when he fled from
Mrs. Potiphar – long before we even knew what temptation was, or experienced
its gravitational pull.

But, the story of Joseph is more than this.  In some ways, it is the culmination of all
the family stories of Genesis, an early fulfillment of how the people of the
earth will be blessed by the children of Abraham.  It is an important bridge between the story
of Abraham seeking the promised land, only to have his descendants wind up as
slaves in Egypt.  And, it sets the stage
for the central event of the Old Testament, God’s deliverance of God’s people
from bondage in Egypt.

Because the story is so significant, I
want to split it into two parts, dealing this week with the themes of family
and fortune, and next week with the themes of forgiveness and fate.

Let’s start with Joseph: you’ve got
to like him. Let’s put it this way: for the musical production, Donnie Osmond,
Mormon, was a good choice. Joseph was the favored son of Jacob’s (now named
Israel), out of all his 12 sons. Israel doted on Joseph, to even presenting him
with the fabled Technicolor Dreamcoat, which guaranteed the resentment of all his
brothers.  Yes, I know it’s shocking, but
it’s yet another dysfunctional family in the Bible.

You would think, after all the troubled
family history in Genesis, Jacob – of all people – having suffered the
consequences of parental favoritism, would avoid repeating his parent’s
mistake. From the story of Cain and Abel, to Isaac and Ishmael, to Jacob and
Esau, favoritism in the Bible is a fatal family flaw, with consequences enduring
for generations. Maybe fathers and mothers are blind in every generation.  “See the consequences of favoring one child
over another,” said the Rabbis, “because of those few ounces of wool [the coat
of Jacob gave Joseph], our people were enslaved in Egypt.”

Those familiar with family systems
theory know that birth order shapes us. Firstborn children are usually spoiled,
privileged; parents are still in the learning curve.  It’s always an uphill battle when two eldest
children marry each other, the prince and princess conflict. [Eldest?] Last
born children like Joseph get away with everything: by that time Mom and Dad
are just tired, and well, it’s hard to see the flaws of the baby in the
family.  [Youngest?] Middle born children
sometimes fade into the woodwork. [Middle born?] As we have seen over and again
in Genesis, families can be either a curse or a blessing, and often both at the
same time.

But in Joseph’s case, it wasn’t just
family dynamics. Joseph was a precocious, gifted child, and he knew it.  He was blessed with the gifts of physical
beauty, reading dreams, and his father’s love. But it is these very gifts which
cause his downfall, and he winds up in slavery and exile. As we have learn
often in life, great blessings are always mixed blessings, and great people often
have great flaws.

You can see it happening in the
story. His father’s favor is evident, not just in the robe. Here is Joseph at
home, while his brothers are out working.

And the dream thing. Joseph
dreamed of sheaves, with all the others bowing down to his? Joseph immodestly
dreamed of the sun, moon, and stars, all bowing down to him, which earned earning
him the rebuke even of his father.  It’s
one thing to have the dream, but it’s a question of humility and naïveté to
share it, thus incurring the resentment of his brothers.

Then one day, Jacob sends Joseph out
to see how his brothers are doing. Only by asking directions from a stranger
(which tells you right there that as a man, he’s something special) does he
find them. But when his brothers see him coming, they’ve had enough, and so
they say, “Here comes this dreamer; come now, let us kill him.”

Should you ever visit the National Civil
Rights Museum in Memphis, housed in the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin
Luther King Jr. was assassinated, you’ll find this phrase inscribed on the wall.
Because in fact through the ages this has been too often the response of
realists to idealists, to dreamers and achievers and activists.  Whether it was the Biblical prophets of old,
Jesus, or dreamers like Dr. King, they are almost always greeted in this way: “Here
comes this dreamer; come, let us kill him, throw him into the pit, and then we
shall see what becomes of his dreams.  But,
beginning with Joseph, it is the dreamer who wins.

But not at first.  Beautiful, gifted Joseph, is stripped of his multicolor
coat by his own brothers, and thrown into a pit. But his life is spared, and he
finds himself sold into slavery, and once again, as so often in Genesis, the
hero is sent into exile.

Despite his circumstances, Joseph it not in Egypt very
long before the “Joseph” touch prevails, and his fortunes begin to rise. I’ve
always loved how the early English Biblical translator William Tyndale put
Genesis 39:2 in his translation in 1534: “And
the Lorde was with Joseph and he was a luckie felowe.” Because of his gifts and graces, he
is given a position of responsibility in the house of Potiphar, an official of
Pharoah. But, once again, his blessings contain his downfall: in the form of
Mrs. Potiphar, who attempts to seduce him, then accuses him of rape when he
resists.

Then as now, virtue will cost you, and sometimes
you will be damned whether you do the right thing or not. Though virtuous,
Joseph finds himself the victim of injustice, and once again, he is stripped of
his garments and thrown into the pit of Pharoah’s dungeon. (Go directly to jail;
do not collect $200)  Before long,
however, the Joseph effect prevails, and Joseph is again given responsibility,
interpreting the dreams of the king’s cupbearer and baker.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t pan out:  the baker gets his head cut off, the
cupbearer goes back to cup bearing, and for two years, everybody forgets about
Joseph.” (40:23)

In our culture of instant
gratification, it is disturbing to see how often in the Bible God uses the pit
as part of our spiritual education. Like everything else, we want our spirituality
instantly, painlessly, as many books even in Christian bookstores promise. But in
the Bible, whether it is the story of Joseph or Moses or Jeremiah or Jesus or
Paul, our real spiritual education sometimes occurs in the pits. Want a Ph.D.
in spirituality:  Here it is: “Pits help
deepen.”  Where are we right now in our
spiritual lives:  on the peaks, in the
pits, or somewhere in between?

In life’s pits we learn the Joseph
touch, which is, with God’s help, to rise up from whatever pit life has thrown
us into, to surmount the circumstances, difficulties and wayward temptations of
life, to become the kind of person God calls us to be, to accomplish God’s
purposes in the world.

Back when it was on, one of my
favorite TV shows was the West Wing.  One
of my favorites characters on that show was the President’s Chief of Staff, Leo
McGarry, played by the late John Spencer.
McGarry, a recovering alcoholic, once shared this story:

A man falls into a hole, he can’t
get out.   A doctor walks by, the man
yells up, the doctor writes out a prescription and throws it down in the
hole.   A priest walks by, the man yells
up; the priest writes out a prayer and throws it down in the hole.   Another man walks by, the man yells up, the
man jumps down in the hole with him.
“What’d you do that for,” the first man says, “now we’re both stuck in
the hole.”   “I been down here before,”
says the second man, “I know the way out.”

Joseph was such a man, educated in compassion
in the pits of life; a source of blessing to everybody once he made his way
out.  With God’s help, so may we be.

“Hey, dreamer, don’t be so upset.

Hey, Joseph, you’re not beaten yet.

Go go go Joseph, you know what they
say

Hang on now Joseph, you’ll make it
some day

Don’t give up Joseph, fight ‘til you
drop

We’ve read the book, and you come
out on top.”

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