I was bullied as a child, mercilessly and by many for years. I was teased for being tall, for appearing older than I was, and for the clothes I wore. I endured catcalls and lewd remarks from the time I was nine-years-old. I was harassed because I was smart, because I was always reading a book, because I wasn’t allowed to watch much tv, because I wore glasses, and because I befriended the “weird” kids. In truth I was a shy, sensitive child who came from a family that didn’t have much in the way of resources, physical or emotional. Needless to say, I have no patience for bullies today. I tend to side with victims without asking questions, even though I know that most bullies are pretty miserable people themselves.
Bullying seems normative in our society these days. Last week a mosque was bombed in the city where I work. This week the President is threatening North Korea with nuclear bombs. A couple of weeks ago someone died by suicide less than two miles from where I live and this week someone else engaged in similar suicidal behavior but did not die. Why are we in such a hurry to kill our global siblings, our neighbors, ourselves? More importantly, where are the Christian voices crying out for God, crying out against violence and the threat of more? Where are those who side with the victim and speak truth to power?
As I read the story of Joseph and his brothers, I am reminded that human nature has not changed much, if at all, in the intervening years. Joseph’s brothers debated between murder and slavery just because Joseph was their father’s favorite. Maybe he was a bit obnoxious and even flaunted his favorite son status. Did he deserve the degree of hatred his brothers had for him? They were going to kill him before one of them came up with the idea to sell him as a slave. We want to rush in and say that this wouldn’t happen today, not over a robe, multicolors or long sleeves notwithstanding. Yet, we can’t. People are killed over such things often enough. We can say that they aren’t usually literal siblings, but sometimes they are. And does it matter? If our Muslim neighbors are not safe in our neighborhood, neither are we. Bombs can’t tell the difference between a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, or anyone else. If there is nuclear war in North Korea or anywhere else, the entire planet will pay the price. When one person dies by suicide, the community is affected. We may not share blood the way that Joseph and his brothers did, but do we not share more than that? Are we not one in Christ?
When we forget that we are God’s people, we tend to do regrettable, selfish things. Selling our siblings into slavery, bombing our neighbors, or completely losing hope that there is a way through the pain. Of course, a simple profession of faith is not going to end oppression, or hatred, or abject despair. Peter professed his faith right out loud and walked on water. Until he sank. And he sank because he mistook Jesus’ authority for his own. His flimsy words were no match for the Word. As he sank into the waves, Peter experienced a deeper need for God, a need to literally be saved.
If ever the world needed a Savior, it is now. I’m not talking about saving souls. God can do that without our help. I’m talking about saving lives. You know, pulling Joseph out of the pit, defusing the bombs, ending wars, and offering hope to those who have none. All this means doing more than asking Jesus to speak our names. It means stepping out of the boat, trusting Jesus to walk with us through the storms, holding us up in the moments of drowning doubt. It’s time to stand up against all the bullies, bullies who live small lives full of anger, pain, and fear and feel better about themselves by humiliating and harming vulnerable people around them.
Jesus didn’t sit quietly on the sidelines when someone was hurting. Jesus intervened and offered healing and hope. As church, are we not the embodiment of Christ? Then we should be doing the very same thing. We should bring healing, hope, and welcome into community wherever we go. Joseph is crying out for saving. Our Muslim neighbors are crying out for welcome and inclusion. Our siblings across the globe are crying out for end to meaningless war. People are around us are crying out for hope. We, as church, the Body of Christ, have the capacity to transform this culture of bullying into a culture of grace.
The time for silence and inaction has long passed if it ever existed. If you are a follower of Christ, then the time has come to save lives. Speak up against the bullies everywhere you encounter them, especially if it is in the Oval Office. Welcome our Muslim neighbors with more than words. Offer love and kindness to all those you meet; you never know when a small kindness will make a life-saving difference. We can choose to remain silent and safe and lend tacit power to those who are bullies. Or we can take the risk of doing something new and different by reaching out with a friendly hand. The storm is raging all around us. It’s time we give up our seats in the boat for those more vulnerable and learn how to embody the words that will finally bring an end to the raging winds and blinding rains.
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13