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Dont Throw Your Brother Under the Bus

August 07, 2011

by John Partridge

Scripture: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

Romans 10:5-15

How often have you been tempted to blame your troubles on someone else? It seems to be human nature to at least be tempted to do this and it seems that in our modern culture, more people than ever are doing it. Often the person who gets blamed has nothing at all to do with the blame that eventually falls on them and sometimes this innocent bystander goes to jail for something they didnt do or worse. In the 1980s at radio station WROR in Boston, the general manager invented a phrase that the entire staff adopted and began using. After a merger with a local sports station, those staffers also began using the new phrase, as well as print reporters who worked with the radio staffers and finally it spread to other regional and national newspapers, magazines and other publications. Today nearly everyone refers to the act of sacrificing an innocent or undeserving person in order to save yourself as throwing someone under the bus. Politicians have frequently been accused of this when they distance themselves from former friends and colleagues who, although they might once have been close, now represent a political liability of some kind. In Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, we see a far more sinister version of this played out in the real life of Jacobs sons

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacobs family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his fathers wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
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Now his brothers had gone to graze their fathers flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them. Very well, he replied. So he said to him, Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me. Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron. When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, What are you looking for?
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He replied, Im looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks? They have moved on from here, the man answered. I heard them say, Lets go to Dothan. 1


So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. Here comes that dreamer! they said to each other. 20 Come now, lets kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then well see what comes of his dreams. When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. Lets not take his life, he said. 22 Dont shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but dont lay a hand on him. Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robethe ornate robe he was wearing 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, lets sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood. His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. The brothers made a serious mistake. They messed up. They had been watching their fathers sheep and had been goofing off. Already they had been caught and ratted out by their youngest brother Joseph and apparently they dont care for it to happen again. When they see him coming they plot to kill him but instead they throw him down into an empty cistern. Later, before Reuben, the oldest brother, can rescue him, they take Joseph out and sell him into slavery. In todays language, Jacobs sons threw their brother Joseph under the bus. In order to get out of trouble, in order to make their lives easier, they get rid of the opposition even though he is their baby brother. Obviously, blaming your troubles on other people is not morally or ethically a great idea. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own actions and as adults, common decency demands that we take responsibility for the things that we have done. Just as importantly, we must be careful that we do not cause harm to come to innocent people who have done nothing to deserve it. The thing is, we sometimes throw innocent people under the bus not because we are trying to get out of trouble, and not even because we have a lot to gain from doing so, but simply because we disagree with their point of view We see this a lot in Christian circles. We have all sorts of varieties of churches that call themselves Christian. Some are Christian and some are not but even so, often those churches that we agree are indeed Christian have such differences between them that they throw one another under the bus. In Romans 10:5-15, Paul boils our faith down to some pretty simple essential elements
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Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: The person who does these things will live by them. 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: Do not say in your heart, Who will ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or Who will descend into the deep? (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, 2

and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame. 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentilethe same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! Paul borrows the words of Moses saying that you do not have to travel the world to find the truth. You dont have to climb a mountain to talk to a guru in an ashram in India and you dont have to have some kind of near death experience of either heaven or hell to know the truth, you need only have faith in Jesus Christ. Boiled down to its simplest elements, if you have faith that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the dead, trust him to be the master of your life, if you actually do the things that Jesus taught and if you are not afraid to use their mouth to tell others about their faith then, by Pauls definition, you are a Christian. For Paul it is faith in Jesus Christ and your response to that faith that define you as a Christian. Whats more, Paul says that there is no difference between a Jew and a Gentile, two groups of people who, in his world, could have hardly been more different in belief, in lifestyle and in culture. Pauls two-part conclusion is that Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, and regardless of our differences, it is the responsibility of every Christian to tell others so that they can put their faith in Jesus too. In recent months weve heard stories about the continuing split in the Episcopal Church over homosexuality and other issues as well as the battles that the Presbyterian Church is having over the same issue. Frankly, our church is not immune from this discussion either and as we approach our churchs General Conference next year where the Discipline and the policies of our church are written, we will hear these arguments again as well. Dont get me wrong. I have strong feelings on this issue but I know many people who are on both sides of this issue and if there is one thing that I know for sure, it is that they all love Jesus, they all trust him and are doing the best they know how to obey the things that he has taught us. As we look around the world and even in our own village, we see a wide variety of Christian churches. At times we get into disagreements over how baptism should be conducted, how church administration should be conducted, whether God chooses us to follow him or whether we have the freedom to choose him, we disagree and sometimes we argue over all sorts of fine theological points and while I think that by and large the United Methodist Church has gotten it right (thats why Im here after all), I do not doubt that these brothers and sisters are Christian regardless of the color of their skin, the national flag that they fly, or the label on the door of the church. Having said all that, we still need to be cautious. There are churches that call themselves Christian that teach things that so different from the teachings of Jesus Christ that we need to part ways and even doubt that their Christianity. I went to seminary with a woman who felt a call to ministry as she worshipped in her home church but as she began to study scripture and the teachings of Jesus she could not explain some of the beliefs and practices of her church. She began to ask questions of her pastor that he refused to answer or whose answers she found to be profoundly unsatisfying and, ultimately, she felt the need to leave her home church and find another house of worship that taught the things that Jesus taught. 3

So thats this all about? Disagreements between Christian brothers and sisters are nothing new but we must be careful of where we allow our disagreements to lead us. In the late 1700s, with the split between Protestants and the Catholic Church still fresh and the wounds on both sides still bleeding, John Wesley and many other theologians of his day wrote terrible things about Papists and the Catholic Church. Martin Luther was known to be loving to those persons with whom he agreed and downright nasty and mean to those who dared to disagree with him. From our position in history, these attitudes seem ridiculous but, in our own way, we are sometimes prone to doing the same things. When we have a theological disagreement with one another we say and do things that we should not. Just because we disagree does not give us permission to act like Jacobs sons and throw our brothers (and sisters) under the bus. It may be that we disagree over homosexuality, or abortion, or whether the policies of the President of the United States are good or bad. It may be that we disagree over baptism, or music, or speaking in tongues, or spiritual healing or other points of theology and our disagreements may sometimes be so great that we cannot worship together but even so, God may choose to work through those with whom we disagree. In 1846 the Methodist Episcopal Church, South was formed in slaveholding states in response to the antislavery policies and doctrine that had been adopted in the Methodist Episcopal Church of the United States. Attempts to prevent a split continued until the final days but the differences between the two groups were too great. The divided church was finally reunified in 1939 but the story doesnt end there. While we, in the North, sometimes get proud of ourselves for doing what was right as it relates to slavery, after the Methodist Episcopal Church split, it was the northern church who ostracized and alienated blacks, who forced them to worship separately from white worshippers and who ultimately drove them to split from the church and form their own denominations. At the same time it was the southern Methodists who did a better job at sending missionaries to teach black slaves about Jesus and while the membership of the northern church became stagnant, it was the southern church that demonstrated significant growth. Even in our disagreements, even when we are sure that we are right, we must allow room for God to do what God will do. In the world where we live we have become accustomed to our politicians and even members of the media using increasingly strong language and offensive rhetoric to tear down and destroy those with whom they disagree. As members of the church that belongs to Jesus Christ we need to remember the lessons that were taught to us by the apostle Paul and by Jacobs sons. When we disagree, let us continue to love one another despite our differences. Regardless of our differences, we all remain Christian. It is okay to disagree, but we must find a way to love one another through the differences. Whatever you do Dont throw your brother under the bus.

You have been reading a message presented at Barnesville First United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor of Barnesville First. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Barnesville First UMC at 123 W. Church St., Barnesville, OH 43713. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at John Partridge. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.