The Recycling Sermon?

“What does Joseph’s story have to do with recycling?” This is a question that was asked after my message this weekend, and it’s something I’m sure other people were wondering. I wanted to take a minute to address this question because I think it’s an important one.

First, I will reiterate what I said on Sunday at the 10:00 am service: this was not a sermon about recycling. It was a sermon about the idolatry of self, which manifests itself by making humans self-absorbed and creating an insatiable appetite for more. Recycling, or our lack thereof, was one out of six examples I used to speak to our culture’s appetite and self-absorption.[1]

But to answer the question actually being asked—which is the connection between Joseph’s story in Genesis 47 and the conclusions I drew from the text—here are three connections stated as plainly as possible:

  • CONNECTION #1: A big part of the message focused on over-indulgence and consumption habits in our culture. This was about how wasteful the average American is, myself included. And what makes this a spiritual issue is the root issue behind these habits, which is idolatry of self. I firmly believe that Joseph struggled with putting himself in the position of God and idolizing himself in Genesis 47. Once again, two telltale signs of this form of idolatry are an insatiable appetite for more and a person becoming self-absorbed, which Joseph displays throughout chapter 47.
  • CONNECTION #2: Joseph exploited people in a vulnerable position because he could get away with it. Genesis 47:21 says, “As for the people, he made slaves of them, from one end of Egypt to the other.”[2] When it comes to applying a passage like this to our culture, it is a story that can serve as a startling picture of how we treat other countries around the world. Like Joseph, we tend to justify the decisions we make by saying, “But we are actually saving their lives! They would have nothing without us.” While this may be partially true, a Christian should never willingly participate in a system of injustice, especially when the injustices are happening to those without a voice in the world around us.
  • CONNECTION #3: The decisions Joseph made in Genesis 47 had devastating consequences on his own family members just a few generations later, which was the ripple effect I talked about. We, too, are making important decisions today that will impact future generations—our own children and grandchildren—for better or worse. To make decisions based solely on a desire for comfort is foolish and selfish. Plain and simple. You don’t have to like that statement. You don’t have to agree with it. But that alone doesn’t mean it’s untrue.

I will leave you with a quote from Playing God by Andy Crouch, who states this idea more eloquently than I am able to do myself. He says, “When we think about distorted and damaging power, we quickly think of the starkest forms of power’s abuse. What comes to mind, all too often through painful personal experience, is the strong imposing their will upon the weak, resorting deliberately or casually to acts of violence and exploitation. […] Ultimately, violence and domination, which we tend to think of as the worst abuses of power, are actually symptoms of its abuse. They are signs of a deeper sickness, a sickness that strikes at the heart of our deepest created goodness. And the biblical words for that sickness are idolatry and injustice.”[3]

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I would add that in Genesis 47, Joseph shows us clearly that God’s children can actually be the ones who institute and promote cultures of idolatry and injustice. That’s terrifying and worth reading again. And if this is the case, then we must address issues of idolatry and injustice within the Church before we address the ones outside of it. As I said on Sunday, my hope really is that the Church in America will be full of people who deal with the deeper issues of our hearts so that we can use the power God has entrusted us with for good.


[1] To recap, I talked about: (1) The waste the U.S. produces/recycling (2) The number of privately used cars in the U.S. (3) Obesity stats in the U.S. versus undernourishment stats in Africa (4) The connection between coffee and water (5) Water conservation in general (6) Disregarding human life when it’s someone who is voiceless, from abortion to trampling on innocent people in foreign countries.
[2] The Voice
[3] Andy Crouch, Playing God, Pg. 54-55

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