It is impossible, and maybe even irresponsible, to read this story on this Sunday, after the conversation that has been going on nationally this week and for some months, and not take some time to acknowledge the painful reality of sexual violence and the injustices that can occur when there is an imbalance of power between two people.
In Joseph’s story the genders are likely the reverse of what we typically hear about in reports of assault, but again, the power imbalance is recognizable. A majority person with social, racial, and economic privilege, in this case an Egyptian woman, the wife of the captain of the guard, Potiphar, in our context more often a man with similar privilege, attempts to take what they believe they have ownership of or access to, the body and agency of a minority person, in this case an enslaved Israelite man, while in our context it is most often a woman or a person who is a part of a racial or sexual minority.
The situation, sadly Scripture tells us, is not new. And I wish, I so desperately wish this story, or really any story in the Bible spent a lot more time declaring what I am sure we all agree on – – This is wrong. This is sinful. This is contrary to anything God desires for humanity. Even when the story turns out good in the end, it is not because God is using assault to prove a point. And I wish, I so desperately wish I didn’t have to say that in 2018, but I do because there are people out there who will say the exact opposite – that God will put someone through a sexual assault to make them stronger, make them better able to help others, or even to punish them. But that is false, and that is the kind of dangerous faith-based talk that keeps some people from speaking up sooner.
If there is anyone in this room that has been made to think that about the violence inflicted upon them, hear me now. That is false. God’s love does not work that way. God’s love believes you. God’s love sees you. God’s love weeps with you. And God’s love desires and works for your healing and wholeness. There is nothing more sure to me than this. You are not at fault, and if you ever need a place to share your experience of what makes you able say “me too” I will listen. Me too.
Yesterday morning in worship, when I gathered with the children of the church on these front steps of the sanctuary, I asked them how they thought it feels not to know if there is enough food in the house to feed the family. We were dedicating the non-perishable food collected by our congregation and donated to the Salvation Army for families that need assistance, and I wanted to engage them in what these donations would mean to the people who received them. The children offered beautifully empathetic answers – sad, worried, confused, scared. It went about how I thought it would go. Right up until one of our fourth graders declared, “Angry!”
Sometimes when I’m leading a new Bible study I’ll start with some variation on a game I like to call “Shakespeare or Scripture?” Let’s play a little bit of it now.
- “Tell truth, and shame the devil” – King Henry IV
- “Every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge” – Jeremiah 31:30
- “Condemn the fault, and not the actor of it?” – Measure for Measure
- “Put a knife to thy throat, if thou be a man given to appetite.” – Proverbs 23:2
- “Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we shall die” – Isaiah 22:13
Last week as we began worship, I took a few minutes to speak to the horrors of the white supremacist rally and counter-demonstrations that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia that weekend. The news and the shock many people were feeling was still so very raw. I promised that while our worship was not changing in light of the events that had been taking place over the last 36 hours or so, we would be revisiting it in the weeks and months to come. We are this morning, and we have to continue to as we move forward.
“It is good…” Peter says when he sees the face of Jesus change before his very eyes. It shone like the sun; his clothes began to dazzle, bright white. People appear out of thin air and start talking to Jesus, and Peter says, “It is good.” I’m not so sure I would have gone to “good” first, personally. I think I would have jumped straight to the fear the disciples moved to when the voice of God spoke on the mountaintop, but Peter knew it was good. Continue reading
I am going to break the rule of one of the most influential people in my life. Maria von Trapp, at least as played by Julie Andrews, sings, “Let’s start at the very beginning,” but today I am not. In fact, I’m going to start at the very end, because if you’re anything like me, when I heard the end, I couldn’t even go back to the beginning to think about what it said. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Perfect. Riiiiiight. Perfection is impossible. Or at least perfection achieved by human beings is certainly impossible. If we know anything to be true, it is this, that we are imperfect creatures. From the very beginning of creation, in our relationships with God and with others, even in our relationships with ourselves, we experience on a daily basis our complete imperfection. So why does Jesus say this? Is he challenging us so that we’ll achieve some level of goodness, even if it’s not perfection? Or is he just setting us up for failure? Continue reading
This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the revolution in Egypt that ended the presidency of Hosni Mubarak. I was reminded of this revolution as I pondered our text from Deuteronomy – another story of people who were freed from an oppressive ruler in Egypt. I remember watching the revolution unfold on social media. Sites like Facebook and Twitter were the major modes of communication and organization for those who were trying to make their voices heard. From my own home I could read in real time the passion that was driving people to what turned out to be an unstoppable revolution.
Once the people of Egypt were free from an oppressive ruler they stood on the cusp, on the edge of a new day, a new life. After a few days of expressive celebrations the time came to move forward and begin the rocky process of building what would come next. One reporter for NPR related how the people she had interviewed were wondering now, not so much with fear, but with eager anticipation, just where this revolution had really taken them. Continue reading