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.
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.
Colossians 1: 3-14
In an exchange of text messages relating to an up-coming vacation and reunion with my best friends from college, I explained to the host of our festivities that I had written and re-written our order of worship (not even mentioning the drafts of this sermon) three times already. My friend, a pediatric emergency room physician in a downtown children’s hospital on the east coast, which is to say, a woman who is no stranger to violence and tragedy, replied to me, “That is not a good commentary on life.”
It was only Thursday. Continue reading
I just finished listening to the episode of NPR’s Fresh Air entitled “‘It Was Torture’: An Abu Ghraib Interrogator Confesses.” I’ll give you a second to go download it and get it into your queue before you come back to read the rest. Don’t worry. I’ll wait. You need to do this. I promise.
Anyone who presents material to others regularly — I’m thinking of course of preachers, since that’s what I do most often, but also teachers, workshop leaders, researchers, journalists — probably runs into this problem fairly often – the problem of having more material to present than can fit into the allotted presentation time. Continue reading
As I sometimes do when I’m preparing for Sunday, early last week I went back to read a sermon I wrote on this same text several years ago. I always do so with fear and trepidation because I never know what I will find – a memory of a difficult time or a special celebration in the life of the church, a sermon I don’t think I can top this time, or a trainwreck I’m embarrassed I ever delivered.
By the time I read my 6 year old sermon on Tuesday afternoon last week two men in their twenties had been arrested for shooting five people involved in the protests around the recent police killing of an African American man in north Minneapolis. Two more were later arrested, all four were suspected white supremacists. It was just hours before the dashboard cam video of the horrific killing of teenager Laquan McDonald in Chicago was released worldwide. Add these recent events to the recent terrifying tide of violence and centuries old systemic racism against African Americans in this country and in this week of giving thanks instead I was asking, along with throngs of others online and around the country, “How long, O Lord?” Continue reading
Romans is Paul’s longest letter. He has a LOT to tell the church in Rome. Either they have a lot of questions or he has heard a lot of, shall we say, interesting versions of theology coming from the community. Whatever it is he has a lot to say to them.
Some of the things he says are the basics, spelled out simply, but also beautifully. We heard last week, “But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (5:8) Other things, like the things we will hear today are teachings that take it to the next level.
I imagine this week’s reading as a sort of answer to an unspoken question – – only I imagine it spoken. I have heard it spoken – in conversations with confirmation students year after year, in Bible studies with women around that library table back there, in coffee shops and airplane seats when someone with some bones to pick with the church finds out what it is I do. The question is this, see if you’ve ever asked it, “So if Jesus goes to such great lengths to save us, if God loves us so much that God’s going to forgive any sin we have anyway, why not just keep on living the fun life? Why bother to be good anyway? We’ll get forgiveness for our sins anyway, won’t we?” Continue reading