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.
On Sunday the proclamation of the word took place through the words of Scripture themselves. It’s not often that many of us hear this whole story – – from the anointing of Jesus through the last supper with his disciples to his death and burial. It’s not often that we hear how the crowds shouted “Hosanna!” on Sunday, wondered what’s coming next on Thursday, and then denied Jesus and scattered in the days that followed. It’s not often that we hear the fear of Jesus’ enemies turn into anger and, ultimately, violence.
And so as the words of Scripture proclaim the love of God in the suffering of Jesus, as the story is opened for us in word and symbol and song – – May we listen for our place in it. May we find ourselves in the passionate anointer, the nervous disciples, the tragic deserter, the mocking soldier, or the compassionate provider of the tomb. May we find ourselves and use these first witnesses to guide our devotion and reflection not just this morning, but this whole week, and even next Sunday when we hear the good news of the resurrection, good news for all people. Continue reading
I’m so grateful for the church member, Bill Lenarz, who snapped this picture during worship.
Today was one of those days where there was a lot going on in the service and behind the scenes. It was the culmination of the first unit of our new children and youth education ministry, Faith Craft, a description of which is coming in a post later this week. That meant the sermon was Be a Miracle – All Saints Day 2015. We were celebrating communion, as we regularly do on the first Sunday of the month. We were taking a picture of the congregation to use in promotional materials after worship. None of it on its own was hard, but it just meant there were a lot of details to remember, logistics to take care of.
But it was also All Saints Day, and over the years I’ve developed a love for All Saints Day. Like many Presbyterians, it’s not a feast day I grew up with. I don’t even know when I first experienced All Saints Day worship. Maybe seminary? Whenever it was it carved a special place in my spiritual life that has grown in importance over time. I love the dedicated day to reflect on those saints, living and dead, in my life and in history who have shown me what it looks like to follow Jesus, who have challenged and nurtured my faith in just the right doses at just the right times, who have lead the church to be the Body of Christ in the world. Finding participatory ways to lift up this day, to try to help it be a blessing to others the way it is to me, is a joy.
This year the video was already going to have that participatory feel. The congregation, through the interviews they had already provided was going to do the “preaching.” Including the Cloud of Witnesses banner we have created that bears the names of the saints in our church and our lives was an option. But it was in a conversation with a friend that the plan to light candles in honor of our saints was added to our service this year.
My friend wasn’t going to be in her own home church for All Saints Day this year, and she was down about missing their service of candle lighting. It’s not rocket science, but meaningful worship experiences don’t have to be. After communion, I simply invited worshippers to come forward and light candles in honor of the saints in their lives. They could speak the name aloud as they light the candle or light it in silence. If they didn’t want to come forward they could speak a name from their seat, and I would light the candle for them. At the end, after lighting candles for the saints of my friend who was missing this experience in her own worship, I lit a final candle for all those saints who had been remembered in the quiet of our hearts.
The picture above captures the lighting of these last candles. It’s a picture that I’ll treasure because it’s one of those sweet-spot moments as a pastor when the leading of worship and my own chance to feel immersed in the experience of worshipping line up perfectly. It’s a snapshot that will remind me of my call to craft worship that asks for the active participation of the whole Body of Christ, my place in that Body, and the gift of saints who have walked with me and before me on this road of faith.
A few weeks ago I found myself in the church sanctuary all alone. Now, that isn’t completely abnormal. I’m regularly running
The view from the seats in the middle, FPC Hudson, WI
into the worship space for one thing or another. Maybe I left my Book of Common Worship on the communion tableSunday, or more likely my son left his iPod under the chair. But this particularly afternoon I had wandered in for some completely different reason that is lost to me now, and instead of wandering right back out I sat down for a little while, in the middle of the sanctuary in the middle of a row in the middle of the day when I am not leading worship. I got stuck there — in a good way — for a while.