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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
September 25 2022
Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
When we first made the decision to use the Narrative Lectionary in worship, one of the things that excited us is that it includes readings that aren’t included in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is the one we’ve been using for years.
Today’s reading is one of the ones we haven’t ever heard on a Sunday morning. We get other parts of Joseph’s story, but not this one.
A major part of Joseph’s story centers around trauma, not just to one person but trauma that begins with him and spans generations. His story is also a continuation of the story of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love.
We first hear Joseph’s name in Genesis chapter 30 when he’s born. And then not again until chapter 37. As always, when you have some time, I invite you to read his whole story because it continues beyond this chapter, and it’s foundational for what happens in Exodus.
We pick up the story today after Joseph’s brothers have sold him to a group of traders. They’ve taken him to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar, the captain of the guard of Pharaoh’s army.
At this point in the story, in modern language, Joseph has been kidnapped, trafficked, and enslaved, and he is an ethnic minority in a foreign country. He has no rights and no power.
But God was with him. God blessed him and made him prosper. And because Joseph prospered, Potiphar prospered. And instead of getting jealous, Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household so that the success would continue.
And then one day, Potiphar’s wife noticed Joseph and demanded that he sleep with her, and he refused. And she didn’t take “no” for an answer. She demanded it of him day after day, and he kept refusing, even saying that it would be a sin against God. And then one day, she grabbed his garment and he ran away from her, leaving her literally holding the clothes he’d been wearing.
This wasn’t about Potiphar’s wife expressing desire. It was about power. And it’s sometimes hard to imagine a woman asserting that type of power over a man – especially in ancient times. But if you flip the genders, and imagine that Joseph was a woman who had been trafficked and enslaved and was an ethnic minority in a foreign country, whose master’s husband was making the demands, it’s the same power dynamic.
We aren’t told why Potiphar’s wife caused a scene. No one saw what happened. But her false accusations led to Joseph being imprisoned.
But even in prison, Joseph experienced God’s steadfast love. God made him prosper in jail. And eventually Joseph was taken out of jail to serve in Pharaoh’s household, and ultimately became second in command in the entire country.
What we learn in this story is that, despite everything that happened to Joseph, he remained loyal and faithful to God. He recognized God’s presence and faithfulness to him – the blessings that came from God and worked through him, because God was faithful to him.
There are faith traditions that believe that when you’re faithful to God, everything in your life is sunshine and roses. And that if things aren’t going swimmingly, it’s because your faith isn’t strong enough. We know that isn’t true.
Throughout scripture we learn that faithfulness to God and to God’s ways doesn’t usually lead to worldly rewards. If anything, life gets a little more complicated.
What scripture also teaches us, though – over and over again – is that God remains faithful to God’s people in every circumstance. It’s clearly stated in Joseph’s story. In all that he went through, the Lord was with Joseph.
But that doesn’t cancel out or diminish Joseph’s experiences, or make them less painful, or even make it okay that he went through what he did. It’s the same for us. God’s presence doesn’t cancel out or minimize the bad or difficult things we go through, even the lowest moments in our lives. But we know that God is with us in every circumstance.
The congregation I served in Phoenix was bilingual English and Spanish – and still is bilingual, and many of the people who attended the Spanish language worship service were undocumented. So the congregation had become known in the community as a place that people could go to if they needed help.
One Sunday, after I’d been there for maybe a year – so I was still learning how to help, and I didn’t know a lot – I walked into the Narthex ten minutes before the Spanish service started and there was a man standing there with a suitcase.
I greeted him and asked if he was there for worship, and he said, “I don’t know where my family is.” And as I was trying to figure out what to say, he said, “My wife and daughter got on a plane in Mexico City yesterday to come here. Their documents were in order, but they were detained by immigration when they got here. I don’t know why, and I don’t know where they are.”
And as he was saying all of this, he pulled a piece of paper out of his jacket pocket and said, “And they said you could help me here.” The names of several organizations were written on the paper, and he pointed to the church’s name.
And I said, “Don’t leave. Worship is about to start, I will help you figure this out as soon as it’s done.” And he brought his suitcase into the sanctuary with him and waited. But after worship that day, there was a celebration for something that I needed to be a part of, and so I told him again, “Don’t leave.” He followed us all into the celebration and waited.
It was after 2pm by the time everything was done and I could finally start to think about how I was going to try and help him. And I noticed he was at a table talking with two people who attended worship maybe three times a year. And the reason they attended so infrequently is because on the other Sundays they were in the community advising migrants about what to do in case they were arrested or detained.
And as I walked up to the table, they said, “We’ve got this, Pastora. We know who he needs to call and where he needs to look.”
Each of us has a story about God’s presence in the lowest moments of our lives. How God worked in the situation, or worked through the people that entered into the moment with us, and brought life out of a place of death.
When we share our experiences of God with others, either by talking about them or by becoming someone through whom God works for someone else, God’s presence continues to be made known. And God’s faithfulness to humanity continues to be experienced.
It doesn’t make the moments any less painful. It doesn’t mean God intended, or intends, for you or anyone else to suffer. God doesn’t work like that. What God promises is to be with us every second, giving us the courage and the tenacity to keep taking the next step.
This promise that God made to Abraham, and continued with Joseph and others, and fulfilled in Jesus, is a promise that will last for all time. It’s a promise to be with us in every circumstance, even in the lowest moments of our lives. Thanks be to God! Amen.