I grew up listening to classic country and musical theater. My nieces carried that tradition to the next step and have been part of community theater since they were little. Both have been in Joseph and the amazing technicolor dream coat my dream coat. It’s one of my mother’s favorite musicals. Hi mom. Unpopular opinion, I find it a little hokey and my favorite song is the one at this point in our story when Joseph is in prison and singing that emotional ballad about every door being closed to him but that the children of Israel are never alone.
Following the narrative lectionary takes our texts and follows them in order except it makes huge leaps from one story to the next. Last week we saw Abraham and the promises that God made to Abraham and all of his descendants. Abraham waited often impatiently For the birth of his son with his wife Sarah, Isaac. Isaac gave birth to twin boys the 1st born issue was hairy and muscular and muscular and manly. The 2nd was Jacob and Jacob had smooth skin finer bones and like to hang out with his mother. It was Jacob who received the blessing from Isaac and it was through Jacob That the promises and covenants of God would continue forward.
Jacob had 2 wives the one he loved the most Rachel and the one he had to marry, her sister Leah. For many years Rachel could not bear children and Leah had so many. It was Leo’s 1st born son who should carry on the promises that God had given Abraham and his descendants and instead Jacob’s favorite was the 1st born of his favorite wife, Joseph. He was merely the youngest, perhaps he was more like Jacob than the others. Joseph had dreams of his power and authority over his older brothers and Joseph was given gifts just for him from their father. One day, Joseph’s older brothers found him in a field, beat him, sold him to traveling Bedouins, and then told their father he had been killed. That is where our story begins. They took Joseph to Egypt and sold him as a slave.
Joseph had been blessed beyond expectation, beyond his place in the family by his father. And Joseph had been blessed beyond what would be expected of a slave in a household of an Egyptian leader. Joseph was given responsibility and privileges. And much like before in his father’s house it was taken away from him here too.
I have a very clear memory from when I was in college of sitting at the lunch table in one of the cafeterias with some of my guy friends, said they would want to, but they won’t, try to date me, because they respected the guy I was dating too much. And I think I was supposed to be flattered. But what I couldn’t figure out was what that say about how they think about me. I’m smarter now that I’m older I’ve had more time to think about and consider things, And that off handed comment at the lunch table has replayed itself and left me wondering what we think about bodies and people and who gets to own them.
Because here’s the thing, Potipher’s wife doesn’t even get a name. She seems to be part of a long legacy of the trope of an evil or seductive woman trying to take down a good man–Joseph, who never does anything wrong. And we can see in this story a lot of stories. Joseph was of a different ethnic community. Joseph was of a lower economic status. And he’s a slave. It’s possible one of the reasons that make Joseph so attractive was that he resembled his father in a way that made him seem more feminine then men of the era were expected to be. There’s a whole lot around that with language, but that’s a different Sermon. But all of these pieces make this story difficult.
What was the role of Potipher’s wife in society or in her family? What kind of power did she have or not have? Was she too owned by her husband like Joseph was? How we think about Potipher’s wife depends solely on how she is described by those who are telling the story, those who were trying to make a point about who Joseph was, and his role in the larger narrative.
And we live in a time where someone might say there’s no such thing as a man being sexually assaulted, as if being pursued by a woman is always ok for a man. If we were to switch the genders and make it Potipher and Josephine, we would see so clearly the kind of workplace harassment that exists in our world.
And we live in a time where false accusations of rape are made but they’re certainly not made at the kind of rate that they are emphasized to be made at. But we also live with the history where white women would make accusations of rape against black men that might lead to their imprisonment like Joseph but more often to their murder.
Our biblical stories are true because they speak of the human experience period of what it means to be human and what it means to live on this Earth and how we respond to great evil and injustice.
Joseph is almost written as too good. Possibly even naive. Maybe this is what his brother saw in him and why they just couldn’t stand having him around. It seemed that everything was easy for Joseph, everything good just seemed to fall into his lap and the world needed to be set right. That Joseph would need to be put in his proper place and order in their family and in society. At least in the eyes of his brothers.
Potipher has given Joseph power and responsibility. And one of the things about a little bit of power is that a little bit of power calls you to a little bit more. A little bit of power seduces you to take a little bit more. Is emblematic of all of the things that try to call us to take the things that aren’t ours to receive. The reason Joseph isn’t seduced by part of his life is he is grounded and his understanding of God. Joseph is grounded in the reality that he is not alone and God is with him and that to use his power to take to acquire more, to take what wasn’t given, is a sin against God and against all that God has made.
There was this thing a few years ago, which is probably still happening, where folks with caption their lives with “blessed” when they were going on a great trip, or their big family all had smiles on their faces, or they got something fancy in their lives. “I’m just so blessed” as if blessings for themselves was 1: something to show off and 2: only for themselves.
One of my favorite stories of my time as a Methodist, is that the founder of Methodism live at a time when people would literally stand of soap boxes to preach. John said “The world is my parish” so he wasn’t confined to the walls of a church—regardless of how the Church of England felt about that. While he was out doing this one day, preaching about how those with much money ought to use it for the good of others, passing by was one Arthur Guinness, who had a lot, and was so moved by this preacher, he started a brewery. In the earliest days of Guinness Brewery, the company sent every employee’s family for a week holiday to the shore, every year, in addition to health care and vacation, free meals, a beer allowance, and a pension. Blessed to be a blessing.
Joseph is the 1st one living that promise of God to that Abraham that says that he is blessed to be a blessing to all of the nations. Joseph, instead of taking the blessing that he has been given and using it to acquire more, he is living in a way that it is shared. It is shared with Potipher, it is shared in the prison. Even when he has power, later in history, when he is second only to Pharaoh, he uses the positions and power he has been given to care for all people–Egyptian and the family who betrayed him.
There is a song several years old now, by Nicole Nordman. It’s a prayer, remembering all the great things God has done: parting seas, sending dreams, closing the mouths of lions.
Oh, praise and all the honor be
To the God of ancient mysteries
Whose every sign and wonder
Turn the pages of our history
But tonight my heart is heavy
And I cannot keep from whispering, whispering
Are you there?
Oh, great God/Be small enough to hear Me now
Joseph was in a small moment, needing God who is near at hand.
Even when things are difficult for Joseph. Even when his freedom is taken away. Even when he is tempted with something easy and simple. Even when he has been rejected by all of his family: he is rooted in this understanding that he is blessed to be a blessing. Joseph doesn’t live to curse so his brother so that they would be cursed but lives in a way that will make space for them to come together, again. Everything is rooted in knowing that God is with him and with him walking with God and being a blessing no matter where he is. It is an awareness in the moment and the times of trial in a difficult time that he is not alone. Take a breath, say a prayer, take the next step. It’s why this week is called to keep calm and carry on. Rest in God, do good.
Our biblical narratives are not always filled with people who are this good. They’re not always filled with people like Joseph who follow the path and stick to it. Sometimes we have the brothers responding in jealousy. In a couple of weeks, we will find David being seduced by power to take someone as if she could be owned and owned by him, then kill her husband.
There are always consequences for giving in to these actions, for giving in to the seduction of power for giving in. But our story about Joseph also tells us you can do everything right and the world is still full of evil you can’t control the world around you only you only control yourself.
God was with Joseph and his home and his father’s house. And God was with Jacob when he had been sold by his brothers. God was with Joseph and his slavery and in his prosperity. God was with Joseph in prison and when he was Surveying the pharaoh. God was with Joseph at the highest points and the lowest points of Joseph’s life.
Being good didn’t prevent bad things from happening to Joseph. But in the stories to come we’ll see I’m we’ll see that doing not so good or so coming to this the seduction of power and Empire didn’t keep God’s presence from people’s lives.
You are not alone. You could do everything “right”, and still struggle, and still God is there. You could do all the things you’re not supposed to, and God is still with you. Which, shouldn’t really be an invitation to go forth and do whatever you want but how can you be a blessing? How can you live in a way that brings goodness to those around you.
You are not alone. Even as you may hope for the parting of seas and the giving of dreams, sometimes God is found in the small moments and the small blessings, a gift from a friend, a moment of kindness, a smile from a stranger–all those are blessings too. Sometimes God is found in responsibility, in your being gifted with an opportunity, responsibilities, to be a blessing, to bless your neighbors near and far.
Even when it seems you couldn’t be farther from blessings, even if you’d never post this moment on the internet with caption “Blessed,” Breathe in, say a prayer, take a step be a blessing. You are not alone. You are blessed by the creator who is small enough to be with you in all your times and great enough to be with you always. Breathe in, say a prayer, you are blessed to be a blessing, no matter where you are.