September 23, 2018 Sermon

[Gen 39:1-23 RSV]1 Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Pot'i-phar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ish'maelites who had brought him down there. 2 The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian, 3 and his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was upon all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge; and having him he had no concern for anything but the food which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. 7 And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph, and said, "Lie with me." 8 But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Lo, having me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand; 9 he is not greater in this house than I am; nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife; how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" 10 And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie with her or to be with her. 11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and got out of the house. 13 And when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, "See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us; he came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; 15 and when he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment with me, and fled and got out of the house." 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, "The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; 18 but as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment with me, and fled out of the house." 19 When his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, "This is the way your servant treated me," his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's care all the prisoners who were in the prison; and whatever was done there, he was the doer of it; 23 the keeper of the prison paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph's care, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ

            This week there was a study released reporting that married men earn more money than single men. In fact it showed that married men were paid more than any other group of people. Digest that for a moment because there are a couple of ways of reading that fact. I did not read the whole study but for the sake of this sermon let’s assume their methodology is correct.

  • As life advice: You should get married because you get paid more money if you are married. The corollary to that would get silly, but it would also say you should be male if possible
  • As life advice but the other way: Men who get paid more get married more often—here we are talking the statistic the exact opposite way—right we say if you want to get married, you should make a lot of money. (There is some evidence for this because high income people across the board actually get married in greater percentages—unless of course). Age old wisdom would tell us that often, woman have chosen men with money—all other things being equal.
  • As a moral imperative: This is social injustice!  We should make sure everyone gets paid the same whether the person is a married male, unmarried male, or married female, or unmarried female. (Of course this is not what we want because if the CEO of a company gets paid as much as the stock room guy we have just gotten rid of capitalism). So unless we decide that we have to hire and fire based on marital status to gets those two numbers close it gets a little silly.  You would also have to fire them once their status changed.
  • As a triumph of the married lifestyle. Married men are more motivated by their status so they work harder than unmarried men and thus they make more. That may sound weird, but it has been argued.
  • As a weird statistical that proves nothing but is neat to think about.

Did you think something different that didn’t fit into those categories? Because we as a nation sometimes get into trouble with statistics. As we have more and more found a place for every point of view and every opinion, so we have lost the ability to call on our common culture to “prove our points.” For instance, is kneeling during the national anthem a brave act of American Freedom that shows you love this country because you are protesting racial inequity? Are you just using your rights as an American to try to change the system? Or is kneeling an offense to all of the military people and veterans because you are disrespecting the flag? Is it attacking the symbol of our nation and an act of cowardice? That is a tough debate, I spent time with two other people arguing about that for at least an hour. In the end it was undecided. Neither had convinced the other of his point of view. The worst part is neither side seemed to even understand the other’s point of view. This makes it difficult to “prove” anything. Too often we turn to our least favorite college class: statistics. In the end both sides turned to statistics to show how their point of view was better because more people held it.The fact that both statistics could be used showed that either one of them lied or the questions had been worded very differently—to produce different results.

           For many tough questions we turn to that very same mechanism: Is the President doing a good job? Let’s look to the approval rating. What about Congress? Same thing — approval ratings. It is not that approval ratings tell us nothing; they tell us how people feel about the person’s job. This is often related to their policies; or at least what people know or think they know about their policies. However, a rating is not necessarily related to performance, taking a necessary stand against a popular issue would leave you in the right, but also with a low approval rating. I don’t believe they surveyed for approval ratings back in Lincoln’s time, but since half the country was ready to leave because Lincoln became president, his approval rating was probably pretty low.I think most of us would agree Lincoln did the right thing. Not the popular thing, maybe not even the thing with the best outcome, but the right thing in keeping this union together.

            Statistics can tell us the frequency of something; it can tell us how people feel about something, but in the end it cannot tell us what to do. A statistic has no moral judgment or indication in any way. We think it can, we even quote them to each other with that intent, but they can give us no moral answers, just probability and opinion. One of my favorite statistics is that 90% of statistics are made up. That of course means that the 90% statistic is probably made up, so I wouldn’t trust it.

            So, now 57% of you have just nudged someone and said, “How does this relate to Joseph?” Today Joseph has to make a moral stand. It is not one that is likely to work out for him. It is also not a decision that would have been popular or likely to succeed. You see, in that day and age the native resident was always believed over the immigrant. Joseph is an immigrant, of unknown parentage and whose own family had sold him into slavery. Potiphar’s wife on the other hand was a well-known wife to a rich man. Her version of events would be seen as more accurate and therefore more likely to be truthful. In essence she was going to be believed when their stories differ. She had the power, the money and the trust. If she accused him there was no way he was going to be believed. So for Joseph the smart move would have been to have the affair. If anything his life would have improved, he would then have had control over all of Potiphar’s money, servants, and even his bed. Eventually he may have replaced Potiphar completely. According to one study 70% of people would have an affair if they knew they wouldn’t get caught. They didn’t ask what percent would cheat if they knew they would get caught if they didn’t cheat—but you have to think that the number would be even higher. (Here remember that the number who do cheat is much lower—but it is a statistic!—so be careful with it.) Joseph takes a moral stand. It is wrong in all places and circumstances to commit adultery. That is what the Sixth Commandment says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” And so Joseph literally runs away from the temptation and the sin. He runs so fast that when Potiphar’s wife grabs his cloak he just keeps going out the door. He doesn’t go back for it, but instead waits for the inevitable punishment. In that situation perhaps he should have run right to Potiphar in order to come clean about what happened. Instead of committing the crime that he is really likely to get away with, Joseph stands up to do the right thing even though it is almost guaranteed to get him into trouble.

Taking a stand like that, takes moral conviction, in the world that we live in there is always another side of the story it seems. To stand strong in a situation like Joseph’s we cannot be thinking about how everyone would feel about it, but just how God has told us to act. I call this taking Moral Stands in the age of “meh.” Sometimes we live in a world that says a lot of “meh”. There is an idea that as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone we can do whatever we want. The problem with that of course is there is little we cannot convince ourselves that it doesn’t hurt others, especially when we really want something. We can convince ourselves that “it is all relative” or it can all be explained away with great rationalization techniques or the fact that anyone in our situation would have done the same thing. So much time and effort goes into denials and self-rationalizations that we don’t get to move on. After all if you can get most people believing you, then you must have been right! It is at those times we need to remind ourselves that there is one judge—God. It is not voted upon or focus grouped or work-shopped. At some point we will stand before God’s throne of judgement and our very deeds will be seen by all. At that time, when judgment comes, you will be forced to honestly face your decisions and your secrets will be exposed. A guiding rule in my mind is asking the question, “would I tell my mother about this?” It depends on your mother of course, but if you cannot tell your mother about it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it; because our God sees it all.

There is the good news because God loves you. Like any parent, sometimes loving means letting the consequences of actions play out so that the effects of what is being done are felt and so that you learn. However even when we feel the punishment or just shame for what we have done our God calls us to repent, do better and live righteous lives. This is great news because it means you don’t have to hide your guilt and shame anymore—God the judge already knows! It is time to repent and be able to be forgiven and live again. Christ knows your deepest sins and God is ready to forgive you because of what Christ did on your behalf. Know that even in a world of “meh” there is a judge, but that judge loves you and wants you to live fully again.

Amen.