Potiphar’s House – 08.22.2021
I read a story a few years back. About ten years ago there was one of those inspiring empowerment self-help type conferences. The leader got up front and asked if anyone in the room of 200 or so people had been sexually or physically abused. Six or seven tentative hands went up. Then the leader instructed them to close our eyes, and asked the question again. Then he told them to open their eyes – almost every hand in the room was raised. To quote the author, “For a long time, most women defined their own sexual harassment and assault in this way: as something unspoken, something private, something to be ashamed of acknowledging. Silence, although understandable, has its cost.” On October 5th, 2017 the New York Times published a story on the Harvey Weinstein scandal – and many of us thought about how stories like that are so sad – when one man uses his power to so many women. Thank God those stories are few and far between, those men are rare and uncommon. But then, on October 15, one week later, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a simple tweet that actually came from someone else that simply said, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write “me too” as a reply to this tweet.” The goal was to give people a sense for the magnitude of the problem. Thousands, and then tens of thousands, and then hundreds of thousands and then millions of women responded. Story after story after story came forward. Statistics are meaningless in this sort of thing because so many people don’t report, don’t talk about what happened – but the me too movement pushed the problem into the spotlight and most of our culture was shocked by how common the struggle was. It wasn’t something that only happened in dark movies or CSI shows – it was happening right under our noses. And then, because people were finally talking about the issue – a thunderstorm of allegations against prominent men in our culture began. From Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to democrat politicians and republican senators, artists, composers, producers, CEOs – everywhere we turned the hidden shame of America was breaking through like a volcano – setting the world on fire.
I’ll be honest with you, I think this might be the scariest sermon I have ever written. I’m terrified that we are not okay with talking about this. Or maybe what I’m really afraid of is the fact that we are okay with not talking about it. We have lived in a culture of suppression for so long. Where we take our dirty little secrets and we cram them into a little compartment in the back of our hearts and pretend like we’re not shattered people. It’s kind of a weird thing. We don’t like to talk about inappropriate things in church, but we do like to talk about the bible. But, one of the things I hope I’ve shown you as your Pastor, is that the bible talks about a lot of inappropriate things. In the church, we like general words like darkness and brokenness and hurt and pain – but we do not like to talk shame or sin or abuse. We are afraid to bring those things to light. And I think one of the reasons is that we don’t know how to talk about these things. We are afraid to talk about them in public, because what if kids are listening? What if they ask questions that I don’t have answers to? What if I have to admit my vulnerabilities? What if I have to admit that things are not as shiny and clean as they seem? Today we are continuing in our series “Dreams of Desolation” and we’re following Joseph into Egypt, into the slavery his brother’s sold him into last week. Today we will tell the story of Potiphar’s Wife.
And I have to call her Potiphar’s wife, because we literally don’t know what her real name was. Last week we got started by introducing the dysfunctional family of Joseph. It’s a famous Old Testament story – perhaps you’ve seen versions of the story like Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat or Joseph King of Dreams. And if you missed lack week – basically, there’s this guy Joseph, daddy’s favorite, who gets sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. It’s a bad day for Joseph, but he’s a good worker and eventually he ends up working as a servant for this guy Potiphar. He’s still a slave, but he is highly regarded and things aren’t that bad for him. He becomes Potiphar’s best servant, his right hand man. Verse 6, [read v.6-7]. So Joseph is in hot water. He didn’t do anything wrong, but he’s playing with fire. There’s an unequal power dynamic going on here which complicates the issue of consent. In our modern culture of sexual liberation outside the church – most of our culture says that all sexual activity is moral if it is consensual. If there are two consenting adults, they can do whatever they want. But what we see with Potiphar’s wife and in situations like Harvey Weinstein is that the issue of consent is more complicated than that. When there are power dynamics in play, inequality in social status – consent is no longer black and white. Sometimes it’s not about sex, it’s about keeping your job. You can’t quite capture the pressure people feel in some of these situations. In a culture where consent is the only thing you need for morality, there’s a huge struggle over how to define consent. One of the sarcastic responses to the Me Too movement was, “well, what are you supposed to do? Have someone sign a legal document before you can have sex?” Well, after the Me Too movement, there’s an app for that. I’m not joking, there are literally apps that you can have on your phone that create a legal document of consent that you can use at the beginning of a date to protect yourself. Do you think that’s what God had in mind when he created the beautiful idea of sexual intimacy? It goes without saying, but I’m gonna say it anyways – there is something seriously wrong with our culture’s version of moral sexual intimacy.
[read v.8-9]. He tells her, I’m number 2 in this house – I’ve been given the responsibility to take care of you and everything else – How could I do such a wicked thing, how could I sin against God? So, here’s a very important question – what is God’s plan for sexual intimacy? See, God created us as we are. God created us as sexual creatures. Sex is God’s idea, and it’s a very good thing. God is good, all the time. Mark 10 outlines this, [read v.6-8]. Sex is a great thing for a couple to have. Praise God for sex. Our culture has tried so hard to separate sex from emotion or separate sex from commitment, literally creating legal documents for consent but God’s outline for us is that sex should go together with commitment. Sex is the highest form of physical expression, you can’t get closer physically – and so God pairs it with the highest form of emotional commitment, marriage and love. And this is all over the bible – like Proverbs 5 tells us, [read v.15-19]. I’m just… I’m not going to get into it – but he’s not about a fountain of…water. God created sex for a husband and a wife. God loves sex, and in the form God presents, it’s supposed to be a good thing in your life, not a bad thing. It’s supposed to bring joy and intimacy between a husband and wife. Now, I promised I wouldn’t be explicit, but I’m just going to put it out there, if you want to see how excited God is about sex between and husband and a wife – go read Song of Songs chapter 7. The entire book is a love story between a man and his new bride, and he is inappropriate about it. He says something like I’ll climb you like a tree and play with your fruits, and guys, I don’t think he’s talking about fruit. God loves sex, and he wants it to be a good source of joy in your marriage. Good stuff.
Alright, back into the darkness – [read verse 10-18]. So, Potiphar’s wife, the woman in power comes after Joseph, he gets away – nothing happened, but then she uses her influence and position of power to shame and to blame Joseph, falsely accusing him. This shows us just how important it is to listen to the victims, and not just the person in power. Did you know that in response to the Me Too movement, some male politicians are refusing to meet privately with female politicians to discuss policy. They have become afraid of this exact thing – false accusations. In a world where people are actually listening to women’s accusations, the possibility of false stories goes up. It’s true, when we take things seriously, it becomes a serious issue. And our response as a church, watching the culture deal with these issues, we get to say, “it’s about time.” Do you know why every door in this church has a glass window on it? Because we started listening to women and actually children as well. In the Methodist church, largely in response to what happened in the Catholic church a couple decades ago, we instituted a policy that required every Methodist Church to put protocol in place to protect the children we take care of. We call it safe sanctuary. We have complete transparency in all ministries that take care of the vulnerable. And what we have found is that this protects both the children AND the volunteers. If you follow the Safe Sanctuary guidelines of this church, you cannot be falsely accused like Joseph was. It only took us a couple thousand years to figure out, but this is one of the positive steps that shows how important transparency is in the church. This issue of healthy sexual ethics and protections for the vulnerable is not just an issue for Hollywood or politics, this is an issue right here in the church.
There are two pieces of good news for us this morning. First, as I hope is very clear, God offers us a healthier form of sexual intimacy than the world. The world builds a sexual ethics on nothing more than the consent of adults, and as we have seen – that has proven extremely tricky and complicated. But God gives us a better way, a way that ties physical and emotional intimacy together in the commitment of marriage. I know some people call that old fashioned, ah – waiting for marriage, that’s ridiculous, nobody does that anymore. Well, I did. Okay? When I was high school and even college, lot of my friends made fun and called me a loser – but I was a virgin on my wedding night. And I’m not saying that to brag, or make anybody else feel bad. But I want you to know that if you’re out there and you’re trying to live into God’s design for sex to be deeply connected to commitment – you are not alone. And honestly? If what we find in the news and in this Me Too Movement is any indication of the alternative that the world offers – I’ll stick with the old fashioned way. God offers us a healthier form of sexual intimacy than the world. He wants us to enjoy sex, and for it to be a blessing in our marriages.
But…what about when it goes wrong? I mean, maybe I got it figured out now – commitment is the way to go, but what about my past? What about the things I’ve done? What about the things I did to other people? What about the things other people did to me? Because sexual intimacy is the most intimate physical act out there, when it goes wrong – it goes very wrong. I’ve had conversations with people where they struggle to have any physical contact with anyone because of the things that happened to them in their past. I hear things like: “I thought he was a nice guy. I thought I could trust him. I thought he loved me. I feel wrong. I take a thousand showers and I just never feel clean anymore. I’m so embarrassed. I can’t sit through a church service anymore”. That was from a teenager. I counseled a fourteen year old girl one time, said she couldn’t make it through a church service because of what happened to her, because of the shame she felt. She said, “Maybe it’s my fault. I feel like I’m the only one in the world who is going through this”. I mean, what does God even do with that? “What does God think of me if I have been raped or assaulted? What does God think of me if I have assaulted someone? Am I broken because I’m not a virgin? What does God think about my broken sexuality? I feel ashamed, dirty, defiled. Will God still love me if I can’t forgive what they did to me? Will God still love me if I can’t even forgive myself”? This world and its broken version of sexuality seems almost designed to destroy us. God offers us a healthier form of sexual intimacy, but what about when it all goes wrong?
Listen to me very carefully, God loves you when it all goes wrong. See, sometimes in life we are like this piece of cloth. Maybe we start out okay, innocent, clean. But the world is a messy place. [smear paint on the cloth]. And even if we try our best, we can’t help but get a little messy. And the world is a violent place [tear the cloth]. And even if we try our best, we can’t help but get a little hurt. And then we try the put the broken pieces of our lives back together. We try to find healing in the methods of the world that hurt us. We try to clean ourselves in dirty water. [dunk the cloth in a bucket of water. Get frustrated.] But no amount of scrubbing can ever make me feel clean. No amount of good deeds or time can ever erase the memory of what happened. I feel broken. I feel destroyed, like I can never be worthy, like I can never clean up my life enough to earn God’s love. If you have ever felt the weight of sin in your life – listen to these words. [Read Ephesians 5: 25-27]. Christ gave up his life, to make you holy – not because you are holy. When you are in your lowest moments, filthy and destroyed by the broken world – I need you to know that that is the moment Jesus died for you. Jesus comes to us in our moment of pain, and kneels beside us, he wipes away our tears and he offers us forgiveness and a new life. We take our broken, filthy lives and we bring them to cross, and God gives us a new life. We take the pain of sexual assault and all the lust and shame and humiliation or whatever broken sexuality looks like in your life that the world hands us and we bring it to Jesus. We have nothing better to offer. The sins we carry, both the things we have done and the things that have been done to us, we bring it to the cross and it dies with Christ. We destroy our sins with Jesus on the Cross, we let the pain of yesterday go and we bury it with Christ – so that we can rise three days later with Jesus. Sometimes things that happen in life are so horrible that you can’t scrub yourself clean with good thoughts or being a good person. This is why we need Jesus as our savior, not as our self-help buddy. [Read Ephesians again]. In Jesus, no matter what has happened in your life, you are washed clean without a spot or wrinkle. God heals us. God redeems us.
So I have two challenges for you this week. First, please – talk about this stuff. Teach your children about a healthy sexual ethic. Talk about the mistakes you’ve made, and what you’ve learned in your life. I know there’s a strong desire to let children be innocent as long as possible, and I respect that – but we have to realize they are hearing it in school and on tv and in movies earlier and earlier. If we don’t talk about these things, and we don’t teach them – they will get it somewhere. Studies have shown that more and more teenagers are starting to get their basic sexual education from pornography, because nobody is willing to talk to them about it. Teach a healthy sexual ethic to your children and to the men and women in your life. Women, your voice needs to be heard. Men, we have to be better than the example that the world offers. I know it’s uncomfortable. I know it’s not fun or even happy – but when we create a culture of shame and embarrassment about sensitive topics, victims suffer and abuse thrives. Teach your children about God’s healthy form of sexual intimacy and celebrate it, but also remember to teach Jesus’ beautiful gift of grace and a new life. First step – talk about this stuff.
Whether you’ve been a victim of sexual abuse or not, the second challenge is the same. Bring the brokenness of the world’s sexuality to the cross, and receive a new desire from God. We bring our desires, the good and the bad, we bring our baggage, our pain, our abuse, and our history and our celebrations and our failures – simply put we bring ourselves to the Jesus and he gives us a new life. There’s an old Zach William’s song called “To the Table” – I can’t put it any better than him. Bring it all to the table. It’s nothing he aint seen before, for all your sin, all your sorrow, all your sadness. There is a savior and he calls – bring it all to the table. The old phrase is “Hell hath no fury like a women scorned.” And sometimes that’s the way the world works. But what I found in this story is that in the moments of brokenness when we come to Jesus all messed by this world – hell has no fury, because Jesus washes us clean. Not yet, but someday we will be without blemish, without wrinkle, perfect in God’s eyes. Because of Jesus, Hell hath no fury. I’ll leave you with this, May you bring it all to the table. May you bring all of your brokenness and shame and humiliation to the cross and may you receive God’s love and forgiveness, a new life starts now. Amen.