Sermon 21 September 2014: “Joesph & doing the right thing”

Text: Genesis 39:1-23

I don’t know how many of you watch reality TV shows….but Fox aired a show called “Temptation Island” about 10 years ago.  The “plot” of the show was that couples were put in a house to live with very attractive single people to “test” the strength of their relationships, which is a nice way of saying, “Let’s see who’s gonna cheat on their partner.”

Yeah, the show is as bad as it sounds, and thankfully, it never really stuck on air.  But today’s story about Joseph sounds a lot like the Bible’s version of “Temptation Island:” Joseph’s the most trusted servant of his master Potiphar.  And Joseph’s a good looking dude….and Potiphar’s wife wants a little piece of that, if you know what I mean.  She tries to seduce Joseph….and now, what’s he gonna do?  Will he do the right thing?

Speaking of doing the right thing…..if you’ve been following news about the National Football League lately, you’ve heard about the issue with players committing acts of domestic violence against their wives and kids.  And as the media began bringing to light this issue, it didn’t stop with just a couple players….turns out it’s a widespread problem in the NFL.  And it looks like the team and NFL officials have been sweeping the problem under the rug.

But not when one of their biggest sponsors, Anheuser-Busch threatened to cancel their six-year, $1.2 billion dollar contract.  That amount, it was reported, if pulled would basically make the NFL go under.  So now, everyone in the NFL is vowing big reforms in addressing domestic violence, and suspending players indefinitely…with no guarantee they’ll ever play for their teams, or the league, again.

But is this doing the right thing?  Because it sounds like NFL officials are doing this more out of a sense of self-preservation: protecting their image and their pocketbooks really.  And if we think about the outcomes: the league’s image improved, fans continuing to buy tickets and jerseys, and sponsors still keeping their money with the league – does that really address the issue of domestic violence at all?

Joseph’s story today perhaps helps us make sense of such “right decisions.”  Because if it was out of a sense of self-preservation, to save his own skin and stay in the good graces of his master, that decision goes miserably for Joseph – Potiphar’s wife lies, Potiphar believes her, and Joseph’s thrown in jail.  And heck, even if we say that Joseph does it out of loyalty and obligation to his master, Joesph comes across the harsh reality of being a slave: the master’s rage, misplaced it might be…and the result is still the same.

What does it mean to do the “right thing?”  I think we get a sense of that in this little statement: “And the LORD was with Joseph.”  “The LORD was with Joseph, and showed him steadfast love.”  

I wonder….is doing the right thing come out a sense of faith and trust in a relationship?  Does doing the right thing come as a response out of a promise of an enduring presence and steadfast love?  Our story tells us that.  God is faithful to Joseph.  God is present with him and shows him steadfast love.  And Joseph acts accordingly in a way that honors his relationship with God, and with others: “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”  Joseph does that right thing, because anything less would not be faithful to the God who is faithful to him….the God who also blesses Potiphar and his household – the God who is also concerned for the well-being of the neighbor.

Turning back to this NFL thing…..if we think of doing the “right thing” in such terms, maybe we’d hear more about how we as a collective society are addressing the needs of the victims.  I wonder if we’d hear more about how the NFL would take accountability for their players, and rather than just suspend them indefinitely out of self-preservation of the NFL and to keep corporate sponsorship. They’d find ways to help these men be better husbands and better fathers AND make their way back on the field.

I think about what doing the right thing means for me…..last night, I was shopping in Target with Kelly, when a man walked up to us.  You probably know where this story is going: he gave us his story, trying to get somewhere and not having any money, and how his kids and wife were waiting in the car for him.  But something was different.  There was a desperation in this man’s voice….a sadness, the kind that twists your gut.  He didn’t just ask for money outright; he offered to give me some of his possessions he had with him in the car in exchange for the money he needed.

And me, standing there, I simply said, “Sorry man, I don’t carry any cash with me.”  He replied he’s wait if I needed to get some, and I replied – my hands full with the stuff we were about to buy – “I just don’t have it; everyone’s struggling you know.”

The man walked away, sad, but with no hint of judgment…and Kelly looked at me and said, “It’s just so hard.”  Isn’t that the truth…..because what’s the right answer?  I know God deals with us graciously no matter what decision I make, but in this case, I feel I made the wrong one.  I made a decision more out of my own need for self-preservation.  I tried to rationalize my decision out of my need to justify myself.  But in the end, I simply made the wrong choice.

So, driving into church this morning, I decided I”m going to carry a $5 bill with me from now on.  I’m not going to just simply start giving money away to everyone I see….but in those cases that come up, like this one – and it doesn’t happen that often – I can spare 5 dollars.  I spend that much on a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s….so it may not be much, but I think it’s the right thing.

It’s the right thing because it really isn’t about the 5 bucks.  Rather, it’s the right thing because in the act of giving, I’m saying “I see your need, and I care enough to do something about it.  You are worth that, because you’re a human being.”  And more than that, this act communicates that there is a God who sees them, sees their need, and meets it in an act of steadfast love.  Because in God’s eyes, we are all worth that much.

My prayer for you – and really, it’s a prayer for me this morning – is that what we do in this journey through life, we do so not out of a sense of self-preservation and self-righteousness, but rather out of a faith and trust in a God who promises his enduring presence and steadfast love. Amen.


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