Nov 16, 2008
Scripture: Genesis 39:1-23
Sermon: "In One Corner: The Kingdom of Potiphar; in the Other Corner: the Kingdom of God"
Today’s sermon was originally called "The Choices Others Make For us, pt. 2", but as it often happens, another message emerged and a new title has been given: "In One Corner: the Kingdom of Potiphar; in the Other Corner: The Kingdom of God"
The great theologian Shirley Guthrie once wrote that because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God was already, but not yet. Which is to say that Jesus has brought the reality of God’s Kingdom down to earth, but the world is still grappling with the powers of darkness.
The concept of something being already present and yet not here can sound confusing. In life we assume things either are or are not. Either it is Sunday or it’s not. Either you are in church or you’re not. Simple, black and white logic.
So why isn’t the Kingdom of God seen in such a logical light? Either it is already here, or it is coming in the unforseen future. Yet Guthrie and other scholars have embraced that Kingdom of God in and for the world is not yet here, but is already here ( p. 283)
How can this possibly be? As a way to describe it, Guthrie uses the end of World War II as an example..
When the Allied Forces landed in Normandy, the decisive battle was fought. After Normandy, it was certain that Nazi Germany was going to lose.
Yet between D-Day and V-Day the Germans continued to fight a number of desperate battles in which many lives were lost and much damage was done, but eventually they surrendered.
It may have been clear to everyone else how the war was going to turn out even if the battles still continued for a while. The Nazi’s may have still invoked terror and killed many innocent lives, but they had lost.
This notion of the Kingdom of God being already and not yet can be seen the same way: evil and hard times may seem to win a battle from time to time, but ultimately God has already won the war.
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is all the proof of this that we need.
Knowing that the Kingdom of Heaven has already claimed victory over the powers of evil and darkness is supposed to help influence and shape our lives.
The Bible reminds us again and again of this victorious truth, and we gather every Sunday to celebrate and lift up this fact with one another.
So today, we remember a story that takes us from the darkest of pits to the highest heights of forgiveness and light: the Joseph narrative, where Joseph may lose a battle or two but will ultimately will win the war against evil and injustice.
When we last met Joseph, the dreamer had been attacked by his hate-filled brothers and sold into slavery. Today we pick up in Egypt, where Joseph is purchased to work for Potiphar, the captain of the guard.
God is with Joseph, and through diligence and hard work, Joseph is made overseer of all that Potiphar has. The only concern Potiphar is left with is the food he eats.
But no sooner does the blessings come that the corruptions happens. For as Potiphar goes about eating whatever he wants to eat, he leaves his household and his wife in the care of Joseph.
The wife takes one look at her husband’s young, exotic, well-built slave and beckons him to bed.
Joseph says no, but she pursues him, day after day. He declines her offers, understanding them to be an affront against his God.
Some people will read this story as a comedy, others as a morality play, but I read this as a story of abuse of power; sexual abuse, to be exact.
Abuse can be defined when a person in a position of power and authority engages in relationships and behavior with others who have no control, no perceive rights or no ability to resist.
Potiphar’s wife is the one with all the control. She is rich, Joseph is poor; she is free, he is a slave; she is a citizen granted rights and the ability for a fair trial, he as a foreigner with no rights or access to a court of appeals.
He will either do as she says or he will pay the price.
So while Potiphar is off eating or doing whatever it is he does, his wife tries once more to seduce Joseph, this time grabbing onto his clothes and when he breaks away from her, she strips him of his cloak and accuses him of rape.
In addition to her false accusations, she shifts the blame to her husband and uses racial profiling: "The Hebrew you hired has tried to hurt me."
When Potiphar hears this he becomes enraged. How quickly he forgets all that Joseph has done, how quickly he forgets the way Joseph’s godliness has brought favor into his home, how quickly he escalates the mistreatment by sending Joseph directly to jail, with no trial and no chance to defend himself.
Once again choices have been made for Joseph that he did not choose to make, and once again he is thrown into a pit, where he is left to languish, while Potiphar goes back home to his lying wife and his banquet meals.
However, as we are reminded, the Lord is with Joseph, and even when his freedom is taken away, he still prospers.
This is a story about a kingdom, a type of kingdom in which those in power stuff their faces with food while the oppressed and expendables do all the work and bare all the burdens.
This is the type of kingdom in which a good looking, well developed body is not the source of admiration and respect, but seen as something to be dominated and possessed.
This is the type of kingdom in which obedience of God is not celebrated but is met with punishment of the most legal practices.
This is the type of kingdom in which Potiphar and his wife achieved their power. It’s the kingdom in which Joseph and the Israelites becomes enslaved to.
Is this a type of kingdom that still exists today?
Is this the type of kingdom God wants for us, one in which Jesus Christ is Lord over?
How different the kingdom of Potiphar and the Kingdom of God seem to be.
For starters, just look at how food is used. How fortunate that due to the capable hands of Joseph now the only thing Potiphar has to worry about and do is to eat.
He probably had the most lavish meals. He probably gorged on rich delicacies all day, he probably had the finest wine, all while Joseph ran the household for him.
There is no mention that Potiphar shared his meals, no indication that he invited Joseph to come and sup with him, no hint that Potiphar broke bread with others.
But look at what the Bible tells us about God’s Kingdom. When the people of Israel were tired and hungry in the dessert and they cried out to God, what did God send them? Manna from the heavens and water from the rocks!
Want to know what the Kingdom of Heaven is like? Turn to the book of Psalms. "The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" as Psalm 23 states. "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows."
And Jesus? He certainly ate a lot, but rearely alone. He ate with the rich and the poor, those in power and those who are powerless.
He made sure a wedding party had enough wine. He turned a few pieces of fish and bread into an outside picnic. He told stories in which outsiders and undesirables were invited to great feast.
And on the night he was betrayed, he took break and he broke it and he said "This is my body, which is for you"...and in the same way after supper he took the cup and he said "This is the new covenant in my blood."
The kingdom of the Potiphar may be one in which only a few get to eat while every one else slaves away, but in the Kingdom of God, our Lord makes sure we are physically and spiritually fed with food he has prepared and unselfishly served.
The Kingdom of God is already here and not yet.
In the kingdom of Potiphar, abuse and coercion rule the day. The one in power gets to make the demands, strips away one’s right to choose and punishes the innocent when they feel denied of what they see as theirs.
But the Bible tells us that the Kingdom of God is something different. God chooses to call rather then coerce. God blesses us with free will rather then make us into robotic automatons. God gives us the ability to say no even though he wants us to answer yes.
God calls Moses through a fiery bush, and each time Moses gives a reason as to why not, God gives a reason as to why. God calls to Samuel not once, but four times before the boy responds.
Even when God engages Israel in a wrestling match, he approaches him as an equal, capable of resistance, and it takes all night for a resolution to appear, with no clear winner.
And when, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls forward Simon and Andrew, James and John to follow him, they are given the option to continue their fishing expedition or to drop their nets and follow him, becoming fishers of men.
Even when he knows Judas is about to betray him and sell his life away for a few coins, Jesus does not prevent him or take away his right to choose.
The Kingdom of God is not yet but already here.
A final illustration is that in the Kingdom where Potiphar gets to stuff his face and his wife gets to sexually abuse her servants, lies and deceit become the acceptable way of people in power to act, and the innocent are made to pay the consequence. In this story, the innocent Joseph is falsely accused and imprisoned, where he can not see the son.
How different from the Kingdom of God, in which the Son of God is willing to be falsely accused, to take the place of the guilty, freeing those enslaved to sin so they can embrace freedom and fellowship with one another.
In God’s Kingdom, the Lord takes on the consequence of our sins, so the mourners can rejoice, and the dreamers can dream dreams.
The Kingdom of God is already and not yet; not yet and already.
And it is all thanks to the love of God, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This Kingdom is one in which the Lord is not a tyrant or a dictator, but is instead the risen Christ whose power is self-giving love, who is not out to dominant us, rob us of our choice or out to destroy our reputation and dignity, but has risen to give free life and love to all of God’s people, be they rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, white or black and all shades and cultures in-between.
In God’s kingdom, in which Jesus is Lord, God is forever for and not against us, wanting to lovingly care for and feed us, desiring to call forward our gifts rather then beat us into submission, ruling with justice, mercy and truth, rather then injustice, cruelty and lies.
In closing, I ask you this: which kingdom is it that you long for? Which Kingdom sounds right and desirable to you?
The one where we get to stuff our face while abusing others and acting unjustly or the one in which there is food for all, where each person is called and given the freedom to choose?
Because although one kingdom may appear to win a few battles, it will not ultimately be the one to win the war. But the other Kingdom will rule for ever and ever.
For in Christ we are loosed from whatever our captivity may be, through Christ we are freed from hurting others, and with Christ we encouraged to help others become free from whatever darkness they are in.
Thanks be to God, to the Holy Spirit and to Jesus Christ and for the Magnificent Kingdom they call us into.