Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Another Kind of Prosperity Gospel

Have you ever gotten all done with your sermon, gone home, had lunch and a nice nap, and then woke up thinking that you could have said something else about the Scripture reading?

That happened this weekend.  Not that it hasn't happened before.  But we are in the third week (but who's counting) of our grand experiment with the Narrative Lectionary.

Now I am going to come right out and say that I am in favor of almost anything with the word "narrative" in it.  I actually like the word 'story' even better; it's shorter and less pretentious.  So giving the Narrative Lectionary a try was my idea.

Even after three weekends, the stories are playing with my brain a little bit.  I find preaching the stories more challenging than I thought it would be (did I mention before that I love stories?).  I groaned about the "adult content" in the Joseph story, made note of the narrator's repetition of the sentence "God was with Joseph", and ended up preaching about God with Joseph in the thorny ups and downs he is experiencing, about God with Joseph in prison, even.  I was thinking particularly about what it means to be resilient, as people, and as a congregation:  to be the kind of people who don't give up just because there are fewer people in worship, or some of our ideas don't work, or we are criticized for something we believed that God wanted us to do.

Then I preached, and took that nap, and woke up thinking about something else, something that connected back to the story of Abraham, who was promised he would someday be a great nation and be blessed and also, by the way, be a blessing.  People bring this up, sometimes.  Abraham was "blessed to be a blessing."  That is the way it is supposed to be with us, too.

So I took the nap, and woke up thinking not about Joseph in prison, but about God being with Joseph, in Potiphar's house, and in the prison.  Right after the narrator reminds us that God was with Joseph (even though he had been sold into slavery by his brothers and then bought by the Egyptian official), he tells us that Joseph prospers in Potiphar's house.

Or, more accurately, Potiphar prospers because Joseph is there.


God is with Joseph, and what this means is that the people around him prosper.  Even while he is a slave.  Even while he is in prison.  So it's not that Joseph himself is doing so well (he is a slave after all), but he causes blessing and prosperity to come to the people with whom he resides.

It's a whole new slant on the "prosperity gospel."  It is the "prosperity-for-our-neighbor" gospel.  Wherever the people of God go, the blessing means prosperity -- for their neighbors.

It makes me wonder what it would be like for us to believe this now.  What if "God was with Joseph" was as much a statement of vocation as a statement of assurance?  What if the words given to us at baptism, "Child of God, sealed by the Spirit and marked by the cross forever" were as much a statement of vocation as they are of assurance (or of eternal destination)?

What if our neighbors experienced blessing and prosperity because of our presence, our words, our actions?

What if we thought that was the reason God created and redeemed us:  so that our neighbors would prosper?

It would be a whole new kind of prosperity gospel.

I am still thinking about it.