“Bold Forgiveness”

August 20th
Genesis 45: 1-15
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

 

SCRIPTURE:

“Hear now these word, from the ancient text written in the book of Genesis, chapter 45, verses 1 thru 15.”

1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there – since there are five more years of famine to come – so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

“May your heart be opened to hearing this bold and astonishing story.”

 

SERMON:

Our dynamic transition from last week’s scripture lesson to “today’s lesson’ is well stated by this one scholar /Cameron B.R. Howard/ “Once powerless at the bottom of a pit, outnumbered by brothers who hated him, Joseph now gets to decide who will live and who will die.” What a dramatic twist of fate! Joseph, the younger brother, whom was hated by his jealous brothers, whom they sold into slavery has ended up in a position of tremendous power! Joseph, the dreamer! The chapters in-between last week’s lesson and this weeks, weave a story line that raise up Joseph’s dreams; visions that come to be! Apparently, it was his interpretations of Pharaoh’s dreams that led to his good fortune. Because of this he was put in charge, and he was to oversee the building and storage of vast amounts of grain during a period of plenty; as his dreams foretold of a great famine which was to last seven years. This is where we pick up the story as Joseph’s brothers have come to Egypt looking for grain to feed their people. Joseph, at the top of the pinnacle of power is overseeing who gets grain and who does not!

“What was the transformation in Joseph that enabled him to forgive and reconcile with his brothers? If Joseph’s brothers had not turned up, do you think Joseph would have ever gone home to see his family?” /Bill Moyers/ It is difficult to get one’s arms around this aspect of the lesson today. The abuse, the wrongs that were committed at the hands of his brothers against Joseph were monstrous, horrific and just plain outrageous! How could Joseph, after suffering so much at their hands have come to forgive them?! Yet, somehow, a great transformation had occurred in his life, bringing him to the position of power he now had. Rather than return the earlier hatred of his brothers toward him… rather than turn it back upon them, he was able to not only forgive them, but to embrace them and offer to lavishly care for them and all of their extended family!

This is a truly an amazing story. Forgiveness at its pursed form! Clearly, it seems, that Joseph has moved far beyond the hurt and the pain of his younger years. For surely, there was understandable reasons why his earlier abuse by his brothers could have hardened his heart and closed him off from the realm of any type of willingness to reestablish any form of relationship with these, though brothers, these men whom had betrayed him in every way. They having conspired to kill him out of jealousy, yet, so it seems, thankfully chose to sell him into slavery in Egypt. The amazing part is Joseph, as he reflects back, sees that if these things had not occurred in his life, he would never have been put into the positions or into the situations that led to his rise in favor with pharaoh and ultimately his current powerful position in life.

Fr. Rick Morley points out for us how our central character has been able to come to such a point of forgiveness in his life. “Joseph is able to look upon the hardest days of his life and see the hand of God working for himself and all of God’s people.” /Fr. Rick Morley/ It would be indeed difficult, at this juncture, for us to not begin to wonder if we could find in our own hearts the ability to let go of an earlier hurt or pain. Joseph did. How did he do this? Pastor Morley says Joseph was able to see the hand of God at work in his life. Can we, can you and I, open our hearts enough, wide enough to view our journeys, up to this point in time, in such a way?

As we consider the brothers in this narrative, we learn that their journeys in life have not led them into an easy life. After Joseph was gone from their lives we do not know anything about what occurred for them other than life’s realities brought them to Egypt out of desperation. We can only make assumptions about them during those in-between years. What were the consequences in their lives over the occurrences that happened that day, when their vengeful hatred caused them to do the wrong they did upon young Joseph. We do not know. We can only speculate. We do know that it was the action of one brother which consequently saved Joseph from death at the hand of his brothers. This compassionate one suggested Joseph be put into the pit rather than be put to death; consequently, grasping at the opportunity to sell him into slavery, convincing the other brothers it was wise to make a profit of the lad, rather than to have his blood on their hands!

One author suggests we look at this lesson as an opportunity to view human relationships from a different perspective. “The story of Joseph thus appears as a story showing how the healing and humanization of human relations are achieved by telling the story of a life.” /Andre Wenin/ Life, is a journey for us all. For some this journey seems to have more than one’s share of pain and misery. For others, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of good fortune. Yet, when the story of another person’s life is told, we may find that all is not as it seems. Take for instance this story of Joseph’s life. His betrayal put him into a situation where he could make a truly remarkable difference in the lives of a great many whom lived in that region of the world. What would have happened if he had never suffered and been cast aside. What would have occurred, or what would have been lost, if he had allowed his hurt and his pain to stop him from engaging in the fullness of life around him. We, of course, will never know. Yet, somehow, he found order in life and was able to set aside the past and move forward… living fully the life that was presented to him. It was out of his position, in his life as a slave, by which his dreams became known to Pharaoh. Yet, who would have blamed him if he had just lived in his pain and simply dreamed of the day he might ‘finally’ take revenge upon his hateful brothers! The miracle here, is he did not!

No one is going to convince anyone that doing others wrong can be made right. No. His brothers had to live with themselves and the pain they saw in their father’s eyes. They had to see and experience the dramatic sorrow and change in who their father was to become, because of what they had done. When they lied to their father about the fate of his cherished son, Joseph, they had to live into the future they had created. Likewise, Joseph had to live into his pain, without his father and without his prized robe; he had to live into his new life as a slave in order to survive. However we see this narrative, we cannot miss how the choices Joseph made, led him into a destiny no one saw coming or could have imagined!

How we face our own destiny, this is what defines the character of who we are. Anna Grant-Henderson, of the Uniting Church in Australia tells us, in no uncertain words what reality can become! “In our lives, we cannot avoid being accountable for actions which hurt and give pain to others whether on a personal level or indeed on a global level. However, it is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit which can overcome our sin, bring new life and possibilities from situations.” Her words suggest that even we who have committed a wrong can find restoration through the grace of God! Perhaps, because of Joseph’s willingness to forgive them they were able to continue their lives, with more freedom to do what destiny had in store for them. We too, whether we are the forgiven or we bestow forgiveness, we can be freed to do more fully all which God has in store for us!

Anger is a subject which has been written about for ages. Why? Because it is part of the human condition. If you are not an angry person and have never been so, you are truly a blessed individual. Unfortunately, we live in a culture a society which has anger within it. This is sadly all too easy to see. Anger has all kinds of consequences. Whether it be justified or unjustified anger… anger is still anger. There is certainly always someone to blame for our anger. That is not the question. The question needs to be reframed. And there are lots of good reasons to rid ourselves and our society of such. Anger breads anger! Anger is harmful to our own personal health. There are many medical articles written about this point alone! Anger is pasted from one to another; from one generation to another. When someone allows an instinct to go wild it hurts others. That hurt turns to resentment, revenge. Revenge is simply another form of anger! The cycle is continuing in our society virtually unabated!
Anger is what starts this journey for Joseph. It began with jealous and ended up being manifested in the actions of these brothers against this their younger brother. It affected their lives, Joseph’s life, their father’s life and consequently, every life they touched as this unabated emotion continued to be passed on, one to another! The dramatic point being made in this small piece of writing is monumental! Joseph stopped the cycle! He did not live with his heart filled with pity for himself, or with an all-consuming desire for revenge! No! Joseph broke the cycle and because he did countless lives were changed! His actions, most certainly, took the helping hand of God! This is something we need in our lives, in our families and within our community! We as a fellowship of faith are not exempt from this either!

You and I, we look upon what is going on in our world with a great deal of concern! And well we should! So, what can we do? We can start by supporting the efforts of those who seek to break the cycles of war, hatred and revenge! Is this a naïve notion? Every Sunday we start the service with my stating the words: “Let there be peace on earth!” And we all respond to this statement by saying: “And let it begin with me!” Powerful words! Do we believe what we are saying? It may be naïve to think we can change the world order in a day or even a week or a month. But, the cycle of exploitation and abuse, the emotions of revenge and anger, the hurt and pain started somewhere! Why can’t we, the church, begin the cycle of forgiveness! Seems like the Godly thing to do!

We tell people that we believe in the love of God. We say we extravagantly welcome everyone to come and join our faith fellowship! Everyone is welcome! That’s what we say! We also say love comes from God because God is love! Then it stands to reason that we the church, we need to be the ones that begin to practice what we preach and boldly forgive! Can you imagine a world where people begin to forgive others, rather than continue the cycle of anger and hatred! Now that is a world where peace can flourish!

Amen.

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