“Boldly offer Compassion & Forgiveness”
Genesis 45: 1-15, August 16th, 2020
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read Statement of Faith
“Hear now these ancient words from the Book of Genesis, chapter forty-five, verses one thru fifteen.”
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.
“Having listened to the accounting of how Joseph came to reconnect with his brothers, let us consider how we might learn from this lesson and how we too, might move forward in our own lives.”
“Boldly offer Compassion & Forgiveness”
Just a week ago, we read the accounting of how the brothers of Joseph were jealous of their father’s love for his youngest son. Their displeasure over this caused them to do a terrible deed. They set upon young Joseph when he was but seventeen and sold him into slavery for twenty pieces of silver. Their father was greatly distressed by their lies about how Joseph died at the jaws of a wild animal, as they laid the honored coat of many colors in tatters and covered with blood before their father, Israel. The story continued and in slavery, Joseph was favored because of his ability to interpret dreams. After some time, the ruler of Egypt, Pharaoh had two dreams. And because of this Joseph was asked to interpret them for him. Joseph, giving all credit to God for his words, told Pharaoh that the dreams foretold of seven prosperous years when there would be an abundance of grain; followed by seven years of drought that would bring famine and it would be very severe, and grave. Because of this Joseph was made second in command of all Egypt and he became very powerful. Joseph managed the seven years of prosperity smartly, while creating large storage facilities for vast amounts of abundant and plentiful grain. Then came the drought and as time passed people from faraway places came to buy grain which was under Joseph’s command. It is at this juncture in time when we pick up the accounting of today’s scripture reading.
Joseph’s brothers had been sent by their father to buy grain in Egypt. They were forced to barter with Joseph without knowing this powerful man was their brother whom they had sold into slavery. Let us pause for a moment and consider the enormity of this moment in the lives of the brothers – who had come to buy grain and that of their brother Joseph. The brothers were desperate for grain and Joseph was overwhelmed with emotion as he laid eyes on his brothers who had betrayed him. What would the average man feel after being sold into slavery when given the opportunity to meet his betrayers once again? Surely, Joseph would have been justified in his anger and rage! The irony here begins with the brothers not recognizing Joseph for who he truly was. In the longer version of this reading starting in chapter thirty-seven which we read last week… continuing into this forty-fifth chapter today, wherein, we hear how Joseph took his time before reconciling with his brothers. It is only in this last reading do we see and hear of this utterly amazing reconciliation, which Joseph bestows upon them!
Imagine for a moment what manner of resentment, mixed with fear and hatred, one might have, for those that would sell their own brother into slavery! Many of us cannot even fathom such a feeling, as we have been spared such anguish. Yet, we do know from history that slavery has been a part of the human saga… for as long as we have had writings documenting our human interactions! We have not even gotten out of the first book of the Bible and we encounter this writing of Joseph’s demise. The stain of slavery is still part of our American history. One of our older members told me detailed accounts of her (great) grandmother’s life as a slave. In the world we live in today, many believe slavery no longer exists and some still do not grasp the enormity of this within our own history. Why do the scriptures tell us of this in such detail? Perhaps, simply because it is such a major part of the journey of the Hebrew nation of old. Yet, our story today, this reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, takes us to a new pinnacle as to how one generation was able to move past this stain in their relationship. Perhaps, we of this current generation, we can learn this lesson and apply it to real life relationships and situations in the here and now!
We also know that the story of Joseph’s willingness to forgive his brothers with compassion – was a bold move! Yet, when reviewing the full nine chapters of Genesis, regarding this journey which Joseph traveled, we learn many lessons. One of which was some justice before the full act of forgiveness was rendered to be sure! In your free time, simply sit down and read through these verses, for I cannot, share it all with you in this segment of time. Forgiveness is a process, not just an empty phrase saying: “all is forgiven.” Unfortunately, yet with necessity, one cannot be forgiving nor forgiven a sin until the sin… has been set aside and some righting of the wrongs committed, repaired, and possibly a true ‘realignment’ of past relationships must be put into place, before we, all whom are involved, can move forward. Looking at our own history, we can see some steps have been missed or poorly done; leaving still more areas needing restoration, refurbishment, and correction, before we can put the past completely behind us. What is needed: is some of the God ‘consciousness’ and ‘humility’ which young Joseph had gotten from his father. The core of his faith seems to be at the heart of this story! From this vantage point, it appears the author of the book of Genesis, at least the voices and the written perceptions of Hebrew history, has sought to give us a sense of the growing awareness of God, in the telling of these historical accounts.
As our reading for today comes to closure and Joseph and his brothers are reunited, the story, the history of a people continues forward. Time stops for none of us, past, present, nor in the future. The thread that runs through all the books of the Bible, the thread that holds this sacred manuscript together – is the human interaction with a Deity that has been spoken of since humankind formed words. Then the forming of a language to speak about this Holiest of Powers within the world we live in, and which we are still striving to understand. We need to focus on those things that stand out for us, in this short excerpt from the Genesis account; an accounting of how a people came to understand God. We must, as our story is still being written and many things are very much in ‘play’ as we seek to live into our time; even as we prepare to move into our still to be defined future!
Compassion and forgiveness are attributes that do not come from humankind’s battles with life itself. Nor, do they grow out of an understanding of our need to fulfill all of our human emotions, the ones that propel us to be better than our neighbors, greater than the guy or gal who steps to the front of the room, the head of the class in front of us. Our finite and earthly humanness, creates emotions which feed our sense of insecurity and our fears that we shall be left behind or fuel our fear we shall not have enough of what it takes to survive – during the next shortage or that next famine! Thus, that need to hoard toilet paper, hand sanitizers and bottled water when the Covid-19 virus threat became real! No, to learn how to be compassionate comes from our belief that there is a greater purpose to life than simply fighting over things! Forgiveness enters the conversation when we begin to realize we need to be in relationship with others and we need to coexist with one another! It is through our understanding of this entity, which we call God that we ‘begin’ to comprehend things outside our human realities!
Joseph, when he was sold into slavery lost everything that was of earthly origin, everything except his very life and that sense of love he received from his father. His father’s love opened-up a channel where he was able to grasp his father’s faith in a power outside the bounds of his humanness. We call that power God! Like so many, as recorded in the scriptures, they come to know God through their dreams, their visions, and so it was for Joseph. Joseph shared his dreams with his brothers, because he understood, he sensed they were important and that they came from outside himself. He had no fear of his brothers. His center was his devotion to his father and a respect for the things he had learned from him. Love came first, then joy as his father expressed a generosity and kindness toward his youngest son. Even as his brothers turned on him, we hear how Joseph stayed centered in his faithfulness to the Holy One which his father passed on to him. From this he was able to see his journey as a plan set forth by God; a plan that allowed Joseph to help a great many people when the famine hit.
As we look to our current realities, we see much that needs repair. We see many that need to be fed. The needs of others are becoming greater every day. The debate on how to best help the many is raging, even as the virus continues to take its toll. Have we prepared for the time of famine? Have we stocked up on that which shall nourish our bodies and our very essence, our Spiritual lives? Last week, I spoke of my wife and I’s savings being depleted somewhat by one crisis, but was our Spiritual connection to God depleted? Look to your own life, have your resources been strained because of all that is happening? What about your faith and your connection to God? Have you been able to persevere because your credit is good or your bank account ample? Or have you been able to continue forward in your life because of your faith that God will not forsake you?
When our history is written down, will we be like Joseph in our story? Or shall we be like the brothers who allowed their humanness, our humanness, our fears and our base human instincts and predispositions, to tear us away from God’s love, God’s compassion, and God’s forgiveness as we struggle onward. Let us pray that we shall be part of those who help others to ‘rebuild’ after the storm – rather than those who ‘loot and steal’ while others are in grief seeking justice and reconciliation! Please forgive us, O God, please have mercy on us!