Sermon in PDF format to print: 9-17-2017 Pentecost 15 Sermon
Pastor Jacobson ~ Pentecost 15 ~ September 17, 2017 ~ Genesis 50:15-21
FORGIVEN TO FORGIVE
15When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 19But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
I’m going to read-sing a country song called, “Pray for You.” It goes a little something like this:
I haven’t been to church since I don’t remember when
Things were goin’ great ’til they fell apart again
So I listened to the preacher as he told me what to do
He said you can’t go hatin’ others who’ve done wrong to you
Sometimes we get angry, but we must not condemn
Let the good Lord do His job, and you just pray for them.
I pray your brakes go out runnin’ down a hill.
I pray a flowerpot falls from a window sill
And knocks you in the head like I’d like to.
I pray your birthday comes and nobody calls.
I pray you’re flyin’ high when your engine stalls.
I pray all your dreams never come true.
Just know wherever you are honey, I pray for you.
So what did you think? I know the performance was amazing, but the song is horrible. The song wishes misery, injury, even death on another person. We wouldn’t wish such evil on anyone, right? Right! We are forgiven. We are forgiven to forgive, but what if your brother or sister does something really bad? What if your brother or sister does something that dramatically affects the rest of your life? How is it possible to forgive like Christ forgives when you have been sinned against so badly?
- By letting go of your old grudges
This morning our first lesson from the book of Genesis chapter 50 gives us a very good example of such forgiveness. Joseph is almost 60 years old in this chapter and his brothers from other mothers had just lost their last piece of leverage. Their father, Jacob, had died and as long as their father, Jacob, was alive, they felt they had some level of assurance their brother, Joseph, would not treat them as they had treated Joseph about 40 years before.
Forty years ago Joseph was a teenager, the younger half-brother to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, and Zebulun. Joseph’s brothers were bad news. Collectively, their behavior was bad enough that their father, Jacob, felt he had to have his young, trustworthy son, Joseph, check on them and report back to him about what his brothers were up to. Joseph told his father everything and received a special coat, a coat of many colors, as a reward for this work.
Joseph’s brothers hated that coat; they didn’t like Joseph either. Joseph bothered them, and 40 years ago, they had an opportunity to do something about Joseph. The original plan was to kill Joseph and make his fancy coat look like a wild animal had eaten him for dinner. This plan changed quickly, though, as a group of Ishmaelites from Gilead were travelling to Egypt. These Ishmaelites were going to sell their spices to the Egyptians, and the brothers saw this as an opportunity for the Ishmaelites to sell their brother, Joseph, as a slave…and that is what they did. The brothers were rid of Joseph once and for all (or so they thought) and at the same time they pocketed 20 shekels of silver.
There was nothing Joseph could do. He couldn’t outrun his brothers. He couldn’t fight them. He couldn’t scream loud enough for his father or anyone to help him. All Joseph could do was think, think about what he could do, what he would do if the position of power would ever be reversed.
Today, I am going to text my younger brother, “You’re welcome. You’re welcome for me never selling you into slavery.” I suppose that means I should thank my older brother for not selling me into slavery either, but that doesn’t mean my older brother didn’t sin against me in other ways. My older brother sinned again me in ways I could not sin against him, not because I didn’t want to, but because he was bigger and stronger than me. I held a grudge. Have you felt that way, too, with a sibling, another family member or someone in your life?
It’s hard to kill a grudge. It’s much easier to nurse grudges like babies. Babies get thought of all the time, and so do grudges. Babies get special attention, and so do grudges. It becomes increasingly more difficult to wish a person well the longer you hold a grudge against them. So how did Joseph do it? How does Joseph let go of any grudge against his brothers? It’s not simply a matter of letting go of old grudges. It’s also a matter of holding on to God’s mercy.
- By holding on to God’s mercy
One psychological technique for dealing with anger is called reframing. Reframing is taking a situation you feel negatively about and changing how you view it, and thus, how you feel about it. For example, a woman is angry with her mother for raising her without affection. The daughter now blames her mother for her inability to connect warmly with people. If she can “reframe” the situation (get a wider view, pull the camera back) she might see something else. With reframing the daughter might see how her mother was abused as a child. With this “reframing” the daughter is able to feel better about her mother. “My mother didn’t beat me like her mother did.” Does that mean it was okay that the daughter should be raised without affection? No. But at least the reframing allows the daughter to see a bigger picture. That’s all I’m saying.
Joseph in his response to his brothers sees a bigger picture. He sees God’s mercy. “‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
Joseph reframes the issue. He sees the issue he had with his brothers from a wider lens, not just from the perspective of his brothers, but from God’s. God was merciful. God did not stop Joseph’s brothers from sinning against him, but God oversaw the travel plans of the Ishmaelites. Those Ishmaelites were a blessing to Joseph. They kept Joseph alive. The Epyptians were a blessing to Joseph, too. They trained Joseph for leadership in ways his father Jacob never would. God blessed Joseph through the sins of his brothers. The sins of his brothers enabled Joseph to participate in the work of angels and in the work of Jesus. “Don’t be afraid.” Those are the words of angels. Joseph says those words twice. “Don’t be afraid.” And like Jesus, Joseph reassured his brothers they were forgiven again and again.
In today’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-25) Jesus has us look at sins through the frame of money, and it’s true. When your brother or sisters sins against you, they owe you something. Wouldn’t it be kind of nice if their sin involved money? I’ll take $5,000 for your crabby attitude. Those words will cost you $10,000. Pay up! And that sin you don’t want me to repeat in church will cost you everything you have. That’d be kind of nice, but then Jesus pulls back the frame, and it’s not nice anymore. Jesus pulls back the frame to reveal my sin and whatever was owed to me is immediately lost along with everything I have because the sins I have committed against God are way more than the sins you have committed against me.
But Jesus reassures me of the forgiveness of my sins. Jesus does the same for you. Jesus didn’t just die on the cross for our sins, but Jesus has also overseen that the gospel message of the cross is repeated again and again and again. Even more Jesus has instituted the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. We have been washed clean of all sins. Today, we again receive Christ’s very own body and blood in a miraculous way for the forgiveness of sins.
So now do the work of angels and of Jesus. Forgive. Forgive others. Assure them of their forgiveness. I know I have just made forgiveness sound easy. It’s not. Forgiving others is hard. Forgiving others can become a process for us. Think of our forgiving this way. I am holding a box and inside this box is all the anger and resentment I have because of what you did to me. At the end of the day I am going to take this box of sin and in my prayer place that box at the foot of the cross. You are forgiven, but the next time I walk by you, there that box is again, it’s under my arm and against my hip. I hate that box. Somehow it seems to always come back to me, and every time it does, with God’s help, I’ve got to take that box of sin to the cross.
This forgiveness doesn’t mean there are not any consequences. There are always consequences with sins (and some sins are impossible to forget) but forgiving others means I don’t wish evil on anyone. I wish for heaven. I wish those who sin against me won’t be sinned against in the same way. Forgiveness means reframing the picture so the God I see working in my life may also be at work in the lives of those who sin against me by bringing them to repentance, absolution, and restoration as a servant in God’s kingdom.
So forgive others. Take your boxes of anger and resentment to the cross. Trust God to reframe the sin of others for your good and theirs. And do the work of angels and of Jesus. Assure others of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus. That’s the song of angels, a song worth repeating. Amen.