Read Genesis 50:15-21
Dear brothers and sisters in faith,
Our sermon text today, is right at the end of the Book of Genesis. And this passage on the reconciliation or forgiveness is significant in the sense that it brings to an end the story of God with Abraham and Sarah and their descendants to a, let us say, graceful end. In the next book which is Exodus, we start the story of the people of Israel, the formation of a nation and their walk with with God.
So our bible text is a scene of reconciliation, it is about hurts, forgiveness generosity and it also leaves many, many questions for us. It is the story of Joseph, so let's start at the beginning.
The story of Joseph in modern television terms would be a 'Tele-novella' depicting a family saga with enough drama to keep the afternoon soap opera watchers captivated for months and months. It has all the elements: There is betrayal, there is lying, there is deceit, there is a hero who dreams and and has visions which come true in the end, there is a brother with conflict of conscience in spite of going along with the lies; a broken hearted father who later learns that his son is alive and the son, the hero who in spite of traumatic events rises to a position of power and saves his family from starvation and extinction!
Jacob called Joseph the son of his old age and loved him very much. Joseph was a dreamer and his dreams interpreted meant that his brothers would bow before him. So his brothers decided to kill him. Then they threw him into a pit. The brothers saw some Midianites/Ishmaelites traders and the changed their plans and sold Joseph to them They took Joseph to Egypt where he suffered a lot and ended up in prison. Through his ability to interpret the Pharaoh's dreams he predicted a famine and the Pharaoh made him a high official in charge of the granaries of Egypt.
His brothers came to Egypt to buy grain during the famine. Joseph made himself known to them. There was forgiveness and the brothers went to Canaan and brought their father and the rest of the family to Joseph in Egypt to avoid famine. Joseph had finally made it after much struggle. He was a powerful man.
Now Jacob was dead and had been buried in Canaan. Then Joseph's brothers still living in Egypt become afraid. Now that their father was dead, Joseph would take his revenge on them for what they did to him.
So they go to Joseph and from our text, they did not go honestly to Joseph to ask for forgiveness. They tell him their father asked them to tell him to forgive his brothers as servants of the God of his father Jacob. Joseph tells them not to be afraid. He tells them he is not God. And then gives the statement: You intended to harm me, but God intended for good for what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
This is passage is about reconciliation and forgiveness. Joseph's answer, is gracious and generous. However the text raises many questions. Were the brothers asking for forgiveness or were they being simply dishonest in using their father's name, conveying purported instructions from Jacob to force Joseph to pardon them?
We also don't learn whether Joseph forgives his brothers. He acknowledges that his brothers have done him wrong, but does not explicitly say I have forgiven you for selling me into slavery. Yes, God has turned the evil intentions of the brother to something good. He saved lives. Joseph himself had gained political power in the court of Pharaoh. But it seems the relationship between the brothers remain as complicated as it has always been with the added factor that fear of revenge from Joseph. Joseph makes a clear decision to move forward into the future. To be able to move into the future, he has to leave the issue of judgment to God. Secondly, in view of the blessings he had received from God, he recognises that God, is the only one with the might to to change the most treacherous betrayal into something positive. So Joseph instead of expecting an apology which may not come has chosen to see the divine hand in the course of his life.
Dear brothers and sisters. I hope what Joseph sees is the divine hand that turns the evil intentions of others into good. That is not to say that people living in abusive relationships should be encouraged to remain because somebody else told them it was the will of God that they suffer. That would be sad indeed. People living in abusive conditions should certainly be supported and given all the help they need to end the situation of abuse if they want to.
It is obvious from this story that the issue of hurt, forgiveness and healing is as complicated as the relationship between Joseph and his brothers. Joseph had had time during the time his brothers were in Egypt and realised that basically the hatred and the envies would not vanish. Could he have moved on?
Joseph probably realised his brothers would not change.
Sometimes we also have to live with the fact that our people may not change and focus on ourselves instead having expectation on them.
How do you deal with people who deliberately hurt you and never seem to want to stop? Or how deal with those who are unwilling to accept the fact that they have hurt you?
To forgive is not always something you decide one day and then it is done. It is a process and sometimes a rather long one. In this process, we may learn a lot about ourselves. The pain and the disappointment may keep coming back. It can be a tomentous process where one may feel guilty about the inability to get rid of the pain and inability to forget as many are told: “Forgive and forget.”
In a process of hurt one may focus on the other person and wonder that he seems not to suffer under the burden of your hurt. Did Joseph's brothers ever regret selling him off? We do not know. How did Joseph feel seeing his brothers all these years they were in Egypt with him? What decisions did he take and how was he able to look at them day to day as they prospered and lived at his generosity?
Yes brothers and sisters, more likely than not, the people who hurt you may not come to say sorry. They may not vanish from your life and you may continue to see them day in day out or week for week.
One sentence which I read somewhere, and which has made a great impression on me since then says: Whenever you come to the idea that God hates or dislike every human being you hate or dislike, then you should be aware that you have created God in your own image!
When we are hurt, we may wish that the offender may just vanish out of our lives through whatever means. We are frustrated with God as we read in the Psalms which question God about why do evil people continue to prosper. What I am saying is that like the story of Jonah, God may not choose to punish this offender at the time when you feel he should have do it. If he is punished at all, you may not be able to witness it or you may have moved on with your life to the extend that his suffering may even make you sad. In God's image we are all created and God chooses to deal with individuals according to his relationship, grace and mercy.
Joseph chose to move on, to focus on his future. To focus on the mercies God had poured on him. He chose to live his pains, his disappointment in God's hands. Sometime we also as individuals can, but sometimes it can be a long and arduous process.
When Jesus tells us to forgive seventy time seven, I don't think he assumed it would be easy for us. I guess he know God is willing at anytime to support and help us heal in painful situations. I supposed he knew we would some how finally find the way to him when we were stretched to the limit. After all, we Christians sometimes call him the God of last minute.
Another aspect is what happens when we have hurt others and finally accept to apologise and the apology is not accepted.
It is not easy to shrug our shoulders. We still may live in pain. We still may feel rejected and we still maybe unhappy. What would Joseph have done? He probably would focus on the fact that he had tried to do the right thing. No matter who is wrong in a story, trust is not easy to win. It has to be earned. We do not know if Joseph and his brother ever regained trust between them. What is clear is that the issue of forgiveness has never been easy in our human history. There is suffering between perpetrator and the offended person. It is also clear that there are no magic formulas for dealing with such situations, no matter what counsellors may say, It is however possible to move on, with the help of God. It is possible to move on, not by focussing on the other person and his wrongs, but by focussing on one's self and taking a decision to move forward on an unexplored and insecure terrain. It is possible to move forward despite anger and hurt. It is possible to move forward, even when our shaken faith can only cry out: Hold me Lord, or I fall.
Yes, Joseph said it and may it be true for all of us. God is truly able to change our worse dramas into blessings. And he is there for us, when we need him most. Amen.
If you have a copy of the United Methodist Hymnal, pray, read or sing Hymn 390 (Forgive Our Sins, as We Forgive)
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth and for ever more. Amen.