The Gift That Keeps On Giving
How wonderful to have the story of Joseph today, at least this last portion of this family’s story. We remember how special Joseph was to his father, Jacob, the first-born son of his beloved wife, Rachel. His other siblings were jealous of Jacob’s love for Joseph, jealous of the beautiful coat given to Joseph. Their jealousy drove them to beat Joseph, tear his coat to make it appear that he had been attacked by a lion. They pushed him into a cistern, and then sold him as a slave. Yet Joseph was found favor with Potiphar, the Egyptian ruler, and he was trusted and given a high position in his court. Then sin raised its ugly head again in his life as Potiphar’s wife wanted him for her own physical wants. As he attempts to honor who she was, she betrays this honor and gets him imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. His skills and gifts given to him by God were used as he told the butler and baker the meaning of their dreams. He noted that he was able to take the punishment dealt because God was with him, even in prison. The butler is restored to his position; the baker is hung as revealed by their own dreams and Joseph’s interpretation. Years later, as Potiphar is troubled by his own dreams, the butler remembers Joseph’s skill at interpreting dreams; Potiphar calls upon Joseph to reveal their meaning. Joseph is then reinstated to Potiphar’s court as governor and wisely plans for the years of abundant harvest and years of famine. We remember that Joseph’s family suffers in the years of famine. His brothers are sent to Egypt to beg for food where Joseph recognizes his long-lost family. He works his position by having a brother imprisoned, and requires them to bring Benjamin with on their next trip. Jacob worries that he will lose yet another son, never getting over the loss of Joseph. We know how Joseph’s cup is planted in Benjamin’s bag, and he is accused of stealing. Joseph has his father brought in, rent with grief. A grand reunion happens as Joseph reveals his true identity. What was intended as evil – revenge over their father’s love for Joseph, God, through Joseph, uses for good – an opportunity for forgiveness and reconciliation. The brothers have the opportunity to repent, to remember and to reconcile. Forgiveness is a process.
We have the opportunity to view ourselves through this story of Joseph. The revenge, the jealousy and sin of these brothers had long-standing consequences not just for Joseph, but for their father, for Benjamin, for their families and their community. Forgiveness does not come easily. Confessing our sin on a Sunday morning using the liturgy within our worship may roll off our tongues as we stand side by side; we read the words, but what do the words mean to us. In the very few moments where we stand in silence to reflect on our lives, our sins known and unknown to us, what are we thinking? Do we have the urge to run from the sanctuary, to beg forgiveness from someone? Do we have the urge to not say anything, knowing that there are those things we really don’t want to let go of? What thoughts, words, deeds do we keep in the depths of the dark parts of our very souls? Forgiveness is a process; it is not easy to truly ask “forgive us our trespasses, our sins, as we forgive those who trespass, sin, against us.” As much as we would like to say that it is easy to speak and mean these words, “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s abundant grace that we are able to speak these words and to KNOW God, who promises to forgive our sin, and indeed does so. Forgiveness is a process of turning our lives around, of remembering who we are and whose we are, and taking every opportunity God offers us to reconcile with God and with our brothers and sisters in our families, our church and our community. The ability to forgive and to be forgiven is beyond our human capacity; it comes as a gift from God.
Why is forgiveness so important? Why, if God knows our hearts, doesn’t God know we’re sorry? God knows us, indeed knows us better than we know ourselves. God knows that we hold grudges, knows that at times we contemplate how we can get revenge for being wronged. God knows our wants and desires often get the best of us and we want far beyond what we either need or deserve. Many of us see what the other has and wants it, too. In fact, we often want it to be bigger and better than what our neighbor has. Thank God we are not left alone in our prisons of desire, our prisons of revenge and retaliation, our prisons of greed and our blindness to see how easily we are tempted. Thank God we have the miracle of God’s love for all God’s creatures given in God’s son, Jesus Christ. We need the memory of the pain and suffering inflicted on us as much as what we have inflicted on others to keep us returning to God for mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Look at the model we have in Jesus. He is betrayed and abandoned by his disciples, yet he reappears in his resurrection to these very followers to repair the damage done when their relationship broke down. They are able to remember their fear, betrayal, violation of the promise to stay with him. In remembering, they are able to hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness, and they are knit back together. He models loving those who acted out of fear and anxiety, protecting themselves at the cost of another, their very Lord. He doesn’t encourage them to pretend that nothing happened. In an article on forgiveness in a previous issue of The Lutheran magazine, an example is given of a woman who spoke of a vicious betrayal and her attempt to put it behind her. “These folks were renting too much space in my head, and I wanted to renegotiate the rental contract. I pray for forgiveness. That doesn’t mean I trust them with my life. I don’t know if I could be friends with any of those people again, but I’m working to love them –as enemies.” Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.”
How can we love like this? How is it possible? We turn to the cross, the crucifixion when Jesus was abandoned by his friends, followers, even his beloved Father. He hangs there staring into the face of evil, defies this evil as he forgives: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Are the words spoken in compassion or are they spit out of the mouth of this dying Jesus? Jesus doesn’t say he can do this, but asks that the One who sent him make it so – “Father, forgive them.” He found the forgiveness not from himself, but from God, his Father. Jesus’ forgiveness from the cross remains one of his most important lessons he left behind for us.
Forgiveness, deep and true forgiveness, does not come overnight. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to forgive. It is God who promises to stay with us in our prisons of hurt, thoughts of revenge, struggles to let go. It is God who loves us abundantly beyond our understanding who provides the grace and mercy to forgive. Reconciliation is the miracle of forgiveness – the ability to be able to come back into our relationship with God, admitting that it is us who have wandered off, checked in only when we personally wanted something for ourselves, or sometimes asking for another. And in that miracle, other relationships are restored as well. We do not live just in a bubble in and for ourselves. We live in families, congregations, community; we are broken people. But by the grace of God, the miracle of forgiveness restores us to be who God has created us to be and who God calls us to be. We are called into community by the One who forgives us; we are called then to give as generously as we have been given, to live out Jesus’ cross and resurrection, to live out of an empty tomb and into a journey of real discipleship, real commitment and real accountability for the gifts we have so richly been given. Remembering 9-11 and the ongoing terrorist attacks throughout our world, school shootings, flooding, fire, earthquakes, and devastating storms, we thank God for grace to forgive. Forgiveness is a process and a gift! It is the gift that keeps on giving!
Genesis 50: 15-21
Psalm 103: [1-7] 8-13
Romans 14: 1-12
Matthew 18: 21-35