Genesis 45: 3-11, 15—————1 Corinthians 15: 35-38, 42-50
Luke 6: 27-38
February 20, 2022——————-7th Sunday after Epiphany
Rev. Patrick Mecham
There has been a lot of talk about healing and health—probably since the beginning of humanity. This has been especially true living through this pandemic! But in recent years, there have been some amazing discoveries. One of these is that our HEALTH is not just a matter of the physical body—it includes so many more facets. One major factor in our health is our relationships with other people—and our recent experience with quarantine and social distance and masks has given us plenty of evidence of this!
Our texts for today focus on another facet of our relationships, one that impacts our happiness, our life satisfaction, and, yes, our health. That facet is FORGIVENESS–the habit of forgiveness. The research shows that, if we want to live life to its fullest, we must release our desire for revenge and simply embrace forgiveness.
Is anyone else here a fan of the TV show “Ted Lasso”? Yeah, I know there is a lot of foul language on it, but I am so pleased to see that FORGIVENESS is a recurrent theme in this show. Even the most hardened characters are learning how to forgive!
For me, it’s what makes the show work.
Our texts for today are all about forgiveness. The Genesis story of Joseph and his brothers is a beautiful illustration, and in our Gospel lesson Jesus gives us specific instructions to love, to bless, to pray for, and to forgive those who have hurt us. Then, Paul’s words about seeds dying in the soil and then growing into something beautiful cause me to ask myself, “What has to DIE in me before something beautiful can germinate?”
Joseph and His Brothers
Jacob was Abraham’s grandson, and he had twelve sons. These were the original heads of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. We know that Jacob had two wives, and that his favorite was Rachel. (He only married Leah because she was older and had to marry first. That sets us up for some pretty good conflict right there, doesn’t it?!) Both Leah and Rachel had maidservants, and Jacob fathered children with them as well (as was the custom in those days).
Friends, I can only imagine the kinds of RIVALRIES that existed among these women—and the competition among the boys: it had to be brutal! Joseph was the first-born son of Jacob’s favorite wife, and he added fuel to the fires of jealousy by having dreams in which he was high and lifted up and his brothers all bowed down to him. (It might have been smart to keep those dreams to himself—but he didn’t.) To top it off, Jacob gave Joseph a beautiful coat, and his jealous brothers were ready to kill him.
One day, they got their opportunity! Only, instead of killing him, they sold him into slavery (to some distant cousins heading to Egypt). That way, they 1. Got rid of their annoying brother AND 2. Pocketed some silver!
You already know the story of 1. How Joseph did his best in Egypt; 2. How he was unjustly accused and sent to prison; 3. How he interpreted dreams for some servants of Pharaoh (who were also in prison); and 4. How he came to interpret Pharaoh’s own dream, which was a warning that after 7 years of plenty they would have 7 years of famine. And, as a result, Joseph was put in charge of storing up the surplus grain and then distributing it during the famine.
One question that the writer of Genesis doesn’t answer is How did Joseph manage to let go of his hurt at being betrayed by his brothers? How?
The text only tells us that he worked hard and God caused him to prosper in these difficult situations. And, by the time his brothers show up to buy some grain for the big family that is suffering back in Canaan, he is past his desire for revenge. He is delighted to see family—family that he never expected to see again—and he is so happy to reconnect that there is nothing but love and FORGIVENESS in his heart. (Well, he does play a practical joke on them that nearly frightens them to death.) But he assured them, “Don’t be distressed with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you in order to preserve life.” And, knowing that the famine will continue for years yet, he instructs them to bring Jacob and the whole family down to Egypt where they can flourish instead of perish.
I love the closing sentence: “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.”
You see, Joseph was in a position of great power, and he could have taken out his revenge on them in a horrible way. That is why they were so terrified! But his tears and his hugs showed them that he had forgiven them, and the story was going to have a beautiful ending!
Friends, that beautiful ending would NOT have been possible if Joseph had nursed his grudge and planned his revenge. No. Instead, he allowed his rightful anger to DIE, and something beautiful grew in its place!
Love Your Enemies
Our Gospel reading makes it clear that Jesus was intimately acquainted with the story of Joseph and his brothers, and he brings that message down very clearly:
- Love your enemies (even if family)
- Do GOOD to those who hate you
- Bless those who curse you
- Pray for those who abuse you (lift them into God’s light)
- FORGIVE, and you will be forgiven
These words were not spoken in some kind of vacuum. Jesus LIVED this way! Jesus understood that WE ARE ALL FAMILY. Family might fight and have disagreements, but family also forgives and loves and prays.
Martin Bell wrote a book called The Way of the Wolf, and it is a collection of stories that illustrate Gospel principles. One of his stories was about a little boy who liked to go out and listen to the Wind. One day, the Wind told him that whatever hurts others also hurts him, and that whatever HELPS others also helps him. If we use this principle, we could say that when I forgive and open the door to reconciliation, I am really helping myself to be whole and healed!
[IF we are all family, and IF we want to participate in The Beloved Community, then we will choose mercy, just as God chooses mercy when dealing with us. We will be kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. That means living without judgment or condemnation.]
How can we forgive when people have done such awful, hurtful things? I know many of you well enough to know that you have been dreadfully hurt. For some, the anger and resentment is slowly eating you up, robbing you of life. How do we forgive? How do we get started? Maybe it starts with a decision—a decision to bless those who curse us and pray for those who abuse us. When we pray for someone, our hearts will eventually soften towards them. God’s love then gives us strength beyond our own to love and forgive them.
And there’s the key! My love, your love is not enough to empower us to do as Jesus asks. It is GOD’s love that gives us strength beyond our own! A few weeks ago, I talked with the children about when Jesus said, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” He said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” The imagery here is that, as long as you and I are attached to Jesus, Godly love will flow through us—and the result is fruit. If we are cut off from Jesus, no fruit.
Now think about the people who hate you or abuse you, or perhaps they are just ungrateful. HOW do we love them/forgive them/do good to them/bless them? It all starts with a change in our attitude. Our honest prayer might be, “God, I DON’T love so and so, and I am finding it hard to forgive and pray for them. Please help me.” Please help me.
One promise that helps me is found in Philippians 2, “It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Even when I don’t have much of a will, God can give me the will! And once God gives me the will, God makes it possible to do the impossible work of forgiveness.
I began this morning by talking about how forgiving others contributes to our good health. It’s been said that holding on to a grudge is like drinking poison in the hope that the other person will die. Drinking poison. Previous generations can testify: when we do good to those who are mean to us; when we bless those who curse us; when we pray for those who abuse us—we tap into the blessings of love and forgiveness, and we release that deadly poison from our systems.
Friends, you may have every right to hold on to your pain, but God is asking you to lay it down—to release your hurt—and to stand at the foot of the cross as we hear Jesus say, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
I’ll finish on a personal note. I have spent 42 years in ministry, and forgiveness is the primary reason I have lasted so long! I have forgiven people for their small ways, and I have been forgiven when I have failed people as their pastor. And God’s love has flowed!
In case you have not yet heard, I am planning to retire at the end of August. I will no longer be your pastor, but I am confident that God is going to find me something interesting to do! Before that time comes, I want to thank you for your love, to ask for your forgiveness if I have failed you, and to pledge my prayers for you as God leads you into your next chapter!