Readings: Genesis 45:3-11, 15 Luke 6:27-38
We pray: Loving God, we have heard your word from scripture for us today. We pray ears to hear and hearts ready to respond to your desire for us to walk in your way with commitment and courage. In the name of the one who shows the way. Amen.
Joseph and the amazing technicolour dream coat must be one of the most performed stage musicals around. Ms Wikipedia says it is one of the most family friendly shows with lots of catchy music and familiar themes. Actually I seem to remember one or both of our girls doing this at Amberley Primary. And it does pretty much tell the biblical story (although I do stand to be corrected there) but…. family friendly? I’m not so sure about that.
Because actually, this is one of the most dramatic scenes in Scripture. Years have passed since Joseph’s brothers first put him down a pit then sold him to passing Midianite traders. All that time they have lived the lie before their father that Joseph was dead, torn to pieces by a wild animal. It would I suspect lay heavy on their hearts. It was a shared conspiracy they could never talk about even among themselves. Perhaps they had even come to believe the lie themselves. Perhaps during the night they had, on sleepless nights, played the scene over, time and again and wondered if only they could have wound the clock back.
Whatever their fantasy, nothing prepared them for what now happened. They had first come to Egypt where they struggled to make sense of the Governor’s actions and attitude towards them. They had been accused of being spies and saw this unfair attack as punishment for how they had treated Joseph. Justified retribution. And then to compound their confusion they found silver among the grain and couldn’t comprehend where it had come from.
Their second visit to Egypt was just as bizarre. They were honoured without explanation by a meal from the governor and told that their God had put the silver in their sacks. On their return again there was silver among the grain but more significantly a silver cup was added to Benjamin’s sack - a dangerous find for the family. But – here is the difference - when he is arrested the brothers stand by him in a way they never stood by Joseph all these years before. They show a concern for their father and brother that was new since Joseph had last been with them. Judah offers to take his brother’s place and suffer instead of him.
It was this new attitude that finally breaches Joseph’s defences and he breaks into weeping. Their surprise at his tears was nothing compared to their reaction to his first three words, probably spoken, to their surprise, in Hebrew, “I am Joseph!” You can imagine - terror gripped them as their past wickedness was finally fully revealed. There was nowhere to turn.
What followed shows the triumph of grace over judgment. Words of forgiveness and reconciliation come from Joseph’s lips. He calls them closer and adds to his opening words the word “brother”. “I am your brother, Joseph.” He re-establishes the bond their betrayal had broken.
Joseph’s story shows how God used their wickedness for good. Although twice he says, “You sold me,”
three times he says, “God sent me ahead of you”. Joseph takes seriously their hurtful actions, but, in God’s hands, their actions become a reconciliation, a light for their people.
Their abandoned brother had become governor and he would ensure many, who otherwise would have died, would survive the famine. Instead of rejecting or punishing them he extends a hand to them and tells them to bring his father down to Egypt to see out the famine years.
Greeting Benjamin first, he embraced all his family and tears fell freely. Such is the wonder of forgiveness, of mercy and of grace. Healing and restoration had come after all these years.
It is such a powerful story, a very real transformation of what was an arrogant, spoiled and dream gifted young man into one who could say ‘I forgive you’ to his brothers who sold him off into slavery.
His self absorption grew into wisdom, his desire for revenge was replaced with compassion – to those who had most hurt him. His sense of division became instead a journey of reconciliation. And perhaps one of the most absorbing parts of this story - he not only forgave his siblings but he also gave them a pathway to life.
And let’s face it – we have pretty much all been wronged at some stage, been in situations where things have definitely not gone our way. And other times we have been in positions where what we say and do has wronged others. We have not sought the full story, we have judged from afar, we may even have metaphorically at least dropped an annoyance down a well. So how do we get out of that horrible spiral of holding on to anger and the sense of injustice and become instead agents of reconciliation as Joseph was?
And actually this is what the Gospel of Luke is directing us to do – to forgive those who have harmed us, those who have made our lives miserable, how do we turn from enmity to love – cause it ain’t easy. You might say the reading is not difficult to understand but it certainly is difficult to do!
When people put us down, ignore us, belittle our views and demean those whom we love, how do we put aside the desire to at worse, pay back and at best to have nothing to do with them. It’s impossible, isn’t it? Only by the grace of God we might say.
Jesus is very practical and pragmatic about the examples he uses to teach here. And it is helpful, I believe. Basically he is saying that whatever we feel inside, our actions should do good – it’s not like we are going to see a miraculous change of heart from those we offer grace to – but we must do it anyway.
“Love is not a victim of our emotions but a servant of our will” says John Stott. Our attitude should be one of blessing not cursing, of prayer not provocation. Instead of retaliation, remain vulnerable; where exploited be generous in response; let loans become gifts and love repay hate. This countercultural way of grace marks the Christian community out from others. Jesus makes the point in this reading of showing how the default position of the world is self-interest. We love because we are loved. We do good to those from whom we have a reasonable expectation that they will return the favour. We lend where repayment is guaranteed. But go to a different gear, operate on a different level, show the same mercy to others that God shows to us and you will show the world to which family you belong.
We so need to think about Joseph’s turnaround, what it took for him to drop the antagonism and learn to forgive. To give up being embittered and instead to turn our ways to these somewhat daunting teachings of Jesus – to make that step into unexpected love when all someone is expecting is another put down, to put aside the judgment and instead offer to listen, to let go of the expectation of return and simply give – trusting in God to make a difference. It’s a journey Joseph took, and it’s a journey for us to take, one that takes us not only turns enmity to love, but one that also leads us into new and fruitful relationships, offers hope to those whose future is bleak.
A reconciled community of God, transforming the lives of those we meet because we do the unexpected, the unearned, the unbelievable. We love freely, we give freely, we do good freely, expecting nothing in return - knowing instead that this is the transforming reconciling power of God at work in the world – through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Credit for much of this Sermon goes to the Church of Scotland Website Worship Resources