Sermon: Epiphany 7 RCL C – “Forgive”


I’ve been working on my mind reading skills.  Let’s see how I’m doing (you may want to grab a pen if you need help with some light math.  I know I do!): 

1. Pick a number from 1-10. Any number.

2. Multiply it by 2.

3. Add 8 to that number.

4. Divide it by 2.

5. Subtract. Current number – Original Number. Take your time to do it right.

6. Match that number to an alphabet letter. For example 1-A, 2-B, 3-C and so on… Got the letter?

7. Think of an European country that starts from that letter

8. Take second letter from that country and what is the first animal you think of that starts with that animal?

9. Now think of the color of that animal

Ready?  Ok… let me read your mind… If you are thinking of a grey elephant, please raise your hand.

Why are we concerned with mind readers this morning?  Because, after reading that first sentence of our Old Testament lesson, I figured many would need to be a mind reader in order to know what the heck was going on: “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”  What in the world is this all about?  Some will know (and a bit later on I look forward to covering the story in more detail during our Sunday school lessons on the Patriarchs) but maybe we could all use bit of a refresher.

In our study, we know that Abraham was the father of Issac and Issac was the father of Jacob (who will later be named Israel).  Jacob will have four wives and twelve sons.  His favorite wife was Rachel and his favorite son was Rachel’s first child (and Jacob’s eleventh son), Joseph.  Joseph’s younger brother, by Rachel, was Benjamin.

Because Jacob showed favoritism toward Joseph, the ten older brothers did not like him.  When Jacob made Joseph a coat of many colors, the ten liked him even less.  When Joseph had two dreams demonstrating that his brothers and father would eventually bow down before him… things just got nasty.

One particular day, the older brothers were out tending the flocks and Jacob sent Joseph out to find them.  When the older boys saw him coming, one said, “Here comes this dreamer.  Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”  They did not end up killing him, but sold him as a slave and Joseph ended up in Egypt.  They took Joseph’s colorful coat, covered it in blood, and holding it out to Jacob, their father, told him that Joseph had been killed by wild animals.  

Now, fast forward through twenty-two years and many adventures: then a great famine settles in the land.  Jacob and his family need food, so Jacob sends those same ten brothers who sold Joseph to Egypt to trade for their needs.  In order to receive the food, the ten must go and ask it of the man who in Egypt was second only to Pharaoh.  They did not know it, but that man was their brother, Joseph.  We are told, “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.”  Eventually, there is the great reveal and Joseph makes himself known.  The brothers, seeing Joseph who they had treated so badly, are greatly disturbed by their actions, yet Joseph says to them… insert our lesson from today: “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”  He said to them, “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”  In other words, Joseph forgave his brothers and said, all that has happened is a part of God’s plan, so that we might be in a position to save God’s people.

Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers; and he was one of the most powerful people in the world, so he could have done whatever he liked to them, from sending them away empty handed, to placing them into slavery, to putting them to death, but he chose another path.  A path that led to reconciliation. 

With that understanding, hear again the words of Jesus from our Gospel lesson: Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies even if they sell you into slavery, do good to those who hate you even if they think of killing you, bless those who curse you because they do not understand how God is working, pray for those who abuse you, because you may win them back as a brother or sister. If anyone strikes you on the cheek or throws you into a pit, offer the other also and allow God to work his purposes; and from anyone who takes away your coat, even if it is a technicolor coat, do not withhold even your shirt or your life. Give to everyone who begs from you even if that person has done you very wrong; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again, for they were God’s goods to begin with. Do to others as you would have them do to you, regardless of how they’ve treated you in the past…. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.’”

I’ll tell you a story that I know I’ve told you before, but like any good story, it doesn’t hurt to hear it again: it takes place in Spain.  A father and son got into a tremendous heated argument, which led to the son running away.  Almost immediately the father felt remorse over what he had said and so he went in search his son.  He searched for months, but he could not find him. Finally, in a last frantic endeavor to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” On that Saturday, 800 boys named Paco showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their father.

You don’t need to be a mind reader to know that if there is one thing this world needs, it is forgiveness.  We need to be forgiven by God. We need to be forgiven by others and we need to forgive those who have hurt us.  So we need to stop judging over who may or may not be right.  We need to stop condemning and being so stubborn because we simply don’t want to let something go.  We need to start forgiving and being forgiven.  In that last phrase, Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you.”  I suppose we could think of that in terms of some sort of material gift: goods, money, etc., but in this context, I don’t think that is what Jesus is asking us to give.  I think Jesus is asking us to give love.  Love.  For in not judging or condemning and by forgiving, we are truly loving; and by loving in such a manner, we are becoming more like Jesus, because that is exactly how he loved us.  

“Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
(An Essay on Criticism: Part 2 by Alexander Pope)

In your relations with others, strive for the divine.

Let us pray: 

God, our Father,
You redeemed us
and made us Your children in Christ.
Through Him You have saved us from death
and given us Your Divine life of grace.
By becoming more like Jesus on earth,
may we come to share His glory in Heaven.
Give us the peace of Your kingdom,
which this world does not give.
By Your loving care protect the good You have given us.
Open our eyes to the wonders of Your Love
that we may serve You with a willing heart.

Amen.

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