September 13, 2020 Forgiving Those Who Hurt You
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
All 3 of our lessons today say something about the action of forgiving; we can and must forgive others, because God -in Christ- has forgiven us. The Epistle (Rom.14) speaks against passing judgment on others on minor things, such as what their chosen diet is, or whether they honor special days & occasions. Thru Paul, God says: “Or you, why do you despise your brother?” ‘Despise’ is what happens when we make ‘mountains out of molehills’, and hold grudges against those who do optional things differently. Instead of staying ‘offended,’ we can be forgiving, ‘let it go’, & bear with one another. The Gospel features Jesus’ parable of the UNforgiving servant; who refuses to forgive a small debt after he has been forgiven a very large debt. So,… *what about forgiving those who have hurt US by being mean or cruel?
Joseph’s life -in the book of Genesis- covers some different aspects of life, and of how God’s people are to handle both troubles and blessings. Thru Joseph, God helps us understand why & how we can forgive those who have hurt us.
Sometimes, it’s very difficult to forgive someone who has hurt us badly. We’re tempted to respond with avoidance, hate or revenge, gossip or slander. FOR EXAMPLE: *A co-worker takes credit for your work, & makes you look bad with your boss. Later, that same co-worker struggles with a project that’s due tomorrow, and they ask you for help = *what do you do? Maybe even at church you help with a project, but your name gets left out of the ‘thank-yous’;
(or you don’t feel appreciated) *what happens when the next project comes up ~ do you hold a grudge?
OTHER EXAMPLES: A classmate at school bullies you ~ constantly. Later, he’s accused of cheating on a test, but you know he’s innocent. *What do you do? OR your sister talks your aging mother into giving her a precious family heirloom that mom promised to you; and then your sister sells it! Later, your sister needs help with groceries for her family. *What do you do?
OR the music director asks you to sing a solo for a Christmas service. After you’ve practiced the music for weeks, she then asks her grandson to sing instead. Months later, with only a couple-days notice, the director asks you to sing for Easter because her grandson has just backed out. *What do you do?
Passing judgement, despising or snubbing others, or wanting payback is natural to our old, sinful nature; so, forgiving others who’ve hurt us is often very difficult. The world tells us, ‘Don’t get mad; get even!’ But God uses the life of Joseph to help us see why & how we CAN forgive those who have hurt us; even when we know they’ve done it on purpose.
Genesis chpt.50, is the conclusion of a long & very interesting story. Let’s go back 14 chpts and remember what happened between Joseph & his brothers. As the 11th of twelve brothers =and the most favored by his father= Joseph was given an expensive & colorful coat by father-Jacob, and he talked of the dreams he had == his brothers hated & envied him.
So-much-so, that his brothers plotted to kill him; first, they threw him into a pit.
Instead of killing him, Joseph was sold as a slave & taken to Egypt; where he was re-sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. The 10 brothers of Joseph covered up their wicked act by dipping Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood, and bringing it to their father. They let Jacob imagine that Joseph had been eaten by wild beasts, and Jacob grieved bitterly for his beloved son.
Meanwhile in Egypt, God was with Joseph as he served Potiphar; but Potiphar’s wife often tried to seduce Joseph. Once, while alone with her in the house, she forced herself on him, & he ran away, leaving his robe behind. Angered by Joseph’s rejection, she lied & told her husband that Joseph had attempted to molest her, and she showed Joseph’s clothing as evidence. Furious, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison.
But while he was there, God enabled Joseph to interpret dreams for Pharaoh’s cupbearer & baker, which soon came true. The cupbearer got released from prison & promised Joseph to put in a good word for him with Pharaoh ~ but he forgot; and Joseph languished in prison for
2 more years. Finally, one night, Pharaoh had troubling dreams that he couldn’t understand, and the cupbearer remembered Joseph. He suggested that Pharaoh ask Joseph to interpret his dreams. God gave Joseph the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams: seven years of good crops to be followed by seven years of famine. Amazingly, Pharaoh then chose Joseph to oversee the fourteen-year plan to collect, save, & sell the grain, and save the nation of Egypt.
Back in Canaan, the famine was harsh. Jacob sent those 10 sons of his to Egypt to buy grain. They had to talk to ‘the man in charge’; Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him.
After two trips, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers; and they cried & hugged; and Joseph opened the way for them to bring father-Jacob & 70 members of his family to Egypt & out of the famine. A grieving father was reunited with his lost-son, and all of them lived 17 years in Egypt before Jacob died.
With that background, our OT reading begins, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us, and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him’ ” For over 20 years, those brothers had lived in guilt about what they’d done to Joseph & to their father, Jacob. Every time they saw their father cry, grieving for Joseph, they knew they were to blame.
And even now, after the whole family-clan had lived together in Egypt for 17 years, somehow there had been no final reconciliation between Joseph & those 10 brothers who’d sold him into slavery. While their father was alive, the brothers felt pretty safe; but now that Jacob was dead, they thought Joseph would take revenge on them. *Hadn’t they ever had a heart-to-heart talk about the past during the years they lived together in Egypt?
Sometimes, instead of talking within our families & relationships, we have the idea that past hurts & sins will just go away if we don’t ever bring them up again. So, those things are never actually confessed & forgiven = just put aside for a while. Then, if the topic comes up later, it’s like tearing off a scab, and the bleeding & hurting starts again as badly as it did before. The thing did not heal itself. Instead of genuinely forgiving others, we sometimes just say, “That’s okay,” or “Don’t worry about it,” but that doesn’t actually heal the hurt like true forgiveness. Forgiveness is a godly promise, and a spiritual vow. If confession & forgiveness had happened, Joseph’s brothers wouldn’t have said that.
But, they’re afraid. “So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died: “Say to Joseph, ‘Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ ” And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father’ ”. Did father-Jacob actually say this? Probably not.
If Jacob had been worried that Joseph wouldn’t forgive his brothers, he probably would’ve told him many years earlier. Besides that, Joseph was also at his father’s deathbed, and heard his final words; that was another opportunity for Jacob to tell Joseph such an important thing.
So, it seems that the brothers are afraid, they don’t trust Joseph, & are still deceitful. Joseph is wise enough to know this; & he is sad that they don’t get it = this part of true faith. God preserves this event for us as a key lesson in forgiveness.
The action of confession & forgiveness is very specific, and very ‘christian’ in both the OT & the NT = it is ‘Christ-like’. And like a lot of God’s things, it’s also not easy; but it is very, very good = good, right & salutary. When we confess our sins to God, & to one another, we are to repent of them: that is, we are not only sorry for what we’ve done, but we also honestly intend to turn away from that sin in the future. And when we hear the words
“I forgive you,” we can trust that the sins are truly gone = this is God’s promise!
Without knowing God, the way of the world is to try to substitute for confession & absolution; often it has to do with being extra ‘nice’ for a while. Maybe we buy a gift for the person we’ve hurt, or do some good works for them. But that’s NOT the same thing as admitting sin, and seeking & receiving forgiveness. Repentance is not bribing someone so they won’t pay us back ~ hurt for hurt. True repentance is a sorrow & promise not to do that wrong again.
Likewise, true forgiveness is not just saying ‘ah, don’t worry about it’. To forgive is a specific choice & promise that we will no longer hold that sin against that person. Forgiveness ‘puts it away’; sin happened, but the criminal record is deleted, & can’t be used against them any more. So, that’s why either being nice to someone to make up for our meanness, or making someone work-off their wrongs against us, are not the same thing as true repentance & forgiveness.
This is why we Lutherans are Christians who make a main point of beginning our worship-time with a confession of sins and absolution. Compared to God’s Law & pure holiness we are ‘poor, miserable sinners’, who deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment. We can’t make God overlook our sin by being nice to Him; we can only admit our sins, and pray that He will have mercy to forgive us.
Which -because of Jesus & the cross- He has promised mercy. So then, in the stead & by the command of the Son & Savior, the pastor declares full & free forgiveness of all your sins. Your huge debt has been paid by Jesus, and The Master has declared you free & clear.
Sometimes family members have not spoken to one another for years over some hurt that’s never been resolved. Children abused by adults often live with the scars, because they’ve never closed the issue with repentance & forgiveness. And yet, this is how God forgives us every time we have confession & absolution. As Ps.103 says: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” And in Isaiah 43, God says “I will remember your sins no more.”
Joseph was sad & hurt that his brothers didn’t trust him; & they didn’t really understand the nature of their faith in the God of forgiveness. Joseph had already forgiven them and was not hiding hate for them, or waiting for revenge. In view of God’s mercy for him & of God’s bigger plan for his life, in all its ups & downs, Joseph understood that he was obligated & willing to fully forgive his brothers; he would trust God, and not hold anything against them.
His brothers fell down before him & said, ‘we are your servants’ . Many years before, God had given Joseph 2 dreams about his brothers bowing down before him; now it’s the 2nd time. The 1st time was when the brothers first came to Egypt for food and bowed before an Egyptian ruler & a stranger. But Joseph wasn’t interested in having SERVANTS who would fear & repay him; he wanted BROTHERS who would love him, & serve God alongside him.
“Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?’ ”. Joseph had seen the mysterious plans of God unfold into a great blessing in his life; *who was he to question God’s methods & larger plan? In Romans 12 we’re reminded: “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” …says the Lord.’ As Jesus’ parable tells us, we can & must forgive the debt of anyone who hurts us, because we ourselves are lowly & sinful servants who have had many greater debts forgiven us by our Master.
Joseph explains to his brothers that God had a purpose in allowing unfair & hurtful things to happen to him. He says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”.
Joseph repeats what he told his brothers 17 years earlier = when they hadn’t believed him.
He had told them: “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. . . . So it was not you who sent me here, but God”.
Joseph saw God’s hand accomplishing good thru the years of hurt that he endured.
This is still true for God’s people: we live in a sinful & fallen world, but God turns evil around to make good come from it = esp to focus & strengthen our faith & trust in Him. Even tho God’s purpose is sometimes hidden from us, He never forgets His people, and He always has good purposes. St.Paul echoes this in Rom 8: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” And this is true for all who are God’s people in Christ.
Those who hated & crucified & killed God’s Son meant it for evil; but God meant it for good = the saving of many souls, and the forgiveness of the sins of the whole world by His cross. It’s when we realized that we have received ‘grace’ = that’s mercy we don’t deserve; then we will also be able to extend that kind of grace to those who sin against us. It shows that we know and follow Jesus = the Savior of the world. We are able to forgive others because He has first forgiven us.
What Joseph’s brothers did to him looked like it had ruined Joseph’s life. But Joseph had trusted & believed that God was always in control of his life. That’s also true of your life;
no matter what others have done or may do to you, you have a Lord & Master you can trust.
And because He has called us to His purposes, & forgiven us much, so we will be able to forgive those who sin against us. Repentance and forgiveness; this is the way of the family of God.