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2023-09-17 Pentecost 16

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen!

Today’s sermon is all about the F-Word! … Forgiveness! What else where you thinking?! The lessons are all ripe with it. The Genesis reading has a family feud story that ends with it. The Ephesians reading gives a warm and comforting spin on it. The Gospel reading has an ever practical math lesson about it! Forgiveness. It is the sum and substance of the Gospel in Lutheran thinking, intrinsically tied to who we are as Lutheran Christians. How many times must we forgive each other? “Seven times?” Peter asks. “Not seven”, Jesus replies, “but seventy-seven times”. Peter though he would one-up the Rabbis. The Jewish forgiveness limit was 3 times. He thought that by going for 7 he’d be above and beyond in the forgiveness game. But our Lord Jesus isn’t teaching us to keep track of how many times we must respond in forgiveness when people sin against us. That’s not the point. Rather, it is to be limitless like God’s forgiveness that keeps no record of wrongs. Seventy times seven … 490 times it is!

Joseph. Now there was a guy who knew about forgiveness. It’s one of my favorite Old Testament stories. You remember the story, right? Joseph was one of the patriarch Jacob’s kids. This was back in the good ol’ days where every family still had 70x7 kids each! Joseph was one of the 12 sons of Israel. He was second to last in the birth order. And, he was the apple of Jacob’s eye, the favourite son. Jacob no doubt gave him an extra helping of perogees and cabbage rolls at the church potluck dinner. But he also received his now infamous “robe of many colours.” This extra bit of love from Dad made all the other brothers resent him. Good old fashioned jealousy. And on top of this, the Lord gave Joseph a gift too: the ability to understand dreams.It was kind of like a prophetic gift of ciphering out images and making sense of the strangeness our dreams often have. He himself had a dream that when he explained it to his brothers it immediately brought about more trouble for him. He said “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf” (Gen 37:6-7). Rubbing salt and lemon juice in the wound, Joseph basically tells his brothers that he is the best in the family and they all will bow down to him. Hatred for Joseph filled his brother’s hearts.

Now the Reader’s Digest version of what happens next is that the brothers got to a point where they couldn’t take it any more. Filled with jealousy that grew into hatred and rage, they grabbed Joseph, stole his prized robe, chucked him into an empty dugout, then sold him into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. His new masters took Joseph down to Egypt where eventually he would become the lord of all Egypt. But the dirtbag brothers went back to papa Jacob with Joseph’s goat-blood soaked robe in hand, leading him to believe that his favourite son had fallen victim to a ferocious beast in wilderness! Very dastardly indeed. You can see the progression of sin. Starts out as a mild annoyance, a bur in the saddle. Then like a weed in the garden, it grows. It grows and grows and starts spreading. Soon it consumes you. And that little sin becomes bigger and makes more sin. In this case, the outright lying to Jacob, and only one shade off of murdering their brother Joseph.

So eventually, these heinous events and actions of Joseph’s brothers come to the forefront of life. Most of the time we think our actions just stay in the past. But the past often has a nasty habit of coming back around and biting us, doesn’t it? Well it certainly did for Joseph’s brothers. The long story short is, the brothers experience a famine and have to go down to Egypt in order to get food. The Lord revealed to Joseph that this situation was coming and Joseph prepared for it filling the Egyptian larder with grain galore. So the sons of Jacob make their way to Egypt and here is where they realize that their hated brother Joseph is they guy they now must go to for help! It’s really a matter of life and death. They are starving in the land of Israel. They need grain. But how will Joseph respond? The dirt bag, no good brothers who hated him, abused him, stole from him, abandoned him, sold him into slavery and then lied to his beloved father about him, now need his help!

Now, if this was Hollywood movie, you know what would happen. Clint Eastwood would come out of the local saloon and shoot all these good for nothing dirt bag brothers, one by one, whilst Morgan Freeman narrated it! But the Bible is far from Hollywood and Hollywood is far from the Bible! The story of Joseph is not the big screen tale of glitz and glam, it’s a story about the F-Word… Forgiveness. And this is exactly what Joseph does for his brothers. He confronts them on their sin, on their harsh treatment of him. But through it all, Joseph sees that God has worked blessing from their evil. “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.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “‘Behold, we are your servants.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 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. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

Joseph had all the power and authority to do anything he wished. He was quite literally in ‘the place of God.’ He could have punished and tortured his brothers endlessly. He could have personally invoked revenge on them every single day for the rest of their lives. He could have fuelled his hate fire for them until the day he died. But what does he do? In weeping and tears, he forgives them. He truly forgives them. He requires no payment for their sin. He abandons all manner of justice and retribution. He leaves behind any thought of revenge. He acknowledges to them what they did was evil. But he sees God’s greater purpose. He sees how the Lord can transfigure pain and suffering into far reaching blessing. We see the cross. We see how Jesus does this for the redemption and forgiveness of all the world. We see how God’s ways are so incredibly not our ways, not the ways of Hollywood. And we see here an amazing template for us, a saintly road to dealing with conflict, hurt, pain, abuse, and suffering.

This is of course not the world’s way of responding. It’s foreign to the world. The world only knows revenge and hate. Human nature is to defend itself, to snarl and crouch in a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgivness is not natural. It only knows a sense of justice and retribution. It does not know the power of the real F-Word. It only knows the curses of the other f-word - the one you originally thought of! But here’s the key to this Bible text. Look at the story and see yourself in this spot. We’ve all been in Joseph’s shoes, staring at people who have hurt us, abandoned us, caused us pain, suffering or abuse. And, we’ve most likely been in the shoes of his brothers – people who have offended, caused the pain and hurt, been the source of conflict and strife. How will we respond? We can become bitter. We can bottle up all the hurt and pain and abuse. We can certainly let it marinate and fester within us. We can make ourselves bitter and void of joy. But who will we end up hurting? No one but ourselves.

Instead, look to Joseph in our Genesis reading. Look to Jesus in the Gospel! Look at the amazing power of forgiveness and how it can heal. Look to how God can work blessing from suffering and sin. Look at the restoration and wholeness that can result when we acknowledge that hurt has happened, yet we will not let it define us or imprison us. Instead, that amazing freedom, victory and light of the cross of Christ will shine brightly from us. In Jesus, we can let mercy prevail in our hearts and minds rather than hatred and revenge. For this is how God has responded to us. The Divine 490, 70x7, His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in our weakness. Let it be our prayer that our lives may always be richly overflowing with the F-Word … Forgiveness! For this is truly the only way to healing, hope and wholeness for us and for all the world. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32). Thanks and praise be to God now and forever. Amen!

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