"The Hardest Thing: Forgiveness" by Pastor A.J. Houseman
Based on Genesis 37, 39-47
This morning, I am going to veer away from our lessons assigned for today to talk about our final Sunday in our theme of Reconciliation. Today we talk about: reconciling with others.
To do this, I’d like to share with you the story of Joseph in my own words. You know the one, the “King of Dreams” with his famous play “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”.
See Joseph is the youngest of many sons at the time of his youth. He is his father, Jacob’s, favorite son. First of all… wow. Way to go Jacob. Isn’t that like parenting 101, don’t have favorites? Or at least, don’t tell anyone if you do! Let alone, buy him a super pretty coat when you have 11 other sons. Just saying.
So Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him for this fact. They have built up anger and resentment towards their youngest brother. And so, when they are working the fields far from home one day that Joseph is sent to them by their father, they decide to make a move.
At first, they decide to kill him. What? This seems a bit extreme right?
Ok so then one of the brother’s is like, whoa guys, let’s not kill him. Let’s just throw him into a pit and leave him there to die. Then one of them gets the idea that they might as well profit off him at least so they sell him and fake his death.
They take their own brother, their own flesh and blood, strip him of his cloak, his rights, and his freedom and sell him into human trafficking.
He’s taken to Egypt and sold as a slave to an Egyptian official. That guy’s wife makes a move on Joseph and when he refuses she lies and says he tried to go after her and so he is thrown into prison.
Let’s call this Joseph’s rock bottom. He has been thrown away by his brothers, abused and taken advantage of, and is now rotting in a prison.
I imagine the pain he is feeling. To be in a strange land, with people who speak a language he cannot understand. To be ripped away from his family. His loving father and mother at such a young age. How scared he would be in a foreign prison by himself. And then the betrayal of knowing it was your own family, your own brothers, whom you looked up to and loved, that put you here. For what?
But you guys know the story, it gets better from there. Joseph’s spiritual gift is interpreting dreams. He interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants who then tell Pharaoh and then he interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and becomes leader over all of Egypt.
Then his brothers come down to Egypt for food because there's a huge famine that Egypt is prepared for because of Joseph’s dream interpretation but Canaan is not.
Then there’s this whole saga about the new youngest brother, Benjamin. Joseph finds out how hurt his family was after he was sold and that Benjamin is basically his replacement in his father’s eyes because he thinks Joseph is dead thanks to his brothers who are now begging for food.
Joseph’s brothers are feeling pretty guilty. They are like, “uhhh we did some pretty horrible stuff to Joseph… Like what if he pays us back in full?” uh, oh.
And Joseph does the thing. The thing that seems so impossible to me after being sold into slavery, taken from your family, those that you love, taken to a foreign country against your will as a slave. The impossible thing? Joseph forgives them.
I cannot address you honestly and authentically this morning about forgiveness without recognizing one simple truth: Forgiveness, in my belief, is the single hardest thing that we are asked to do in our faith.
Take care of the poor? Ok, no problem. Heal the sick? No problem. Love our neighbors? No problem. Even love our enemies? Yeah, we can do that.
But forgiveness? Whoa now.
Why? Because in order for someone to require our forgiveness, it means that they have hurt us, deeply. Oftentimes, for someone to be able to inflict this kind of pain on us they have to be close enough to do so. So it's someone that is close enough to us to cause us pain.
That sense of betrayal by loved ones, the ones that we trust most is exactly what Joseph is experiencing.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter asks, how many times do we forgive someone who has wronged us? 7 times?
7 times?! Whoa now, don’t get carried away. Can you even forgive someone once for this kind of wrong?
But Peter seems to think that 7 times is a reasonable and rather substantial amount. I agree Peter, it does seem like a lot.
Oh but Jesus…. Jesus takes our expectations of reasonable and turns it on its head. 77 times. Or as some translations say “70 times 7 times”. And that is way too high for me.
The representation of these numbers is meant to signify something that is immeasurable. Or infinite. The idea is that Jesus is saying forgive immeasurably.
Each Sunday, right after the words of institution, and before we receive communion, we pray together. We come together and pray the words that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. There’s a line in there about forgiveness. How does that go again?
I’ll give you a second.
Addressing God, we ask “forgive us our trespasses (sins or debts) as we forgive those who trespass (sin or are indebted) against us.”
We pray for God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others….. Uh oh.
I’m going to jump to the punchline first, God forgives our sins not based on our own merit, but through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Jesus paid it all in full. This gift is given freely and irrevocably through this promise. This gift is called Grace. We talked about it last week…. And really every other week before that too.
So why would we pray for God to forgive us as we forgive-- if God is already doing the forgiving? Freely and fully. Divine forgiveness is greater than we can ever imagine.
What if we are not praying to remind God to forgive us but to remind ourselves of God’s forgiveness. What if Jesus is reminding us of the gift of divine forgiveness and we are to aim to forgive with this divine grace?
Because the question is not, “are you forgiven?”, the question is not “how are you forgiven?”, the question is not “do you deserve to be forgiven?”, but rather by the statement “forgive me as I forgive”, the question is, “how do you want to be forgiven?”
God is going to forgive freely and fully. This is divine. I could argue that all of forgiveness is divine. Because forgiveness doesn’t make any sense in our human ways. You pay debts. You don’t get let off the hook for justice for wrong doings. It’s illogical. To forgive.
One of the most basic laws that has survived the longest in human history is Hammurabi's code. From the Babylonian empire… you know it: “an eye for an eye”. Equal payment of debts. Fair.
Well friends, here is the sticky thing with forgiveness. The thing that makes it illogical and hard to do for we, humans. Forgiveness is not fair.
God’s gift of forgiveness to us is not fair. We don’t deserve it, we didn’t pay for it. This divine gift of reconciliation and love is not based on any logical reasoning.
And it is God who gives us the grace to give this illogical gift of forgiveness. It is by God’s grace that we forgive.
Our call to reconcile with others is nothing short of a divine gift from God, to forgive. Reconciliation takes many pieces and the most challenging of them is this one.
So how do you want to be forgiven? Divinely? Freely and fully? Yeah, me too.
Now go and do likewise… This is our greatest challenge as followers of Jesus. But through that divine gift, equipped with God’s grace, we can be agents of God’s reconciling love in this world. Amen.