Sermon: Genesis 50:15-21 – Vicar Matt Huckel
Exchanging fear for forgiveness
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their Father was dead they said ‘If Joseph bears a grudge against us, he will surely deal out to us all the evil which we dealt out to him’. 16 And they sent orders to Joseph, saying: ‘Your father gave these orders before his death:’ 17 ‘Therefore say this to Joseph: Please forgive the rebellion of your brothers and their sin for the evil they dealt out to you. Now please forgive the rebellion of the servants of the God of your Father’. And Joseph wept, as he heard these words.18 And his brothers went to him and fell down before him and said: ‘Behold, we are your slaves’. 19 And Joseph said to them: ‘Do not be afraid. For am I in the place of God? 20 You devised evil against me, but God devised goodness for the purpose of accomplishing a day like this for the life of many people.21 Now please do not be afraid. I will nourish you and your little ones’. So Joseph comforted them and spoke to their hearts.http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/20171008_message_pt1.mp3http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/20171008_message_pt2.mp3
It is without a doubt very hard for many of us to confront someone face to face about a problem especially if we have been wronged by that person in some way. The fear of dealing with a disturbingly negative emotional reaction or even the fear of perhaps losing a friendship sometimes stops us from saying something in person. Or we can try to opt out using the safest routes to minimise personal cost: send a messenger to do our dirty work for us or perhaps decide to write an email. We can justify an email because we can carefully think through every word to do the job well. But so often it backfires causing added offence and misunderstanding because in an email you can’t see the person’s facial expressions as you read. In thinking about not offending people I’m reminded about the joke about a man who went to report a theft to a policeman. ‘Constable, I was looking out of my open bedroom window when I caught a thief with a screwdriver removing my gate from my front yard and running off with it!’ The constable was confused. ‘Well why on earth didn’t you yell at him from the window and try and stop him?’ The man replied sheepishly. ‘Well I didn’t want him to take a- fence! (offence).
As we just heard in our text this morning it seems that Joseph’s brothers have done the ancient equivalent of sending an email because they do not want to risk the personal encounter of confessing their sin before Joseph in case they seriously offend him. And so they send a messenger and a very carefully worded statement. But before we get into the details of this, I can’t help but ask why forgiveness is an issue again in the latter part of the Joseph story. Didn’t Joseph forgive his brothers from the heart in chapter 45 when he revealed his true identity? Absolutely, and what an emotional scene it is when Joseph weeps over his brothers and tells them not to be angry with themselves over what happened, because God had sent him ahead of them to save many people. But I think there’s something missing in this scene: it’s a proper apology from the brothers. After the initial shock of Joseph revealing himself to them all the text tells us is that they only begin to talk with Joseph, (there’s no sorry at all) and then the story of the family’s 17 year relocation and settlement in Egypt begins.
Now it is true in many families that funerals can bring out all the hidden tricky issues that people pretend aren’t there most of the time. When Jacob finally dies after sharing his funeral wishes, Joseph buries him with full Egyptian honours. And now in chapter 50:15, the brothers re-emerge into the story devising yet another plan, based on their deep insecurity: ‘When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead they said: ‘If Joseph holds a grudge against us, he will surely deal out to us all the evil which we dealt out to him’.
The brothers have a genuine fear that Joseph might bear a grudge. The Hebrew word here is the same one that describes the grudge of Esau towards Jacob; that is, hatred. In thinking this of Joseph, nothing could be further from the truth, but I suspect that they are projecting. It is their left over unresolved feelings from 17 years ago that they are trying to put onto to Joseph. Secondly in verse 16 the brothers then send a message claiming that Jacob somehow gave special orders before he died for Joseph to forgive them. They are using their dead Father’s authority to make sure Joseph refrains from any further punishment. In other words they’re saying: ‘Father orders you to forgive us, because deep down we’re not sure you actually have. The use of the Hebrew word nasa behind the word ‘forgive’ is key here too. It means to ‘lift off, or to carry’. The brothers not only request their sin to be lifted off them, but there is this sense that Joseph is to literally carry it. Joseph has indeed carried their sin for the entire story. I do believe the brother’s lack of trust in Joseph’s integrity is what hurts him so deeply, which is why he weeps after receiving the message.
I believe Jacob’s message is highly suspicious and probably a fake Will. The brothers are sorry but only sorry enough to want to avoid any future trouble from Joseph. They are also cowardly enough to send a message rather than say it with their own mouths. Who remembers Fonzie in the TV show ‘Happy days’? Like the Fonz the brothers cannot say the word ‘s,sss,s- sorry’ or I was wrrrrrrr…..ong’. It all explains why the brothers say very little when they actually see him in verse 18. There is no dialogue, and expecting no mercy they throw themselves down before him and say ‘Behold we are your slaves!’
What happens next is just pure Gospel. This is the second time Joseph has to reassure his brothers but he does it with such comfort, grace and kindness and with divine echoes of God himself. ‘Do not be afraid’ Joseph says. How many times do we hear God say these wonderful words throughout Scripture? Joseph hones in and diagnoses the core issue in the brother’s hearts: fear from a troubled conscience. 17 years and this issue of what they did to Joseph has not gone away inside them. Their consciences are all tightly bound up. Their pride is so strong they would rather live in fear than surrender and expose their hearts to him. Although Joseph in no way claims any divinity, he is interestingly displaying divine attributes. He again draws the brothers to God’s divine plans which have absorbed the brother’s fear and the turmoil in their consciences. On top of this Joseph also settles their fear of the future, and even their kids here as toddlers, will be nourished and cared for.
In Joseph we have a distinct Christ figure who does not overcome evil with evil but overcomes evil with good. Poor Joseph has to deal with his brothers’ failings yet again after 17 years, but his grace and power to absorb and carry those failings is as strong as ever. In Joseph we witness a wonderful exchange. He absorbs and carries all of their fears, their insinuations of him wanting more revenge, and their manipulation. But he gives them his comfort, his security, and his promises of a good future. These simple shepherds receive the robes of Joseph’s righteousness and they certainly don’t deserve them.
Friends, let us reflect on Christ’s atonement and what a wonderful exchange that is. Christ gets our sin as we get his righteousness. Luther here describes it so well: ‘This is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them’.
That wonderful exchange is what we see here in Joseph in our text today. It is also what we all are called to participate in as we forgive the sins of those that hurt us. Many of you I’m sure may have been a Joseph sometime in your life. You take part in an exchange when you’re in the position of having to forgive someone, sometimes without any apology and yet you still bless them and offer love and kindness. You can suffer many hurts and wrongs from others, especially the ones that are never openly said or acknowledged; or even the ones that are gossiped to everyone else except you. Even the complex psychology of suffering someone’s troubled conscience, for the second or third time can be very hard wearing.
Many of you may have been one of the brothers. The forgiveness and kindness offered to you by someone can feel really uncomfortable. You pretend that all is well but deep down you feel no freedom from that terrible sin or that bad image of yourself. In fact all that undeserved kindness makes you feel deeply awkward. By default you expect to be shamed and condemned because this is what you would do to yourself. Trapped in the slavery of fear and pride you somehow just can’t release yourself from your troubled conscience.
But in Christ you have access to a wonderful garbage disposal system. It’s here at the altar. You can come to Holy Communion so that you can experience the powerful reality that, ‘you are forgiven’. It is real. Through Christ’s Word and his body and blood your sins are washed from within you. See if you can list in your mind all the different types images of disposal you can think of: Through Christ your sins are entombed. They are burned up in Christ the ultimate sin-incinerator. Like nuclear waste they are buried deep underground never to be accessed ever again. This is the type of forgiveness God has for you, and it means you can walk in a restored relationship once again.
Now it is one thing to be able to forgive sin that is confessed and voiced. But we are called to be lovingly prepared to carry sins that are never voiced or confessed but are none the less still felt and experienced. Not to harbour or hold onto them ourselves but to let Christ lift them off our backs and absorb it himself. In exchange for the sins we suffer from one another we can return Christ’s scandalous love, grace and comfort to those who hurt us; simply because of the divine comfort that we have received from God to comfort others. (2 Cor. 1:4).
But it doesn’t end there. God can show us something more wonderful and of such great comfort, when his divine wisdom and plans are made known to us. We like Joseph’s brothers are sometimes able to see how our sins have been woven into a mysterious tapestry of life that can achieve such goodness and blessing. In heaven we will see the full glorious piece of work, but for now we see only the tattered, untidy threads on the reverse side. Finally let us go into our week being conscious of Christ’s righteousness that is ours and may we, like Joseph be patient and loving as we carry the sins of one another. In the words from 1 Peter 4:8 ‘Above all love one another deeply, for love covers a multitude of sins’. Amen.
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their Father was dead they said ‘If Joseph bears a grudge against us, he will surely deal out to us all the evil which we dealt out to him’.
16 And they sent orders to Joseph, saying: ‘Your father gave these orders before his death:’
17 ‘Therefore say this to Joseph: Please forgive the rebellion of your brothers and their sin for the evil they dealt out to you. Now please forgive the rebellion of the servants of the God of your Father’. And Joseph wept, as he heard these words.
18 And his brothers went to him and fell down before him and said: ‘Behold, we are your slaves’.
19 And Joseph said to them: ‘Do not be afraid. For am I in the place of God?
20 You devised evil against me, but God devised goodness for the purpose of accomplishing a day like this for the life of many people.
21 Now please do not be afraid. I will nourish you and your little ones’. So Joseph comforted them and spoke to their hearts.
Reflect upon your life so far. Can you think of times where you have had to be a Joseph to someone? Have you found it hard to forgive someone despite them not giving an apology or admitting their wrongs?
Have you at any point felt like you were like one of Joseph’s brothers? What has been your experience of your own conscience when people have blessed you and you feel like you don’t deserve it?
Consider Christ’s exchange on the cross when he absorbed the sin of the world into his body so that we could be forgiven children of God. There was no apology from us as human beings for what we had done but he did this out of his deep love for us all. Reflect on your life’s participation in Christ’s sufferings as you forgive the sins of others. Are you able to give to Jesus all the hurts and wrongs that you suffer from others?