+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The air you and I breathe is the air of forgiveness. Our relationship with God was hewn out of the most adversarial relationship that could have existed. God wanted our obedience and our love, but we wanted to be the master’s of our own destiny, the centers of our own universe. He gave us everything to live a fulfilled life, to make us happy and content, but we assumed there was something more satisfying outside of Him and His goodness. He said, “I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you.” (Duet. 30:11ff) He set before us life and good, but in a twisted effort to transcend Him, we chose death and evil.
Over our lifetimes all of us have given God ample reason to turn His back on us and to leave us to our own devices. But, He doesn’t do that, nor does He stand in judgment and refuse to forgive us. Instead He looks at us with kindness and forgiveness because He chose, in time, not to forsake us, but to forsake His own dear Son, who became sin, the sin of the world, your sin and mine. And this, Luther reminds us, He did “without any merit or worthiness in me, for which it is my duty to thank and praise Him and to serve and obey Him.”
Helmut Thielicke, a Lutheran pastor of the 20th century, summarized the relationship we have with God quite well, when he wrote, “God does not love us because we are so valuable; we are valuable because God loves us." In that love He has given us life, the very thing we rejected in our quest for something more. Our entire relationship with Him is built on His longsuffering and His willingness, out of the depth of His love, to forgive us even when we don’t deserve it.
God’s forgiveness is profoundly modeled in the story of Joseph and His brothers. Joseph, you may recall, made his brother’s angry because he told them he had a dream in which all of his brothers (there were 11 of them) bowed down to him. While some of his brothers wanted to kill him for his prideful dream, his youngest brother, Benjamin, made a plea to spare his life. Finally, his brothers concocted a scheme to make it appear that a rabid beast had killed Joseph. They would tear and soak his coat of many colors in blood and take it to their father Jacob to convince him that Joseph was dead. In reality they had sold him into slavery.
A long course of events took place that left Joseph in a command position in Egypt. Due to a drought that had plagued the land for several years, Joseph’s brothers were forced to go to Egypt in order to acquire food for their family. It was there that they met up with Joseph again.
They said among themselves, ““It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 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.””
Joseph’s brothers evidently feared that the only thing that kept him from treating them harshly in the past was that their father was still living. Now, however, he was dead. They knew they didn’t deserve Joseph’s forgiveness. I mean, they had treated him terribly. And then, in their treachery, they had, for all those years, deceived their father into believing that Joseph was actually dead.
On his part, Joseph had a choice to make, right? In hearing his brother’s confession, he could choose to forgive them. Or, he could choose not to forgive them. Or, could he? You may recall earlier I said that God’s forgiveness is profoundly modeled for us in this story of Joseph and his brothers. In the story, Joseph, in a sense, is a type of Christ. Frankly, Joseph, as a type of Christ, is the reason the story occupies so much of the Book of Genesis (13 chapters). Joseph, after all, is not in the line of Jesus. Jesus would come instead through the line of Judah. Still, the story of Joseph and his brothers is significant enough to take up nearly 1/3 of the Book of Genesis.
Joseph models our Lord Jesus Christ, who was rejected by His own, but who forgave the iniquity of us all. When his brothers came back to Joseph and confessed their sin to him, he was bound to forgive them, even as you and I are bound to forgive those who confess their sins to us. We are conduits of God’s grace and forgiveness. We give what has been given to us.
Many of you have heard this story before but it bears repeating. On my vicarage, a woman in Bible class asked me if God forgives her only if she forgives people who have sinned against her? We were studying the Lord’s Prayer where it says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Essentially, what she wanted to know was whether or not God’s forgiveness of us is contingent on our forgiving others?
Truthfully, I’m not sure exactly how I answered her question, but I know how I would answer it now. Many of you, in fact, know how I would answer it now. First, I would ask her “why do you want to know?” I she asked the question because she was harboring anger in her hearts against another person and she was looking for the assurance that God would forgive her anyway, the answer is YES. God expects you to forgive others as He has forgiven you! No one should assume upon God’s forgiveness when they adamantly and steadfastly refuse to forgive someone who has sinned against them. That is exactly the point of the parable in the Gospel reading for this morning.
On the other hand, if she was asking the question because she was struggling to forgive someone who had sinned against her. She knew to refuse to forgive was not an option, but the situation was playing over and again in her head. The hurt ran deep and it seemed so fresh. If her question about forgiveness came out of that sort of situation, she needed to know then that God’s forgiveness of her is not contingent on her forgiving others. The point being, she needed to hear the Gospel of God’s forgiveness and grace and in Christ in order to finally forgive the person who sinned against her.
Joseph, no doubt, struggled mightily with his brother’s deceit and treachery.
In the end though, as a child of God, he knew that even though his brother’s meant what they did for evil, “God meant it for good.” He stood before them and said, “Am I in the place of God?” In other words, is it for me to judge you?
Joseph was a type of Christ. Since Jesus was given unto death for your forgiveness and mine, what does God do when you confess your sins to Him and ask His forgiveness? He forgives you, right?! I mean, there isn’t any questioning of the depth of your repentance, nor is there any judgment as to whether or not you deserve to be forgiven. The fact is, if either of those two criteria were considered none of us would ever be forgiven for anything! Knowing that God’s forgiveness was won for you out of His great love, Helmet Telicke, got it right. “God does not love you because we are so valuable; you are valuable because God loves you." In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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