Sermon for March 10, 2013

Genesis 37 & 45 (selections)

ForgivnessSeriesLogoForgiveness: A Season Of Release ~ “Forgiving But Not Forgetting”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, OH 44113 ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

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To hear this sermon via Podcast, click HERE:  130310SermonPodcast


No one in this scripture has a bad memory.  In fact, everyone in it remembers things quite well.  Crystal clear, as they say.  And some wish they could forget.  At one point or another in the story, I believe every single one of the participants would have reveled in a bit of selective memory…

*I’m sure Jacob, elder patriarch, wished he could forget the pain of the day his sons – that is, most of his sons – told him his beloved if not eccentric son, Joseph, had been “devoured by an evil beast,” could wash away the image of the bloody coat-of-many-colors seared into his memory, and let go of the day-in and day-out exhaustion of grief.  He must have wanted to forget it all.

*I’m guessing the other brothers, Judah especially, wished they could forget the horror of that moment of selling their brother into slavery, bringing gut-wrenching pain to their father and shame to themselves and the family, be released from the weariness of the constant task in which all evil-doers must participate of keeping the revolting secret unbroken.  They must have wanted to forget it all.

Surely Rueben, the eldest brother, prayed in the deepest part of the night that he might have instead stood up against his younger siblings and kept their boyish prank from turning into a nightmare; and that he had not stepped away from the cistern as long as he did so that the others would have been prevented from engaging in their despicable financial transaction.  He must have wanted to forget it all.

*And even Joseph, although now richly clothed, profoundly admired, and amply provided for by none other than Pharaoh himself, even Joseph must have wanted to forget his home, that place that, though misunderstood by his brothers, was a place of adoration and love from his father and the sure and certain notion that he had a very special place in the family.  Even Joseph must have wanted to forget it all.

But forget they could not.  And like so many communities, families, and individuals who have both tragedy and secrets settled deep within their bones, it was impossible to ignore what had happened.  In fact, it was clearly alive for them on a daily basis.

Forget, they could not.  But there was something even more powerful, more amazing, more transforming than forgetting could ever be.  One chose to forgive.

*Against all odds, Joseph, the one so terribly wronged in this story, Joseph chose a different path than revenge.  Retaliation was his, should he desire it.  No one would have blamed him.  Particularly now, as power and wealth and fame were his to use, payback was possible.

What caused Joseph to choose this path?  I cannot speak for his culture, era, or personal history, but in our day vengeance plays well at the box office and on the street corner and over the radio waves.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a wound for a wound, a heart for a heart… we want justice, even if it is for just us.

*But choose to forgive he did.  Through maneuverings worthy of a Downton Abbey script, in the end, after all is said and done, Joseph offered forgiveness to his brothers.  The words “forgive” and “forgiveness” are not used here – at least in this part of the story.  But forgive is what Joseph did and forgiveness is what he offered.  The word “forgive” is not used – and this is so typical – until Jacob dies.  Once the patriarch or matriarch is gone, all bets are off… Right?  At least usually.  When “dad” died, the brothers assumed the grace of their betrayed brother, Joseph, would evaporate.  In Chapter 50 they send a message to Joseph, following the burial of their father, that begs for forgiveness.  (And they even have the audacity to try and put the request for forgiveness in their dead father’s mouth: “Dad told you to do it right, yeah, just before he died.”)  Joseph, in fact, had already forgiven them.  They were unable to trust that forgiveness and had kept the pain and possibility of revenge alive.

*And it is here, all the way in Chapter 50 of Genesis, that Joseph offers up a singular reason for how this profound forgiveness and amazing grace is possible:

But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear… (Gen. 50:19-21)

Joseph trusted in his call as a beloved child of God his entire life.  Joseph believed that God was able to work good through all things.  These two simple things removed fear from the equation completely.

*My beloved, how often do we doubt that God could ever work through us?  Can we learn from Joseph and believe deep within every cell of our bodies that when God said, “It is good!” at the dawn of creation, God was talking about us?  You!  Me!  All of us!

Likewise, my beloved, how often do we doubt that God could ever work for good in the messes we make?  Can we learn from Joseph and seek in every situation how God can, is, and always will work for good… even in the chaos that comes from our own hands.

As God-in-Jesus did, let us believe passionately in our calling as God’s beloved, let us know deeply that God works for good in all things, and may we have no fear.  Amen.