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Seeing God, Forgiving Others

Genesis  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Discovering the actions of God in the past can lead to a transformed present and future

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When God’s Actions Are Hard To See

It would be an understatement to say that there are moments both in our world in general and in our lives more specifically that the work of God is very difficult to see. While the goodness of God and God’s creation is always around us, trouble has an uncanny ability to make itself more immediate than we would like. Sometimes the causes of the trouble we find ourselves in is simply consequences of our own misdeeds. It is the nature of life that there are consequences to our actions. But even when the trouble experienced is an outcome of our own actions, we, people that we are, are still prone to ask of God, “Why?” That question is easier to ask when we aren’t the ones responsible. Sometimes the cause of the trouble either we or our world experiences are due to reasons completely outside our control. The decisions of others, sometimes of total strangers can change lives in an instant- just ask anyone who’s been hit by a drunk driver, lost people they care about to accidents or the violent actions of others. And in the aftermath, people ask the same question the psalmists do on more than one occasion, the same question people throughout the biblical text wonder, the question asked of the psalmists by those who are against them throughout the text- “Where is God now?” Perhaps most difficult is when things are entirely outside of our control. This week the African nation of Sierra Leon is collectively asking that question. Earlier this week days and days of rain triggered a massive mudslide that has killed at least 400 people. As the mudslide swept away houses and neighborhoods, entire families, generations at a time, were lost, leaving survivors wondering how and why this could happen. Its heartbreaking, watching interviews of people who have lost dozens of close friends and family. Its heartbreaking to look at pictures of the aftermath, once-lively neighborhoods now replaced by a brown mountainside that swallowed up hundreds of people who called it home. And when something like that happens, when something completely outside our control causes so much pain and grief, questioning where God is or how God could allow something so horrible to happen is natural. We want answers. But, answers can be really difficult to find in the middle of tragedy.
It would be an understatement to say that there are moments both in our world in general and in our lives more specifically that the work of God is very difficult to see.
It would be an understatement to say that there are moments both in our world in general and in our lives more specifically that the work of God is very difficult to see. While the goodness of God and God’s creation is always around us, trouble has an uncanny ability to make itself more immediate than we would like. Sometimes the causes of the trouble we find ourselves in is simply consequences of our own misdeeds. It is the nature of life that there are consequences to our actions. But even when the trouble experienced is an outcome of our own actions, we, people that we are, are still prone to ask of God, “Why?” That question is easier to ask when we aren’t the ones responsible. Sometimes the cause of the trouble either we or our world experiences are due to reasons completely outside our control. The decisions of others, sometimes of total strangers can change lives in an instant- just ask anyone who’s been hit by a drunk driver, lost people they care about to accidents or the violent actions of others. And in the aftermath, people ask the same question the psalmists do on more than one occasion, the same question people throughout the biblical text wonder, the question asked of the psalmists by those who are against them throughout the text- “Where is God now?” Perhaps most difficult is when things are entirely outside of our control. This week the African nation of Sierra Leon is collectively asking that question. Earlier this week days and days of rain triggered a massive mudslide that has killed at least 400 people. As the mudslide swept away houses and neighborhoods, entire families, generations at a time, were lost, leaving survivors wondering how and why this could happen. Its heartbreaking, watching interviews of people who have lost dozens of close friends and family. Its heartbreaking to look at pictures of the aftermath, once-lively neighborhoods now replaced by a brown mountainside that swallowed up hundreds of people who called it home. And when something like that happens, when something completely outside our control causes so much pain and grief, questioning where God is or how God could allow something so horrible to happen is natural. We want answers. But, answers can be really difficult to find in the middle of tragedy.
While the goodness of God and God’s creation is always around us, trouble has an uncanny ability to make itself more immediate than we would like.
What “trouble” feels most present in my life right now?
Sometimes the causes of the trouble we find ourselves in is simply consequences of our own misdeeds. It is the nature of life that there are consequences to our actions. But even when the trouble experienced is an outcome of our own actions, we, people that we are, are still prone to ask of God, “Why?” That question is easier to ask when we aren’t the ones responsible. Sometimes the cause of the trouble either we or our world experiences are due to reasons completely outside our control. The decisions of others, sometimes of total strangers can change lives in an instant- just ask anyone who’s been hit by a drunk driver, lost people they care about to accidents or the violent actions of others. And in the aftermath, people ask the same question the psalmists do on more than one occasion, the same question people throughout the biblical text wonder, the question asked of the psalmists by those who are against them throughout the text- “Where is God now?” Perhaps most difficult is when things are entirely outside of our control. This week the African nation of Sierra Leon is collectively asking that question. Earlier this week days and days of rain triggered a massive mudslide that has killed at least 400 people. As the mudslide swept away houses and neighborhoods, entire families, generations at a time, were lost, leaving survivors wondering how and why this could happen. Its heartbreaking, watching interviews of people who have lost dozens of close friends and family. Its heartbreaking to look at pictures of the aftermath, once-lively neighborhoods now replaced by a brown mountainside that swallowed up hundreds of people who called it home. And when something like that happens, when something completely outside our control causes so much pain and grief, questioning where God is or how God could allow something so horrible to happen is natural. We want answers. But, answers can be really difficult to find in the middle of tragedy.

Between The Pit and the Throne

Because we have the entirety of Joseph’s story and can easily see where he winds up, right-hand man to Pharaoh, it can be difficult to remember just how challenging and uneven the years were between the pit and his ascension to power in Egypt. Since his purchase as a slave in Egypt, Joseph spends several years working his way up in Potipher’s house. In that time, it is obvious that the Lord is with him but it. Everyone notices, including Potipher’s wife. And suddenly the story of Joseph changes. Joseph, master of Potipher’s house becomes Joseph, prisoner in the king’s dungeon. And how can anyone find success in a dungeon? How can anyone say that God is with Joseph when God has allowed Joseph to suffer for doing the right thing? Just when it looks like things are going how they should, when the hero is being rewarded for his faithfulness, things fall apart, and its a dungeon instead of a household. But in his years in the dungeon, we read that the Lord is with him and even in the dungeon he finds success. And then his chance! He interprets dreams that go just as he says, but the one who should thank him forgets him, and his time in the dungeon continues for two more years. And again, I think it is fair to ask why God is allowing someone who is so faithful to continue in chains. Sure, he impresses the guard and experiences success, but wouldn’t you much rather be successful in a house as a part of civilization than in a dungeon, cut off from everyone but the king’s most despised enemies? Give me that choice and I’m never choosing the dungeon. Put me in the dungeon, and I’ll struggle feeling as if God has abandoned me even with things are “good.” Starting with Joseph and his brothers, it seems as if every time Joseph gets within shouting distance of the authority God has revealed to him, he ends up in a hole in the ground. How long oh Lord? But then his chance comes. He is remembered, he interprets dreams for the pharaoh, he makes suggestions for a course of action, pharaoh bestows that power on him, and he becomes the second-most powerful person in all of Egypt- everything you could have wanted to someone who remains faithful in the worst of circumstances comes true- and it also sets him on a collision course with the brothers who sold him into slavery. And while there’s a lot more that takes place between Joseph first seeing his brothers again and this moment that we are looking at today, there are a couple of things that I want to point out from those chapters
Joseph’s brothers haven’t escaped the guilt that they feel from the lie they have been telling for years
Joseph has all the power in the world to end their lives when he sees them, but chooses not to
Which is how we end up at today’s story.
Joseph could no longer control himself in front of all his attendants, so he declared, “Everyone, leave now!” So no one stayed with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers. 2 He wept so loudly that the Egyptians and Pharaoh’s household heard him. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I’m Joseph! Is my father really still alive?” His brothers couldn’t respond because they were terrified before him.
4 Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me,” and they moved closer. He said, “I’m your brother Joseph! The one you sold to Egypt. 5 Now, don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Actually, God sent me before you to save lives. 6 We’ve already had two years of famine in the land, and there are five years left without planting or harvesting. 7 God sent me before you to make sure you’d survive and to rescue your lives in this amazing way. 8 You didn’t send me here; it was God who made me a father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler of the whole land of Egypt.
9 “Hurry! Go back to your father. Tell him this is what your son Joseph says: ‘God has made me master of all of Egypt. Come down to me. Don’t delay. 10 You may live in the land of Goshen, so you will be near me, your children, your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and everyone with you. 11 I will support you there, so you, your household, and everyone with you won’t starve, since the famine will still last five years.’ 12 You and my brother Benjamin have seen with your own eyes that I’m speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about my power in Egypt and about everything you’ve seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 He threw his arms around his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder. 15 He kissed all of his brothers and wept, embracing them. After that, his brothers were finally able to talk to him.

“I’m Joseph”

I wonder what those words, “I’m Joseph”, did to the brothers. At this point in their lives, it has been more than two decades since the lie started, more than twenty years since they threw their little brother Joseph into well, starting the secret that devastated their father, sewed discord and mistrust among the brothers, and started Joseph onto the path that led him here. And I have no doubt that they last place they expected to see their brother is as the person running the show in Egypt. And here they are now completely at the mercy of the one who was at their mercy all those years ago when they decided to write him out of their lives. Now its Joseph’s chance for revenge- but we don’t even have to call it revenge. We could call it justice, right? They’ve robbed him of a life at home, a life with his family, a life with his father. They’ve robbed him of freedom. Instead of getting to be “son,” he’s had to be “slave.” But now they’re all servants of him. And if your version of Justice is “people getting what they have coming to them,” the next words you want to come out of Joseph’s mouth are “Enjoy your two decades as prisoners while I bring dad up to live alone in the palace with me.” But that isn’t what happens because Joseph isn’t interested in revenge, in that misguided version of justice.
Joseph is only interested in restoration, and in proclaiming the goodness of God in spite of the mistreatment he received from his brothers.
What does restoration look like?
Joseph has been able to look back at the whole of his life, the good and the bad, and conclude that even in the hardest of times, God has been with him. And because of that, Joseph is able to look past any anger that he has felt, any desire for revenge. Instead, what Joseph offers his brothers before they are even capable of knowing to ask for it is pure, unconditional forgiveness. And this isn’t the type of faux forgiveness that comes from a place of smugness, with Joseph able to say, “I won’t rub your nose in how much better my life is than yours.” Instead, Joseph immediately begins to work toward providing for his family, the very brothers who sold him off into slavery, out of his own abundance. Joseph states clearly that he will provide land and sustenance for his family. Joseph is willing, indeed excited about the chance to, provide for his family, even though the only thing these brothers provided him with was chains. Joseph sees the work of God, and because of that, he is able to see his brothers as family he loves, instead of a grudge to hold.

Seeing God, Forgiving Others

I believe that there is a freedom to forgive that comes from looking back into times of hurt in our lives and trying to see where God was working and what God has accomplished in our lives in the midst of the chaos. Finding the goodness of God even in the moments of life that are so hard to call “good” allows us to let go of the animosity we may feel towards those have hurt us. But seeing the work of God in the difficult times in our lives can also be very difficult. It is, however, important that we learn to look, that we learn to see, and we allow it to transform us. When we afford ourselves a perspective that is based on God’s actions in the world and not on our shortsightedness, mistrust or fear of it, we truly are able to function in the way that God has intended us to. God is working, make no mistake about it. We must learn to look. Our world exists in a tug-of-war between the pit and the throne.
We must learn to see and to value above all else the work of God in the world.
What do I overvalue?
And when we do so, we become able to do what Joseph does here in this text- to see his brothers not for their worst moments, but instead seeing God’s work in spite of their worst moments. That is a much, much healthier, and a much, much holier way to live and breathe in the world. When we do that, we are able to provide something meaningful and powerful for those around us: Love and forgiveness, a model of redemption, a transformed life set apart from the world. It is clear that God is working. We must learn to see.
Common English Bible (Nashville, TN: Common English Bible, 2011), .
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