Forgiveness can never be forced, but it is the only way forward. God always finds a way to love and forgive us.
14th Sunday after Pentecost – Sunday, September 14, 2014 – Genesis 50:15-21, Matthew 18:21-35
St. Jacob’s-Spaders Lutheran Church, Harrisonburg, Virginia
“God Finds a Way” – Pastor Evan Davis
Joseph: the Golden Boy
Call Joseph the Golden Boy, and you know everything about him. He’s the youngest, but the favorite son – any surprise from his father Jacob, the younger twin who stole his older brother’s birthright? Dad gave him the special coat, and the brothers were jealous. So one day when Dad wasn’t around, they throw Joseph in a pit and leave him while some traders pick him up and sell him as a slave to an Egyptian captain. But Joseph is the Golden Boy – everything he touches turns out great. Quickly he’s put in charge of the house. After an unfortunate run in with his master’s wife, he ends up in jail, but is put in charge of all the prisoners. He can interpret dreams, so well that eventually he interprets Pharaoh’s dream. Egypt will have 7 years of plenty followed by 7 of famine. So then Pharaoh puts all of Egypt under Joseph’s command. That’s when it gets interesting. Joseph ensures that Egypt saves enough food to survive the famine, and when it comes, his brothers, of course, come down to Egypt to buy food. They don’t recognize Joseph, but he sure knows them. But instead of exacting his revenge, Joseph gives them the food they need and more. He does toy with them a bit, but eventually he reveals himself to them and Pharaoh invites Jacob and the whole family to come live in Egypt. They’re allowed to settle on good land and they’re honored as if they were Egyptian royalty. When Jacob dies an old man, they even get an Egyptian military procession back to the family tomb where Jacob is buried with his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac. But now that Dad is gone, old sins return to haunt the brothers. What will Joseph do now that Dad isn’t watching? That’s where we picked up today. Saying it was their father’s hope, the brothers beg for forgiveness.
Life finds a way
Hold on to that story while I tell you one more. For us Millenials born in the 80’s, meaning we were really children of the 90’s, there are certain movies that defined our childhood. For me and many others, Jurassic Park was one of those movies. Richard Attenborough, who just died, plays John Hammond, an eccentric British gajillionaire who builds a theme park populated by dinosaurs, which he breeds using DNA reconstructed from dinosaur blood found in fossilized mosquitoes. But for me, the movie’s lasting significance is that it portrays the limits of human ability to control, and the folly of human arrogance. There’s a scene where Hammond and one of his scientists triumphantly proclaim that they can maintain control over the dinosaur population because they’ve only bred females. Sitting there is Dr. Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum. He is the devil’s advocate, the one who keeps pointing out that things never go according to plan. He replies with this: “John, the kind of control you’re attempting…it’s not possible…listen, if there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained, life breaks free, it expands to new territories and it crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously…” The incredulous scientist retorts, “you’re implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will…breed?” And Malcolm says, “No, I’m simply saying, uh, that life finds a way.”
And, of course, as the dinosaurs break out of their pens, eat a bunch of people, and…begin breeding, we’re reminded that we can’t outsmart nature. We can’t control it. Life is unpredictable and inevitable. It will go around us.
God finds a way
And you know what? The God who creates and sustains all life is also unpredictable. We can’t control God. God will go around us. God’s sovereign will shall be.
God finds a way….and that way is forgiveness. God’s has a law too, and it is good – love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, it’s very good, but we’re not very good at keeping it. What saves us from our inevitable failure, what makes the world go round, what pulls humanity back from the brink again and again and gives us a future with hope, is forgiveness. Joseph, standing there with his brothers waiting to hear whether he will take his revenge or not, looks back on everything that happened and he says this amazing thing, “even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” God took the real evil intentions of Joseph’s jealous brothers, God took Joseph’s less-than-admirable arrogance that prompted the jealousy, and used it to find a way “to preserve a numerous people,” to save the family of Abraham from famine. The entire history of Israel is the story of God working through the continual failures of his people, finding a new, creative way to keep the promise to Abraham going. Even through the ironic journey of the whole family to Egypt where they were fed but would end up being slaves to Pharaoh, through that, through the forgiveness that made the story possible, God found a way.
From Joseph to Moses to Joshua to Deborah to Samuel to David through all the prophets, God found a way. And finally, through the forgiveness-in-the-flesh that is Jesus, God found a way to fulfill his promise to Abraham and extend it to every one of God’s children.
No matter the situation…No matter how bad things have gotten between you and someone else…No matter the pain you feel, the pain of hoping for forgiveness or the anguish of not being able to give it…no matter how deep the wounds are between two people, between two societies, God will find a way. You may think the world’s in a mess it can’t get out of…that the anger and hatred between Israelis and Palestinians, between ISIS fighters and their victims, between Ukrainians and Russians, between you and an estranged friend, spouse, parent, child, is too great.
Well, it’s not as if forgiveness is easy. It can’t be forced. It’s not automatic. Forgiveness may be letting go of the right to revenge or to permanent anger, but it is not forgetting what happened. Forgiveness isn’t real if the truth about what has happened, the truth about sin, isn’t first spoken. Otherwise, what is there to forgive? Our scars – from all those things for which we could forgive or be forgiven – don’t go away. They stay with us. They teach us things. They remind us. But they do not define the future. When God enables us to forgive, those scars are no longer debts to be collected or scores to settle. No, those scars are redefined. They become reminders of just how much love can overcome.
The ultimate scar – the cross – was not forgotten. We can’t forget that humanity put God on a cross. Rather, through God’s forgiveness of that act, the cross was redefined into the most powerful symbol of mercy and love the world has ever known. The cross now means that God has won, that God found a way in forgiveness. [side note: today is also Holy Cross Day.]
So take a look at your scars. Some of them are fresh…some still open…some still painful. They’re not going to disappear. I’m not saying God gave them to you, or for a specific reason. But I am saying that God can and does work through them as God wills to fulfill God’s promise of abundant life for you and for the world. I am saying that God will find a way, maybe in your life, maybe not until eternal life, to overcome pain and hurt with love and forgiveness. God will do that in all our personal relationships. God will do that in the relationships between peoples and nations and religions. Like Jacob, we might get to see it in our lifetimes. Like Moses, we might not get there ourselves. But in the fullness of God’s time, God will find a way. So we do not despair. Amen.