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Sermon for Sunday 17 September 2017

FIRST READING Genesis 50:15-21

15When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17‘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 wept when they spoke to him. 18His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.


PSALM Psalm 103:1-12

1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. 3He forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities; 4He redeems your life from the grave and crowns you with mercy and lovingkindness; 5He satisfies you with good things, and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s. 6The Lord executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed. 7He made his ways known to Moses and his works to the children of Israel. 8The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness. 9He will not always accuse us, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our wickedness. 11For as the heavens are high above the earth, so is his mercy great upon those who fear him. 12As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us.


SECOND READING Romans 14:1-12

1As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.


GOSPEL Matthew 18:21-35

21Then Peter came up and said to {Jesus}, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”




“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is a petition we pray week in and week out, yet, how often do we really think about what we’ve just prayed? For me, this is the hardest prayer that most people, who are honest, including myself, ever pray. We all want to be forgiven, but when it comes to forgiving others, well that’s a different story. We like our grudges, we like our resentments and we like to think that we’re punishing someone else. At times, I think we enjoy being the one wronged. But is this what Jesus teaches? Is it possible that this is Peter’s motivation for asking Jesus, “Lord how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matt. 18:21)
For the past three or more decades, bad theology has said, don’t worry about it, God will forgive you even if you continue to hold a grudge without any intension of forgiveness. But this isn’t what Jesus is saying. We must forgive others if we expect to be forgiven. Jesus tells Peter, and us, seventy-seven times. According to Jesus, forgiving others isn’t an option. No, we don’t want to hear this. No, it’s not easy. No, it isn’t something we like. But this is what Jesus is teaching and it cannot be ignored.
The Lord’s Prayer is found in Matthew chapter 6 starting in verse 9. But what I want you to think about this morning, as we examine today’s readings, is the two verses that immediately follow the Lord’s Prayer. Starting in verse 14 we read, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours.” Keep these last two verse in mind as we consider the story of Joseph and his brothers this morning.
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil which we did to him.” So, they sent a message to Joseph saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him, and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So, do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus, he reassured them and comforted them (Gen. 50:15-21.)
We’ve all seen signs or heard quotes like, “Don’t get mad, Get even.” Or, “revenge is a dish best served cold.” I saw another the other day that goes along with these, “to err is human; to forgive is not our policy.” And for many, Christians included, to forgive is not “our policy.” We like to hold to our resentment or break off relations with the offender or seek revenge. We have this policy of withholding forgiveness because forgiving is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult thing we do.
One woman wrote Ann Landers: “I haven’t spoken to my brother’s wife in seven years. It would take the whole newspaper to tell you the entire story, so I’ll just say she did me unbelievable dirt and I have never been able to forgive her.” And if we do manage to forgive, we declare that we’ll never forget the wrong done to us. A little boy disobeyed his mother and his conscience bothered him. He was sneaking to his room when his mother asked, “Where are you going, Frank?” “To my room,” he said. “I want to talk with God.” “Is it something you can’t tell your mother?” “Yes, it is,” said Frank. “You’ll just scold and punish me, while God will forgive me and forget about it.” No, it’s not easy for human beings to forgive and forget. Forgiveness isn’t lightly saying, “Let’s kiss and make up,” or “Shake hands and forget about it.” Forgiveness is very difficult because it calls for a renewal of the relationship where things are as though nothing happened between the parties.
In our lesson from Genesis, we have the account of Joseph forgiving his brothers after their father’s death. On the surface, it looks easy, but it must have been very difficult for Joseph because of all that his brothers had done to him. Recall the story of Joseph starting at chapter 37. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he aroused the hatred and jealousy of his brothers. When they returned home from keeping the sheep, Joseph was a tattle-tale. He told his father about their misbehavior. Moreover, he was his father’s favorite son, and this didn’t sit well with the brothers. Jacob, his father, gave Joseph a beautiful coat of many colors, but none of the other sons was so favored. To add insult to injury, Joseph was a dreamer. Twice he dreamed that one day he would be ruler and his brothers would bow down to him. Understandably, the brothers didn’t appreciate Joseph’s favored status nor his dreams and because of that they despised him.
Their hatred became so intense that while out in the fields tending their sheep, they planned to kill Joseph. But, upon further discussion, they decided to throw him into a pit until some Ishmaelites came along. Ceasing the opportunity, they sold Joseph, and he was carried as a slave to Egypt where he was sold again. However, Joseph soon found favor with Potiphar who gave Joseph complete charge of his business affairs. But things didn’t go smoothly and when Joseph refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife, she accused him of inappropriate behavior and he was thrown into prison. There he languished as a forgotten man, until he was called on to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams.
The interpretation pleased Pharaoh and eventually Joseph was given the position of prime minister of Egypt. With wisdom given him by God, Joseph stored up food over a seven-year period, for in the dream he learned that these years would be followed by seven lean years. Then, when Jacob and his sons were about to die because of the famine, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to buy some of Joseph’s grain. When the brothers came to Joseph, he gradually revealed himself to them, for they and their father had thought he was dead. Joseph then had the Jews come to Egypt to escape the famine.
After Jacob died, the brothers were scared, wondering what revenge Joseph had in store for them. Up to this time, their selling him into slavery was not discussed. No apologies were made and no forgiveness was requested. Now came the time to settle accounts. Now Joseph had his cruel brothers where he wanted them. When he thought of the years he was separated from his father and beloved brother, Benjamin; when he thought of the years of slavery, the torture of the prison, and the false charge against him as an adulterer, he must have longed to get even. When the brothers asked for forgiveness, it was no easy thing. Could he forgive? The answer is given in the text starting in verse 21, “I will provide for you and your little ones.” The text then comments, “Thus he reassured them and comforted them.” After all the hurt, after all the years of separation, why did Joseph forgive them? Why should we forgive those who have done far less to us than his brothers had done to Joseph? Simple, it’s what God requires of us.
We forgive for the same reason Joseph forgave. When we forgive others, we’re being obedient to our heavenly Father’s command to forgive as Joseph obeyed his earthly father’s command to forgive his brothers. The brothers said to Joseph, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’” Likewise, our heavenly Father through his Son commands us to forgive. Therefore, forgiveness is an act of obedience to God.
Jesus showed us how to forgive, even our enemies. On the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If we are to forgive even those who kill us, how much more are we to forgive lesser crimes. Moreover, in today’s Gospel lesson (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus gave a parable teaching us the necessity of forgiving our fellowman. He told the story of a man who owed a king the equivalent of 150 years of wages, but out of pity, the king forgave him the debt. But this same man found another who owed him only one year’s worth of wages. Having no pity, he had the man thrown in jail. When the king heard the report of what the forgiven debtor had done to another debtor, he had him thrown in jail until he paid the enormous sum. So, Jesus gives the moral of the story: “So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
At another time, Jesus emphasized the need for us to forgive each other when He said, if we have any ill feeling about a person and come to the altar with a gift to God, we should leave the gift at the altar, get reconciled with our brother, and then come and offer the gift which would be acceptable (Matt. 5:24.) But why does God command that we forgive before He will forgive us? It isn’t some condition that God lays down. It’s not a kind of payment God requires for forgiveness. The reason we must forgive, is because if we have an unforgiving heart, how can we truly be repentant? When we hold malice, when we hate, when we want retribution, our hearts are closed with anger and fear. For God to forgive us, we must be open and receptive to God’s love and mercy. If we have our hands clenched into fists, there’s no way we can receive a gift.
It’s said that one time, Leonardo da Vinci had an argument with a certain man. He lashed out against the individual with bitter words and threatening gestures. When the argument was over, Leonardo went back to his canvas where he was working on the face of Jesus. But he couldn’t continue. At last he realized what the trouble was. He put down his brush and made peace with the man. Then he returned to his studio and calmly resumed his painting.
You will note that Joseph’s brothers came to him and begged for forgiveness, for they feared his revenge. In our experience, this doesn’t always happen. People say or do nasty things to us but they never come to apologize, to admit they’re wrong, nor do they ask for our forgiveness. If we are divinely commanded to forgive them, are we to run to them and say, “Hey, though you didn’t ask for it, I forgive you”? The offender would probably laugh at us and despise us. Do we then withhold our forgiveness? Do we hate and resent the offender until the sinner asks for it? No: we’re commanded to forgive those who sin against us, not necessarily in words, but in deeds and attitude.
If we shun the offender, treat them coldly and don’t speak to the person, it isn’t likely the offender will ever ask for our forgiveness. Rather, we should have the attitude of forgiveness, kindness and openness toward the offender. Maybe, when they will see the goodwill, kindness, and lack of hostility, the offender will hopefully be moved to come to us and say, “I’m sorry I hurt you. Please forgive me.” Jesus used this method with Zacchaeus, who as a chief tax collector was a notorious sinner (Luke 19:1-10.)
When Jesus saw Zacchaeus up in a tree as He passed through the village, He didn’t criticize, condemn, nor curse him for his economic sins. Rather, Jesus called Zacchaeus to come down out of the tree and invited Himself to his home for dinner and fellowship. When Zacchaeus saw Jesus’ acceptance, understanding, and love, Zacchaeus confessed his sin, asked for forgiveness, and made restitution by promising to pay back fourfold any money he had taken. It’s about us showing compassion toward our neighbor.
I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Joseph to forgive the terrible things his brothers did to him. And it’s no easy thing for us to forgive what people do to us. Why then do we forgive? Joseph gives us an example to follow. When the brothers made their appeal for his forgiveness, our text says, “Joseph wept when they spoke to him.” He was deeply moved with pity and compassion. And we, too, will forgive when we have tears of compassion in our eyes.
When we lack compassion it means we’re angry, bitter, and hurt by what was done to us or said about us. We then are out to get the offender, to get our pound of flesh, to pay back more than we received. Ann Landers tells about a man who saw an ad in a newspaper for a practically new Porsche for sale at fifty dollars. He figured it was a typographical error, even at $5,000 it would be a bargain for that kind of car, so he hurried to the address to look at the car. The lady who answered the door assured him the price really was fifty dollars. He went to look at the nearly new sports car and drove it around the block. When he returned, he gave her fifty dollars in cash, and the lady gave him the paperwork. Curiosity got the better of him, and he asked her why she was selling it at this ridiculously low price. She explained, “My husband ran off with his secretary and left a note instructing me to sell the car and send him the money.”
Human centric justice calls for retaliation and revenge, but mercy wants forgiveness. Following Jesus’ example and teachings, a Christian tempers justice with mercy. In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, (Matt. 20:1-16) justice called for every laborer to get paid for the hours they worked, but the one who worked one hour received as much as the one who worked ten hours. Mercy was shown in paying the full amount to everyone out of generosity.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, (Luke 15:11-32) justice said, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” But mercy said, “Kill the fatted calf. Bring a robe, ring and shoes. Let’s celebrate his homecoming.” Once Pharisees were about to stone to death a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11.) Justice said, “Stone her!” Mercy in Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” Today we can forgive out of compassion.
We, however, are prone to find fault, gossip, and be judgmental of those who offend us. Why should we show compassion and mercy to offenders? To be a Christian and as such to be a follower of Christ, is to extend mercy as He did. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7.) When we think of how many and how grievous our sins are, we realize how much we need God’s mercy.
In the parable of the two debtors, the king asks the unforgiving servant, “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?” Christ the King asks us the same question. I have already shown you mercy by taking your place, so why can’t you show compassion to those who wrong you? Knowing what mercy means to us as sinners, we are to go to our sinful neighbor and extend compassion. When you and I are asked to forgive, we must let forgiveness flow freely.
Joseph willingly forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery – which resulted in hard labor, denial of personal liberty as a human, and the horrors of prison – because he was able to see the good that God brought out of their evil. Here we see the overruling providence of God. That’s another reason we forgive others. Even through sin is inflicted on us, God can bring some good to us and to others.
Now it is worth noting that Joseph at no time minimized or excused the sin of his brothers. Honestly and frankly he said to them, “As for you, you meant evil against me.” In other words, he said, “Yes, you were rascals. Yes, you took me away from my home. Yes, you sold me for twenty lousy pieces of silver into slavery. Yes, you made me lose all my liberty, suffer in prison, and be a stranger in a foreign land. Yes, you sinned against me. You hated me and tried to get rid of me. At the same time, you broke our father’s heart because you told him I was killed by an animal.”
If there’s going to be a proper settlement of accounts between people, there must be total honesty. Yes, you have sinned against me. Yes, it was a nasty, dirty trick. The rumor you spread about me was a vicious lie which ruined my reputation. To deny the seriousness of the sin, to make light of it, or to say it was only a joke is not to tell the truth. We must acknowledge the severity of the sin.
Following Joseph’s example, we can and will forgive, because God can bring good from it. In Joseph’s case, God used the brother’s sin to save a whole nation, and more, from dying in a seven-year drought. Moreover, if Joseph had not gone to Egypt, God’s covenant people would have perished from hunger. God brought good out of evil. God always does! Look at the cross.
From the human viewpoint, Jesus’ death was a horrible sin ending in defeat, a lost cause. Out of that horrible crucifixion, out of defeat, out of suffering, out of shame and disgrace, came a world set free from sin, satan and death. Look at the cross and you can say, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” No wonder the church, through the ages, has called the day of Jesus’ death Good Friday. It can happen to you and me today.
When Frank Laubach was honored for his worldwide work of literacy, he responded to the award, “I must remember that when I stand before my Lord, He won’t ask to see my trophies, but He will ask to see my scars.” To reach the stars, we must suffer scars. Out of those scars God can make us real people. And it’s amazing how God can take the limitations and handicaps and turn them into something great.
Rossini was asked to write an opera for a certain company whose contralto had one good note, middle B-flat. No one would have blamed Rossini if he had refused to write with that handicap. Without complaining, he wrote the opera. He created for the contralto a recitative of middle B-flat and had the orchestra and chorus weave a glorious harmony around it. It turned out to be one of Rossini’s greatest arias. So, accept the handicap, the suffering, the hardship, and the pain of someone’s sin and let God work a miracle of good in and through you.
As we said at the beginning, to forgive is probably the most difficult thing we Christians must do. By nature, we’d rather hold a grudge, hate, and seek retaliation. Therefore, we cannot really forgive on our own strength. We need help from above. A Turkish soldier had beaten a Christian soldier until he was half-conscious. While he kicked him, he asked, “What can your Christ do for you now?” The Christian calmly replied, “He can give me strength to forgive you.” God can also give us the strength to forgive as well. All we have to do, is ask.

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