Pastor Anne: Lessons on Forgiveness, part 3

Myths and Barriers to Forgiveness, part 32Samuel 12:7-14, Eph 4:25-27
St. Paul UMC, 8-19-12

During these last 2 weeks we have been looking at Forgiveness – something that is much needed in the reality of the human condition and differences.
If you go online and google “forgiveness quotes”, there are a lot of sayings about forgiveness.
“I don’t forgive people because I am weak. I forgive them because I am strong enough to know that people make mistakes.” And not just mistakes, things happen and people are different, and we offend each other intentionally and unintentionally.

We began by looking at the power of forgiveness thru the parable of the unmerciful servant who is forgiven an impossible debt to repay. It is expected that he would be compelled to forgive much smaller debts in response to the King’s abundant and generous mercy. C. S. Lewis, a Christian author and theologian said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Last week we looked at steps to forgiveness and heard from Everett Worthington, a professor in psychology and clinical psychologist specializing in forgivness. “If I hold a grudge because I’m angry, I feel strong. But to set that anger aside takes real strength.” It helps to think that forgiving is strong thing to do and not weak as the world tells us
Finally I saw a quote from Oscar Wilde, the author, who said, “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” It is true that sometimes even if we want to or are trying to forgive, we also still want a bit of revenge.

The reality is that forgiveness feels like we are losing , vulnerable, helpless or out of control. There is a song on Christian radio called Losing by Tenth Avenue North. Let me share some of the lyrics with you.
“Losing” by Tenth Avenue North (song)
But still I wrestle with this
To lose the pain that’s mine
Seventy times seven times

Lord it doesn’t feel right
For me to turn a blind eye
But I guess it’s not that much
When I think of what You’ve done.
This is love. This is hate.
We’ve got a choice to make

Oh, Father, won’t You forgive them?
They don’t know what they’ve been doin’
Oh, Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losin’ (oh no)

As much as we believe that as Christians we are to forgive others as our Lord forgives us. And that we have and continue to be given God’s great mercy on our impossible debt, it is still a big challenge to forgive. Today we will look at a few myths and barriers that get in the way of obeying and trusting God with this big work of forgiveness.

Myth 1: I have not forgiven unless I forgive and forget.
I hear this so often and know that it torments people. I thought I had forgiven but I cannot seem to forget. The words of forgive and forget are not from scripture but from William Shakespeare. In King Lear he writes, “Pray you now, forget and forgive: I am old and foolish.” He has similar words in other writings of his.
Truth: Forgiving is to remember it and release the hurt. Do not allow it to overcome you.
In John 20 we see Jesus appear to his disciples for the first time after his death and resurrection. He speaks to them and shows them his hands and side. Thomas the disciple says he will not believe Jesus is back unless he touches his hands and side himself.
Jesus’ scars identify him as uniquely him, the one who they have followed, saw suffering, die and is now resurrected. At communion we remember Jesus’ sacrifice, suffering and hope, that through Jesus we too will conquer death.
Our memories are a part of us. Through forgiveness, we take away the negative hold it has on us. We all have moments when strong memories get triggered and we may feel it again. Just as we remember positive memories of our loved ones, likewise painful moments can be triggered by the most random moments. And we can bring those back to God to be released again and again. Wouldn’t it be just like Satan to torment us to think we had failed at forgiving by bringing these memories again and again?
When we forgive we can pass on our story and not keep nurturing the pain that went with it. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom 12:21

Myth 2: Forgiving means what they did is okay.
Truth: Forgiving does not excuse the wrong, consequences still remain.
We heard a passage from 2Samuel 12:7-14 about King David, a man after God’s own heart. Let me share with you some of the back story from the chapters before. The King does not go to war but send his army out to war. While hanging around the castle, he sees Bathsheba, a beautiful woman bathing. He summons her to him and has sex with her, later finding out she is pregnant. Her husband is not just some guy in the kingdom but one of the king’s faithful mighty men. The king tries to cover up his adultery by inviting Uriah home but Uriah is too noble to do so. The king then sets Uriah up to be killed and then later marries Bathsheba.
The prophet Nathan challenges King David and he repents, knowing that his actions were wrong and primarily separate him from God.
Psalm 51 is David’s prayer in which he says, “Cast me not away from thy presence, take not thy Holy Spirit from me.” David knows what this looks like because that happened to King Saul before him. King David’s relationships with God is restored, but the consequences of his sin play out among his family and children. This can be read in the chapters following.
A more recent story is in 1981 when there was an assassination attempt on the Pope. Years later the Pope met the man in prison and forgave him. He still remained in prison for his actions.
Forgiving does not release any legal debt they have legally or consequences of their actions.

Myth 3: I can’t forgive because they have not admitted they hurt me.
Truth: Forgiving is about giving up your right to hurt them back.
Romans 12:18-19 “If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people. Don’t try to get revenge for yourselves, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.”
We are to entrust this person and what happens to them to God. To not forgive means that we continue to expect payment and wait for them to pay. This puts your life on hold in the waiting.

Myth 4: Forgiving means my relationship with that person returns to what it was.
Really this is magical thinking, expecting that when we forgive everything will go back to what it was before. Things have already changed. It is too late to go back.
Truth: Forgiving means accepting what happened and that things are different.
Forgiving does not change others. They may stay the same. They have free will just as we do.
You may never fully understand or agree with how the other person felt. Some of us like to make sure that we all understand or agree. That may not happen either.
Forgiving may not include reconciliation. Reconciliation is a two way thing. We will talk about that more next week.

I think of unforgiveness as the amount of grudge and resentment we hold over an event. It prevents rebuilding a relationship with God and others. Sometimes we don’t forgive self, feeling bad about we did or did not do.
May seem unfair that the focus is on us since we are the ones hurt but the reality is we cannot control what others do or do not do. The good news is that we are not trapped if the other is not willing.
Greatest Barriers to forgiveness- Hatred and bitterness that leads to self-righteous pride.
As I studied I found that there is much written in scripture about this. This tells me it is a common struggle and they go together. I hope you will take some time to look at these verses this week.
When we focus on or even enjoy our hating because we think they deserve it, we live in darkness.
1John 2:9-11 “The one who claims to be in the light while hating a brother or sister is in the darkness even now. The person loving a brother and sister stays in the light, and there is nothing in the light that causes a person to stumble. But the person who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and lives in the darkness, and doesn’t know where to go because the darkness blinds the eyes.”
Hatred can blind us. Being hurt can lead to unconfessed sin, not trusting God and wanting our own way. We are focused on the one who hurt us.
Or we can wallow in our bitterness and focus on our sorrow. Lamentations 3:19-26 reminds us that in the midst of bitterness, we can have hope in the Lord and wait on his unfailing love. Now this is already after a couple of chapters of lamenting! Can we reach that point of remembering and being reminded even in the midst of bitterness to hope in the Lord?
Hebrews 12:15 “Make sure that no one misses out on God’s grace. Make sure that no root of bitterness grows up that might cause trouble and pollute many people.” When we are bitter, we keep detailed accounts of wrongs. As many of you gardeners know, roots absorb and store nutrients and water in the roots. We hold on to that bitterness. It can be so easy to justify payback and that it is right to feel this way.
Ephesians 4:31-32 “Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” We are reminded again to put away bitterness and anger in response to the kindness and forgiveness of God in Christ.
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” Psalm 32:3-5, 7
Have you felt like your bones wasted away from your groanings? The words are a familiar song from years ago. Pride and denial leads us to hide from God and others. God reminds us that he wants be our hiding place, our place of safety.

Ephesians 4:25-27 “Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. Be angry without sinning. Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil.”
Last week we talked about being objective about what happened and investigating. Do not sin in your anger, do not give devil a foothold! It is okay to angry, just do not sin in it. I think of a door cracked open and Satan forcing a toe or shoe in there to try and get further in.
When we focus on ourselves or others and not Jesus, we nurture anger and bitterness and not the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness and being forgiven is to be an ongoing way of life.

Last week we talked about the steps to forgiveness – Acknowledge your pain, grow in compassion and know our own need for forgiveness. Thomas Moore teaches, forgiveness comes in its own time, but we create the conditions where forgiveness can occur. How will we nurture the conditions for forgiveness to happen?
Here is a wonderful quote from Mother Teresa:
People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”

Again at the end of the sermon notes is a place to write the name of someone God is prodding you or you want to forgive and a place to write what you are forgiving them for. I know some of you have not written anything down but it is engraved in your mind. And we need to be intentional and work together towards this. This is a big job. Jesus offers us the power to forgive and walk in new freedom.

I have seen people not forgive and it leads to avoiding places and situations or getting emotional at the sight or hearing someone’s name. It changes people’s mood or activity. When we do this, we give that person control of what we do and how we feel. Take it back. Give up your control and entrust them to God.
Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future. ~Paul Boese
Let me end by showing this video called “Signs of Forgiveness.”

Lord, you know we need your help. We are broken and fragile. You know the person or situation on our hearts and minds. We want to release them to you. Heal the wounded places in us. Guide us with your peace and your power that we might live in your freedom and love. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

Pastor Anne: Lessons on Forgiveness, Part 1

The Power of Forgiveness, part 1Matthew 18:21-35
St. Paul UMC 8-5-12

Are you enjoying the summer? Summer is full of friends and family visiting. We had VBS last week. People are on vacations – please pray for Pastor SunHee and Kevin who left for Korea this past Tuesday for time for relaxing with family. Some have gone camping – Lance is backpacking somewhere in California now. And it’s also a time to see summer movies.
Like me you were probably shocked about July 20 shootings in Colorado at the Batman showing where 12 were killed and 59 wounded. The shooter had an apartment full of explosives and traps for whoever went in. One victim, Denver Rescue Mission employee, Pierce O’Farrill was shot three times in the left arm and left leg.
O’Farrill told The Denver Post that when he saw images of Holmes at his first court appearance he felt sorrow for him. “Of course, I forgive him with all my heart. When I saw him in his hearing, I felt nothing but sorrow for him — he’s just a lost soul right now,” O’Farrill said. “I want to see him sometime. The first thing I want to say to him is ‘I forgive you,’ and the next is, ‘Can I pray for you?'”
That is amazing because ways of the world are not forgiving! There is war, violence through our actions and words of criticism, blame and judgment. People live by an eye for an eye, carrying grudges, bitterness and feuds for generations. The reality is that as Christians, we are not always more forgiving than non-Christians.
Pastor Sun Hee just finished preaching on Heroes. A few weeks ago she spoke of Joseph, the forgiving hero. A young man whose brothers hated him enough to try to kill him and ended up selling him off to slave traders. Over the course of years, Joseph forgave and saved his family.
Jesus calls us to follow and serve him, as Christians. Forgiveness and love are our greatest super powers given by God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Most agree, the power of forgiveness is needed in a world of violence. Unfortunately, we, like all humans in the world, can be more like Joseph’s brothers than Jesus.
I will be preaching on Forgiveness for the month of August. In some ways it is simple and complex at the same time. If you have questions or comments, please talk to me, email or leave me a note in the offering plate. Forgiveness is important and central to our life as Christians
C. S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” How does forgiveness work? What are we talking about?
We will look today at Matthew 18:21-35, the parable of the unmerciful servant. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a king and his slaves. Parables are stories to teach and show a deeper truth or lesson.
The king is settling accounts with a slave that owes him 10,000 talents.
• 1 talent = more than 15 years pay for average worker.
• 10,000 talents is more than 150,000 years wages.
The man can’t pay. He has accumulated a huge debt that it is impossible to repay even though he may try. I wondered how could he accumulate such a huge debt? But we know that still happens today. As I studied, the word used for slave could also be for a tax collector or finance minister.
The king calls for man and family and all his possessions to be sold. It is in his right to do this and is according to Old Testament law in Leviticus 25.
In verse 26, the slave falls on his knees saying “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Now the slave and everyone there knows it cannot be repaid. It is just too much! Out of pity for him, the lord of that slave releases him and forgave him the debt. The king is merciful, kind, compassionate and generous and releases this impossible debt for the man and his family.
Forgiveness in the Kingdom of God is like this story. God is our king and we are his slaves. We have and are accumulating a debt that is more than we can ever repay. God has mercy and releases (forgives) us from our debt.
But the story is not done.
The first slave sees another slave who owes him 100 denarii.
• 1 denarius = 1 day wage.
• 100 denarii is less than 4 months average wage.
In verse 29, the slave says almost the same thing the first one said to the king, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” This time it is possible to pay back the debt.
But in contrast to the King, the slave refuses and throws him in jail until he pays. Which again he has right to do.
Other slaves see the forgiven slave (who could never pay back his own debt) be unforgiving and they are upset! They tell the king and the king calls the slave wicked. He then sends slave to be treated as he treated other slave.
In the Kingdom of God, when we are unforgiving to others, others are distressed and God calls us wicked. Though it is acceptable in the world, it is not acceptable in Kingdom of God. In the Message interpretation the king says, “Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?” The generous unexpected mercy of King should compel us to act likewise and become more like him.
There is the expectation that we who are forgiven of debt beyond our ability to repay are to become forgiving like our King with debts that are really much smaller. When we are not, God treats us as the world does.

Back to beginning of our scripture reading, Peter asks Jesus how many times must I forgive a member of the church? We will talk about others outside the church another week.
Seven times? Jesus answers 77 times! This huge number is not so that we keep count and when people reach 78 we are done forgiving them but to say as often as it happens. For this aspect of forgiving, we are compared to king and his slaves.
As Christians, we and others know and expect that we are to be forgiving. Amen?
We pray the Lord’s prayer weekly and say, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven….Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Being forgiven by God and forgiving or not forgiving others is connected.
I saw a book recently called The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel. The subtitle is Believing in God but living as if He doesn’t exist.
Pastor SunHee said a few weeks ago in her sermon, “Men forget but never forgive. Women forgive but never forget.” And we nodded and nudged and understand that. Sometimes we are so used to it that it becomes normal, comfortable and even acceptable in our mind. We may think we are pretty good compared to some and this is good enough. But that is not God’s standard.
When we are baptized and/or confirmed, we or our parents publicly commit and accept what God is calling us to in following Jesus.
 Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of your sin?
 Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
 Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in His grace, and promise to serve Him as your Lord in union with the church?
This is what we commit our lives to, what we say we want our lives to be.
When I was baptized I knew that I wanted to follow Jesus. I was not fully sure what it would take or mean or where it would lead. If you ask my family and friends, I was a pretty good person with basic morals. As I grew in faith, I learned the basics that God loves me so much, not just for what I do or who I am. Likewise, that when, and not if, I messed up, God was ready to receive me back if I turned back and asked for help. That reveals the kind of God he is
It was life changing from how I grew up, fully dependent on my working hard and doing the right thing. It was an incredible freedom to not be in control but trust my life and others to God’s great care and help. It was a huge burden lifted. I could not believe it was true! Love that was so sweet!
There are moments when I am still stunned at how good God is to me and us! At those times I am overflowing with gratefulness. When I still mess up and get tired of my own limitations, our God is there to receive and put me back on track.
We all have those moments throughout life. Moments when we feel that we have messed up so badly and the mercy of God is waiting for us to ask for help. Not just a second chance but 77 times! As often as needed, God’s amazing love is there to wrap us, receive us, wash us and lead us!

Have you been watching the Olympics? I really enjoy team sports where people share their strengths and encourage, remind and help focus each other in challenging times. The other day I saw Tirunesh Dibaba from Ethiopia who won the women’s 10k meter race. After 20 some laps she was with the top competitors at the front. When the bell rang for the last lap, she turned it on and peeled away from the others and even lapped others in the race. It was amazing!
I think of Jesus as the gold medalist in forgiveness. He is so much better that there is no contest. Why are we on the same field?
And yet, Jesus invites us to be on his team- to coach us and shares his power and strength us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus and the Holy Spirit will take us far beyond our own limits if we allow and are willing.

You may be wondering, what about when others do really awful things, or repeatedly, or are unrepentant? We will deal with these in the next weeks.
I want to leave you with two main realities to set our foundation as we talk about God’s forgiveness.
First is the reality of sin in world and in us. We often think of sin as not following God’s law or will. I would like to break it down more. Sin is our tendency to choose words, actions and inaction that separates us from each other and God. It is when we block the ideal relationship between people and God. For example, Adam and Eve’s actions and choices put a barrier where we see them hiding from God.
Sin includes violence, demeaning others, gossip, fear and hiding. We may be aware and unaware of the separation that our choices lead to. Either way it is not always so easy to go back.
The second reality is the power of God’s love and forgiveness to restore or mend separation. Forgiveness gets us out of the trapped cycle of violence and despair. God guides us in unlearning the habits of separation and sin to live out the life-giving grace of God.
In Psalm 25:7, 11 God forgives according to God’s love, for sake of God’s name. We see that expressed in Jesus Christ. In Luke 23:34, Jesus forgives the guards who nail him to the cross. “Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing. John Wesley wrote that this is Jesus’ greatest miracle- “while they were nailing him to the cross, he seems to feel the injury they did to their own souls, more than the wounds they gave him, and to forget his own anguish out of concern for their salvation.”

Jesus invites us to be on journey of forgiveness with him. Let me offer two questions.
Will you repent and receive God’s forgiveness and power?
Who do you need to forgive?
Maybe God is reminding you of how much you need him, how forgiven you are. Maybe there is someone or something you are being prodded to forgive. Recommit yourself to repent, to reject evil, to put your whole trust in Jesus Christ and live for him.
Let him do the heavy lifting! It will be more than we can do on our own.
I am going to invite the praise team to offer a song for reflection. During this song, you are invited to come forward to recommit and offer your life to the one who saves us. If you are accepting good news of the abundant love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ for the first time, please come to the center. We will close together in prayer at the end of the song.

Sermon Transcript – Joseph: The Forgiving Hero

Joseph: The Forgiving Hero / Genesis 37:1-24; 50:15-21Heroes Series Part 5 St Paul UMC Fremont | Pastor Sun Hee Kim

Genesis 37:1-24
1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
2 This is the account of Jacob.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented [a] robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”
“Very well,” he replied.
14 So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.
When Joseph arrived at Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”
17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing- 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
Genesis 50:15-21
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

We are now on the fifth week of our Heroes series. After today, we have just one more to go. You will recall that so far  we have looked at Rahab, Abraham, Esther and Ruth. Stories of ordinary people turned extraordinary by God’s call and through God’s grace. What I love about  what we are learning in this series is that God calls each and every one of us in many different ways to rise to some sort of occasion for some sort of important purpose. God has a purpose for each of us – kingdom sized purpose. And in each of us, there is a hero waiting to surface at just the right the time to make an extraordinary difference.

 Today, we turn our attention to Joseph – a very familiar character of the Bible. Many of you may be familiar with the story through Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” that came out many years ago. The story of Joseph spans fourteen chapters in the Book of Genesis – taking up nearly one third of the whole book! That’s a lot of pages and a lot of verses that’s devoted to this one character, and this story is just rich with detail containing many interesting plot twists along the way. I wish we had the time to talk about the whole story, but for the purposes of  today, I want to focus on just one primary characteristic of Joseph that makes him an extraordinary hero in the Kingdom of God – his forgiving heart.

Now, we all know and we have all had experiences in life where we have learned how difficult is to forgive. Someone at some point did some sort of wrong to us, and for some of us, that wrong left some deep unhealed wounds. And as much as we try and want to forget, we can’t because forgiving comes so hard to us. And it really doesn’t matter who you are, I think forgiveness is a real difficult thing to do. I read this funny quote, and I’m not sure who said this, but it goes like this: “Men forget but never forgive. Women forgive but never forget.” So true, right? (I can see husbands and wives staring each other down right now even as I speak.) Well, whether you’re a man or a woman, obviously, when it comes to forgiving, there are some major issues there, amen?

Indeed,  forgiveness is a difficult and delicate thing, but what our story today will teach us is that forgiveness is not impossible, and when it is given, it becomes one of the greatest heroic acts you can possibly imagine. That’s the story of Joseph, the story that we have before us today.

We read today from Genesis chapters 37 and 50 which is just the beginning and the end of the story of Joseph. But this gives us a pretty good set-up of what’s going on and how it all unfolds in the end. And what we see here is that the story of Joseph really begins as a story about sibling rivalry gone bad. This is what we read in Genesis chapter 37 verses 2 to 4:

 This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel (which you all may know is another name for Jacob) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Now, remember this is the beginning of the story.  In the first four verses, the author of Genesis immediately wants us to know that Joseph and his brothers were not very tight. In fact, the Bible tells us that his brothers “hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” Hold on to that phrase for awhile, because we are going to come back to that at the end of this sermon. For now, suffice it to say, there is some major sibling rivalry going on here.

I don’t know how many of you have siblings, but I came across this  big cover story from TIME magazine that was published several years ago about siblings. In this issue, they cited a whole bunch of different research about sibling relationships, and one study that they cited was about fighting that occurs among siblings. Do you know how much fighting goes on among siblings?  Kids, the research says, between the ages of two and four have an average of 6.2 fights per hour. That’s about 90 fights per day. That’s about 3000 fights per year! So, if you’re parenting little kids, it’s no wonder why you’re so tired. And by the way, for some people, those averages don’t decrease much over the years.

Well,  we see here in Genesis that sibling rivalry is a real old story. And as bad as sibling rivalry may be, in the story of Joseph it goes from bad to worse. The Bible tells us that Joseph was the son of Jacob’s old age and the son of his favorite wife. Yes, the Bible has accounts of certain men having more than one wife. And just so that you don’t get any funny ideas, this is not a prescription for God’s people; it’s more of a description of the way that culture was back then. But that’s another sermon for another time. For our sermon today, what we need to know is that Joseph was Jacob’s favorite. Anyone here in this room have siblings who thought that they were mommy’s or daddy’s favorite, but you knew deep down that the favorite was clearly you? Sibling rivalry. Of course, it was you.

Well, here in Genesis, there is no argument. Joseph is clearly the winner when it comes to the contest of favorites. This is the way that John Ortberg describes this:
“Joseph was the favorite. When the other boys would walk in the room, Jacob would ask them about the flocks or whether their chores were done. When Joseph walked into the room, their dad’s eyes would light up. His face would beam. Joseph was the one that Dad would brag about. Jacob knew how Joseph was doing in school, who his teachers were, and what his friends’ names were. Jacob was a little fuzzy about the details of the other boys’ lives. In a hundred ways – in ways that most parents are not even aware of but that kids can smell a mile away – Jacob’s favoritism for Joseph leaked out of him.”

 No wonder his brothers hated him. And what made it worse is that, one day, Jacob’s favoritism took on a concrete form. The Bible tells us that Jacob gave Joseph a “richly ornamented robe.” Now, the meaning of the Hebrew word for “richly ornamented” is a little uncertain. It could have meant “with long sleeves”. But most of us are more familiar with the old King James Version that says that Joseph was given a “coat of many colors”. Apparently, Jacob must have bought it at Nordstrom. It was hand tailored, custom made just for Joseph. And whenever Joseph wore that robe, his brothers were reminded that their father will never love them the way he loves Joseph. The robe was a symbol of status, marking Joseph as his father’s pet. As John Ortberg goes on to comment, “This was an open, visible, in-your-face expression of raw favoritism.” And the brothers cannot stand it. And they hate Joseph with all of their beings.

Now, Joseph himself doesn’t make matters any better. In fact, he seems to naively fuel the fire of their jealousy. In Genesis 37:5-8, we read:
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of the dream and what he had said.

Obviously, the sibling rivalry thing is not getting any better in the story. It just gets worse and worse, and the Bible tells us that Joseph’s brothers hated him more and more.  The hatred grows and soon becomes uncontainable. So, one day while the brothers are out in the fields to graze their father’s flock, Jacob sends Joseph out to them to see how they are doing. He is kind of sent on an assessment mission. “Go check on them,” Jacob says. So Joseph goes and the Bible tells us in Genesis 37:18, that while he was still far off, “…they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.” Hatred has now turned into a conspiracy for murder. Now, quick question: how did they recognize that it was Joseph? How could they actually see him in the distance and know it was him? That’s right. They may not have seen his face, but they sure could see his “richly ornamented robe.” And they are just burning with anger.

This is what we read in the Bible:
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

Notice, they don’t even call him by name anymore? They don’t say, “Here comes Joseph. Here comes our brother.” No, they say, “Here comes that dreamer.” It’s human tendency that when you are jealous of someone, when someone has done you wrong and you hate them, you don’t even like to think of them as a person. You don’t even like to think of them having a name. And this was the case with Joseph’s brothers. Here comes the favorite. Here comes this arrogant, would-be-ruler. We’ll teach this dreamer a thing or two. Or better yet, might as well just kill him.

Well, the Bible tells us that when Joseph arrived, they stripped him of his robe – and notice the author describes it once again by saying, “the richly ornamented robe that he was wearing” (apparently, this robe was a big point of contention) – and they throw him into a dry, empty cistern (a well). And originally, their plan was to leave him there to die. But as the story goes, the brothers later decide to sell Joseph for twenty shekels of silver to some Midianite merchants who were passing by. They think that it would just be better to sell him off than actually have his blood on their conscience. So they sell him off for a very meager price, soak his robe in goat’s blood, and take it back to their father telling him that Joseph must have been slaughtered by animals. And of course, Jacob mourns and weeps like crazy for his favorite son that he believes is now dead. And Genesis 37 ends with this verse:

Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

Now, that’s quite a serious example of sibling rivalry. And I do hope that as much as any of you may have had experiences of sibling rivalry in your lives or maybe still do, that it’s not to that extreme. I mean it’s one thing to compete for the attention of your father or mother and maybe get into a few disagreements over the years (at the rate of 6.2 fights per hour), but to hate to the extent of wanting to kill? To sell off your own flesh and blood to strangers knowing that you’re handing off your sibling to a hard and cruel life of slavery? I mean, if you were Joseph, how do you think you would feel? Could such an act of hatred ever be forgiven? If you’re like me, I’m sure you would be saying right now, “Absolutely not. There’s limits to forgiveness.” Amen?

But here’s the thing. And this is why this story of Joseph is just so amazing and this is why Joseph is considered a hero in the Kingdom of God. The Bible tells us that Joseph does eventually forgive his brothers, and we read about it in the last chapter of the Book of Genesis, chapter 50. It’s the closing scene of this epic story. And I wish so much that I could go into more detail about everything that happens between chapters 38 and 49, because again it’s such a rich and great story. But for the sake of time, let me really make a long story short and say that through the mighty and providential hand of God, and by way of many divine twists and turns in the plot, Joseph’s life is not only spared but eventually exalted to the position of second-in-command of all of Egypt, a position second only to Pharaoh. Joseph is 30 years old when this happened. Thirteen years have passed since his brothers sold him off. Joseph’s life is actually quite incredible at this point, but do you suppose for one minute that he ever forgot about what his brothers did to him? You don’t have to actually read the whole story to know that this is a burden, a huge emotional wound that Joseph carried with him every day of his life. That is until as fate would have it, he is reunited with his brothers again.

Fast forward to chapter 50. A famine has hit the land, and people all over have been starving and looking for food. Joseph’s family and his brothers are among them. And they come to Egypt in search of some sort of relief not knowing that their very brother who they sold off to slavery many, many years ago is now one of the highest officials in all of Egypt. You have to admit, there is great poetic justice in some of these amazing stories of Scripture. And again, there is much detail here that I would love to go into, but you’ll have to read those on your own if you haven’t already.  Suffice it to say that after more than thirteen years, Joseph still remembers his brothers and despite what they did, decides to help them. And this is what we read in the closing scene of the Book of Genesis:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” They said.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Wow, what an amazing and tender scene, don’t you think? What an amazing and tender man that Joseph is, don’t you think? Joseph was hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, suffered in an Egyptian prison, then rose to power at just the right time to save the people of Israel. He became a hero. But make no mistake about it.  Joseph’s greatest heroic act is not about interpreting dreams, or about rising to the position of second-in-command, or even about feeding a starving nation. His greatest heroic act was forgiveness. Joseph is “The Forgiving Hero”. And sometimes, it takes all the power in the world, all the power available from heaven, to offer this type of forgiveness for this type of wound that’s been carried for years and years. Joseph had that power and, friends, that power came from God, and that power is available to us as well.

Earlier in the sermon, I asked you to hold onto a phrase from Chapter 37. It was the phrase “his brothers hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” Notice that in the closing scene of this story of Joseph, Chapter 50 tells us that Joseph “reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” This is visible forgiveness. Joseph gives to them what they refused to give to him many years before. Sometimes this sort of “kind word” can be the most amazing and most extraordinary heroic gesture.

Truth is that we have all been on the receiving end of forgiveness, the receiving end of kind words. For we know as Christians, that there was once another young dreamer that came into the world, and He too was stripped of his robe, and He too was betrayed and deserted by His brothers, and He is the One who ultimately said, “Your sins are forgiven. You are healed.” He laid down his life, so that ours could be lifted up. And it wasn’t easy. The path to forgiveness was a difficult path that led up to Calvary Hill where some of the kindest and heroic words were spoken.  And it was there, on that hill, that forgiveness was made possible for us. Forgiveness that can be received – and – forgiveness that can be given.

 So, let me ask you in closing today: who do you need to be a Joseph to? Who has hurt you or done you so much wrong that it has been difficult to forgive? Don’t you think it’s time for God to work in your life, to have His extraordinary grace fill you so that you can offer the heroic gesture of forgiveness to someone who really needs it? I know it seems difficult, and I know it seems impossible at times, but if Joseph can forgive his brothers and Jesus can forgive us, I certainly think that we can offer forgiveness to others. Amen?

 Lewis Smedes once said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” By the grace of God, and by God’s extraordinary call into our ordinary lives, may today be a day of incredible freedom for us all. Amen?!