February 24th, 2019
“The Difficulty of True Forgiveness”
Today is one of those special Sunday’s, well at least from a parent’s perspective. We are blessed with the Spirit Moves liturgical dancers helping to lead us in worship. After many a dance practice, as well as all of the other challenges that come with parenting, Dawn and I get to see our daughter dance here in front of us all. I must admit it is one of my favourite Sundays of the year. So a special welcome to all of our guests who are here to both take part and to enjoy Spirit Moves today.
As lovely as this moment is, the truth is that there are a lot of moments which are more difficult in life and many wonderful moments come after very difficult times. A great example of this is our reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning. Here we see Joseph reconciled with his brothers. Now I suspect most of us here know the story but just a recap so we are all “on the same page”. Joseph was the favorite of his father Jacob’s sons. So favorite that in fact he marked him with a coat of many colours which was a sign of his love. The other brothers got jealous and conspired to kill him. Of these brothers Reubin planned to throw him into a pit but rescue him later and Judah convinced the rest of them to sell Joseph rather than kill him. We see Joseph this morning forgiving his brothers as he has risen to the rank of Prime Minister of Egypt but is was a difficult path for him. He did not rise to Prime Minister immediately but served as a slave for years and years and had a very difficult time, we know the story. So while today’s reading is full of forgiveness and reconciliation the truth is that not everyone would have acted in such a manner. Joseph had every right to hold a grudge. He had every right to not forgive and punish his brothers. In fact he could have done so, made up with his parents and saved them and they would have been none the wiser. Joseph did not take this path but rather he forgave and it is touching and it is poignant and it inspirational. I must be honest, if I was Joseph I do not know if I would have had the same power to forgive. In fact he not only forgave but saw the hand of God in what had happened to him. My favourite line in the whole Joseph story, is not in today’s reading, but it is when he has finally reconciled with his brothers he says “what you meant to me for evil, God meant to me for good”. Wow, what inspirational words “what you meant to me for evil, God meant to me for good”. It is really a foundational spiritual truth that success is not measured by the values of this world and that in the midst of incredible difficult circumstances we often do see the hand of God moving in our lives and in our world.
This story and experience of Joseph I think can be a living example of what Jesus is talking about today when we hear a little bit of Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain”. Just as a reminder, Jesus’ most well known and eminal teaching is arguably Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” of which there is an alternate version in Luke which when you listen to it is much harsher and calls us to an even higher standard of life than Matthew’s verison. Today we hear we are to love our enemy, do good to those who curse us, turn the other cheek, give our shirt to the one who takes our coat, give to everyone who begs. Then on top of that, our good actions towards our loved ones are dismissed as even sinners do the same. Then there is an ultimate call to forgive and a realization that all we give will be given back to us. Wow, what a high calling, I can honestly say I do not live by that. In fact, I heard an interesting reflection credited to a retired, older and faithful bishop this week. He said to his grown son that even with the depth of love he felt for his family, it had taken him most of his years to get to a point where he could forgive them and that this higher calling of forgiveness that Jesus speaks of today had often eluded him. This is a refreshing reflection in that for many of us it is hard enough to be merciful and to forgive those we love when the wrong us, let alone our enemies. Jesus reminds us today, though, that God has forgiven us and it is because of that we forgive others. It really is the crux of the Lord’s prayer “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”. It is hard to forgive but Jesus reminds us of the depth of God’s love and forgiveness for us and how that shapes us in our living and in our faith. The story of Joseph is an example of that forgiveness in action. It was difficult for him but in that act of forgiveness Joseph accomplished so much, saved his family and grew into God’s purpose. Fundamentally, at the core Joseph put his own needs and prejudices aside and lived according to God’s value and in doing so the spirit of God did amazing things in his midst.
Our scripture today I think calls us to the wonderful gift and freedom of forgiveness and I think all of us should pray that we live in that spirit of forgiveness always.
Thanks be to God. Amen.