August 16, 2020 ~ Sermon and Service

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost                                                                E. Bevan Stanley

August 16, 2020

Proper 15, Year A

Genesis 45:1-15
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.

What we see here in the reading from the Hebrew scriptures is a beautiful example of forgiveness and reconciliation. To a large extent this is what Christianity is all about. We are made by God to love God and each other. We are made to be in relationships of love with each other, with God, with the world, and with ourselves. Sin is what we call the actions and reactions that separate us from one another or from God. Sometimes these acts are accidental; sometimes they are not. In the story of Joseph, for example, when Joseph was a teenager he told his brothers about two dreams he had that suggested that all his older brothers would bow down to him. This angered his brothers. Did Joseph intend to anger his brothers, or just try to stand up for himself as the second to the youngest? Did he set out to alienate his brothers, or was he just really naïve and unthinking?

Then his brothers act on their anger by first planning to kill him and then actually selling him into slavery. This was deliberate and the purpose was to end the relationship with Joseph for ever. This is clearly a sin. When Joseph arrives in Egypt he has various ups and downs in his career. He ends up being the prime minister and running the government of Egypt under the Pharaoh. His main task is keeping people fed during a seven-year famine. When the famine comes to the land of Canaan, the sons of Israel come to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize their brother. In the reading today, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.

The brothers are terrified. They know they wronged their brother many years ago. And now they are in his power. Joseph can have his revenge. Joseph can make them suffer for the evil they had perpetrated upon him. What will it be? Slavery? Execution? And what about Joseph? He could be bitter towards his brothers. Should they not have a taste of the suffering that Joseph endured as a slave and as a falsely accused prisoner?

Joseph chooses to see the good in the situation and not the evil. He tells his brothers, “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph sees God hands in all the events. He sees that he is in a position to help his family survive the famine. And he sees a chance to get his family back. Joseph sees that his relationship with his brothers and his whole family is more important than anything else to him. For the sake of that good, he will let go of his pain, let go of his rights.

Is not this the core of all reconciliation and forgiveness? We see that the relationship is more important than the hurt. We choose to believe that the person who hurt us will not do so again. Joseph had already seen that his brothers were now willing to risk their lives for the welfare of Benjamin, the youngest. We let go of our anger, resentment, and need to get even. This can seem very hard sometimes, especially if we have been dwelling on the wrongs done to us. If we have been ruminating on them as cow chews her cud. Sometime a person who has been wronged has come to define their whole self as a victim of someone else’s malice.

An important aspect of Joseph’s story is that he puts it all in the perspective of God’s care for him and his family. “You intended it for evil, but God intended it for good.” He sees that God wants his family to thrive. God uses Joseph’s presence in Egypt to be the thing that saves his family. Some survivors of the holocaust see how their relationship to God and to their fellow human beings is far more tender as a result of their suffering. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after the ending of apartheid was a chance for people to confront their acts and to be reconciled to those whom they had harmed or to  those who had harmed them.

One of the most powerful stories is of a black woman who had both her husband and her son burned alive in front of her by the white police. At the Commission hearing, the white officer responsible confessed his part in this horrific act. When asked what she wanted as justice or reparation, the widow and mother said that she had a lot of love to give, and now that she no longer had husband or son to lavish that love on, the white officer should come to her house every week for Sunday dinner so that she could love him. Out the same crucible of pain, wrongdoing and injustice come to utterances of Nelson Mandela: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” And: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

In our country today we are deeply divided. We need to find our common humanity and our common citizenship. We need to see the good that transcends our grievances with others. Jesus used his vision of the Kingdom to overcome every estrangement of sin. Our purpose as human beings is to love as God loves. Every encounter with another is an opportunity to practice that love. Every relationship can be a building block in building that kingdom or commonwealth of joy, and hope, and goodness. When we are hurt we get to choose what we are going to do with that event. We can poison ourselves with resentment, or we can walk into the freedom and joy of reconciliation.

Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.