Sermon for September 14, 2008
Sermon for September 14, 2008
Genesis 50:15-21, Romans 14:1-12, and Matthew 18: 21-35
Forgiveness and reconciliation are the themes for these lessons. The first lesson is the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers in the book of Genesis. The second lesson is the reconciliation of those with different views in the ancient Christian congregation in Rome. The third lesson is a story by Jesus about how our forgiveness should mirror the unlimited mercy of God. It is the story form of the line in the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
God’s assignment for each of us this day is to think about some reconciliation or forgiveness that needs to take place in our lives. Then make a decision that this week will not pass until you have taken one small step to work for that forgiveness, and before next Sunday to say a prayer of thanks that you have continued reconciliation in some aspect of your life.
Let me say that again: reflect on your life to consider where reconciliation needs to take place. Then take one step toward forgiveness, and finally by next Saturday afternoon say a prayer of thanks that you have begun to work on this. No one, including me, is exempt from this, for all of us stand in need of forgiveness and need to offer it.
We even know in a scientific way these days that people who forgive and are forgiven, who accept their differences with others, live longer, are healthier, are more content, and are happier. In this happiness, they are doing the will of God, and building the kingdom of heaven on earth.
Yes, but you might reply that the other person is soooo difficult. This may well be. But this prescription is for your soul. You are responsible for your own heart, not the heart of another. Whatever other people do put your own soul in order by beginning or continuing the long process to forgive.
Reconciliation comes only when forgiveness is mutual. In some cases reconciliation may never take place. Perhaps the acknowledgement of wrong is not present. But forgiveness is something you can do all by yourself. It is a burden you can lay down regardless of what others do.
Sometimes forgiveness comes quickly. At other times it may be a long process. The details in the passages this morning offer help along the way of forgiveness.
First, in the first passage we are in chapter fifty of Genesis this morning. Let us simple appreciate the fact that this is chapter fifty, the end of Genesis. For fifteen chapters, we’ve had the difficult story of Joseph and his brothers. It is a story of sibling rivalry, jealousy, conflict, misfortune, struggle, betrayal, slavery, jail time, and famine. By the fiftieth chapter much needs to be forgiven. Forgiveness is offered and received. Reconciliation is accomplished.
It is also a story of providence. Providence means that God is watching over Joseph and us through all the chapters of our lives. Through all our sorrows and struggles, God is working gradually but surely for the good. It may take fifteen chapters, but the good ending, the resolution, the forgiveness comes. Through it all God is providentially watching over us.
In this story two lines may instruct us. The first line is the first words read this morning. The words are more profound than they appear: realizing that their father was dead.
The brothers realize that their father was dead. They had hoped that he would be the one to reconcile the family so that they could get famine relief in Egypt where Joseph, the one treated so badly, was now second in command. But their father is dead, and something new needs to be born. So they initiate a conversation out of which reconciliation comes.
Sometimes to reconcile and forgive we need to realize that something has ended, and we need now to face the situation with new initiative, honesty, and humility. We may recognize that something is over, finally over, bury an issue or a hatchet, and now move along with a fresh offer of humble affection.
The other line in the first lesson is Joseph’s insight at the end of it all. It’s a chapter fifty insight as he looks back on his life. He says to his brothers: Even though you intended to do me harm, God intended it for the good, in order to preserve a numerous people. The next time you wonder why something bad is happening; remember that we do not know the mind or plan of God until we get to our own chapter fifty. This is the nature of providence.
The details of the second lesson also are instructive for us. In Rome, the congregation is quarreling about issues. Is it better to eat government approved meat (the approval seal involved recognition of the cult of the emperor) or to be a vegetarian? Should we celebrate a festival that has civic cultic implications? Should we observe days of fasting? These were issues that were tearing at the Christians in Rome. People felt strongly about these things.
Paul says you can eat meat if you want, or celebrate, or fast if you want. Or not. But he clearly asks, no almost demands, that we Christians be tolerant of those who are different from us. Don’t judge those who are of a different opinion. The thing that binds us together is our faith in Jesus. Jesus is the forgiveness of God, the means by which all, and especially the most despised sinner, is forgiven and returned to God’s love.
We belong to Jesus. So whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, or an independent, or a libertarian, a vegetarian or meatatarian, young or old, belong the greatest generation or generation x, whether you are rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, whatever nationality, orientation, or racial group, we are united in the forgiveness of God offered to us through Jesus Christ.
This Jesus brings us this last lesson. Here is the story of the forgiven servant who fails to forgive. Bound by God’s forgiveness in Jesus, we are called to forgive over and over. Reconciliation and forgiveness is in the end not just something on this week’s to do list. It is a life long adventure.
Along this way, God provides interesting opportunities that at first appear to be obstacles standing in our path. Along this way, we will find our hearts tested by the outlandish opinions of people who just don’t get it, but are still the beloved people of God. Along this way, we will discover that our forgiveness may or may not change the hearts of others. Along this way, we may wonder where God is leading us in the forest of conflicting opinion shouted as loudly as possible that has become contemporary life.
Yet it is clear in this story of Jesus that many eyes are watching to see how well we forgive, and that God too is watching over us, empowering us to forgive more than we thought, calling us always more deeply into this mystery of forgiveness and reconciliation.
For when we are forgiven, we experience what it is like to be in God’s heart. When we forgive, we experience what it is like to be in God’s shoes. This week walk with God.