For Lent (and two weeks prior to Lent) I am focusing for my Wednesday evening Bible Study as series on “Faces of Forgiveness.” Below are my notes for the last two weeks. Please overlook grammatical and spelling errors.
We know about it and we hear about it and sometimes we see it, but do we believe it?
In 2006 the Amish community in Pennsylvania had a school shooting that killed five children. They went very public with their need to forgive.
Do you recall when the now infamous runaway bride of Duluth returned home, talk radio pundits and the call in public took their shots and jabs, but the fiancé spoke of forgiveness. And the media and public alike ridiculed him, as if such an act was a sign of stupidity. Forgiveness? Does it really exist? Or maybe it would be better to say is it really possible?
I am convinced that at the root of any poisoned or broken relationship is the failure to forgive. Please understand this: for the Christian believer, forgiveness is not an option, it is rarely easy, it does not come natural, and it will be hard work.
What did Jesus say about Forgiveness?
Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors… 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 18: 21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Mark 11:25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”
Luke 6:37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
The Three Cs of Forgiveness:
R.T. Kendall writes that we have a choice: bitterness or peace. When you chose to withhold forgiveness peace no longer is a choice. And by the way, the peace is better.
Forgiveness cannot be partial, piecemeal, or otherwise gingerly acted upon. Forgiveness is:
• Continual (seventy-seven times). Forgiveness is not about Forgetting – First, because it is impossible, short of amnesia. Claypool says it is like taking a shower each day, but each day he knows he is not finished once and for all with the dirt.
Forgiveness is about choosing to keep “no record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:5).
• Chronic. When the guilt, shame, anger comes back (and many times it will) we own it and then disown it.
In the upcoming weeks we will look at key stories that will provide a picture of forgiveness. The stories will be:
• Joseph – Forgiveness in the Family (Genesis 37:17b-28)
• David – Forgiveness and Betrayal (2 Samuel 11:2ff)
• Jesus – Forgiveness and Reconciliation (Matthew 5:21-26)
• Prodigal Brother – Forgiveness and Resentment (Luke 15:11-32)
• Sinful Woman – Forgiveness and Being Forgiven (Luke 7:36-50)
Faces of Forgiveness: Joseph and Family
February 6, 2013
NRS Genesis 37:17b…So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”– that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Out of all the relationships that we are called on to forgive, perhaps forgiving the family is the most difficult. Wouldn’t you agree that the persons we love the most in this world are also the ones that can hurt us the most? That is why psychiatrists and therapists almost always begin by wanting to know more about their client’s family. And so we come to one of the most dynamic and incorrigible of OT families – the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is a family of scandal, manipulation, trickery and deception. It is Soap Opera in Hebrew fashion. This is no gathering of the Waltons out on Walton Mtn. but is more like JR and friends from Dallas. This morning we enter into the story of Jacob’s son Joseph.
From this story there are a few lessons we can learn about forgiveness in the family.
Lesson #1: Remember That All Have Fallen Short
Do you know what that means? People will disappoint us. I know that sounds rough, but it is the truth. Because no one is perfect, no family is perfect. Joseph’s brothers no doubt were very disappointed with their father. Their father had chosen Joseph as the favorite. Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children. Wow, that hurts. You’re not supposed to do that as a parent. No wonder they wanted to throw Joseph in the well. No child deserves to be treated as less important than another sibling. We parents like to think that we work so hard in making sure everything our children receive is evenly distributed: from Christmas presents to chocolate milk. But inequity invariably happens. Parents don’t like to admit this, but favoritism is real. We can all tell when one child gets the bragging rights of the parent while another child struggles to be included or to be blessed.
Of course Joseph’s family disappointed Joseph too. Regardless of Joseph’s father’s favoritism, Joseph certainly did not deserve to be sold into slavery. Neither did he deserve, later on in the saga, to be falsely accused and imprisoned. Everywhere Joseph turned people were a disappointment to him.
We live in a fallen world and dwell among fallen people. And that includes our family.
Every day we enter a world at the mercy of the shortcomings and failures of others. And often enough those hurts come from the people we love the most: a spouse, a sibling, a parent or a child. After 25 years of marriage I am not sure when, but I can tell you Amy has born her share of disappointments in me…Marriage is full of risks and even when you give your heart to another, you need to understand you will get hurt.
Human beings – even our closest family members – can never completely offer to us what only God can give. This doesn’t mean lower expectations.
This leads to a second observation about Joseph who faced the failures of others:
If we are learning to forgive then…
Lesson #2: Remember that we do not have to Live as Victims
Joseph did not allow the sin of others to enslave him…To be sure Joseph was a slave and later a prisoner, neither of which was the result of his choice. I want to hasten to add that much of what happens to us in this world either by outside circumstances or other people are beyond our control. But we can control how we react.
In the book The Forgiveness Book the author tells of a custodian in his church. He described him as a large man who looked like a dark-skinned Yul Brynner. Even though he was not a young man he was shadowed around the church by his twin boys of pre-school age.
The priest asked the sensible question: where is their mother? “Dead,” was the custodians reply. Three years earlier there had been a great deal of racial unrest in that part of FL. One evening his wife, this mother of two boys, while walking home was met by a car coming down the road. A shot rang out and her body rolled into the ditch. The priest then remembered reading it in the newspaper.
The priest also remarked about how calm his custodian was in relating his wife’s murder and told him how impressed he was in his ability to relive those painful events without a trace of anger.
Here is what Mr. Chappelle said: “For a year I hurt so bad and I hated so much that I couldn’t look at a white man without wanting to kill him. Then one night I was putting the boys to bed and I was saying their ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ prayers when the Lord told me, ‘Willie, it don’t do no good to hate. These boys need a lot of love and you can’t give ‘em love when you’re hating all the time. (The Forgiveness Book)
When we cling to sin, especially when we are the ones who were wronged, who were sinned against, we are allowing someone else to define us and enslave us. It is easy to choose to remain angry at a hurt or an offense by a family member. But when we remain there we allow others to define us by our wounds. It is at that point that we are making a choice to remain as victims. And some people would rather be victims – finding fault in others and remaining hurt – because it is easier.
Joseph took the problems of slavery and turned it into an opportunity for meaningful living. He could have sulked about his situation, he could have been revengeful; or he could have resigned himself to living out a life of failure because his brothers were horrible and people could not be trusted.
But Joseph had a dream of God’s greatness through him. And slavery or imprisonment was not going to stand in the way.
In order to forgive our visions must rise above our status as victims. When God gives you a vision for tomorrow, no one else can stand in the way. Not brothers, slavemasters, not Pharaohs, and not Egypt.
As you look through those prison bars of resentment and anger know that you can make the choice to be free. Only in forgiveness will you find freedom. You don’t have to be a victim anymore. [story of the paralyzed man in Jn 5 – take up your mat and walk]
Lesson # 3: Remember God’s Presence
NRS Genesis 39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love;
This verse is of penultimate importance to the story of forgiveness. Joseph was beloved of God. Only when we realize that we are beloved of God can we move to an action and attitude of forgiveness. When we know we are loved by God, the rejections, woundedness and slights of this world will mean very little in the end.
It is hardest for us to forgive whenever we feel as though we are not loved or accepted of God or God is indifferent and absent…Hopelessness drives many of the crimes against others today.
This is not a story about the work ethic or success of a man named Joseph, or how he faced problems and challenges and turned them into opportunities and success. This is the narrative of how even in the midst of dire circumstances God’s claim would be stronger.
The intriguing thing about this story is that the presence of God is not overt or ostentatious. More often than not, God is hidden, working behind the scenes. To paraphrase Walter Brueggemann, God was working between the hint of Joseph’s dreams and the doxology of God’s disclosure in the end (Genesis).
We listen to this biography with the hope that somewhere in the hint of our dreams, when we feel as though we are operating all alone, when we feel most neglected and the odds are against us, God is present. We may not always see or feel or realize. But God is there. When the well is deep and dark and the forces of evil negotiate about our fate…God is there.
Just last year all of America was focused on Atlanta: a man named Clarence Harrison was released from prison after 17 years into a life sentence. DNA evidence proved his innocence and his nightmare was over. If anyone had a reason to hate and seek vengeance it would be Clarence Harrison, but he said . “I knew that hatred wouldn’t get me out, so I had to leave that hatred behind.” There one the steps of the courthouse after his release he shared with the world: “God is good,” “I think I had given up years ago,” Harrison said. “I think God just carried me on through it.”
Forgiveness remembers that God is present..
Lesson #4: Remember God’s Purpose
There are two passages in the Joseph narrative that are the major theological statements for the entire saga:
Genesis 45:4 Then Joseph said to his brothers…”I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life…8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God…
Genesis 50:19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 20 Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…
God can be trusted with our story, however it turns out…
We would wish to see mighty acts of intrusion on God’s part when life has us hanging by a thread. You know, when we are the victim of a crime, or when the children disappoint or when we fail and fall flat on our faces; that is when we want God to swoop down and make it all better. Life is not fair to many of us and yes there are a great many things we will all experience that we probably do not deserve. We want God to come in those times, riding the mighty celestial horses and vanquish our enemies whomever or whatever they might be. But that rarely happens. It did not with Joseph.
Forgiveness claims that God is in control of the story.
When we open ourselves up to forgiveness – releasing whomever and whatever that has held us captive – we come as close to God in this world as we possibly can.
The best definition of sin I know is that sin separates us from God, from others and even ourselves. Forgiveness bridges that separation. When we learn to forgive we discover:
• We have all fallen short.
• We do not have to live as victims.
• God is present.
• God has a purpose.
This God writes the story, including ours, from beginning to end. We don’t have to be separated anymore. Amen and Amen.