- St. Luke's Dundalk
"Forgiveness is Divine" by Vicar A.J. Houseman
This morning in our Old Testament reading, we engage the story of Joseph. It’s one of my favorites, but it engages us with one of the most fundamental challenges of our faith.
See Joseph is the youngest of many sons at the time of his youth. He is his father, Jacob’s, favorite son. First of all… wow. Way to go Jacob. Isn’t that like parenting 101, don’t have favorites? Or at least, don’t tell anyone if you do!
So Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him for this fact. They have built up anger and resentment towards their youngest brother. And so, when they are working the fields far from home one day that Joseph is sent to them by their father, they decide to make a move.
At first, they decide to kill him. What? This seems a bit extreme right?
Ok so then one of the brother’s is like, whoa guys, let’s not kill him. Let’s just throw him into a pit and leave him there to die. Then one of them gets the idea to sell him and fake his death.
So they do just this. They take their own brother, their own flesh and blood, strip him of his cloak, his rights, and his freedom and sell him into human trafficking.
He’s taken to Egypt and sold as a slave to an Egyptian official. That guy’s wife makes a move on Joseph and when he refuses she lies and says he tried to go after her and so he is thrown into prison.
Let’s call this Joseph’s rock bottom. He has been thrown away by his brothers, abused and taken advantage of, and is now rotting in a prison. But you guys know the story, it gets better from there. Joseph’s spiritual gift is interpreting dreams. He interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s servants who then tell Pharaoh and then he interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and becomes leader over all of Egypt.
Then his brothers come down to Egypt for food because there's a huge famine that Egypt is prepared for because of Joseph’s dream interpretation. There’s another whole saga about putting the silver cup into Benjamin’s sack. Then the whole family moves down to Egypt.
This gets us to our reading from Genesis from this morning. Joseph’s brothers are feeling pretty guilty. They are like, “uhhh we did some pretty horrible stuff to Joseph… Like what if he pays us back in full?” uh, oh.
And Joseph does the thing. The thing that seems so impossible to me after being sold into slavery, taken from your family, those that you love, taken to a foreign country against your will as a slave. The impossible thing? Joseph forgives them.
I cannot address you honestly and authentically this morning about forgiveness without recognizing one simple truth: Forgiveness, in my belief, is the single hardest thing that we are asked to do in our faith.
Take care of the poor? Ok, no problem. Heal the sick? No problem. Love our neighbors? No problem. Even love our enemies? Yeah, we can do that.
But forgiveness? Whoa now.
Why? Because in order for someone to require our forgiveness, it means that they have hurt us, deeply. Oftentimes, for someone to be able to inflict this kind of pain on us they have to be close enough to do so. So it's someone that is close enough to us to cause us pain.
That sense of betrayal by loved ones, the ones that we trust most is exactly what Joseph is experiencing. It’s either that or it's someone hurting someone that is close to you.
Peter asks, how many times do we forgive someone who has wronged us? 7 times?
7 times?! Whoa now, don’t get carried away. Can you even forgive someone once for this kind of wrong?
But Peter seems to think that 7 times is a reasonable and rather substantial amount. I agree Peter, it does seem like a lot.
Oh but Jesus…. Jesus takes our expectations of reasonable and turns it on its head. 77 times. Or as some translations say “70 times 7 times”.
The representation of these numbers is meant to signify something that is immeasurable. Or infinite. The idea is that Jesus is saying forgive immeasurably.
Each Sunday, right after the words of institution, and before we receive communion, we pray together. We come together and pray the words that Jesus taught his disciples to pray. There’s a line in there about forgiveness. How does that go again?
I’ll give you a second.
Addressing God, we ask “forgive us our trespasses (sins or debts) as we forgive those who trespass (sin or are indebted) against us.”
We pray for God to forgive us as we forgive others. Uh oh.
But I’m going to jump to the punchline first, God forgives our sins not based on our own merit, but by through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Jesus paid it all in full. This gift is given freely and irrevocably through this promise. This gift is called Grace.
So why would we pray for God to forgive us as we forgive if God is already doing the forgiving? Freely and fully. Divine forgiveness is greater than we can ever imagine.
What if we are not praying to remind God to forgive us but to remind ourselves of God’s forgiveness. What if Jesus is reminding us of the gift of divine forgiveness and we are to aim to forgive with this divine grace?
Because the question is not, “are you forgiven?”, the question is not “how are you forgiven?”, the question is not “do you deserve to be forgiven?”, but rather by the statement “forgive me as I forgive”, the question is, “how do you want to be forgiven?”
God is going to forgive freely and fully. This is divine. I could argue that all of forgiveness is divine. Because forgiveness doesn’t make any sense in our human ways. You pay debts. You don’t get let off the hook for justice for wrong doings. It’s illogical. To forgive.
It is God who give us the grace to give this illogical gift of forgiveness. It is by God’s grace that we forgive.
So how do you want to be forgiven? Divinely? Freely and fully? Yeah, me too.
Now go and do likewise… This is our greatest challenge as followers of Jesus. But through that divine gift, equipped with God’s grace, we’ve got this. Amen.