A Sermon Preached on Sunday 17th September 2017 at the ACK St. James Church Buru Buru during the 1st Holy Communion Kiswahili Service.
- Psalm 103:1-14 (Verse 14 added)
- Genesis 50:15-21 (Main Text)
- Romans 14:1-13 (Verse 13 added)
- Matthew 18:21-35
Genesis 50:15-21 “15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
Today’s lectionary readings are calling us to focus on “As Forgiven Forgiving to Restore Working Relationships”. Relationships are broken due to sin committed against God and against one another; relationships are broken due to how badly we have handled each other in the past; relationships are broken due to mistrust and fear of each other; and more so, relationships are broken due to unresolved conflicts which keep on haunting the parties concerned. Having been forgiven and forgiving in the same vein is the sure ticket to restoring working relationships.
Genesis 50:15-21 is a practical example of shalom restored between a brother and his brothers after years of pain and being haunted by their past actions.
There are three things to learn from these texts:
- Jacob’s Death – A Game Changer
As long as Jacob was alive, his ten sons, who sold Joseph, had their crime under lock and secrecy. They never took responsibility for their sins. As long as Jacob was alive, they were safe – never to face account for their misdeeds. Therefore, when their father died, suddenly they were exposed; suddenly they became vulnerable and suddenly they had nowhere to hide.
Most of the times we hide under people as godfathers and security or we hide under positions and titles in society as security against “the other”; against those we have hurt or against our enemies. We comfort ourselves:
- As long as so and so is still in control or is in charge, no one can touch us
- As long as I still have this position, I am immune to prosecution
- As long as my friend is the head of the department, I am secure and untouchable.
For Jacob’s wicked sons, Jacob’s death became a game changer for their security and their covered past:
Genesis 50:15a “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead…”
The death of Jacob became a game changer because the reality of being called to account for their past criminal activities suddenly became imminent. Suddenly their past was catching up with them:
Genesis 50:15b “…they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”
Friends, it can be very difficult when suddenly, the skeletons you have hidden under the bed for a long time, have to be brought out; it is so difficult when the money you have looted and kept in foreign accounts have to be returned; it is difficult when you have to face up with your past, which you believed, has been protected and you will never be called to account for – “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” What a powerful question! What a difficult question to encounter! It was a time for reckoning for the ten brothers.
As long as Jacob, their father, was alive, they lived in comfort and safety, so they thought, but now that Jacob, is dead; “What if…” “What if…”, “What if…” It is a difficult situation to be in, when your past, which you have always fought so hard to hide suddenly seems to be coming after you; it is a difficult situation to be in, when the possibility of finally accounting for your crimes is more than real. Jacob’s ten sons were finally cornered.
- The Icebreaker – Seeking Forgiveness
It is a paradox that we struggle so much to stay in slavery of guilt while the easier way for healing and restoration is forgiveness. For two parties who have lived in separation for a while due to sin or a conflict, an Icebreaker is required. The hard part, sometimes, would be, who will make the first step for the Icebreaker?
There are two crucial incidences of Joseph encountering his brothers in Egypt. When Joseph and his brothers came face to face for the first time (Gen. 41:7-25), though, Joseph could recognise them while for the brothers; Joseph was long dead, confined to their past, and a “closed chapter”. It was hard for Joseph to face those who had tortured him. Yet Joseph had a lot of restrain from vengeance. The second time they encountered each other was when Joseph finally revealed his identity to them (Gen. 45:1-5). Joseph had struggled with emotions.
Even though it is expected that the second encounter helped reconcile Joseph with his brothers, the brothers were still enslaved in guilt. Seeing Joseph daily reminded them of that past event. Daily, they lived in fear for their future, informed by their past sins.
Steps towards Icebreaker:
Genesis 50:16-18 “16So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.”
- First is the realisation that what they did to Joseph was wrong – they owned up or took responsibility of their heinous action of selling their brother, Joseph.
- Secondly, is the realisation that there might be a possibility of being called to account for their past evil actions against Joseph or crimes against humanity (human rights).
- Thirdly, sending emissaries or mediators, with a message of owning up and humility; not justifying themselves or taking a defensive position. The message was well crafted with a genuine tone for seeking forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.
- Fourthly, seeking a face to face meeting (round table consultation) – for the sole purpose of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. The meeting was not for debating, argument, chest-thumping, humiliation, accusations or justifications but for restoring a working relationship.
Remember, Joseph’s ten brothers, after the death of their father, Jacob, had four options at their disposal or choice for action. They could have chosen to:
- Continue living in guilt, pretending that the past, which has never been dealt with doesn’t exist; only to let that past to keep tormenting them in the prison of guilt. They would become Joseph’s subjects, subdued by guilt until death shall do them all part.
- Take their families and escape from Joseph; leave Joseph in ‘his’ Egypt and go back to the land of Canaan. Why wait to be executed for their past crimes? They could have opted for a separation or secession.
- Plan and kill Joseph, so that his presence would never torment them again. Finish Joseph so that they can continue to prosper in Egypt.
- Seek forgiveness from their brother, Joseph, reconcile with him and heal their relationship for posterity, for both of them.
Thank God that the ten brothers were statesmen enough to take the fourth option; the option of seeking forgiveness; the option of shalom / peace; the option of a united ‘Israel’ nation; and the option of posterity for all.
When we are forgiven our sins by God, so God demands of us to forgive those who have sinned against us. But more than often, we behave like the unmerciful servant – Matthew 18:21ff. His master forgave him much more than his fellow servant owed him:
Matthew 18:23-30 “23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. 78 He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.”
While his master cancelled all his debts, which amounted to $100,000 = Ksh.10 million, he could not forgive his fellow servant’s debt, which amounted to only $10 = Ksh.1,000. Jesus concluded the parable of the unmerciful servant with a sad warning to those who have been forgiven:
Matthew 18:32-35 “32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
Failing to forgive in the same manner in which we have been forgiven has consequences. “As forgiven forgiving to Restore Working Relationships”, is the godly way of practicing restoration of working relationships.
Joseph knew that the position he held or occupied was as a result of God’s grace and mercies. As God has been merciful to him through his lonely struggles in life – in Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39:1-19), and in the dark prison where he was jailed without trial (Gen. 39:20-41:39), so Joseph offers the same mercy to his brothers:
Genesis 50:19-21 “19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
Joseph, was magnanimous enough, to rise above the spirit of vengeance, bitterness, revenge and destruction of life; to reassure his brothers, that despite what they had done to him; the hatred, the torture, the rejection, the murder attempt against his life; he has all along stood for peace and prosperity; and he still stands for peace and prosperity, even more, now that their father is dead. They can count on Joseph to protect them and all their interests.
Paul in Romans 14:1-13, shifts our attention to working relationships. He underpins the fact that a working relationship has specific dynamics that the parties (community) must be cognizance of:
- The weak and the strong relating on the premise that the strong accepts the weak by not passing judgement against the weak and likewise the weak to the strong. It is a symbiotic relationship based on acceptance without stereotyping – “Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters.” (Rom. 14:1).
- The parties being sensitive to the unique eating behaviours, religious orientations and belief systems, because all is done in reverence to God, who forgave all people and accepted them despite their uniqueness – Rom. 14:2-6.
- Worth of each party or community in a working relationship. For Paul, no single person will find joy and fulfilment in living alone; the weak needs the strong and the strong needs the weak. Joseph would not have found fulfilment by wiping out his ten brothers from the face of the earth – “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.” (Rom. 14:7).
- The fact that God is the common denominator between the weak and the strong – God is the focus and God should be the all common pursuit. The only uniting factor should be God. And so for Paul, the people of God must relate with each other in a working relationship defined by the fear and the love of God. As much as there is a personal responsibility to God, there is also personal responsibility towards each other – “8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord… 10You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… 12So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Rom. 14:8-13).
A community in which there are conflicts between the weak and the strong forgiveness should be like the air that the parties in conflict breathe.
“As Forgiven Forgiving to Restore Working Relationships” is a call to the reality of the process leading to working relationships. Unfortunately, our relationships have assumed superficial characteristics of a working relationship while in reality, there are deep seated hurts. Our relationships are built on deeply hidden ‘skeletons’ which we superfluously believe are forgotten until the reality-check comes confronting us.
Joseph’s experience, practically shows us how to restore working relationships; Jesus in His Parable of the Unmerciful Servant shows us the debt we owe to others as forgiven sinners seeking to forgive those who have wronged us; while Paul explains the intrigues in relationships between parties – between the weak and the strong and points us to the ultimate foundation of the working relationships – the fear and love for God; and finally, David with his hymn of worship (Psalm 103:1-14), comes out as a living example of the outcome of “As Forgiven Forgiving to Restore Working Relationships”. David himself was a beneficiary of God’s forgiveness after the sins he committed against Uriah (2 Samuel 11; 12 cf. Psalm 32; 51 & 103)
Psalm 103:1-14 “1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits— 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: 8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbour his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
14th Sunday after Trinity, 2017
The Rev. Simon J. Oriedo
Curate at ACK St. James’ Buru Buru
P.O. Box 14814 – 00100, Nairobi Kenya
Mobile: +254 – 722 838 023 / 772 838 023 / 735 62 11 72 / 752660620