+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Genesis 45:5
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God always sees the whole picture. We might see an angle, a glimpse, or a slice; and often we don’t see it in high definition. Our lack of perspective can lead to doubt, confusion; even resentment and despair. Yet the Scriptures assure us that even the evil perpetrated against us can be used for good purpose. Firstly, our faith can be refined and tempered. Secondly, things can be achieved for God’s kingdom that we could have never foreseen. Still, faith must cling to promises that reason finds offensive. Joseph and his brothers provide a vivid illustration.
The Scriptures provide us with wonderful detail about the life of Joseph. The second youngest of twelve brothers, he was the favourite of his father Jacob. Jacob’s partiality and Joseph’s own sense of importance fostered resentment from the others. When the opportunity arose, they decided to get revenge. They spared his life, but they essentially left him for dead. God, however, had plans to use their malcontent. Taken to Egypt by force Joseph soon found himself in the service of Pharaoh. In that circumstance, he was in the greater service of God.
It’s unlikely we need spend much effort trying to resonate with the desire for revenge. It comes naturally. Joseph could easily have felt entitled to his. Revenge can be a very difficult emotion to repress. When someone is wronged, mistreated, or abused and there is no evidence of repentance, the natural tendency is to want justice to be rendered on our own terms. We want things to be made right. Separation doesn’t solve the problem either. It may mitigate the circumstances, but people can hold grudges for a lifetime. Estrangement doesn’t mean attitudes of vengeance aren’t still festering. Fostering resentment is a common sin and breaches the very First Commandment insofar as it reveals the intent to usurp the justice of God.
Yet, instead of seeking reprisal, Joseph opted for reconciliation. Reaching the limits of his emotions he finally revealed his identity to his bothers. It was a disclosure saturated with conciliation. “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you…God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.”1 Joseph believed God used the treachery of his brothers for the greater good. The one who was left for dead was elevated by God to a position of power that nurtured life. In that position, he did not seek revenge, but reconciliation. He did not nurse a grudge but openly forgave those who transgressed against him.
The need for reconciliation assumes brokenness. Malfunction, estrangement and enmity often characterize fractured relationships. We should have no illusions that these realities plague our society. None of us is immune from the brokenness. It betrays the power of sin in our lives and in the world. It’s little wonder that the entire biblical witness narrates God’s work of restoration of fallen humanity. It’s no coincidence the call to repentance is never just a matter of repudiating sin, but of being reconciled to God and one another. Reconciliation is the purpose of Christ’s sacrificial work. The Scripture says, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”2
The entire ministry of Christ involved restoring that which was broken. Jesus made contact with lepers, forgave prostitutes, and received tax-collectors. He ministered to the outcasts, the downtrodden, and the rejected of society. He rebuked the self-righteous and the erring, but He never turned away the penitent. Just as the father welcomes home the prodigal son, the heavenly Father welcomes repentant sinners into His kingdom through the blood of His Son. We are saved only by grace. There are no strings attached to the gospel.
The Holy Spirit is the broker of reconciliation. He is the conveyancer. But, He uses means. He uses means for reconciliation between God and the individual. He also uses means for reconciliation between people whose relationships have been broken. We cannot approach God in His unveiled majesty. It’s not only pointless, but even dangerous to speculate about the will of God. All efforts to construct an image of the heart and will of the Almighty based on human intuition will only lead to the propagation of falsehood and eventually despair. But God does leave us groping in the darkness. God comes to us clothed in His word and sacraments. Jesus is the word-become-flesh. He drapes His holiness over our sinful lives. In baptism Christ cleansed you from the guilt of original sin. Formerly only the offspring of Adam and Eve, the baptized become children of the heavenly Father. Previously under the dominion of Satan, they are freed to serve the living God.
Dear friends, we’re not able to return to the cross. Our faith isn’t sustained simply by the remembrance of historical facts. The power of Christ’s death and resurrection comes to us. Christ is here for you in this bread and wine. He is present in His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit brings that power to bear “for the word of God is living and active.”3 The church is not an historical society that hopes to propagate the charitable attitude of Jesus. It is not a society chiefly engaged in memorializing the heroes of the past. The Christian assembly is a hospital. It is analogous to the empty tomb; a place where spiritual resurrections occur. Souls once “dead in [your] transgressions and sins”4 are made friends of Lazarus5. It is the forum where the hurting, the ailing, the depressed, and despairing are treated with the healing medicine of forgiveness, truth, light, and salvation. We don’t gather here under false pretenses. We’re not here to amalgamate our individual lives of holiness into a larger collective entity. We’re a collection of sinners made saints by the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
God comes to us also in the masks of our neighbour. Joseph was as ‘God’ to his brothers. The spouse, the parent, the friend, the professionals who serve us; all are God’s means within their vocations to extend the benefits of God to us. The provision of our most basic needs; food, clothing, shelter, love, belonging and purpose all come to us through the mediation of others. And that means even the smallest act of service can be life-changing and life-affirming for the person in need. Joseph, through God’s wisdom, feed a whole nation during famine. He served in the greatest kingdom of the age. In the process, his own family was rescued. Though less dramatic, our deeds of kindness are no less important. And we never know when we’ll be privileged to make a dramatic change in someone’s life. Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts, but we are all agents of reconciliation.
Sin has fractured the world, but Christ has shattered sin’s power. Let there be no doubts in our hearts, questions in our minds, or burdens in our consciences. Christ has reconciled us to the heavenly Father. We need not fear His judgment. “Perfect love drives our fear.”6 Christ is perfect love. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”7 Christ has been crucified for our sins. He has risen from the dead to give us life. God not only sees the whole picture. He reigns over a kingdom fabulous beyond measure. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
20 August 2017
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Genesis 45:5-8
2 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
3 Hebrews 4:12
4 Ephesians 2:1
5 See John 11:43-44
6 1 John 4:18
7 Psalm 103:13
8 Hebrews 1:3
9 Colossians 2:9
10 Genesis 32:20