Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 20 February 2022.
• First Reading: Genesis 45: 3-11, 15 (Joseph reconciled with and forgives his brothers)
• Psalm 37: 1-12, 41-42
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 15: 35-38, 42-50 (The resurrection body: what is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable; sown in dishonour, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a natural body, raised a spiritual body)
• Gospel: Luke 6: 27-38 (Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who ill-treat you. Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful)
I have to say that as a child, I was pretty unimpressive. Socially clumsy, useless at sports – especially those requiring hand-eye or foot-eye coordination skill: that is, almost all games that schools had to offer. And academically it was not that brilliant either.
So I was the perfect target: easy to pick on and utterly lacking in any ability to defend myself. Great sport here, and no risk either.
Yet our news reports carry many stories of the loner who became murderous, and where guns were available then the effects were even more dire.
And yes, the memories of these things somehow lurks in the shadows, ready to reappear during those unguarded moments.
I say this because there is something important in our lessons about how we respond to these memories of providing guilty entertainment to others who may also have been morally and emotionally inadequate.
We start with Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers who thought that they were doing him a favour by not killing him.
This young man was evidently a first-class prig who antagonized his elder brothers once too often. So drastic action was taken and Joseph disappeared from the lives of his brothers.
It is at times like this that any victim of violence is confronted by the question: what is it all for? Is there any reason at all? Or is life just random and unaccountable violence and hatred?
The alternative is to turn the question around: I do not believe that there is not a purpose behind it all, and that the idea of universal randomness and chaos is even less credible that a purpose that exists but has not revealed itself. This is a response of faith of the most basic kind, but it is a starting point.
Joseph evidently came to this point at some stage and God used that seed of faith for His purposes. The rest became history as Joseph rose in the court of Pharaoh and in doing so began to see life from a far wider perspective. Life did not revolve around his personal discomforts but around the purposes of God and it was for Joseph to fit in with the purposes of God and not the other way round.
And so Joseph pursued this life of faith until it came to the point of meeting and being reconciled with his brothers. The first couple of meetings had not been easy but eventually he had it in him to forgive them and to allow that reconciliation to be the basis of the survival of the Children of Israel and the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham.
All this was part of the history of Jesus and his disciples. In Luke’s gospel, we are shown how He built upon it. Forgiveness was central to the gospel and those who sought forgiveness would also have to demonstrate it themselves. To seek personal forgiveness from God while harbouring personal resentments was itself a contradiction and would not be able to stand.
To forgive is also to strip the other person of their power over our own memories, and there is nothing in life or in the gospel that says that we have to give our detractors and rivals a crippling emotional and psychological power over our lives.
Rather, by letting go then we also free ourselves of bonds that can only hold us back.
This is never to trivialize the things of the past that have indeed injured us – rather it is to point to a Godly way of managing them.
What starts here becomes something else and definitely something more beyond this life.
What was of this world will become that of heaven. What was mortal will become immortal, what was weak will become glorious. What was perishable will become eternal. What was natural and of earth will become spiritual and of heaven.
But there is something more. Heaven cannot by definition be a harbour for our anger and resentments. It cannot be a place to nurture our resentments or broken relationships.
The realm of total truth cannot be a place of deceptions or half-truths, even those told to ourselves.
And so the place to begin this preparation is here in our lives on earth. This is the place to begin those works of forgiveness and of reconciliation.
It is almost certain that all of us has a memory of some kind of rejection or of deeper emotional abuse.
The deeper the hurt then the more we will wish to protect ourselves from insensitive or thoughtless attempts to heal it and those cliches about time being a healer are really beside the point.
But what we can do is to bring those wounds to God and ask Him to heal them, and to bring strength to those parts of our lives which are weak, honour where there is embarrassment, glory where there is shame. These are among the burdens that Jesus desires us to lay down before Him, for He will surely receive them.