Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 16 August 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 45: 1-15 (Joseph revealed to and reconciled with his brothers)
• Epistle: Romans 11: 1-2a, 29-32 (Did God reject His people? By no means, for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable)
• Gospel: Matthew 15: 10-28 (Defilement is from within, not from without: murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander)
Part of the fashion for our time is to define ourselves by our resentments, and to allow them to determine almost all else in our lives.
And as one national resentment wanes there is another to take its place, with even more extreme claims and demands. I will not spend time naming them but you can name them for yourselves perfectly well.
They are fashionable, their promoters are articulate and their emotional appeals are irresistible. Nobody with any sense is going to question them too closely.
And then there was Joseph’s story. Sold as a slave by his own brothers, he survived in the Egyptian court and even prospered. Somehow his faith withstood the test and he was able to prosper within his place of exile and insecurity.
This makes his reconciliation with his brothers all the more remarkable. If he had succumbed to resentment, then the power may have gone to his head as he took his revenge on them. The brothers may never have survived their starvation and their father Jacob might have been buried by the sands of his own grief and misery.
The point for Joseph was that somehow his faith prevailed despite all the circumstances and he would serve God within the situation where he was.
And yes, part of that service was going to be the forgiveness of his brothers, and a forgiveness from the heart with no reservations or conditions. To forgive was also to forget for that is what forgiveness is. And it is to rise above the cause of anger, no matter what it was.
This kind of reasoning does not form part of today’s identity and resentment culture. But it was central to the unfolding story of the children of Israel.
Then we have Paul’s discussion in the letter to the Roman church about the position of the Jews. At that time the Jews were tolerated by the Roman Empire and were anxious to preserve their freedom to worship without it being upset by the Christian faith. Tensions between the church and the synagogue were high.
Yet Paul pours out his love for his own people and their place in the choices and determinations of God. To them belonged the law and the prophets, the psalms and the worship of the temple. To them belonged a revelation and a moral code that has never been surpassed in history.
I remember as a young Christian puzzling about the Jews. Had God made a mistake about them – had He got it wrong?
If He had got it wrong, then was God, well, God?
My conclusion was that no, God had not got it wrong, but that there was another process and plan in play. There was no doubt about the place of Jesus, and His incarnation, ministry, atonement and resurrection. There was never going to be any question that salvation could only be received as an unearned and unearnable gift in Him.
And the Jews? Paul makes it quite clear: ‘The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.’ If that applies to His gifts and calling to me, then it definitely applies to the people of His covenant and for many the reestablishment of the Jewish state in 1948 is a clear pointer.
That does not mean that we can underwrite every action by every government of Israel. We cannot even do that for our own governments.
But God has definitely not finished with them. Rather as Paul later says, ‘Have they stumbled that they may fall? Certainly not! But through their fall … salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!’ (Romans 11: 11-12)
How God will meet them in the fullness of His love has not been shown to me, but I know that this is the kind of Lord that I worship. God never gets it wrong.
Perhaps it is the gospel that puts it together for us.
Salvation was never going to be in a detailed legalism if it still permitted human sinfulness to flourish. Rather Jesus would give Himself under the law in order to fulfil it once and for all.
Human defilement and degradation was always going to come from the un-renewed and un-regenerate heart and no amount of legalism was ever going to stop it.
But Jesus’ mission was first of all to the Jews. He would not neglect or abandon Gentiles who came to Him and He would praise and minister to them as He met them.
But the foundation of His message was in the scriptures given to the people of Israel, and His personal atonement would never be understood except through the same scriptures.
And so, yes, Jesus was sent first of all to the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but He would still praise and honour the faith and persistence of the woman from Tyre or Sidon.
His ministry and mission were always centered on the purposes that God had given Him to fulfil, and He would do that wherever He was and no matter whom He was talking to.
What was true them is true now, and our focus also needs to be centred on Him and Him alone. That is why the distractions of whatever is the most fashionable cause, no matter how persuasively it is presented, are a smokescreen.
For there is no alternative to Jesus Christ and Him crucified.