The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 18th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
21 Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" 22 Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, "Pay what you owe.' 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, "You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. 358
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lots of people are into learning about their ancestry these days. My sister has a subscription to ancestry.com where she is learning stories about our grandparents and great-grandparents and all the other relatives. She even had her DNA tested, which is nice because now I don’t have to.
My sister was telling me the other day that she found out from the census records that our uncle, our dad’s older brother, was born two years before our grandparents were married and our grandfather is not listed as his father.
It could explain why our father, the younger son, was named for his dad instead of his older brother, which would have been more traditional. However, we don’t really know for sure what the story is, because it happened over 100 years ago. The dates could be wrong, someone could have forgotten to fill in a blank, we just don’t know.
Every family has stories from the past. Some stories get passed down to the children, and some are kept private, and are lost to us. The first book of the Bible has many stories about our ancestors in the faith.
Our reading today from Genesis is the story of Joseph and his brothers. We only get a brief part of Joseph’s story in our reading, but I just love his whole story, and especially today’s lesson. It’s a long and detailed story that takes up several pages in the book of Genesis.
Genesis is the story of the beginnings of God’s people. And as Joseph’s story so easily shows, our ancestors were not known for having loving, happy families who got along well with each other. They were complicated characters, just like our relatives today. These Bible stories can read like a soap opera. But these are stories about forgiveness and the power of God.
Just look at some of our biblical ancestors. Adam and Eve got thrown out of the garden and argued over whose fault that was. Their son Cain was jealous because Adam liked Abel best, so Cain murdered his brother.
Abraham married his half-sister Sarah and at one point, made her pretend they weren't married to save his own skin. Then after many years, when they didn’t have any children of their own, Sarah offered Abraham the opportunity to have a child with her handmaid, Hagar.
And, yes, this biblical practice is what the book and tv show, “The Handmaid’s Tale” are loosely based on.
Jacob is Abraham and Sarah’s grandson. He stole his twin brother Esau’s birthright. Then Jacob’s father-in-law tricked him into marrying both of his daughters. So, Jacob had children with both of his wives and their handmaids.
It’s no wonder that the sons of Jacob don’t always get along. Joseph is number 11 of 12 sons, but he is his father’s favorite because he is the oldest son of the favorite wife. He is like a spoiled younger brother who gets everything he wants and doesn’t have to work to earn any of it.
But this is a story about forgiveness and the power of God and God intended it for good.
The older brothers are sick and tired of Joseph and his attitude. He is always telling them about his dreams where he is clearly superior to them and to their parents. Their father has given him a beautiful, expensive coat. It’s no ordinary coat, either. It’s the kind of coat that you could never wear to work. It is the tuxedo or the ball gown of outfits. You don’t do anything while you are wearing it that would mess it up.
The older brothers are so angry and jealous that they have a plan to kill Joseph, and blame it on a wild animal. Then they get a better idea - throw him in a well, then sell him as a slave and tell their father Jacob that a wild animal got him.
Joseph has lots of adventures after he ends up in Egypt. He is a slave to an important official. He goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He gets out of jail because he has the gift of interpreting dreams. He becomes one of the most powerful people in the country and he controls the food storage in the time of famine. He saves the lives of many people including his own family. He is reconciled to his brothers and his father finds out that he is alive after all.
Because of what his brothers did to him, Joseph did not have the life he would have had. He did not get to grow up in his own country. He did not get to see his father or his favorite younger brother Benjamin for years. The entire family ends up living in a foreign country.
Joseph’s life was changed forever because of the sins his brothers committed against him. These were not any little sins. His brothers didn’t just pick on him or tease him. This was a huge, life altering kind of sin. They sold him into slavery and told dad he was dead. This is a really big deal kind of sin.
But this is a story about forgiveness and the power of God and God intended it for good.
So at the time of our lesson today, we learn that Jacob has died. The brothers are worried that Joseph only said he forgave them because of dad. Now that dad is gone, they are worried.
But this is a story about forgiveness and the power of God. Joseph speaks good news to his brothers, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”
This is the power of God - the power to turn intentional harm into good, the power to transform evil into good and use it to save lives. That is no human power. We can’t turn evil into good. Only God can do that.
We can’t do it. Sin has us captive. We can’t even free ourselves.
But God can free us. God does free us. God turns intentional harm into good.
God used Joseph to turn evil into good. God did that through the power of forgiveness. Joseph genuinely forgave his brothers and promised to care for them.
All of us have sinned against our brothers and sisters. If you grew up with a sibling, you know it was more than seven times, probably more than 77 times, and maybe more than seventy times seven. And all of us have been hurt by the sins of others more times than we care to count.
But, God gives us power over sin. That power is forgiveness. Today, God uses us just like God used Joseph. Our families may have less drama than the sons of Jacob, but God gives us the power to forgive one another. Forgiveness frees us from carrying around resentment. Forgiveness frees us to start new every morning. Forgiveness frees us to love our neighbors and live in peace.
Forgiveness isn’t an easy gift to give or receive. I do need to say that forgiveness does not mean that anyone should stay in an abusive relationship. God loves us all and wants us to be in safe and healthy relationships with each other.
Forgiveness requires that we give some things up. We have to give up the idea that we are always right, the idea that we are better than someone else, the idea that we are entitled to get revenge, the idea that we can change the past.
Forgiveness requires that we remember just how much God has forgiven us. No where is the power of forgiveness more visible than when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Nowhere, besides the cross, is it more obvious that God is able to turn the greatest evil into the greatest good.
Today, Jesus has gives us another story about forgiveness and the power of God. He says to us, “This is my body. This is my blood, given and shed for you and for all people, for the forgiveness of sin.” Take and eat. God intends it for your good.