Bearing Grudges

Sermon preached 9.25.16 on Genesis 37 and Genesis 50:     Joseph was a tattle tale.  I am going to assume that tattling is an almost universal experience.  We have all been tattled on–even if you are an only child, surely there was a cousin or an uncle who tattled on you at least once.  We have tattled on others.  Remember that time your brother broke the glass plate hanging on the wall?  Mom had to know who did it.  And most of us have heard the reports of a tattler at some point in our lives and had to make a decision on how to respond to the report.

We are coming in on the tail end of this family history.  Remember we started with Abram and Sarai, who were childless and homeless?  And now there is a fourth generation of this growing family, with Jacob the father being renamed Israel.  His 12 sons (from 4 different wives) give their names to the 12 tribes of Israel going forward.   Of the 12, Joseph was his clear favorite, born to him when he was old, the first son of his favorite wife, Rachel.  And Joseph was a tattle tale.

Not only was he dad’s favorite and a tattle tale, Joseph was a dreamer.  H He dreamed more than once of ways he would be served by his brothers instead of the other way around.  In his dreams, he was often top dog, the recipient of honor and respect and service from his older brothers.  Just being a dreamer was not the problem.  It was being a smart aleck 17 year old and telling those dreams to his family.  That really needled his brothers.  Even his dad said, “Am I and your mother and your brothers supposed to come and bow down on the ground in front of you?”

Now, animosity between brothers is nothing new.  Jacob and his twin brother Esau were not exactly best friends, if you remember.  Jacob was younger, favored by his mother, and wanted the perks of being the oldest so bad.  You can read about his trickery in ch. 25-27 of Genesis.  He and his brother had not spoken in years.  Surely these young men knew all about the way their father and their uncle treated one another.  But these 10 take brotherly conflict to a new low.  (Brother 11 was Benjamin, too young to be so anti-Joseph.) Their response to Joseph has moved from annoyance to anger to actual hatred.  They are unable to speak civilly to him any longer.  Their hatred fuels a scary idea:  let’s kill our brother.

Reuben, the oldest, intercedes and convinces them to throw him in a dry cistern instead.  Cisterns were created to collect water during the rainy season.  The walls would have been steep enough that he could not have gotten out on his own.  Reuben intended to come back and rescue him later.  But then came along a crime of opportunity.  A caravan of traders headed to Egypt was passing by, and yes, of course they would buy a 17 year old male as a slave.  On one such as he they could make a good profit.  Joseph’s brothers sold him for 20 pieces of silver, assuming he was gone for good.

A family torn apart.  Jacob is overcome with grief when he finds out his son is gone.  They tell  him he is dead.  10 men begin years of living with the guilt of having sold their brother as a slave and causing grief and pain to their father.  (They never seemed to feel guilty enough to come clean, though.  Not until years later when Joseph called them on the carpet.)   there’s Joseph, separated from his family, his home, his community, living as a slave in Egypt, assuming he will never see his family again.  Joseph encounters an amazing series of events in Egypt, culminating in his being the right hand man to the Pharaoh, or the king.  He steers the entire nation through years of planning for a time of famine, enabling Egypt to be the source of grain for a wide swath of other nations who have run out of food, including his family of origin.

Joseph the tattle tale has become Joseph the powerful political decision-maker, respected and beloved by the king.   His early dreams come true, and his brothers do end up coming and bowing at his feet, seeking grain for their households in the time of famine.  Finally they figure out who this powerful man is, and I can imagine their hearts dropped to their feet.  They knew what they had done to him was not right.  They knew they had lied to their father and kept quiet all of these years.  In their heart of hearts, they knew they deserved nothing from Joseph, other than punishment.  They knew he was justified in bearing a grudge against them.

Joseph the tattle tale, Joseph the powerful administrator, Joseph the brother is ready for a new day.  He makes a decision to accept two things about what had happened between he and his brothers:  he could not change the past; the past would not hold him captive.  When we hold grudges, we can’t get beyond the hurtful act or damaging words.  We dwell on them and they roll around in our minds and hearts when we lie in bed at night, when we see the person who inflicted the pain, when we talk to another friend or family member.  When we hold grudges, we are allowing the past to hold us captive, to keep us from living freely into the future.  It is like carrying a huge burden on your back.  You can’t move freely.  You are under considerable stress.  You can only focus on your burden.  Releasing a grudge is making a way for forgiveness, dropping that heavy burden, freeing yourself.  It does not automatically create reconciliation.  There is a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation.  You can make a decision to forgive and reconciliation may or may not happen.  Reconciliation requires a response from the offender.  Forgiveness is granted by the one who was offended.

So what does forgiveness without reconciliation look like?  Imagine: a mother’s son is shot by the police.  The circumstances are murky and no one knows really what happened that night.  What everyone does know is that her son, who was alive, is now dead.  Of course the mother bears a grudge against the police officers involved, and maybe even against anyone wearing a blue uniform.  She blames them for the pain and grief she is experiencing.  It is something she carries with her every moment of every day.  As time goes on and investigations are complete, the report comes back:  the shooting was justified.  The officers are not going to apologize.  There is no reconciliation between the mother and the police.  Yet she has a choice.  If she can not set the grudge down, if she can not forgive, she is held captive by the tragedy of the past, and the bitterness and the grudge against the police will always define her.  If she sets the grudge down, if she forgives, she is free to move forward in her life, to work for better police-community relations, to be an activist who tries to prevent other mothers from standing in her shoes.  This is huge.  It is not a quick decision.  It is not an easy decision.  But it is a decision.

Joseph makes the decision to lay down the grudge against those who were out to kill him.  Those who sold him for 20 pieces of silver.  Despite the way they had treated him, the entire family was royally welcomed into Egypt and given a place to settle.  They lived comfortably because of their brother Joseph.  The past seemed to have been forgotten.  Until dad died.  Then the brothers got anxious.  Maybe Joseph was just pretending to forgive their heinous acts so as not to cause any additional grief to their aging father.  Now that he was gone, maybe he would give them the punishment they deserved.  So they concocted yet another lie:  “Dad asked that you forgive our sins and misdeeds.”  Notice they still are not asking for forgiveness for themselves, but that he forgive them because Dad asked him to.  They need not fear.  Joseph made his choice long ago.  He is not letting the past sins and misdeeds of his brothers define him.  The past does not hold him captive as it appears it is holding his brothers captive.  They can’t seem to put it behind them.

Joseph sees that their evil acts have been used by God to  create good for many, many people.  Plotting to kill your brother is never a good thing.  Selling your brother into slavery is never a good thing.  Lying always catches up with you.  None of these acts are intended by God. Yet our amazing God can work wonders.  Joseph the dreamer had gifts.  He used them in Egypt.  He benefitted.  His family benefitted.  Many, many others benefitted.

Losing your son to an officer’s bullet is never a good thing.  It is never something God intends.  Yet our amazing God can work wonders.  Families in grief have gifts that can benefit others.  Perhaps an entire community can learn to operate in new ways.  Perhaps we can lay our grudges aside and be freed for a new future.  We each have choices to make.  And we can trust that our amazing God can work wonders indeed.  Amen.

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