September 14, 2008


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September 14, 2008
Genesis 50:15-21
50:15 Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph's brothers said, "What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?"
50:16 So they approached Joseph, saying, "Your father gave this instruction before he died,
50:17 'Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.' Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father." Joseph wept when they spoke to him.
50:18 Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, "We are here as your slaves."
50:19 But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God?
50:20 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.
50:21 So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones." In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

Romans 14:1-12
14:1 Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.
14:2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.
14:3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.
14:4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
14:5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.
14:6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
14:7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.
14:8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.
14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.
14:10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
14:11 For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God."
14:12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

I’ve told you all before the story of when I first got my new, red car. I’d had it about a week when my 17-year-old called home at 6AM from a friend’s house. She’d gone there to stay the night, but they’d talked all night instead, so by 6AM she was getting pretty tired and called me to bring her home so she could sleep.

The good part of this was that she called me about 30 seconds after the alarm went off. If a telephone wakes me up at 6AM I die 100 times before I get there, but if I’m already away I just look at the caller ID answer it. So when she called, I saw it was her on the phone, and it didn’t scare me to death.

The bad part was it changed me routine. Every day at 6AM the alarm goes off. By 6:10 I am shaved. By 6:20 I am out of the shower and by 6:30 there is a pot of coffee that is perking while I get the newspaper and check my overnight e-mail. Then breakfast when the coffee is ready and so on.

This threw a monkey wrench into the works. I had to go to her friend Rebecca’s house and pick her up. It’s a quarter past the hour when I get to Rebecca’s and I am heading back to the house down fourth street going over my routine when I should have been thinking about the road.

Everybody knows that overpass on fourth street is a 30 mile-per-hour zone. Everybody knows that the city cops patrol it to get the High school kids that come and go over it. Everybody has enough sense to slow down to 30 just before they top it.

Everybody but me, that is.

I was thinking about how I’d put on my coffee as I went back into the house through the kitchen and then take a shower and so forth when I topped the hill doing more than 40.

I am not going to tell you the first thing that went through my mind when I saw the city cop. I will say that I pulled over and was polite to him and I was very contrite.

The reason for this was I knew I had it coming.

In our reading in Genesis, the brothers of Joseph come to him very contritely after their father dies.

As you recall, it is a classic story how the sold their brother into slavery in Egypt. He rises in the halls of power and is able to help save his people. He brings them all there to live with him in Egypt.

But there is a problem between them because they have sinned most egregiously against him and they are not quite sure that he’s forgiven them.
This is a reasonable fear because there is a phenomenon in the world called payback time. If somebody does you ill, you don’t get back at them right away. You wait like Michael Corleone until “the day we settle all family business” and then you let the hammer down when you are ready and have the upper hand.

Jacob might not have been a high-level bureaucrat in Egypt like Joseph, but he’d warned his other sons about this possibility and saw that they got assurances in public before he died.

But when he did die, this wasn’t enough. They were still afraid because they’d done him such wrong. They’d planned to kill him, had sold him into slavery, and then had told his dad that he was dead.

Their guilt was weighing hard on them.

They know that, whatever he might do to them, they have it coming.

They go to Joseph with this fear that they have in their hearts; they go with humble and contrite hearts. They wept, they fell before him, and said “we are your slaves.”

(I didn’t quite do that to the city cop. I might’ve wanted to but I didn’t.)
This is how Joseph responded. Joseph said, "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? 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. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones." In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.

It’s a hard thing to forgive sometimes, but sometimes it is even harder to realize you have been forgiven.

The reading in Romans is interesting. Apparently there were some folks who didn’t eat meat at all because they thought being vegetarian would please God. Then there would some who would eat anything because they thought that would be pleasing to God.

Paul says there are some things that we as Christians differ over that are only our opinions and they are not worth arguing about and this is one of them.

What he doesn’t way is that we should never argue. If you’ve ever read Paul, you will get the opinion that he could give as good as he took in an argument.

This is one thing that John Wesley shared himself and passed-on in the Methodist Tradition. Some things are worth fighting over and some are not.
Paul tells us not to pass judgment on our Christian brothers and sisters over these things which are just matters of opinion.

This is a point where we might make the error of saying “I’m OK. You’re OK. Let’s just all sit here together, hold hands, and sing Kumbaya.”

There are things that we do fight over. I don’t want to say too much here because this isn’t what the sermon is about, but we do have core beliefs which are not negotiable.

Paul’s point is that Jesus has forgiven everyone so much that we ought to forgive each other.

This is where I connect the New Testament with the Old Testament. Jesus is like Joseph. He was betrayed. Joseph descended to the pit and Jesus descended into the grave. Joseph saved his people. Jesus saved the world. Joseph’s brothers were worried because they had it coming to them, and we worry because we have it coming to us.

But Joseph forgave and Jesus still forgives.

So if we are to be like Jesus, we should forgive.

And part of this is not busting somebody’s chops over something that doesn’t amount to a hill of beans anyway.

I’m not thinking of anything in particular here by the way. Likely as not, you all can think of enough stuff on your own without me adding one more.
Let us pray.

Father, we know we’ve got it coming to us, but we thank you for your forgiveness. Help us to forgive. In the name of Jesus we pray. AMEN.