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Sermon by Revd Dr Andrew Warmback (Genesis 45:3-11; 15; Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40; Luke 6:27-38)
Jesus’ words challenge us again
This week we again find Jesus teaching on the plain. Remember Jesus’ surprising teaching from last week: blessed are the poor, and woe to the rich; blessed are the hungry, woe to those who are full.
Well today Jesus offers further teaching that seems to go against the grain; that is not what we may expect to hear.
In his teaching from today’s gospel Jesus says, in summary:
Love your enemies, do good to those that hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who abuse you. Do good, be merciful. Do not judge, do not condemn, forgive.
In Jesus’ eyes we are all children of God; we are all equal, no one is better than anyone else, whoever you are and whatever your position in life. There is no room to judge ourselves as better than others.
Joseph and his brothers
In our Old Testament reading today we hear part of the story of Joseph and his brothers. It is a story about a family and family dynamics and attitudes of parents and the struggles that can take place among siblings. In Joseph we find something of the right attitude to others that Jesus speaks about.
A bit of background to put us in the picture.
Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachel and he lived in Canaan with his eleven brothers and one sister. He was Rachel’s first born and Jacob’s eleventh son.
Jacob’s favouritism towards Joseph caused his half brothers to resent Joseph. After some dreams in which Joseph indicated that they may one day bow down to him, his brothers plotted to kill him.
On day they stripped him of his fancy coat and put him in a pit. But instead of killing him they sold him into slavery to some traders going to Egypt. The story they told their father was that Joseph had been killed by wild animals.
When in Egypt Joseph was sold into the household of the Pharaoh’s guard, Potiphar, and after time he rose up the ranks. Later on he was able to interpret a dream that Pharaoh had – saying that there would be famine after seven years and he advised Pharaoh to store grain during the years of abundance so that there would be enough during the subsequent years of drought.
It was during these years of severe famine that people came “from all over the earth,” to Egypt to buy grain, and among them were Joseph’s brothers sent by their father Jacob.
They had to go to Joseph to buy grain. In disguise he initially sends them back home to return later.
In our reading today we pick up the story when the brothers return to Joseph. Joseph takes the opportunity to reveal to them who he is: “I am Joseph….I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt.” He goes on to comfort them: “Do not be distressed or angry because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
The story today ends with Joseph kissing his brothers and then weeping and talking together.
Joseph showed no signs of bitterness or revenge. Considering how his brothers treated him he had much reason to be so.
Their father Jacob is brought to Egypt and all in the family are eventually reconciled and united.
In our Mothers’ Union Bible study this past week we were discussing the parable from Luke 15 of the women who had ten silver coins. She loses one, lights a lamp and sweeps the house and looks in every nook and cranny until she finds it; and then celebrates with her friends. We thought about lost children – those who went missing and those who may have lost their way and were struggling to find direction in life.
What we find in some families is that later in life children blame their parents for what they have done to them, the way they brought them up. Parents try their best. But this blaming and lack of forgiveness by children can lead to bitterness and resentment. A newspaper column by a family therapist I read this week put it as follows:
No matter how poor a job our parents have done, continuing to blame them, or anyone, and hold resentment against them, or anyone, will be unhelpful and will impact the future for generations to come. Each of us has to make our own lives work and be successful – or not – no matter what hand we have been dealt. Resentment is emotional cancer. It eats the host alive and usually has little or no impact on the resented person.
The Two Wolves
I was reminded this week of a story I had heard before. You may have heard it too, perhaps in a different form.
There’s a story told about a Native American talking to his grandson about something terrible that had been done to him. He explains to this boy that he feels as if two wolves are fighting in his heart, and he says, “The one wolf is the wolf of anger and violence, one of revenge, one wanting to get back what he feels was lost.”
On the other hand, he explains, “There is another wolf. One that is compassionate, one that is loving, and one that is forgiving.” And the boy says to his grandfather, “Grandfather, which wolf will win? Will you be someone who is angry and vengeful, or will you be someone who is loving and forgiving?” The grandfather says to his grandson, “My boy, the wolf that I feed is the one that will win.”
We have a choice about how we live our lives.
As we prepare for Lent we have an opportunity of reflect on our lives and relationships and the words of Jesus to us. Jesus invites us to love, to be merciful, to forgive.
In forgiving we discover the freedom of not carrying the burden, letting go, freeing ourselves from the burdens of hurt and anger we may carry.
I conclude with some words from today’s Palm in which we are to trust in God to bring justice:
Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither…
Trust in the Lord and do good….
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil….
But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
During this difficult time of the global pandemic, you are invited to make a contribution to the ministry and mission of our church by making a donation to the following account: Account Name: St Paul’s Church Account Number: 50854628623 Bank: First National Bank (FNB) Branch Code: 221426