Choosing Compassion

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 11
SCRIPTURE: Genesis 45: 1-15
And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
Genesis 45: 15 (NIV)

JOSEPH REVEALS HIMSELF TO HIS BROTHERS

We come today to the end of our story of Jacob and his family. If you recall from last week, Joseph was the favoured son of Jacob which irritated his older ten brothers to no end because they saw him as a snooty nosed, spoiled rotten brat. I fact, we learned last week that his brothers could not bring them to say a good word about him.

So last week, they got there chance to get even with him. To make a long story short, they stripped him of his ornate coat with the long sleeves and sold him to some Midianite slavers who were on their way to Egypt. And then they went home and told their father that Joseph had been devoured by a wild animal.

The brothers thought that was it. They were rid of their pesky brother forever. But, as we will find out today, that was not end of the story. God was at work in Joseph’s life, allowing him to reach the very pinnacle of Egyptian society, Pharaoh’s right hand man. A famine has enveloped the land and, because of Joseph’s wise planning, Egypt has grain to sell. Joseph’s brothers were sent by Jacob to go to Egypt to purchase food and there they met Joseph. But Joseph did not reveal himself to them, at least not at first. Remember that as Pharaoh’s second in command, he could have done anything he wanted to do to his brothers: put them in prison, send them away empty handed or have them executed. He has all the power anyone could ever want. So let’s find out what he actually does in this surprise ending to the story, reading Genesis 45:1-15 (NIV):

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

“You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

THE PAIN OF FACING THE PAST

Here’s the reality. Joseph has every right to be angry with his brothers. They had kidnapped him, sold him into slavery and lied about it to their father Jacob to cover their sin. These were despicable acts that perhaps even deserved punishment. And Joseph, as the second most powerful man in Egypt, has it within his power to exert whatever punishment he wishes upon those who had so grievously wronged him. He can have them thrown into prison. He can let them rot in a dungeon. He can have them whipped to within an inch of their lives. He can make them suffer terribly. With the wave of a hand he can end their lives. As simple as that, all of this is within his power.

But what does he do? Genesis 45:15 (NIV) tells the whole story: “And [Joseph] kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.” What does he do? He shows mercy. He shows compassion. And he welcomes them as his brothers – not as the terrible, spiteful men who had done so many horrible things to him years ago but as his brothers. This mercy is unconditional and has no strings attached. It is simply his to give and he gives it freely.

There are, in this story, many, many lessons about what it means to live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. But let’s pick one. Let’s pick compassion. What we will discover is that the compassion that Joseph shows to his brothers builds on many of the things that we said over the past few weeks so expect to recognize some common themes.

The first thing I want you to remember is that it is difficult to face the past. Joseph’s brothers are finding this out. Remember that throughout most of this story of Joseph’s encounter with his brothers, he masked his identity from them. Not only was he dressed in the clothes of an Egyptian aristocrat and he acted like a high ranking Egyptian official, he also pretended not to speak their language. There is no way they would have recognized him. How would they have even had a glimmer of knowledge that this man was the bratty little brother they had sold into slavery years earlier?

But they must have been wondered why they were getting special treatment. It’s not like this powerful Egyptian was giving a private audience to the others tens of thousands of hungry people who were coming to Egypt to buy food. They must have wondered what was going on.

But then in verse 3 Joseph finally reveals his identity to them. What is their reaction? Stunned silence. This is what it says in Genesis 45:3 (NIV): “But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.” It took a few minutes for this new information to sink into their heads but when in finally does what happens? They are terrified into silence. Why are they terrified? Because as soon as they figure out who Joseph is they are transported in their minds back in time to that place near Dothan where they had stripped him of his rob, tossed him into a dry cistern and sold him to Midianite slavers on their way to Egypt.

That’s where they go in their heads and it takes them to a place of fear and trepidation. This is their brother whom they had treated just about as poorly as anyone could be treated and now what is he going to do to them?

We mentioned the idea of going back a couple of weeks ago when Jacob was heading back to meet Esau who he had deceived years earlier. Do you recall what we learned then? We learned that going back means that you have to face your past and that while things might be in the past, they still hurt. This blast from the past has the potential of hurting the brothers big time.

Facing the past may hurt but it is also an opportunity to heal. Here’s the reality. If we don’t face our issues they will forever control us. It is only in facing them and dealing with them that we find peace.

GOD’S PLAN & PURPOSE

That’s the first thing. When we face the past it might hurt but it is through the hurt that real healing happens.

The second point I want to make is this. Not only does healing come when we face our past but so does perspective. The brothers are terrified by what Joseph might do to them. And rightly so. Who wouldn’t be? He sees the fear that is throbbing out of his brothers and responds by saying this in Genesis 45:4-5 (NIV): “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” The brothers might be terrified but not Joseph. In fact, he seems to be very much at peace. That peace is shown in the compassion and mercy that he shows his brothers.

How can he be at peace while his brothers are feeling such terror? There are a couple of reasons for this. The most obvious one is that he has all the power. It’s far easier to be at peace when you can control what is going on than when your facing down Pharaoh’s right hand man. That’s the easy answer. He who has the power is more likely to also have the peace.

But I think there’s also another reason for Joseph’s peace. He has had time to process all of this in a way that his brothers have not. He recognized them months ago, maybe more than a year ago and he has had time to work through all of this in his mind. Did you notice his conclusion? He shares it with his brother when he says, “… do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”

What he is saying is that the brothers really didn’t sell him into slavery. And even if they did, all they were doing was what God wanted them to do. Joseph can look back at his life and see that all that happened was for a purpose. The brothers may not have had good in mind when they sold Joseph into slavery but Joseph sees how God used those actions to bring about his divine purpose. He repeats this same conclusion a few chapters later in Genesis 50:20 (NIV) where he say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” No matter what the brothers intended, God used their actions to save countless lives by putting Joseph in the right place at the right time to fulfill his purpose.

Joseph can see that now even if he couldn’t see it earlier. If you know his story in Egypt, you’ll know that he was falsely accused of trying take advantage of Potiphar’s wife. I doubt that he could see the hand of God in that. Nor do I think it would have been easy to see God at work all those years that he spent in prison for a crime that he did not commit. But now, seeing where he is and seeing how God has used him to store food for the famine and save lives, he can look back and clearly see the hand of God.

This is the piece that we often miss in life. We are so quick to think, “Woe is me. What a tough life I have. Why does this stuff always happen to me? How come life isn’t fair?” We’ve all been there, haven’t we? And I totally get what that’s like and how, in the midst of sorrow, you might feel like God has abandoned you. But, as Joseph has figured out, God hasn’t abandoned us. God is always at work in our lives, even if we can’t always see it at the time.

As a pastor, I see a lot of people in times of sadness and grief and sometimes that grief and pain is so strong it is palpable. And people wonder how they will ever get through it. When that happens, I usually say something like this: “I know that things are tough now but have faith because it will get better. You may not know right now how you are going to get through this but two or three years from now, when you are feeling better, you will look back at the path that took you from there to here and you will be able to see who helped you along the way and where God was in the midst of all of that.” I can say that with confidence because that’s almost always the way things work out. It is only after the fact that we gain the perspective to see the hand of God at work in our lives.

Joseph is at peace because he has had lots of time to process this stuff. He’s been dealing with his brothers in his mind for the last year or so. But that is not true of his brothers. For them this is all new. It is fresh and it is raw and they have absolutely no idea what Joseph has in store for them.

So they are scared and with good reason. They don’t yet have the perspective that Joseph has. They haven’t had the chance to work it all through in their minds. But they will eventually. And then they will understand why Joseph does not have them executed on the spot and why he shows them the compassion that even they don’t think they deserve.

SEEKING JUSTICE

Joseph has all the power. He can take this situation anywhere he wants. He can choose anger and revenge but instead he chooses compassion and mercy. Why does he do that? He does it because he is seeking to follow after God and if you recall from a few weeks ago, God is a God of justice. Through the compassion and through the mercy that Joseph is showing to his brothers, he is seeking justice. Do you remember the difference between justice and revenge? People who seek revenge are trying to get even but people who seek justice and trying to make things right.

Joseph is trying to make things right between himself and his brothers. That will not happen if he strikes out in anger. It will only happen when if he finds the courage and the strength to demonstrate mercy and compassion to those who so grievously wronged him so many years ago.

I want to introduce you to a man by the name of Bryan Stevenson. The year is 1989 and he is a young black lawyer who has discovered that another black man in Alabama, Walter McMillan, is on death row for a murder of a white woman that he may not have committed in 1986. Digging deeper into the evidence, Stevenson discovers that his conviction hinged on some very sketchy testimony of a convicted felon who agreed to testify in order to have his own sentence reduced in a pending trial.

It took a lot of work and a lot of courage for Stevenson to continue to seek a retrial for McMillan. He was stopped while driving and the police searched his car. One of the witnesses who could help his client was intimidated into silence. I was difficult to even get the court system to look at what he wanted to present. But, ultimately, in this case justice reigned and Walter McMillan was freed of his wrongful conviction.

A book was written about this case and a movie was made about the book in 2019. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s worth your time. The movie is called Just Mercy. If you haven’t seen it yet, I suggest that you do. It’s well worth seeing. There is a scene in the movie where the young lawyer Bryan Stevenson, address the judge and jury and says this: “This case becomes more than a trial of a single defendant. It becomes a test of whether we are going to be governed by fear and by anger or by the rule of law.”

Bryan Stevenson and Walter McMillan could be angry. And maybe they are. But they are not allowing their anger to control them because their purpose is not get even. Instead they are seeking justice and, through justice, they are seeking to make things right.

In the movie, the Bryan Stevenson character talked about being governed by fear and by anger or being governed by the rule of law. We have to ask ourselves the same question. Do we allow ourselves to be governed by fear and by anger or do we follow the rule of law? Good question. The answer, of course, is that in a civilized society we are compelled to follow the law. In the case of Walter McMillan, we’re talking about the rule of law in the state of Alabama. The same holds true Christians except that we follow a different law which is called the word of God. That is what are called to follow if we are seek justice by demonstrating compassion and mercy to those who have wronged us. That is what Joseph did and that I what we are called to do as well. Choose compassion. Choose mercy. Choose forgiveness. Choose reconciliation and choose justice. This is the way of God. This is the teaching of Jesus.

Joseph did not use his power to punish his brothers. He used it to be reconciled to those who had wronged him. And so should we.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Your Word is holy, O God, and your grace is sufficient for all things. How blessed we are to know you both personally and as a community of faith. You have given us our personal salvation as well as our communal mission to be your hands and feet in the world. We offer our thanks for all of our blessings. Grant us the wisdom to use our gifts for your glory.

We also give our thanks for the rain that has fallen this week to refresh the earth and make the crops grow. Certainly the rain and sunshine are both needed for the coming harvest and we are abundantly grateful that you meet these needs

Be with us as we explore what you want us to do as your people. There continue to be so many unknowns and unknowables. We are uncertain as to what programmes we should offer as a church. We are unsure of how to proceed in worship moving forward. We don’t quite know what to do with our children’s programming. So guide our decisions, O God, that they may be just and fair and according to your will.

We remember this day those who are sick at home or in hospital. We continue to pray for Richard and Bob and Gary.

We choose, this day, to believe what you have said to us. Help us to increase, daily, in knowledge and understanding of your will so that in challenging times and situations, we can rest confidently, knowing without a doubt that what you have said is totally reliable. You are the only one in whom we can absolutely depend and trust. Salvation and eternal life come through no one else. Thank you, O God, for your unfailing love.

God of Love, we are so grateful that you have given us a place in your family that can never be taken away. You have made us your children forever and made us free in your love. Thank you for making this freedom possible. Enable us to enter more into the truth as we grow in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

August 16, 2020 / Pentecost 11

SCRIPTURE

Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

CALL TO WORSHIP

Let us give thanks to God as we call upon his name.

We will sing songs of praise and tell of the wonders of the Most High.

For the Lord is good.

Let us seek God with joyful hearts.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

You, O God, are eternal. Your Love is everlasting. Your Mercy extends from the bottom of the deepest oceans to the tops of mountains peaks. Your Justice reaches every corner of the earth. You uphold your Covenant through every age and place. Praise to you, Holy God. Glory to you, our Gracious Creator. Enter our worship and enable us to taste the joy of the inheritance that is ours in Jesus Christ. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

The longings of our hearts are placed before you. Forgive us when we fail to live up to your standards. Forgive us for doubting and failing to trust in your sure and certain promises. In times of affliction, we have forgotten you. In times of celebration, we have ignored you. Forgive us, God of Hope, and enable us to see more clearly the vision of your way. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

The Spirit helps us in our weakness, interceding for us with sighs too deep for words. Jesus points us to the path of forgiveness and healing. Believe the Good News. In Christ, we are forgiven and set free from the bondage of sin and death.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

Thank you, God, for drawing us into your covenant of love. Thank you for providing for us each day. Our abilities, our inabilities, our gifts and our concerns are all in your hands. We dedicate ourselves to you again, confident that your Spirit will guide us into the way of peace. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

God sends us forth into our life journeys with the promise of the Spirit’s presence. It is the Spirit who lives within and amongst us. Let us leave with enthusiasm, confident in the treasures that God, in love, has provided.

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