Sermon 17th August, 2014 – Offering Forgiveness

Genesis 45:1–15 (2014)

Psalm 133

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

Matthew 15:21-28

17th August 2014

 

In our Old Testament story today we continue with the saga of Joseph and the relationship of his family having been separated now for some 20 years.

There is tension in this reunion because Joseph, now a leader of the Egyptians, was originally disconnected from the family because his brothers had sold him to the Ishmaelites, and ultimately into slavery.

Joseph’s brothers were jealous of his capabilities to dream and the close bond he had with their father, Jacob.

 

However, we now encounter a family where the tables have turned.

Joseph’s brothers have come to collect food as there has been a great famine that has struck their community, and they are in need.

Joseph, a colleague of Pharaoh, is now in the position of power, yet his brothers – up until this point – have not recognized him.

Today we focus on the moment when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Our story describes how Joseph weeps as he demonstrates his forgiveness for their actions against him.

Joseph also advises that the famine will continue for several more years, and that he will provide for his family.

At the beginning, the brothers are in shock, almost as if they needed to process what had happened and to come to terms with what Joseph was telling them. However, eventually they weep with Joseph and speak with him.

 

In our story Joseph can easily come across as the hero of the day – but when you consider the complete story is he being the hero?

If one takes the cynical view you can actually see that he is at times playing power games?

Genesis 45 is in many ways the climax of the Joseph story.

All the dramatic irony of the story – like the details that we as readers know but Joseph’s brothers do not, especially Joseph’s true identity, and it all builds up to this moment, when Joseph reveals his identity to his family.

Multiple times over the course of the story, right back to Genesis chapters 37 to 44, we are reminded that Joseph has turned aside to weep privately, but those deeply held feelings have not stopped him from testing and otherwise manipulating his brothers.

Firstly you cannot overstate Joseph’s position of imperial power in this story; basically anyone who wants to eat must come to him.

He hoards the grain, and he decides who may purchase it and at what price, – all at a time when the whole world is riddled with famine (41:57).

 

Once powerless and at the bottom of a pit, outnumbered by his brothers who hated him, Joseph now gets to decide who will live and who will die.

Having that power does not necessarily make Joseph a bad guy, but his use of that power to control those around him surely does, no matter how much he sheds tears.

 

When it comes to forgiveness this story confirms to us that the power to forgive must always be in the hands of the one who has been wronged.

So it is only right for Joseph to be empowered to forgive the wrongs done to him by his brothers.

But before Joseph weeps on their necks (15:14-15), he plays on their fears and exploits his imperial power over them.

His actions may not constitute intentional revenge, but they certainly are not worthy of a loud praise either.

Later on in Genesis chapter 50 we see that the brothers remain terrified of the brother they wronged long after this scene from Genesis 45, and such persistent fear will continue to indicate Joseph’s power over his brothers, not necessarily the reconciliation with them.

So will this family ever be made whole? And can we agree with Joseph’s observation that God, rather than Joseph or the brothers, is the primary agent in the drama?

It is a great drama and one that carries on into the future, so stay tuned, and when you get home have a re read of this amazing story.

 

Whether we take the cynical view as I have today – or whether we consider Joseph squeaky clean and the saviour of his family – all comes down to how we can see God at work in this story.

The difficult part is seeing, seeking and asking God to minister to us through stories like this one.

 

So what I want to do today is to pose and ask for your input into a very difficult question and to see how our answers go.

QUESTION

What do we do when members of our immediate family do things that cause hurt, pain, or that we disagree with? Keeping in mind what happened to Joseph – which wasn’t very nice to say the least.

An example from me – is that one of my children is living with someone in a relationship without being married – and so I disagree with them on that.

 

What are some of the options we have?

ANY ANSWERS?

Do we seek reconciliation?

And what if you can’t reconcile?

Do we cut them off/ pretend they are not part of the family?

The Prodigal son story is about that – in that a service similar to a funeral service would have been held to cut him out of the family as if he never existed –  and about the father welcoming the son home – and reinstating his status.

 

If we can’t agree what do we do?

Can we live with that difference?

When it comes to immediate family it can be very difficult for us to come up with black and white answers. I know someone who is having nothing to do with their daughter because she is living with a man.

For me – Ill always love my children, no matter what they do – but I can let them know how I feel about their actions and still remain close and love them – no matter what.

 

The next question is – what about when members of the church family do things that cause hurt, pain, or that we disagree with?

How do we deal with these? – Often we struggle when issues arise and we don’t always get it right?

So why am I raising this question at this time?

Some of you may have read or heard that a Hamilton Anglican Parish have made a radical decision and have broken away from the Anglican Church over the issue of blessings of same sex unions/marriages.

No matter what happens with this issue there are going to be people who are hurt, who feel let down and even made to feel angry.

 

Let me give you the facts first and foremost.

Priests in the Anglican Church of the Waikato Diocese cannot hold a licence to take civil unions or same sex marriages.

But what the Anglican Church of New Zealand – through its General Synod, has decided is to allow a priest to give a blessing to couples of same sex gender who have had a civil union/marriage to be able to have a blessing in church – but with the following guidelines.

And now I’m quoting from the statement made at General Synod.

“General Synod passed a resolution that will create a pathway towards the blessing of same-gender relationships – while upholding the traditional doctrine of marriage.

It will appoint a working group to report to the 2016 General Synod on “a process and structure” that would allow those clergy who wish to bless same-gender relationships – using a yet-to-be developed liturgy – to do so.

 

The working group will also be charged to develop “a process and structure” to ensure that clergy who believe that same sex blessings are contrary to “scripture, doctrine, tikanga or civil law” to remain fully free to disagree (dissent).

 

The “process and structure” in their case would mean these clergy would not only be exempt from performing these same-sex blessings – but that their “integrity within the church” would be assured, and they would have full protection for their dissent in any relevant human rights legislation.

Synod has therefore upheld the traditional doctrine of marriage.

 

The paper written goes on to say that these changes, “would not happen until after the General Synod of 2016”, where recommendations would be introduced to General Synod. Then any constitutional and canonical changes would then have to be reported back to each Diocese (Episcopal units) before confirmation at the 2018 General Synod.

 

So in many ways there is still plenty of time for discussion and debate at parish level and Diocesan level.

In basic terms this change  from 2016 would be that any blessings services taken following a civil union or same sex marriage in the church – that the resident Vicar has the right to decline doing it, also that a Vestry has the right to make a policy declining all blessings services in their church.

We need to remember that these pastoral blessing services are NOT marriages – but simply a pastoral service for same sex couples after their civil service or marriage.

 

So you may be wondering where I stand on this issue.

For me Marriage is a religious/spiritual and has been taken by society as a right for everyone. However a Christian marriage, either in a church or outside of the church buildings is between a man & woman in the presence of God, family & friends.

 

I am not willing to take blessing services for same sex couples in the church or anywhere else at this time.

As a church I believe at this time that your Vestry here at St Peters are not in a position to make any policy or statement on this issue until after our next synod which is in September this year.

After that your Vestry will need to decide what action they wish to take, how they wish to address the issue with you the parishioners.
To conclude – I want us to go back to the story of Joseph because I believe whatever action or direction we as a parish take – needs to be carried out prayerfully, carefully and with a spirit of love – remembering that there will be people who will feel hurt and let down.

The only difference for the church at this time is and will be the learning to live together with that difference of view. Reconciliation – full agreement may not be possible – we will need to know/learn how to manage that difference.

 

Some may feel they can’t – and I would be saddened if they walked away from the church at this time – as one Hamilton parish has done – tin my opinion it is too early, it’s like giving up when there is still time to wait & pray, to challenge, to renegotiate. Between now & 2018 things could drastically change – especially as further study goes in to looking at the sanctity of marriage according to scripture.

Now some of you may disagree with my stand on the issue – if you do I will not care for you any less as your vicar. After much prayer I believe God is asking me to journey with you all – not a selected few or those who believe as I believe – for me church is a welcoming caring place for all who are seeking God.