Sermon 2-24-2019 Radical Forgiveness
Scripture Passage: Genesis 45:3-11, 15
Good morning! Today’s story is one of the richest and most poignant stories in the scriptures. It is also ‘soaked in divine irony’, as one commentator put it. It is one of those passages, which is so powerful, that it almost preaches itself! As one commentator noted, the central lessons in today’s passage are very straightforward: ‘all things work together for good for those who follow God’ and ‘forgive radically like Joseph did’. However, this is much easier said than done, and ‘it is all that simple, but all that hard!’ Many of us in our current generation cannot relate to Joseph’s situation of power and wealth. So, one of the trickiest parts of interpreting this story, is making it accessible for current listeners. Once, the preacher can do this, the story unfolds easily into a powerful one, to which every one of us can relate. Though most of us have not experienced the power and wealth, which Joseph was blessed with, every one of us has been wronged and has run into the question of forgiveness. Forgiveness is also one of the most challenging subjects for us human beings, who tend to cling on to our hurts or wish for retribution, rather than act graciously and let go of our hurts. We have much to learn from some of our friends in the animal kingdom, who forgive quickly, and over and over again, unconditionally! I can’t count how many times I’ve accidentally stepped on Shauny’s paws, and each time, he immediately understands my apology and forgives me with a nod of his head and a kiss on my leg.
Believe it or not, there is actually one community of human beings on this earth, which is similar to Shauny in its practice of unconditional forgiveness. They defy what I just said was our human tendency, to struggle with forgiveness and cling onto our hurts! They practice what is called by theologians, ‘radical forgiveness’. This group is known as the Amish community. You may recall an incident years ago, when an Amish teen aged girl was abducted and killed. It was a heinous act. I think that most people’s response would be to want the assailant to be brought to justice and ‘pay for what he did’. Well, to the world’s surprise, the girl’s parents and Amish community immediately forgave the assailant! They did not him or haw about it and immediately put into practice their belief in radical forgiveness.
In today’s story, we also see Joseph practicing radical forgiveness of his brothers. Joseph got very emotional, when he recognized his brothers, but it sure did not take him long to find the graciousness in his heart to forgive them. I think that the brothers were probably shaking in their boots, when they first realized it was Joseph, because they expected Joseph to act like most people in our current generation would, in desiring retribution for their selling him into slavery. The brothers were probably fearing that Joseph would have them killed, or at least send them away hungry and left to die in the famine. This story reminds me of another story about radical forgiveness, earlier in Genesis, when Esau surprisingly forgives Jacob for stealing his birth right and inheritance. Jacob is shaking in his boots, when he encounters his brother, Esau, and he is sure that Esau will kill him. However, Esau instead reaches out to give Jacob a warm hug, because he forgives him. This is more of the divine irony in today’s story and in the story about the Amish girl. In each of these cases, the act of radical forgiveness does not make sense from a human perspective. Our human nature is such that it wants to get even. Our human nature is such that it wants to cling onto the things, which others have done to hurt us. Our human nature is such that it wants to rehash the memories of hurtful things. Our human nature is such that it wants to revel in being a victim and getting everyone to feel sorry for us. However, the divine perspective is that forgiveness is the only appropriate response to hurtful actions! As the proverb goes, “To err is human, but to forgive is divine.” I think that as humans, we just are not programmed to find forgiveness easy. This is especially true, when we’ve been hurt in a serious way. We might even believe that forgiveness is the proper response in our minds, but to genuinely feel ready to forgive the person, is quite another task. Genuine, heartfelt forgiveness, I believe, might require years in some cases, depending on how deep the hurt was. Also, there’s a psychological process, which we go through in forgiveness. We may decide that we finally have room in our heart to forgive someone, but then something happens and it stirs up the memory of what happened and all the pain that went along with the event, and there we go again, starting the forgiveness process all over, again! That is an honest and realistic picture of how forgiveness works for most of us human beings. Sadly, most of us are not programmed like Joseph, Esau, or the Amish community. For us, forgiveness is a process, and we can only aspire to practice radical forgiveness.
Even though Joseph does practice radical forgiveness, as I said at the start of this sermon, his situation of power and wealth is a privileged one, which most of us are not in. So, we cannot help but ask the question, “Would Joseph have practiced radical forgiveness if God’s providence had not been so generous to him?” However, one point, which can help every one of us to connect strongly with this story is this: if we are able to practice radical forgiveness, like Joseph did, we will most certainly experience ‘spiritual prosperity’ of having that ‘peace which surpasses all understanding’ and become co-creators with God in bringing forth God’s purposes for our world! If we practice radical forgiveness, we will certainly be transformed from miserable, grumpy people who feel sorry for themselves into peace-filled, joyful people, who help God usher in God’s kingdom. If Joseph were like most of us and did not practice radical forgiveness of his brothers, they provably would all have perished in the famine, and God would not have kept God’s promise to Abraham, that his descendants would populate the world. However, because Joseph did radically forgive his brothers, God was able to be faithful to this promise and allow his divine purposes to unfold. The same would hold true for us, in helping God’s plans to unfold.
The Amish girl’s family and community also allowed God’s plans to unfold in showing the world a glimpse of what radical forgiveness looks like, when they forgave her killer. There is was no doubt in their hearts and minds as to what the proper response was. It might appear to be very difficult for most of us to do, but I think that as a result of the Amish practicing this radical forgiveness, they experienced that wonderful spiritual prosperity, of peace and joy.
May each of us be inspired by the stories of Joseph and the Amish community to tap into, with God’s grace, this divine practice of radical forgiveness. It might be a stretch for us, and it might be a long process to forgiveness for us, but I think that even small steps toward forgiveness, will bring us spiritual prosperity. Rich blessings of peace and joy are the spiritual power and wealth, which every one of us can tap into if we practice forgiveness! Amen.