SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 7-14-2019

LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI

Rev. Michael Larson

Introit: Psalm 27

Old Testament: Genesis 50:15-21

Epistle: Romans 12:14-21

Holy Gospel: Luke 6:36-42

Do you remember the story of Joseph? He was His Father’s favorite Son. Remember that coat of many colors? Remember those dreams he had, of everyone bowing to him, honoring him? God had told him that’s how it would be. But instead what happened? His brothers hated him. His very own betrayed him and sold him into slavery. He was falsely accused and thrown in prison. Even there, those to whom he did nothing but good forgot him in his time of need.

So Joseph, where are all those wonderful promises of God now? That coat stripped from your body. Betrayed by your brothers. Languishing and forgotten in prison. Joseph had every reason to be filled with wrath and fury, bitterness, and resentment. He had every reason to hate his own brothers – and not just them but Potiphar, pharaoh, and the whole world, for what they had all done to him.    

The Scriptures teach us that “in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” In the collect, the prayer we prayed this morning, we prayed that the course of this whole world may be so peaceably ordered by God’s governance that we may joyfully serve Him in all godly quietness. The Scriptures say, “Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

Do you see, how this holy life of faith and trust was lived out in the heart of Joseph? How, just like his father, Jacob, he trusted in the Lord, wrestled with the promises of God and refused to let go of His Savior – the hope of His salvation. Look at Joseph patiently persisting, enduring suffering. Serving the Lord faithfully, peacefully, quietly, in whatever difficult situation the Lord put him in. Trusting God would work good out of evil.

In a single day recall how things changed for Joseph. He was elevated from prisoner to Prime Minister.  And placed in control of all the grain, all the food, in the land of Egypt.

So how perfect, when a famine struck the land, and Joseph’s starving brothers now had to come crawling to Joseph, begging him for food! How the tables had turned! For Joseph, the memory was still fresh. The violent treatment by his brothers, the hatred on their faces as they shoved him into a pit, the exchange of the clang of silver, the iron chains, and slavery. And all the suffering that came after.  

How perfectly the stage was set for revenge – to get back at those brothers for all the evil they had done to him. They bowed down to him, just as the dream predicted they would. But look how kindly and gently Joseph speaks to them. “Don’t be afraid…you, brothers, meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…do not be afraid; I will provide for you and for your children.”

What a stunning and beautiful confession of the Christian faith! Those words from Joseph to his brothers are words of sweet absolution, pure forgiveness and mercy. Straight from the merciful heart of God.

Today we learn again two important lessons. First, to recognize the hand of God in the events of our lives. We live in a sinful and fallen world. We suffer down here. People hurt us and we hurt others. We have attacks of anger and frustration. We have the devil at our back every hour, harassing us and stirring up trouble. Seducing us with lies, trying to convince us to abandon our post, and give in to fear and despair. Joseph teaches us to patiently persist, to trust in God, to humble ourselves under His mighty hand, awaiting his time of deliverance and help, knowing that He works life out of death and overcomes evil with good.   

The second lesson is that we learn to look upon the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer as our greatest treasure: We pray to God, our Father in heaven “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Now it’s not as though we earn forgiveness by forgiving one another. Instead the forgiveness we enjoy and speak to one another is a confirmation and sign – evidence of that gift which we ourselves have received. And guess what? It’s got everything to do with baptism. Under God’s law, we all sat under a death sentence, on death row, we were accused and condemned. You might say, we were like Joseph, sitting in a rotting prison. But you were pardoned, set free, you were elevated to a magnificent position. Through this baptism, you were raised up to participate in the resurrected bodily life to come – even now.

St. Paul put it this way “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness (that I, not our own works of love or mercy), but according to HIS mercy, by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

You see, it’s no coincidence that Joseph, in his old age, made the sons of Israel swear an oath to carry his bones to be buried in Canaan! That was the land of promise – ultimately a testimony of the resurrection of Jesus!

You see, Joseph’s forgiveness, the forgiveness that we speak has its origin not in ourselves, but solely in the death and resurrection of Jesus, who makes full atonement for the sins of the world and triumphs over them all in the resurrection. The forgiveness Joseph speaks to his brothers, the forgiveness proclaimed by pastors and proclaimed on the lips of every Christian, deliver this same pardon, this same peace, accomplished and delivered by the blood that fell on Calvary, the empty tomb, and Risen Lord on Easter morning.

Jesus teaches us this morning “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The old Adam in us, the poor miserable, unbelieving sinner is all of us, wants to harbor anger, and loves to nurse a grudge. But that’s just plain unbelief. A failure to trust that God is just. It is a refusal to believe that Jesus suffered the full vengeance for all wrongs. To not forgive is not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

But while our hearts can be merciless, it is Christ alone, who is merciful as the Father is merciful. He is the one who overcame all evil with the good of His cross. “Be merciful, even as your Father also is merciful.” This mercy that God brings to you every week comes from one far greater than Joseph. He too was the Father’s beloved Son. He too was hated by his own brothers. He too was unjustly accused, stripped of his robe, abandoned, and left to die. But just look at that merciful heart of His, not condemning his tormentors, but speaking kindly to them, forgiving, overcoming evil with good, “father forgive them” He prayed.

He was thrown into the pit of your death and condemnation. And yet when His Father, raises Him from the dead, He doesn’t speak a word of vengeance or condemnation for those who bow down before him. This greater Joseph, says “do not be afraid. What you meant for evil God meant for good. I will provide for you and for your children. I will provide for you through my Word, through My baptism, through the ongoing ministry by the gift of the Holy Spirit.”   

And now, exalted at the Father’s right hand, raised to a position of absolute authority over heaven and earth, this greater Joseph, He gives you something far better than the grain of Egypt. He gives you the bread of immorality, His true body. He speaks so kindly to you, in His absolution. He tips to you the good measure of his atoning blood, pressed from the cross, and running over from His Silver cup to your sin parched lips. All to give you refreshment, and a peace of conscience that world cannot give.  

How can we not be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful? How can we hold anything against one another when God has been so kind to us? We’ve have been elevated, lifted up from slave to sons – from prisoner to royal status – as co-regents with Christ in His Kingdom that has no end. Like Joseph, you too, are your Father’s delight, the apple of His eye. You too have a glorious coat, a baptismal robe of righteousness, and a glorious future. So live as those who have been set free, knowing that only by faith in Christ, and by the power of His resurrection, are we truly made merciful, gladly forgiving and cheerfully doing good to those who sin against us, all to the praise and glory of God! In the name of Jesus. Amen.