Pentecost 5, 1987-Grace,Norfolk,NE
Pentecost 17,1999-Trinity, Urbana,IL
Genesis 50:19 "Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?"
You know this person well. You heard about him in Sunday School. His story is a favorite. He's so well known that all I will have to do is mention one piece of clothing that belonged to him and you will know who I am talking about. This person, as a boy, wore a coat of many colors that his father had made for him. Now you know who he is, don't you. His name is Joseph.
Ah, Joseph. Joseph, the favorite son of his father. He would do anything his father told him to do. His father would send him to spy on his brothers. His brothers quickly came to resent him because of the favoritism his father showed him. The situation was even worsened by the dreams that Joseph began telling his brothers. These dreams always placed Joseph at the center of attention. As far as the brothers were concerned, little brother Joseph was getting far too much attention as it was. And so the brothers came to hate this favorite son, this dreamer. They hated him so much that they wanted him out of the way.
One day, when Joseph came out to the field where his brothers were, they grabbed him and threw him in a pit. They all wanted to kill him. All except the oldest one. He was really fed up with Joseph too, but he felt responsible for him. So instead of killing his younger brother, he sold him to some merchants who were in the area. From that time on life went down hill for Joseph. He would never go home again.
Joseph went through much mis-fortune in the land he lived in. He was sold in Egypt as a slave, and even after he proved himself and was given some responsibility as a sort of head-slave, false charges were brought against him and he was thrown into prison. Only years later did Joseph see how God still loved him and really was working things out for overall good. Only years later did he see God's hand working to bring good from the evil that his brothers did to him.
Joseph, you will remember, was made ruler over Egypt, second in command under Pharaoh himself. He was given responsibility for all the land of Egypt, to see to it that the people were provided for in the upcoming famine. Joseph found himself in a position of great power all at once. Yes, the dreams came true! His brothers did bow down at his feet! This gave him a real advantage. He had several debts he could have settled. He could have sent an army after his brothers back in the land of Canaan, had them all brought before him, and thrown in jail. He could have gotten revenge against Potiphar and his wife, the woman that got him into trouble and had him thrown into jail. You've felt like that about someone, haven't you? It's our natural reaction. When they do something bad to us, we want to do something in revenge. We want to hurt them like they hurt us. But Joseph was a man of God. He paid attention to what God wanted. He did not use the power that was given him in a negative way to get revenge, but he had already forgiven those who had wronged him.
The setting of our text was after Jacob died. After their father was dead, Joseph's brothers were worried that he would try to get even with them. But Joseph had no such plans. He had forgiven his brothers years before, and he meant what he said. He stated it to them in our text for today, "Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?" Joseph was telling them that he had no right to stand in God's place and hold a grudge against his brothers. He was telling them that God had not given the right of retribution to him or anyone else on this earth.
This question Joseph asked his brothers is a key question that would be useful for us to talk about for a few minutes today. Ask this question of yourself: "Am I in the place of God?" Joseph clearly stated that he was not in the place of God. God allows no one in His place when it comes to punishment. God makes that clear with verse 19 of Romans 12: "Do not take revenge, dear friends, but let God punish because it is written: I alone have the right to avenge, I will pay back, says the Lord." So as far as taking revenge, or even being angry with anyone on this earth, God specifically tells us that this is not for us to do. In today's Gospel, Jesus tells Peter and the other disciples to forgive, and not just once, not just seven times, but seventy times seven... Jesus message here is: "Don't stop forgiving. Ever!" God doesn't allow us to take revenge. Not at all, even though we want to all the time.
Am I in the place of God? This question seems hardly worth talking about. God is perfect, we are far from it. God is holy, we are unholy. God is love, we often don't love as we should. God is a spiritual being, present everywhere at once, knows everything, sees everything, hears all prayers. We are physical beings, present in only one place at a time, and we miss a lot of things that we should see. We can only listen to one thing at a time, so we could not possibly hear all prayers that are prayed. God is almighty, we are weak and limited. So there is no contest. "Am I in the place of God? Hardly! We could never hope to be.
Even though we are not in the place of God, we still try to put ourselves there, don't we? We hold grudges, we refuse to forgive. As if we could with-hold forgiveness! Many times we self-righteously place ourselves above others. We all do it. There are certain neighborhoods we wouldn't want to live in, because the people there just aren't good enough. There are certain people we don't associate with, because, well, there is just something about them that we don't like. If we hear of a particular vice that another person has, we automatically think we are better than they, because we just don't do that sort of stuff! Those who don't smoke sometimes put themselves above those who do. Those who don't drink look down on drinkers. We are all guilty of putting ourselves in the place of God when it comes to judging the worth of our fellow man.
The good news comes when we hear that there is forgiveness for all those times when we unjustly put ourselves in the place of God. God went to a lot of trouble to accomplish that forgiveness for us. God won forgiveness for us by putting Himself in our place. Jesus Christ coming to this earth, living the perfect life and dying on the cross is God putting Himself in our place for all those times we sinfully try to put ourselves in the place of God. Because God put Himself in our place in the man Jesus Christ, He chooses not to see our sin any longer. He chooses to be forgiving instead of holding grudges. When we realize all of our failures, it is good news to hear of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, where God took the place of man, and know that because of that sacrifice God offers us forgiveness instead of insisting on punishment.
Now as His redeemed children, we receive a wonderful privilege in that God gives us the honor of acting as His representatives. Peter says, "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."
So we honestly recognize our weaknesses and sinfulness, and answer "Am I in the place of God?" Definitely NOT! Yet we are, you know. Yes, each of us, you, me, all people are called to be in the place of God.
We are in the place of God in witness. By "witness" I'm talking about your behavior, living as one of God's people. Remember last week our discussion about Christian Education, and how that education starts at home, and how that education is not just our making others learn words but also displaying Christian living in our lives?That's how we are in the place of God! Joseph really did stand in the place of God, revealing to his brothers a God that was compassionate, wise, forgiving. Do others learn that truth about God through our lives?
We are in the place of God in being just as forgiving as Joseph. Not only has Jesus won the forgiveness of God for all of us, but He wants us to pass that forgiveness on to others. Jesus wants us to be as ready to forgive others as God the Father is ready to forgive us. In Luke 6, Jesus says, "Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful." In today's Gospel, Jesus says, don't stop forgiving! Ever! John 20:23 clarifies how we are in the place of God: "If you forgive sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven." We are therefore commanded to stand in the place of God when it comes to forgiving our fellow man.
We are in the place of God in using the things of this life in His service. Joseph used the wealth of Egypt to do God's work. God exercises lordship through us, His managers. Another word for being a manager is stewardship. The gifts that God gives us He wants us to use in His service. When we are selfish with what God has given us, when we regard these things as our own and do not give to work in God's kingdom on this earth, we give a message to others. We tell others that God's work is not important enough to support with our offerings and other physical possessions.
Are we in the place of God? In the sense of passing on the forgiveness and mercy God has shown to us, YES! Remember that each time we pray the Lord's Prayer, we are saying, "Lord, forgive my sins, just as I have forgiven others". Anyone here weary of forgiving? Is it because we haven't sufficiently availed ourselves of God's love, of God's mercy, of God's forgiveness, and how can we pass on to others something that we don't take advantage of for ourselves? God Himself gives us the perfect example. Peter came to Jesus in today's Gospel and said "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him, seven times?". Jesus did not say seven times He said seventy times seven. Jesus was saying "My Father never grows weary of forgiving you," and we Christians should never grow weary of forgiving one another no matter how difficult that is to do.
Joseph asked his brothers that day thousands of years ago, "Am I in the place of God?" As far as holding a grudge, as far as punishment, as far as staying mad, as far as getting revenge, the answer is no. But in another sense, Joseph could ask the same question: "Am I in the place of God?" and the response would have to be YES!, because he had forgiven his brothers, he had shown the love to his brothers that God had for him. Joseph's question is one we need to continually ask ourselves each day we live. Are we in the place of God? No, because we are not to judge, we are not to hold grudges, we are not to retain anger against our neighbor. But ask it again. Are we in the place of God? YES!, because we are to forgive, be merciful, show compassion, to be to others just like God is to us. May God the Holy Spirit enable us to do this good work which He wants us to do. Amen
(© All rights reserved by Rev. Jeffrey D. McPike. This sermon may be copied for reading by others, but if it is put to any other use, please contact Rev. Jeffrey McPike. Thank You.)
Send Rev. Jeffrey D. McPike an email.