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by Randy Lubbers
Believe this Gospel and go forth to live in peace. (Reformed Church in America Liturgy)
Now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers were afraid, for they said, ‘What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back for all the harm we did to him?’ They therefore sent a messenger to Joseph to say, ‘In his last words to us before he died, your father gave us this message: “Say this to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers’ crime and wickedness; I know they did you harm.” So now we beg you: forgive our crime, for we are servants of your father’s God.’ Joseph was moved to tears by their words. (Genesis 50:15-17, REB)
It happens nearly every week.
And it’s always a highpoint of my Sunday mornings.
After the congregation and I have confessed our sin before God and before each other… After we have spoken, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy upon us…” After a brief silence; I look into the eyes of people who after twelve years I know pretty well; into the eyes of people whose pain and grief, whose trials and temptations are often quite evident to me; and yet, into the eyes of persons who have been going through stresses and worries and agonies I know nothing about, and I speak what I pray will be heard as good news:
This saying is completely reliable and should be universally accepted: Christ Jesus entered the world to rescue sinners. He personally bore our sin in his own body on the cross so that we might be dead to sin and alive to all that is good.
Then, still at the font, I speak what I used to think of as a directive or “marching orders,” but what I now think of as a plea. Indeed, in my heart I am begging each one of my congregants: Believe this good news, and go forth to live in peace.
Of course, too often we don’t.
Live in peace, that is.
Or believe. Really, truly, trust in God’s Assurance of Pardon.
Case in point: Joseph’s brothers, some of whom had wanted to kill him, all of whom were guilty of selling him into slavery. Joseph could have easily blamed them for his sufferings, for his time in prison, for all of his misfortunes. He does, when he has his chance, set them up, toy with them like a cat playing with a mouse, play with their minds. In the end, of course, he forgives them. Hugs and kisses abound and the whole extended family is reunited. (See Genesis 37-44 for the whole story.)
And then comes the end of the story that had never been resolved in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers. After their father dies, they become anxious. Perhaps looking into their own hearts, their own tendencies, they wonder if—way back when—Joseph really, truly forgave them, or whether he might still hold a grudge.
“Yes, I forgive you,” I say. Yet in my mind I’m thinking, “But when I get the chance, you had better know I’ll get even.” And resentment wins the day. I cannot be set free and I cannot truly forgive another with resentment in my heart. I would have been better off being honest—“I’m sorry; not just yet”—and work through the anger and the hurt and then finally, when the rocky parts of my heart have been made into good soil—then, and only then, to forgive.
That is not to ignore the fact that the very act of forgiving the one who has hurt me is to begin a process of healing. Joseph forgave his brothers long before they ever showed up. Healing happens before and after and during the process of reconciliation.
But peace never really came for the brothers. They could not live in peace because they couldn’t forgive themselves and they could not imagine Joseph really forgiving them either. I wonder, perhaps they had never really come to terms with the tragedy of their actions—the real root of their misdeeds—and, because of that, could never really come to terms with the comedy of Joseph’s forgiveness. Whatever, upon hearing evidence of their lack of trust in his original Assurance of Pardon—freely offered to them so very long ago—Joseph is moved to tears.
As is God, I suppose, when we find the good news too incredible to believe, and feel powerless to live in peace.
And so, from the font of transformation and renewal, I beg rather than direct, I hope and pray and plead, “Please, for the love of God, believe this Gospel, and go forth to live in peace.”
About Randy Lubbers: Father of John, Elyse, and Luke; friend of locally owned coffee shops and breakfast cafes everywhere; proud Central College dad; pastor and teacher at First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in Lake Crystal, Minnesota since ordination in 2004 (RCA); ministry interests include the theology and leadership of worship and the sacraments, social action and peacemaking, spirituality and prayer, ecumenism, and interfaith dialogue.