Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 4)

Luke 6:36-42; Romans 8:18-23; Genesis 50:15-21

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Their father loved him so because he was the child of his old age and the son of his favorite wife Rachel, and that made them jealous and angry and filled with hatred for him and for their father as well. And so, they plotted against him, and they threw him in a pit and they sold him into slavery to some Midianite traders. And then, to cover their evil deed, they brought the symbol of their father’s love for him, the object that inspired their jealousy and hatred, the beautiful robe of many colors their father had given him, tattered and torn and smeared with animal blood, and they told their father that his beloved son had been attacked and killed by wild animals.
Approximately twenty years later, they traveled to Egypt to obtain grain, as there was a severe famine in the land. Pharaoh’s second-in-command was merciful to them and provided them grain for their families. When they returned a second time, Pharaoh’s second-in-command revealed himself to his brothers. The brother they envied and hated, whom they sold into slavery and lied to their father about saying that he was dead, he was alive and powerful and merciful.
But, still, they were fearful and full of jealousy and hatred. Though they knew he was their brother, and that he had shown them mercy and kindness instead of wrath and punishment, still they feared him and they hated him. They murmured amongst themselves, maybe he will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him. And so, they continued their deceit and they devised yet another lie. They sent a message to their brother saying that his father had given this command before he died, that Joseph would forgive his brothers and, get this, himself too!
Joseph wept. Jesus wept. God the Father weeps. Why do they weep? They weep because we human creatures are so very, very corrupted by sin that we are truly blind and cannot see. They weep because we men, women, and children have such huge, sinful logs in our eyes that we cannot see the grace, mercy, and love that is being offered to us. Moreover, we are so very, very corrupted by sin that our flesh and reason do not want God’s grace, mercy, and love. We do not trust it. We resent it. We fear it. And so, we lie, and we flee, and we hide. We plot murder, we try to kill God, and we make excuses to cover it all up. We are afraid of being caught, of being exposed, and so we hide like cockroaches in the darkness of our sinful depravity. We assuage our feelings of guilt and fear by judging and condemning others, so that we can feel righteous and justified ourselves – at least, more righteous and justified than others.
Joseph wept. He wept because, though he had shown them nothing but mercy and compassion, still they feared him and did not trust him, still they hated him and despised him. Joseph wept because, despite all that, he did love them. Joseph loved his hateful brothers who wanted him dead. Joseph loved them because he loved God, and he knew that God loved both him and his brothers. Joseph did not judge himself better, holier, more righteous than his brothers. There but for the grace of God go I, he confessed. Joseph knew the grace and mercy he had received from God, how God delivered him from his brothers, from the Midianites, from Potiphar, and ultimately from Pharaoh himself. Therefore, Joseph loved his brothers, even though they hated him. Joseph loved his brothers despite themselves, and he could see, he knew, that God had worked everything – even all the evil and hatred of his brothers and the treachery of Potiphar’s wife – Joseph knew that God had worked everything for good, just as He promised in His Word. When his brothers threw themselves down before him and offered their lives in service to him – because they could not see his grace, mercy, and compassion, but thought only evil of him – Joseph wept and said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” The Joseph comforted his brothers and spoke kindly to them. He gave them the best land in Egypt and provided for his father, his brothers, and their families.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” Any of you heard that lately? People love to cherry-pick passages like this to make the case that Jesus is all about grace, mercy, and love, not judging and condemning. And, ya know, they’re right about that! But, that’s not the whole of it. Jesus is full of grace, mercy, and love for those confess that they are sinners and turn in repentance. However, for those who deny that they are sinners, who refuse to repent, who claim righteousness in themselves, while He continues to love them and call to them, Jesus can be very, very heavy wielding the Law of God.
Indeed, Jesus follows His teaching, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned,” with an additional couplet that gets conveniently left out, “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Why do they leave that part about forgiveness out, I wonder? Ah, it’s because they don’t believe that they need to be forgiven anything. They haven’t sinned, right? So, they just ignore that part. They just leave the forgiveness bit off. Therefore, they completely miss Jesus’ point in this teaching. They cherry-pick and take His words out of their context, and then they misunderstand, misrepresent, and misapply it.
So, what does Jesus mean to teach us in this Gospel? It is this: Do not judge, do not condemn, but forgive, because the holy and perfect Law of God judges and condemns us all, and what we all need, whether we recognize it or not, is forgiveness. That is why you are like the blind leading the blind – you are all blind in your sin and will fall together into the pit of death. That is why you cannot help your brother to remove the speck from his eye, because you have a giant log in your own eye obscuring your vision.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how timely is this Gospel for us today! We are in no position to judge or condemn anyone, for we, ourselves, are sinners in need of grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Let us learn this lesson, not only from our Lord today, but from the example of Joseph who, though he was wickedly wronged by his brothers, would not judge and condemn them, but showed them grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Joseph could do this, Joseph had to do this, because he knew what a wretched sinner he was himself, and he knew the boundless grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness the Lord had shown him.
Still, only sinners can be forgiven. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. There is a judge of sin, and that is the Lord and His Word. No, it is not our place to judge. We are judged ourselves. But the Word of the Lord is the judge of all. All who confess their sin and repent receive the forgiveness Jesus died to give. But, those who refuse and reject His forgiveness, claiming they are righteous and just and without sin, they are judged and condemned already. We are all sinners. Our sin goes all the back to our First Father, the First Sinner, Adam. Adam plunged all of his progeny, even all of creation, into sin, and corruption, and death. Ever since then, creation has been trapped in an endless cycle of deterioration leading to death. Joseph knew this, and he wept. Jesus knew this, and He wept. God knows this, and He weeps.  This is why we must not, we cannot judge or condemn. We’re all in the same sinful, sinking boat!
But, we are not like those who have no hope! No, indeed! Even as Joseph, despite all the evil that had been done to him at the hands of his brothers, and at the hands of enemies of the Jews, did not despair, but he recognized that, though they meant evil against him, God meant it for good, so, too, will God work through the terrible situations of our world and of our lives for good.
Truly, we have behaved much like Joseph’s brothers towards our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father. We have been jealous of Him and have feared Him and have even sold Him into slavery and murdered Him. And yet, He says to us, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” Because of His love for us, and His grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, we do not judge, and we do not condemn, but we stand firm on the Word of our Lord, never flinching on the Truth, while loving and serving in grace, mercy, and compassion, just as we have received these in fullness and abundance in Jesus Christ.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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