Moved By Grace
By Rev. Dr. Karen Schuder
Message on Genesis 45:1-15
February 24, 2019
We all have stories. Stories of who we are, where we have come from, what we have experienced, what we desire or dream of. Right now I would like you to take a couple of minutes to jot down a few things about your story: where you grew up, your family, what you enjoy doing, your hopes…
A couple of minutes isn’t enough time to really share much of your story, but I wanted you to start thinking about your story as we look at Joseph’s story and what it means for our stories. Today we get a lesson on grace through the story of Joseph. The concept of grace is simply defined as God’s loving forgiveness. It is unearned, undeserved and given simply out of love. God’s grace was present throughout the life of Israel in the Old Testament and made manifest in a powerful new way in Jesus. Martin Luther’s and other reformers’ theological understanding of grace is what led to the Protestant reformation and is central to Protestant churches today. In this story of Joseph there are 3 important lessons about grace for us today.
The first helpful lesson is in looking at the OT understanding of grace. In ancient Hebrew, the word for grace was often understood as “finding favor with God.” For example, Noah found favor in the Lord – so he was saved. Abraham found favor in the Lord – so he was promised new life. In today’s story Joseph certainly found favor with God. Throughout the story we are told more than once God was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love. Because Joseph found favor in the sight of the Lord, God blessed everything Joseph did so he would also find favor with others. With God’s help Joseph found favor in the sight of the captain, Potiphar, whom he was sold to, he found favor in the sight of the chief jailor, and he found favor in the sight of Pharaoh. All of this helped Joseph live well even in the challenging circumstances he had to deal with.
Looking at scriptures we see that grace includes “finding favor in the Lord.” Jesus explained more fully grace is being known as beloved by God; forgiven and helped simply because God loves us. It is important to notice that even though Joseph found favor in the Lord, Joseph’s life wasn’t without challenges and pain. As a young man his own brothers sold him as a slave, he was taken away from his family and everything he knew. Life in Egypt started out well, but after being falsely accused he was thrown into a prison for years. Think about it – Joseph was 17 years old when he was taken from his family and he was 30 years old when he started working for Pharaoh – that’s 13 years filled with difficult challenges and time of great suffering. Joseph’s story isn’t a story just filled with fluff & happiness; his story included a pathetic, dysfunctional family, a whole bunch of sin and a great deal of suffering from injustice.
Despite all of this there is a powerful message in Joseph’s story, which becomes crystal clear in the scripture we read. God’s purposes are good. God desires and works towards life for God’s people despite the brokenness and wrongdoing we bring into the world. Because of this, God’s grace makes possible new beginnings and new life. This is the second important lesson we learn about grace from Joseph’s story: God is at work bringing new life and hope even when we cannot see it. With all of the challenges & difficulties Joseph had to face, we see that there were also new beginnings, new life. When he was sold to Potiphar, when he was put in prison, when he began working for Pharaoh – Joseph experienced that God could make good things happen even in bad situations. It is when Joseph finally revealed who he is to his brothers, we see the purposes of God taking shape.
We don’t know if Joseph realized it before, but at this point in time it was clear to him God had worked through his life to lead up to the point when he could save the lives of many, including his family. No matter what was done to him or by him because of sin & evil, God had continued to work towards God’s purpose of life. Joseph could see God gives the freedom to choose how we live, but even that doesn’t stop the work of God. God can make good come from even the most painful and evil experiences. Nothing will stop God from fulfilling God’s purpose of life – not even our bad choices.
Joseph clearly understood God was at work. Several times he told his brothers God was working through him to save them. Joseph was able to let go of the hurt and pain he had experienced, to see the new beginning, the new life they faced at that moment. In knowing God’s favor & experiencing God’s grace, Joseph was able to break from the past and enter into the new beginning God had led him to. This leads us to the third lesson about grace today: Grace gives us the ability to break the negative, destructive cycles of behavior affecting our lives.
In confronting his brothers Joseph did not ignore or overlook the fact they had sold him. He comes right out and says, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” Joseph had every right to be angry and resentful; to act in a way that inflicted pain on those who had hurt him so deeply, but instead he offered grace. He said “do not be distressed” and acknowledged God had continued to work through his life to bring hope and life to many, including his family. Joseph knew he was a part of God’s work; a part of something bigger than he could understand at the time of his suffering. At this point of grace, in confronting his brothers, he offered new life to those who had tried to destroy him. He broke a destructive cycle with grace. If his family was also able to see and accept God’s gift of grace, this new beginning meant healing and new life in many ways.
This story confronts us with the compelling question: what destructive cycles are we called to break? What anger, resentment or brokenness does God’s grace call us to let go of? To whom are we urged to share hope, healing and new life with? The grand meaning of Jesus’ life was to show that God’s forgiving love is not just for a chosen few, but for all whom God has created. Through Joseph’s story we see that grace means finding favor in the Lord. With grace, not only does God approve of who we are, but we are beloved and worthy of God’s help. Jesus verifies and intensifies what we learn from Joseph’s story. On the cross and after walking out of the tomb Jesus showed God’s love is much greater and more powerful than the world had ever dared to imagine before. God’s grace means so much more than approval. It means hope beyond all understanding and new life. When we know God’s love in this way, we can find the strength and vision to break destructive cycles in our family, community and world offering forgiveness, hope and new life.
One of the most compelling examples of the power of grace to break destructive cycles comes from Corrie Ten Boom, survivor of the WWII concentration camp Ravensbruck. After WWII she spoke across Germany about God’s forgiveness, believing the war torn country could only heal knowing God’s grace. She was speaking at a Munich church when she saw a guard who had tortured her and her sister at Ravensbruck. (Corrie Ten Boom (1997). Love Your Enemy: Chicken Soup For The Christian Soul. J. Canfield et al, eds. Deerfield Beach, Fl: Health Communications, Inc. pg.2)
After her talk the former guard approached her saying he had become a Christian and was thankful for God’s forgiveness. He asked her for forgiveness as well and held out his hand. She stood there remembering the pain and suffering endured at the hands of the man, but she also knew she needed to share God’s grace – not just for him, but for herself as well. She had seen many examples of people who were able to return to living only after forgiving their enemies. The man patiently stood there holding his hand out to her.
She wrote: “it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion – I knew that too…. Jesus, help me! I prayed silently. I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling. And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you brother!” I cried. “With all my heart.” For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands – the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love. I had tried, and did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit. (Ibid)
Grace means we are favored by God. The unearned love and forgiveness God gives to us brings hope and new life into the world through us. This gift is not just for us individually, but for the world. We, in knowing God’s grace, can break the destructive cycles hurting families, communities and the world.
I challenge you to take a serious look at your story. Look at photo albums, write your story down. Look for signs of God working throughout your story to bring new beginnings & new life. Remember that as you look at your story, you are deeply loved in God’s eyes. We are favored by grace. No matter how much sin, brokenness and pain has been etched into our stories, God’s love gives us the assurance of new life. God’s grace gives us the strength and courage to break destructive cycles bringing hope, forgiveness and life into the world.
As Joseph learned, God will work through the challenges and shortcomings to bring new life into the world; into our lives. God gives us freedom, but God’s purposes for life will prevail. Where is your story headed? What destructive cycles of behavior will you interrupt with grace? How will we participate in God’s hopeful and life renewing work? May we learn from Joseph’s story. Live knowing the presence of God’s grace and as beloved children of God we will be moved by the power of God to help fulfill God’s life-giving purposes.
Praise be to God! Amen.
Lord God of grace, we give you thanks that you created us with gentle care & firm vision. Like the gentle breeze that touches our cheeks may we be reminded of your presence in our lives. Like the powerful wind that pulls at us may we be moved to your mission. Give us hearts, minds, and bodies, Lord to know your grace in our lives – a grace that is powerful enough to change lives and loving enough to bring your Spirit into this world through Jesus Christ.
Open our eyes and hearts to your grace Lord, so that we may not only see your presence, but be able to break destructive cycles and face new beginnings & new life with hope & joy. Help us strengthen our faith, Lord, so that we may bring your grace into this world and glorify you.
Now together we pray saying:
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen