Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Trinity (July 13, 2014)

GENESIS 50:15-21

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus Christ has taught us: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)  Those words are often quoted by people who want to defend their sins.  Sad to say, people do not want to be justified before God.  We want to be justified for the sins we commit.  We bark out Jesus’ words so that no one will lecture or confront or condemn us.  “Do not judge me!  Jesus says so.”  There is a grain of truth in that.  Jesus is the judge.  It is not my place to assess your heart.  It is not your place to assess mine.  It is outside our authority to do so, and it is outside our ability to do so.  But this cry, “Judge not, or you too will be judged!” fails to recognize that Jesus has given us his word so that we can assess what is right and wrong.  When we quote Jesus, we are not making ourselves the judge.  Jesus remains the judge.  His word stands.
     Nevertheless, panicked and guilt plagued sinners try to cover their tracks.  We hope that hiding our past will make it go away, or that burying our guilt will keep it from haunting us.  Dear Christians, do you not realize that your Lord has a better solution for your guilt and regret?  It is the forgiveness of your sins through Jesus Christ.  It is the word of absolution proclaimed through his minister.  Jesus does not want you to be haunted by your guilt or hounded by your sins any longer.  Only mercy can produce comfort, and only Jesus can supply the mercy that forgives all your sins.
     The guilt and regret that linger from sins are very real.  Satan even digs up the past and inflicts guilt from sins that were committed years ago.  So it was for the brothers of Joseph.  When Joseph was seventeen years old, his brothers had had it with him.  They despised him for being daddy’s favorite, a fact that was rubbed in their faces whenever Joseph wore his brightly ornamented robe.  They despised Joseph because he reported when his brothers were not behaving like the sons of Israel.  They despised Joseph when his dreams foretold that they would one day bow down in submission to him.  They toyed with killing him; they opted to sell him into slavery.
     After many years and divinely guided circumstances, Joseph found himself as the associate to Egypt’s Pharaoh.  Jacob and his family found themselves wasting away because of a famine.  The brothers traveled to Egypt for food.  Joseph recognized them and summoned the whole family to Egypt where they would survive the famine.  After a number of years in Egypt, Jacob died.  And this is where our Old Testament lesson picks thing up.  Joseph’s brothers were still guilt-ridden about selling Joseph into slavery.  Never mind that it had happened decades earlier.  They had not forgotten their evil.  Why would Joseph have forgotten?  And now, Jacob was no longer around to curb his son from exacting his revenge.  Joseph had both motive and means to stick it to his brothers. 
     Gripped with fear, they fell at Joseph’s feet and begged for mercy.  No one was crying out, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged!”  Joseph had them dead to rights, and they knew it.  Joseph did not want to crush them, but to console them.  Joseph 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.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.”  Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21)  Only mercy can produce comfort.
     All that Joseph endured and did foreshadows what Jesus did more perfectly.  Jesus was also sold off to his countrymen who were eager to put him to death.  Everything that Jesus’ enemies did to him was intended for evil.  They despised him, mocked him, beat him, falsely accused and condemned him, and delivered him up to crucifixion.  Though the Pharisees could not make a single charge stick to Jesus, they declared him worthy of death.  Though Pontius Pilate found no fault in Jesus, he sentenced him to scourging and then to death.  Though his apostles vowed their undying allegiance to Jesus, they had all chosen to save their own skins and abandoned him.  Everything Jesus endured was intended for evil against him. 
     To this day, we still turn away from God’s commands and engage in evil.  And yes, you intend to do this evil.  For, you continue to return to your sins.  You do it because you like it.  You like going back to your sins more than you like believing the word of the Lord.  But all this ever does is pile up the guilt and regret that you carry.  As we considered before, burying your guilt and hiding your past will not make them go away.  And it will certainly not bring you comfort.  For, you know that the Lord has you dead to rights.  You cannot justify your sins.  You cannot justify yourself for committing them.  Your only hope is that of Joseph’s brothers—to fall on your knees and confess your sins.  For, only mercy can produce comfort.
     Jesus does not look to exact revenge on sinful mankind.  On the contrary, Jesus supplies the very mercy you need.  Though his death was meant for evil, God intended it for good, to bring about the saving of many lives.  God intended Jesus’ sufferings and death to be the atoning sacrifice for your sins.  God intended Jesus’ sacrificial death to be a guilt offering for you.  Through Holy Baptism, Jesus’ innocence covers over your guilt.  Through Holy Absolution, Jesus’ peace triumphs over your regret.  You do not have to worry about hiding anything anymore.  Confess and be forgiven.  You do not have to try to bury the past.  Your sins were buried with Jesus.  They are dead.  But Jesus lives to proclaim peace and mercy upon you.  He forgives completely all of your sin.  Only such mercy can produce comfort, for only when you know your sins are taken away is there comfort to be had.
     Just as Joseph’s own brothers sinned against him, so you have friends and strangers who sin against you.  You live in a world of sinners.  It is bound to happen.  And it is equally certain that you will sin against others.  Some sins are much more painful than others.  Yet all of them are evil, whether you meant to do them or not.  If you’ve sinned against someone, they have you dead to rights.  And if someone has sinned against you, you may think of how to avenge yourself against that person.  But neither grudges nor revenge solve anything.  They do not erase the sin; they add to it.  They will not take away the hurt; they will only increase the bitterness and hatred.  No one is reconciled through revenge.  There is no peace in a grudge.  And there is no comfort in rubbing someone’s sin in his face.  Only mercy can produce peace.
     When he had mercy upon his brothers, Joseph spoke kindly to them.  Literally, the Hebrew says “he spoke upon their hearts.”  So Jesus does for you.  He speaks upon your heart to console you.  He assures you that he holds nothing against you and that all is forgiven.  There is nothing to fear.  Likewise, your friend, your spouse, and your child need such consolation.  Speak upon their hearts.  Drop all the charges.  Forgive their sins.  Be merciful, even as you Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)  For, only mercy can produce peace.
     And do not fret if others abuse your mercy.  True, it may happen.  But that is not your problem.  Mercy is not given because it is deserved, but because it is needed.  Our Lord Jesus Christ continues to be merciful to you day after day.  His mercy is not based on how good you can be.  It is based on how good he is.  This is how you find your comfort, and this is how you supply comfort to those whose sins still haunt them.  Only mercy can produce peace.  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his mercy endures forever. (Psalm 118:1)

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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