The COAT of Many Colors: Journey to Repentance

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Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 42:1-5

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another?  I have heard,” he said, “that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.”  So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt.  But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him. Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan.

Old Testament Lesson: Genesis 45:1-15 

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.


We have finally made it, we are here today on the 5th and last sermon of this series we have been journeying through together with Joseph. And a journey it has been. From the young boy to the great ruler, we have seen Joseph with the aide of God overcome some amazing things. Today we have come to our final lesson. Every story, and yes I mean every story, has a crux, a point at which the reader reads and understands “Ahhh, that’s what this story is all about.” And today we are at the large crux. I think of the Joseph story and to me it resembles the geographic state of VA. You know how going from West to East it has the small hump, and then the much larger hump. The small hump is the first crux and that is when Joseph is restored and is ruler over all of Egypt. Well the second hump, the real work and purpose of the story is the reconciliation between Joseph and his family, this lesson about repentance and forgiveness.  But I must say today’s scripture lessons are a bit misleading. It would seem if I were to let you only hear what took place in our readings that Joseph’s brothers came and immediately did Joseph mourn and weep over them and forgive them. But I must say, this was not so. Too often in our culture we have what I want to call cheap forgiveness. This is when we just say the words, “I forgive you” to allow oneself to have the nostalgia of a good feeling of forgiving another. But this is not true forgiveness. So as we look at forgiveness, and what it means, let’s delve a bit deeper in the scriptures today as we come to see how forgiveness is offered in the context of Joseph.

Our scripture lesson today begins 22 years after what they had done to their youngest brother Joseph. 22 years of guilt, 22 years of hiding the truth from their father. 22 years, and day after day, they still remember their guilt. Joseph’s brothers no longer have any idea what has happened to their brother, the beloved son of their father. But 22 years after they had sinned against their brother and their father, they come to the doorstep of Joseph seeking aide as they were in need of food. Joseph recognizes his brothers, whereas from living in the culture of the Egyptians, his brothers do not recognize Joseph. To make short of a long story, Joseph wants to give his brothers another chance to prove to him that the events of the past have made an impact in their life in how they treat their “new” youngest brother. So Joseph gives them the food and what they need, but holds their brother Simeon in prison until they return with the youngest brother Benjamin. Not only does Joseph give them the food they need, but he wants to assure that they will have money to return and sends them with their money as well. This, in our story line, is proof that the day of their betrayal to Joseph still lays on their mind every day, even after 22 years has passed. When they come to find out they have the money that they had used to buy the grain, they do not say, “Thank God as this Egyptian ruler has shown mercy on us,” but it says they lost heart and turned trembling to one another saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” These are the words of guilty men. Jacob is not all to happy when they return as they return without another brother. Jacob remembers the lost of his favorite son and when he hears that this Egyptian ruler wants also to meet Benjamin, his new favorite, Jacob is resistant as he says he has already lost Joseph and now Simeon, and yet this ruler wants me to give up my youngest again?! So Jacob waits, waits until he has no other choice. They have run out of food again, and this time he must send Benjamin. They arrive to see Joseph again. During this time of meeting, Joseph questions about his father’s health and occasionally must dismiss himself as he is overcome with affection and is on the verge of tears. Finally, he decides to send them home, all of them. But he has one last test for his brothers. He has his steward place his goblet in Benjamin’s bag. And on their way home, Joseph sends his officers out after them to arrest them for a crime deserving death. He gives his brothers an opportunity to show that they have changed their ways. Benjamin is convicted and brought back to Egypt. And Judah, a brother of Joseph steps up to take Benjamin’s place. And this is where our second lesson picks up. Joseph, overwhelmed with his brother’s repentance allows himself to be revealed to his brothers.

His brothers are unsure of how to respond to this news. It says, “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.” His brothers were guilty, they knew what they had done. They knew what penalty they should be facing, as they with the simple word of Joseph could be sent to the executioner.             They quietly fear the judgment that they knew they deserved. They knew it for 22 years, they have thought about their guilt for so long. They acknowledged their wrong and their sin.

And this is the basis of our lesson today. When we are a people of forgiveness and reconciliation, whom we are called to be by Christ. Two authors, Jones and Musekura offer a six step process to Forgiveness in their book, “Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven” and I’d like to take us through this six step process and compare it to this story of Joseph. [1]

Step 1 is truth telling. Right before Joseph reveals himself, Judah begins this act of reconciliation by telling Joseph the truth. Judah tells of what they did to Joseph, and the love that is wrapped up between Jacob and now Benjamin. Are we, as faithful followers of Christ, willing to be truth tellers and acknowledge our own sinfulness against one another and against God. Do we come to God presuming to be righteous in the eyes of God, or do we come as Joseph’s brothers came, with fear and trembling. The second step of reconciliation is Acknowledging Anger. If we are truthful, and we desire true forgiveness and not some cheap nostaligia of it, then we must acknowledge the pain that comes when someone has wronged you. We see in the story of Exodus that God acknowledges his anger when Israel, his children has sinned against him. It upsets God to see us go against his will. It upsets and I can only imagine how infuriating it is to have children as hard headed as us. As you all know, I am not yet a parent. But I do know how infuriating it is to have a child who insults you, who against their own better judgment does something that puts themselves in harms way. And it angers the parent when it is something that is against their rules. Acknowledging that anger allows for us to move forward, to recognize it, but to not let it have control over us. Step 3 is even more difficult at times. Showing concern for the other. Recognizing that the person who has sinned against you is also made in the image of God. Joseph, in responding to his brothers says, “Come closer to me.” “I am your brother, Joseph.” Joseph looks at his brothers and does not say, I never have known you for the wrongs you have done to me. Joseph calls them one of his own. He sees them as he sees himself. This is what it means to look at your adversary as if they are in the image of God. As Jesus taught, “To love your enemies.” Step 4 of Reconciliation is not to judge. This step is often the most difficult. But it is in this step that we remember and recall Colossians 3:13, Paul speaks about life in the Christian community he says, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Paul also has written, that all have fallen short of the glory of God. No one, not one, is righteous in the eyes of God. We have no more ability to judge one another. Jesus speaks in parable about taking the log out of one’s own eye, before trying to remove the speck out of a brothers. We see Joseph doing this as he explains to his brothers not to be angry with themselves. Joseph does not judge his brothers, but rather understands his hardships to have been for a purpose. God called him out of Caanan, they did not kick him out. Because of this, God has allowed Joseph to offer food in this time of famine. The last two steps of reconciliation are very close to one and the same. Commitment to Change and Hope for the future. We do not get into this part of the story with Joseph and his brothers, but the hope that we do see in this selection of scripture is the hope of new life given to his family. A new life as they are reunited, brother and brother, son and father. In a land that is plentiful in a time of such famine.

And so, as we continue in this journey to repentance, I’d like to close today with these words. Forgiveness is the crux of this story of Joseph, and yet at the same time it is the crux of the larger story, the story of God and humanity. Forgiveness in the Greek literally means “letting go”. It is the verb by which we understand that act that “restores a good relationship with God, others, or the self after sin.”[2]And we must face the truth, we are a people of sin, a people who continually live in a life of trouble. But I’d like to leave with you the good news for which Christ came to proclaim. And this good news has been staring at us throughout this entire series. This word COAT, may it forever remind you that CHRIST OVERCOMES ALL TROUBLE.  Christ offered himself, on the cross, to offer forgiveness to ALL people. A work, an act of love and grace, remembered today at the Lord’s table. Amen.

[1] (Jones and Musekura 2010, 46-57)

[2] (McKim 1996, 107)

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