Pain of this nature can be devastating, many don’t recover from it. It harkens back to the story of Hosea in which Hosea’s wife follows a natural path of adultery, deception, and lies. Yet, beyond marriage, if we are honest, there are a host of situations that leave us seemingly cut off, distanced from a sibling, estranged from a parent, bitterly divided from an old business partner.
Today, we finish our sermon series called Dirty Jobs, looking into the story of Joseph to see if there is any hope of restoring what is so utterly broken, to see if there is the possibility of putting back together the pieces when they resemble Humpy Dumpy—all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put him back together again. Our series has taken us through some of the grittiest, nastiest, and most practical areas of our life—jealousy, lust, waiting, shepherding, and today we get into the most challenging: Running with Reconciliation. So in Genesis 44 through Genesis 50 we are going to see the road towards reconciliation.
A survey of scripture will show you just how critical this issue is to God: Jesus calls on us to be peacemakers, Hebrews exhorts us to “strive for peace,” 1 Peter talks about a love that covers a multitude of sins. So often though our response hurdles our faith and hammers back when we feel hurt, just like a man who left work one Friday afternoon. Being payday, instead of going home, he stayed out the entire weekend hunting with the boys and spent his entire paycheck. When he finally appeared at home, Sunday night, he was confronted by a very angry wife and was barraged for nearly two hours with a tirade befitting his actions.
Finally, his wife stopped the nagging and simply said to him, “How would you like it if you didn’t see me for two or three days?” To which he replied, “That would be fine with me.”
Monday went by and he didn’t see his wife. Tuesday and Wednesday came and went with the same results…Thursday, the swelling went down just enough where he could see her a little out of the corner of his left eye.
Joseph in the same way suddenly had a chance to react. With a 7 year famine in full swing, people from near have begun streaming into Egypt searching for food and it just so happens that one group of shepherds are his siblings. Talk about an awkward moment. What do you do in that moment? Behead them one by one, hang them in the city square, let them starve to death? Joseph Instead of starting in the blindness of bitterness, after years away is able to wisely begin by:
Re-evaluating the Situation (44:1-2, 17b) Joseph, if you read the account gives his brothers a hard time, accuses them of spies, forces them to bring their youngest brother Benjamin to Egypt, and he even takes it a step farther
Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. 2 Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said…Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace. Joseph’s behavior appears less than upright here, but maybe we can understand his motivation more than his means. With the cup in Benjamin’s bag, it would have theoretically put his life in danger. So Joseph put his brothers into a situation where they could repeat the past; they could cut and run leaving another one of their brothers for dead or they could respond differently by dealing with the old issues of their dead brother.
The movie The Straight Story is based on a true story and chronicles the pilgrimage of a 73 year-old man to mend a broken relationship with his brother, whom he hasn’t seen or spoken to in over ten years. Alvin has lost his driver’s license because of impaired vision. When a call comes indicating that Lyle, Alvin’s estranged brother, has had a stroke, Alvin determines to find a way to visit his brother and make things right. His only solution is to hitch a makeshift trailer to his 1966 John Deere riding lawn mower and set out on a 500-mile trip that will take him in excess of six weeks. Camping out in fields and backyards made available by hospitable people he meets along the way, Alvin Straight slowly but surely makes his way toward his destination. After crossing the Mississippi River and entering into Wisconsin, Alvin camps out in a church cemetery, kindling a campfire between tombstones. The pastor of the adjoining church sees Alvin from his office, has pity on the “homeless” man, and brings him a plate of hot meatloaf and mashed potatoes. A conversation ensues.
“I can’t help but notice your rather unlikely mode of transportation,” the pastor says eying the riding mower. Alvin makes mention of his brother who lives in the area. The pastor recalls having met a man by that name while making calls in the hospital, but admits that he didn’t recall the man making mention of having a brother.
“Neither one of us has had a brother for quite some time,” Alvin explained. “Lyle and I grew up as close as brothers could be. We were raised in Morehead, Minnesota. We worked hard. Me and Lyle would make games out of our chores. He and I used to sleep out in the yard most every summer night. We talked to each other till we went to sleep. It made our trials seem smaller. We pretty much talked each other through growing up.”
The pastor asked, “Whatever happened between you two?”
Alvin’s eyes tear-up as he explains. “The story’s as old as Cain and Abel. Anger. Vanity. Mix that together with liquor, and you’ve got two brothers who haven’t spoken in ten years.” Alvin’s manner and voice indicates the depth at which he is grieving the barrier that exists between him and Lyle. He adds, “Whatever it was that made me and Lyle so mad, it doesn’t matter anymore. I want to make peace and sit with him and look up at the stars like we used to do.” Like Alvin, many of us have someone with whom we deeply long to be reconciled. (Preaching Today)
Sometimes the road back towards reconciliation seems impossible, the distance too great, the obstacles too numerous, and the hurt too deep. Yet, for those very reasons what is difficult for us is a platform for the Holy Spirit to work in us. While bitterness tries to lock people into what they once did or who they once were, forgiveness and reconciliation acknowledge that people can be changed. Matthew 5:23-24 puts the responsibility on us: If you’re standing before the altar in the Temple, giving an offering to God, and you suddenly remember someone has something against you, leave your offering there beside the altar. Go at once and first be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your gift to God. God wants our faith to be put into practice. Reconciliation might not always be possible when the other person is abusive or unrepentant, but it should always be the target. As the author of Stuck wrote, “It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes two people to reconcile.” In the case of Joseph, look at how is once rotten brother Judah responded when Benjamin faced death: (44:33) Please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. He was willing to bear the punishment not to repeat history. The stage was set for reconciliation to move forward.