SERMON: MERCY IN RELATIONSHIPS (Gen 45:1-15, 46:29-30, Eph 4:25-32, John 13:35-36)
The Famous line “Hell is other people”by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre has a very interesting background:The line comes from a 1944 existentialist play by him called No Exit.
In the play, three characters arrive in Hell. They’re expecting flames and pitchforks, but instead, they’re shown into a plain ordinary room – and then gradually discover that this is where they’ll be spending eternity. The three of them alone, together. In the play, they are trapped in Hellish relationships, ending up falling into a bizarre love triangle…
The confinement of the characters extends beyond their physical holding room: they are trapped by the judgments of their cellmates. That’s why one of the characters says, “Hell is other people” — because of how they were unable to escape the watchful gaze of the others.
Sartre later offered clarification about his much-misunderstood phrase:
“Hell is other people” has always been misunderstood. It has been thought that what I meant by that was that our relations with other people are always poisoned, that they are invariably hellish relations. But what I really mean is something totally different. I mean that if relations with someone else are twisted, broken, then that other person can only be hell. Why? Because … when we think about ourselves, when we try to know ourselves … we use the knowledge and judgments of other people. Hell is other people because you are, in some sense, forever trapped within them, subject to their apprehension of you. By their mere appearance of the Other, I am put in the position of passing judgment on myself as on an object, for it is as an object that I appear to the Other. (Latter part in his book Being and Nothingness)
Relationships can be hell on earth!
O, how well do we know how painful relationships can be. Enemies and strangers can harm us. But many times, it is the people closest to us, that cause the deepest pain. Maybe you can remember the excruciating emotional pain you experienced in a close relationship with a friend or someone in your family. All of us will be able to remember the tears, sorrow, physical and emotional impact of broken or unhealthy relationships.
The deep pain of broken and unhealthy relationships is so evident in the story of Joseph. This family is portrayed full of favoritism, jealousy, self-centeredness, neglect, lies and abuse! Josef even is sold for financial gain by trading him off to Egyptian slavery. When Joseph’s brothers brought his technicolor Dreamcoat full of blood to Jacob, it broke his heart for years to come.
The depth of the pain is evident is a few verses:
Genesis 43.30: With that, Joseph hurried out,…and he was about to weep. So he went into a private room and wept there.
Genesis 45.2: And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.
Genesis 45.14: Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck.
Genesis 45.15: And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Genesis 46.29: Joseph made ready his chariot and went up to meet his father Israel in Goshen. He presented himself to him, fell on his neck, and wept on his neck a good while.
Genesis 50.1: Then Joseph threw himself on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him.
Genesis 50.18: Then his brothers also wept,* fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’
We see the intensity of the pain and the deep impact of the broken relationships. Even in these wonderful moments of reconciliation with his brothers and father.
How do we respond to the intense pain and tragedy of broken relationships?
In Wednesdays Devotion written by Marie Bosman she explains how we react “When life gets difficult when we are challenged, when chaos breaks out when we just don’t know what to do, we all have our own ways of reacting to these situations. Instinctively, we have a fight or a flight reaction, and perhaps on that spectrum we sometimes become just numb, do nothing”. (freeze)
Just consider for a while how we respond to relational stress with one of these four reactions: fight, flight, numb, or freeze. Isn’t there a different way to respond?
Peter Schermerhorn writes it so beautifully in Monday’s Devotion: “It makes me think of how Johan always asks “how will you respond?” Sometimes better means doing very hard things, like showing grace towards those who have not shown us the same. It is so easy to respond out of hatred or react with fear, but so powerful when we respond with kindness knowing what Jesus endured for us.”….
A Different way of RESPONDING: With MERCY, LOVE AND FORGIVENESS
Listen how Joe Lindsay’s devotion on today’s text invites us to a different response: “Here is a guy that was greatly favored by his father, but despised or even hated by his brothers; so much so that they plotted to kill him, but instead decided to foster some financial gain by trading him off to Egyptian slavery. Then, at the story’s conclusion, after many very interesting life experiences that eventually found him a part of Pharaoh’s inner circle, Joseph welcomes these same brothers, along with the rest of their families, into his home with open arms at a time where mercy was the only thing that would save them.”
You will meet people who are unpleasant, unkind, cranky, not trusworthy and short-tempered. …. These difficult people may say or do something that hurts you or makes you angry. Your first reaction might be in the same way; with anger. You may feel like saying unpleasant things back to them. But we are invited to stop and think before you respond. The philosopher Philo said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We don’t know what hardships and troubles others have. We don’t know of their illnesses and hurts and problems. Perhaps they have been mistreated by someone.
Eph 4 is very clear about this matter: 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear….Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Because relationships are so complex and difficult the most powerful forces to healing relationships are mercy, patience, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness! It is all the colors of the diamond called love! One aspect of love is connected to the other.
This is how Jesus responded to our sin, disobedience, denial, and betrayal: with love, patience, and forgiveness! This is how we are transformed to Christ-likeness!
I invite you to give this way of responding a chance! Not fighting, running away of ignoring the broken relationship but moving toward the issue with love and courage and faith in God.
One of the most powerful illustrations of grace and mercy in all of western literature has to be the great scene between the Priest, Monseigneur Bienvenu and Jean Valjean in the stirring epic Les Miserables by Victor Hugo.
Jean Valjean, having recently finished serving a long prison sentence for stealing bread (for his starving family), once again finds himself in desperate straits. With nowhere to go on a rainy evening, he is offered shelter by the Monseigneur Bienvenu. With no money or work prospects, Valjean steals some silver from the parsonage, only to be caught by the local authorities.
Valjean is dragged back to the Priest’s residence to be confronted for his wrongdoing. But instead of confirming the crime, Bienvenu sees the unfortunate event as an opportunity. It is the opportunity to either condemn a life or to save one. The priest chose to give Jean Valjean a new chance at life. He replied to the policemen that he actually gave the silver to Jean, and he even forgot some, and added more silver to his stash!
Later, using distinctly atonement language, Bienvenue says to the stunned Valjean, “Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man….Jean Valjean, my brother: you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”
– Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, Everyman’s Library, Alfred A. Knopf.
Jean Valjean became an honest man full of love and mercy. He even saved the life and forgave his biggest enemy the policeman, Javert, that tried to capture and kill him throughout the story. The musical ends with these profound words: To love another person is to see the face of God!
Forgiveness (and mercy) is powerful but also difficult especially when the act being forgiven is perceived to be particularly personal or hurtful. Also, as time passes that the hurt is allowed to fester, true forgiveness can be much more difficult to give. Forgiveness among family members can be especially difficult. These are people that you know intimately…they are supposed to have your back. When that trust is betrayed, it hurts. – Joe Lindsy
Gen 45 reminds us that even deeply troubled families, that literally have been emotionally and physically torn apart, that forgiveness and healing are possible… BUT HOW?
BUT how is it possible to respond with mercy, compassion and love?
There is only one way: It is to experience the mercy and forgiveness of God for yourself first!!! God showed us how in 2 Cor 5:19 “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” Eph 4:32 “…forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you”. The Lord reconstructed our broken relationship with Godself by reconciling us to God in Jesus. Through the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, God has forgiven our corruption and restored a right relationship to God. This is God’s mercy. This is God’s grace.
We need to make God’s forgiveness our own and forgive ourselves because God has forgiven us. If we do not embrace and accept the mercy, grace, and forgiveness for ourselves, we would not be able to truly forgive and offer mercy to others. It needs to be internalized. When the living water of God’s mercy flows in your veins your heart pounds with God’s mercy. It becomes who you are, what you do, and how you feel. We need to receive God’s forgiveness and forgive ourselves too! To live free from form guilt and live out of gratitude, mercy, and love!
Isn’t it so beautiful how Joseph asks them to forgive themselves as well! Gen 45:4 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. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. .. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.
Joe Lindsay writes: “When I know how forgiven I am, I can extend the same amount of forgiveness to others. When I know how loved I am, I can love others with the same kind of love (1 John 4:19)”
We can only forgive because we have been forgiven. “God in Christ forgave you.” We pardon others of their wrongs against us because we have been pardoned by the mercy of God. Since God has forgiven our trespasses, we forgive those who trespass against us. We cannot do this by our own power, but by the power of God working through us. His forgiving power is given to us and then is channeled through us to others as we forgive them. We forgive in view of God’s mercy!
When we have sinned against each other, when we were the source of corruption in the relationship, we confess our sins to God and to those we have wronged. We are assured that we are forgiven by God, and we seek the forgiveness of others.
God creates possibilities out of impossibilities, hope out of hopelessness, and most unlikely of all, peace out of pain.
Most of us probably have not sold a sibling into slavery (though many of us have wanted to) but we all read this story with regrets for mistakes we’ve made and relationships broken. Some of us come to worship today wondering if there might ever be healing for those relationships in our own lives that have been broken. How could reading this story of dysfunction far beyond even our own help us figure things out?
Well, we can tell this story of a family torn apart by poor choices and unhealthy relationships and it becomes then, for us, a frame in which we can look and see for sure the presence and mercy of God. We know too well: left to our own devices we are sure to live lives marked by estrangement and broken relationships—just look: it’s all around us.
But there are also glimpses of promise, wherever God is at work. You see, God is in the business of creating possibility where there is none whatsoever. Even in the most bleak of situations, we can hope for healing because we follow a God who is known for taking the most painful, ripped up parts of life and, impossibly, stitching them back together.
Barbara Brown Taylor says Joseph was able to reconcile because he seemed to understand that God is like an artist, “like one of those genius sculptors who can make art out of anything.” For this kind of artist, “Nothing is too bent to be used – not even tragedies, not even bad decisions, not even plain human meanness.” Joseph, she says, is “a living work of art.” As such, he did his best to reconcile with his brothers and it worked.
There is even scientific evidence that practicing Christians have a much higher relational flourishing than the general population.
Recent BARNA RESEARCH shows: practicing Christians fare much better than the general population in their relational flourishing. 28% of the general population are strong in this relational dimension, meaning they score themselves at a nine or 10 on a zero to 10. For practicing Christians, the percentage with a high relational flourishing score overall ticks up to 61. Consistently, practicing Christians fare better across the dimensions included in Barna’s research on flourishing.
The climax of the triumph of relational healing is witnessed in chapter 50. Even after being reunited with Joseph for years, and after seeing his character, the brothers are still haunted by their evil deed of selling Joseph into bondage. After Jacob dies, they are frightened that Joseph will seek revenge, so they lie to him, saying that it was Jacob’s wish that Joseph continues to treat his brothers well even after he is gone. The anxiety the brothers brought upon themselves by disobeying God has never been resolved.
In fear they bow down to Joseph proclaiming, “We are your slaves” (Gen. 50:18). Joseph’s response reveals much about the heart full of mercy. He responds to his brothers by saying,
“Don’t be afraid, for am I in the place of God?
As for you, you meant evil against me,
God meant it for good,
to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save many people alive.
Now therefore don’t be afraid.
I will nourish you and your little ones” (50:19-21).
Thus, the great book of Genesis ends on a hopeful note..!!!
BELOVED, IT IS TIME TO DREAM AGAIN!!!
In the epic Musical Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat we are invited to dream again…. dream again of deep restoring, nourishing, thriving and flourishing relationships!
I closed my eyes, drew back the curtain
To see for certain what I thought I knew
Far far away, someone was weeping
But the world was sleeping
Any dream will do
I wore my coat, with golden lining
Bright colours shining, wonderful and new
And in the east, the dawn was breaking
And the world was waking
Any dream will do!!!
Thank you for giving me a community of friends, family, church family and strangers to do life with. I praise you for the people you have blessed me with, the ones who have come alongside me to love, encourage, support, and uplift me through all the twists and turns of life. I’m so grateful that I do not have to go through life alone, but that you have shown me examples of your love through my relationships.
I pray that you would be present in my relationships, that you would be drawing us together in deeper community with one another toward greater unity with you. I pray that you would help heal any places of brokenness or discord in my relationships and that you would restore any friendships that have fallen apart.
Lord, help me to be a peacemaker. Help me have a peaceful relationship with those with whom I am struggling. Also, help me to build bridges between others who are not at peace with each other. Equip me for this task because I cannot do it without You.
Like your Word says in Colossians 3:12-13, clothe me with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. May I be patient with my others, and may I forgive freely as you have forgiven me. May I shine your light in my relationships, giving glory to you through all that I do, say, and think.
Thank you for the ways they build me up and remind me of your goodness and faithfulness.
In your name , Jesus, I pray, Amen.