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09.19.10 The Basis of Our Healing, Genesis 37, 41-42, 45 selections Sermon Summary

by on September 21, 2010

The basis of our healing includes:

  • Experiencing healing in our emotions, so that we can
  • Experience healing in our relationships, and understanding God’s will in terms of
  • Living in faith, hope, and love

The Joseph narrative is one of the most beloved passages in the Older Testament. It has so much to teach us, and for today’s purposes it is helpful to get a timeline of the major events in Joseph’s life.

He was first betrayed by his brothers at about age 17. Between 17 and 28, Joseph served as a slave in the house of Potiphar, then as the jailor’s assistant while a prisoner. He spent the next two years languishing in prison, having been forgotten by the cupbearer until age 30, when he became prime minister of Egypt. His brothers first come from Canaan for food when he was 38, and again when he was 39, at which time he revealed to them who he was.

1. Joseph had 22 years of accumulated emotions and thoughts from the time he was sold into slavery to when he revealed his identity to his brothers. When he finally makes himself known, he is overcome with a torrent of emotions. These might have included: the pain of betrayal, the crises of faith, waves of rage, an inferno of vengeance, a geyser of hope, and probably many others.

We can’t always prepare for or control our emotions. But we can choose not to deny them. In fact, it’s best if choose to honor them. We don’t know exactly what Joseph was experiencing emotionally, but it was intense. He had up to a year between his brothers’ first and second visit. Up to the time he revealed himself, he was playing games with his brothers until he was overcome with emotion.

Relationships are based on emotions. Eventually other bonds take on greater importance, but relationships begin with an emotional affinity. We don’t relate well with people we don’t like. Relational health requires emotional health. And if there is going to be reconciliation in relationships, like that between Joseph and his brothers, it requires emotional healing.

This truth what dooms so many marriages. We have not done the work of emotional healing before getting married. In America the divorce rate for first marriages is 41 percent, 60 percent for second marriages, and 73 percent for third marriages. All because we don’t experience emotional healing before entering new relationships. It applies also with parents estranged from their kids, co-workers in conflict, and tensions in the church. We have to deal with our emotions, so we can deal with one another.

2. One of the things we will discover when we deal with our emotions and pursue relational health, is the need for forgiveness. The best book I know on the topic is The Art of Forgiving by Lewis Smedes. Title says it all. Forgiveness is like art:

  • Subjective: it’s very personal, unique to each individual
  • A process: it takes time to become competent, but each stage is valuable
  • Done in variety of ways: like paint vs. clay, there are different ways to forgive
  • Requires inspiration: something outside us must move us, like grace
  • And perspiration: we have to do the work
  • Expresses the artist: forgiveness expresses the divine image with which we are endowed, because God is forgiving.

It helps, when pursuing forgiveness, to take the time to be honest about what happened. Joseph grew in his acceptance of the situation. At age 28 he still said he was “forcibly carried off” (40:15). Here at age 39 he says his brothers sold him. To forgive, we first have to be honest about who caused our pain.

It’s also helpful to take time to be honest about our pain. The games Joseph played suggest he was trying to sort through his emotions. For 22 years, and especially the last year, Joseph went from pain to shock to vengeance to goodwill to forgiveness. He models the way, and sometimes the way is long. It takes a long time to heal emotionally, and then to heal relationally.

3. This passage is often used to teach the goodness of God’s will during adversity. Is it God’s will to hate your brother, sell him into slavery, and break your father’s heart by reporting him dead? Is it God’s will to be falsely accused, unjustly imprisoned, and left to languish in a dungeon?

It’s easy to answer “yes” when it’s someone else’s story. What about when it’s our story? It’s easy to say “yes” when it has a happy ending. But what about the non-happy endings? It’s easy from the end to look back and see meaning. But what about those of us still in the middle of the story? Is it so easy to say this is God’s will?

What this story does, for me, is call me to live my life in faith, hope, and love. Faith to return to the painful moments in my life and see how God has used them. Hope that in the painful moments yet to come, I will find meaning someday. And to love others as a means to my emotional healing that is required for me to experience relational healing.

Joseph looked back at 22 years of hardship and, through faith, found meaning. He looked ahead with hope at 5 more years of famine and even further at generations of Israelites now able to survive. And in the present moment, he was able to love his brothers.

The last thing Joseph tells his brothers summarizes this whole process of honoring our emotions, forgiving others, and viewing our lives through faith, hope, and love. Joseph sends his brothers back to Canaan with the instruction: “Don’t quarrel on the way.” He knew what he was talking about, and his example can still teach us today.

The basis of our healing is the reconciliation we have in Christ. Through Christ we can experience emotional healing, then healing in our relationships. Through Christ our lives are healed by living with faith, hope, and love.

Questions for Further Reflection

  • What are some emotions that you have been denying or trying to control instead of honoring? Start small, with what surfaces today. Honor those emotions by investigating them, thinking through their origins, considering the consequences of them of actions you might take because of them. Don’t be afraid of your emotions. They are the means to your healing, and your reconciliation with God and others.
  • Is there someone in your life you need to forgive? Lewis Smedes says, “When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is us” (p. 178). The deeper the pain, the longer it will take to forgive. What small steps can you take to set yourself free as Joseph was set free?
  • How can living by faith, hope, and love help you with your discernment and doing of God’s will?

Discussion Starters for Children

  • Especially with smaller children, kids’ emotions are near the surface. You can tell by their face, their eyes, their body language or their tone of voice when something is churning emotionally. There are three things I do to help my children honor their emotions. First, help them acknowledge that they are having feelings. New feelings may be scary and confusing. Second, help them label their feelings accurately: is this anger, hurt feelings, jealousy, etc? Finally, help them evaluate various responses to their feelings. Do you need to be alone, is yelling the best way to respond, is violence the most helpful reaction? A child that makes a habit of these three steps, and does so with another person, will have a much better relationships throughout his or her life.
  • In addition to the comments in the message, here are two more steps Smedes describes in forgiving others that may help children. First, help the child see the humanity of the person who has hurt them. Our survival instinct is to villanize the other so we can justify alienating them or eliminating them. These options are antithetical to forgiveness and reconciliation. When children have been hurt by another, and the time for forgiveness arrives, we can help the child see the other person as a person. Talk about the other person’s interests, siblings, parents—anything that puts the person back into a human context and not just “the one who hurt me.” The second step has to do with wishing well upon the other person, and this aligns with Jesus’ command to pray for our enemies. They may be rightly labeled enemies, but we can still wish them well in prayer. Doing so makes it easier for us to forgive them when the time comes.
  • Children will have no easier time understanding God’s will than we do, especially when we face disappointment or pain. One way to help a child come to acceptance and hope (which is what the doctrine of providence and most understandings of God’s will are trying to do) is to help the child remember times in the past when something good came out of something bad. “Remember when we got the flu shot but we didn’t get the flu? Remember when we spent all that time in the car but we went someplace really great? We don’t like what’s going on right now, and we don’t understand it, but later it will probably make sense.” Then say a prayer to this same effect, for example, “God, we don’t like this and it doesn’t make sense. But I bet it looks different from your perspective. Help us to be strong and patient and to see the good that you will bring out of this situation. We remember Joseph’s story and pray like he did that it will all turn out OK. Thank you for hearing our prayers. Amen.”

Faith Connection Card Next Steps:

 Honor my “negative” or intense emotions.

 Forgive someone, again if need be.

 See my life through faith, hope, and love.

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