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The Elephant in the Room

February 14, 2022

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” (Luke 6: 27-28. 37-38)

The “elephant in the room” is a phrase used to refer to an obvious problem that no one wants to talk about.  In churches and faith circles around the world, sin is the elephant in the room.  One pastor called it the “s” word. It is a subject to be skirted around—quickly mentioned in passing, if at all.  But sin is front and center in the Scripture texts this week. 

Sin was the underlying cause of Joseph’s brothers’ jealousy of him.  The brothers were so jealous of him and of their father’s love for him that they got together to find a way to exclude him from the family.  After attacking Joseph and throwing him into a well, they decided to sell him as a slave.  They sold him for 20 shekels of silver to merchants who took him to Egypt (Genesis 37: 28). 

Slaves didn’t live long, and Joseph’s brothers never expected to see him again.  They betrayed and abandoned him for their own selfish reasons.  But God had other plans for Joseph, which weren’t immediately apparent.  After he was sold into slavery and brought to Egypt, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned.  Because of his great faith, he not only survived the attempt on his life, slavery, slander, false accusations, and imprisonment– but he thrived.  He remained faithful to the God of his father.  His integrity, abilities, and talents shone through, and he became a rising star in Egypt, second in power only to the Pharaoh.

 The Scripture texts for next Sunday emphasize that God is in control, despite man’s evil and sinful plans to leave God in the dust.  Like Joseph, we will go through many trying and difficult times.  We may be slandered, attacked, falsely accused, and ostracized through no fault of our own, but the God that we worship is faithful and just, and we must follow his forgiving and merciful example.[1] This is a theme running throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

It is unhealthy to carry the baggage of resentment for past injustices and resultant anger against people, situations, or institutions. Yet, we find ourselves hanging onto anger and becoming more and more bitter.  Sometimes, we just can’t let it go; we play  the same broken record over and over, and just dig ourselves into a hole.

Joseph had every excuse to hold onto resentment and anger for the injustices that he experienced at the hands of his brothers and others.  But if he had, he would not have achieved what he did.  He would have become an embittered man caught in a cycle of anger; he would have suffered even more.  Instead, he turned to God for faith to see him through and he was ultimately vindicated.  When Joseph’s brothers realized who he was, they “were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.” 

The elephant in the room was the brothers’ sin.  It weighed heavily on them. 

Unlike his brothers, Joseph turned the difficulties and hurts he suffered at their hands and at the hands of others over to God: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ When they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . it was not you who sent me here, but God’” (Genesis 45: 3-5; 8 a).  Joseph told them that it was God’s will that he be sold into slavery.  He took the blame that they were due, and explained that it was God’s will for him to go through all that he had, so that God could put him at that place at that time. 

Joseph later told his brothers “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .” (Genesis 50: 20).   David had many “Joseph moments,” but he lived to sing God’s praises: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being praise his holy name. . . who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103: 1, 4-5).

God is in control and nothing is wasted in his economy.  He works everything that happens to us—every negative and every positive thing—into his plan for those who believe.   Joseph truly believed what Paul would later write to the church in Rome: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose”(Romans 8:28).  It isn’t just the happy, good things that God uses to bring about his purposes—it is everything.  

Jesus preached “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6: 27-28. 37-38).  Jesus has your best interests at heart; he knows that you will not prosper when you hold onto old resentments.  He cannot use you when you are consumed by anger. You cannot reach the full potential that God has planned for you until you stop judging and condemning others.  You need to forgive just as you want to be forgiven.  Jesus will use you when your heart is open to him and forgiving of others. 

If you are consumed with bitterness and animosity against family members or others, let it go.  It is weighing you down.  Fall on your knees to ask for God’s help in removing these burdens.  Follow Joseph’s example, and Paul’s advice in letting go and realizing that God will use everything that has happened to you for good—nothing will go to waste.  He will use it all.  Jesus doesn’t expect you to be a doormat.  He doesn’t expect you to keep exposing yourself to abuse.  You can remove yourself from an abusive situation while still forgiving the abuser.  You can set an example of forgiveness as Joseph did.  

 The best sermon is the sermon preached not with words, but by a welcoming, forgiving, and loving spirit. Some people mistake a forgiving spirit for weakness.  But it is only the strong who have the strength to forgive and to go on. When you let God take over in your life, you will be amazed at how he uses all circumstances to bless you as you move on.  God will bless you with “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over . . . ” (Luke 6: 38). 

Paul explains that we fight the good fight—we continue to forgive others and to work for good because we know that Christ Jesus died for our sins, and that we will one day be resurrected with him: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive”  (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22).

Imagine that you are in the wilderness and have been carrying around a heavy backpack that has been weighing you down; it feels like you are carrying an elephant.  You have walked many miles with this backpack, and you have many more miles to go before you can take it off.  Your supplies and energy have diminished.  You are becoming weaker and weaker.  You fall to the ground and into an exhausted sleep. 

Imagine that you awaken the next morning and that your backpack with your meager supplies has disappeared.  But you are next to a stream of clean water to drink and abundant berries to eat.  You don’t need the backpack!  You eat and drink until you are satisfied. Your strength returns and you follow the stream to civilization.  That is what it is like when you leave your burden at the cross of Jesus Christ.  Imagine freedom from the hunger gnawing at your heart.  Imagine freedom from a need to fill the hole in your heart.  Imagine freedom from fear.  Imagine freedom from guilt. Imagine freedom from anger and anxiety.  Your freedom lies in Jesus Christ, your savior. Imagine it.  Then live it.

Prayer: “Lord, I rejoice that nothing can come between me and your love, even when I feel alone or in difficulty, when in sickness or am troubled. Even if attacked or afraid, no abyss of mine is so deep that your love is not deeper still.  Lord, you have experienced many hells of this world but descended so that you can lift us up.  Be always near.”  Corrie Ten Boom

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany are Genesis 45: 3-15; Psalm 103: 1-13; 1 Corinthians 15: 21-26, 30-42; Luke 6: 27-38. 

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