Looking Back

View the sermon here.

TEXT:  Genesis 45:1-15
TITLE:  “Looking Back”
THESIS:   … can we choose forgiveness, love, and a generous spirit?


  • I will be 72 in a couple weeks, coming into that time of life where we spend more time “looking back” – reviewing our accomplishments, relishing some memories and trying to forget others, wondering “what if” as we remember so many life decisions we’ve made.
  • In today’s story, Joseph “looked back” at a specific time in life – a seemingly tragic, certainly abusive time, in his life – and saw something different than his brothers did. – What he saw was not their complicity but God at work to bring something good out of something so wrong.


  • Joseph’s basic story (from Genesis) is familiar to most people – one of 12 sons, most-favored by his father – jealous brothers who wanted to kill him, but who chose instead to sell him into slavery. They thought they would never see him again.
  • Long story – God gave Joseph a gift to interpret dreams, and he moved from being a slave to being a prisoner to becoming Pharoah’s second-in-command. His job? To prepare for and supervise everything during a 7-year famine. The second year into the famine, Joseph’s brothers come to buy grain (all except the youngest, Benjamin – Joseph’s only full brother). They don’t recognize him, of course, and he doesn’t reveal himself on the first visit.
  • When they returned the following year – so much more in the story – they bring Benjamin as requested. When Joseph then tries to keep Benjamin with him, he finally reveals himself to his brothers. (That’s what we read.) … The brothers who had wanted to kill him and all who sold him into slavery are now afraid he will take vengeance on them.
  • Joseph has already looked back on his life and realizes that God had been at work in the midst of all the suffering and sadness everyone had endured. And he says these 3 things to his brother:
    • 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.
    • God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives.
    • It was not you who sent me here, but God. 


  • The invitation and challenge of this story for us is to look back on our own lives. – Who did what to whom? What decisions or actions or other people made life more difficult for us? What decisions of our own led to difficult situations?
  • It was not you, but God – do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves or others. …. Looking back, Joseph could see how God had been at work in his life and theirs and in their world, to prepare for a hard time of famine. [Rom. 8:28 – not that God caused it to happen, but that God works in all things for our good.]
  • If God had done this – or brought good things out of bad – how could Joseph hold anger in his heart toward his brothers, regardless of their intention?
  • A phrase I’ve come across recently is “not intention, but impact.” When someone says or does something that has a negative impact on someone else, it is not that person’s intention that matters, but the impact it had on the other person. It doesn’t really matter what the intention was; it matters the impact – the result – of the words or the action.
  • That’s a good model to learn and follow in our relationships. – Except, sometimes we need to look past both the intention and the impact to see what else was or is happening as a result. … The brothers’ intention and the impact for years was terribly wrong. Yet looking back years later, Joseph could see that in the midst of it all, God had been at work and brought something good out of it. So Joseph chose forgiveness and love and a generous spirit.
  • That’s the invitation of this story – and the challenge. … Looking back on bad times, troubled and difficult situations, can we see how God was and is working to bring something good out of it? And can we now choose forgiveness, love, and a generous spirit?

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Can you imagine a world of compassion and justice? How do we replace fear with hope for a better world? What can we do every day to build such a world? ... These questions are at the heart of what I write about. Follow my blog. Join Imagine - a learning community working for a better world. Let's do it together.

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