“Know your place…” That’s one of those sentences that we’d prefer never to hear from someone else, right? Somebody says, “Know your place…” when they think you’ve overstepped your authority, or when you – the junior partner – make the senior VP’s idea sound silly in a meeting, “Know your place, Smith.” Sometimes it’s just a disrespectful way to shut someone down or to discriminate against someone. We’d prefer never to hear those words from someone else, but they are useful to know for ourselves, aren’t they? It’s good to know our authority, what it is and isn’t. It’s good to know the workplace and social norms we’re a part of – what’s expected of us and not. And it’s good to know where we’re at, what our situation is, and what we can expect.
It’s Joseph’s response to his brothers that makes us think about it this morning. To them he says, “Am in the place of God?” And the situation he’s speaking from is the one we’re talking about in worship today. Today, God’s church remembers that it forgives as God forgives. And this is the case, in the situation of forgiveness, there are usually two places you can be. You can occupy the role of the sinner or the role of the sinned-against. In order for God’s church to forgive as God forgives we must know our place in each.
Take up the sinner’s role first – and know your place from the start – with God, you’re
…in the peace of forgiveness
Because of guilt and fear
That’s important to know because of the guilt and fear that sin brings. Don’t you know this just like Joseph’s brothers do? Jacob their father is finally dead. They’re afraid that powerful Joseph will take revenge for what they had done to him. Do you remember it? There aren’t many sins “worse” than the one they committed against Joseph. In hatred because their father loved him more than them, Joseph’s brothers had hurt him, sold him to slavers, and told their father some animal had devoured him. And horrible things meanwhile had happened for Joseph because of it – slavery, false allegations, prison. Pure evil. It was important for Joseph’s brothers to know their place because that guilt chewed at them daily…
Luther talked about sin and guilt that way. He pictured it likes some ugly horrible beast that latches on to you and bites and pricks you relentlessly, “so that no forgiveness and comfort are strong enough to alleviate the bite and to remove the prick.” It stuck with the brothers for decades…sometimes it does with us too.
When we speak gruffly to our spouse or hurt a friend; when we remember callous things we have done or sins we’ve committed that have destroyed relationships or even lives? Don’t they chew at us, prick us, cause us to do what the brothers did? They said, “What if…” Doesn’t our guilt bring fear that helps us to think a thousand “what if’s…”? “What if I go to my friend to apologize? She might mock me…she might hold a grudge against me.” “What if they’ve been talking about me now…surely everyone knows my sin!” “What if God won’t forgive me this time!” Isn’t sin just like Proverbs 28 tells it? “The wicked (sinners) are edgy with guilt, ready to run off even when no one’s after them;” Doesn’t sin, gnaw at us and make us afraid, cause us to question one another, even tempt us to sin more – and finally, to experience results that will not die, fire that will not go out? Because of this guilt and fear we need to know our place as sinners is actually in the peace of forgiveness.
Humble repentance brings forgiveness and comfort
How do we arrive there? Just like the brothers did. They sent a message to Joseph asking for forgiveness. They came before him in humility with fear, but also with tears of sorrow. This is God’s assigned way with sins. In Proverbs 28:13 he said it, “whoever confesses and renounces [sins] finds mercy.” Joseph summarized it when he told his brothers, “Do not be afraid.”
When guilt gnaws at you, when you have committed sins, come to the Lord in repentance and fear, in confession – and you will find mercy. It is just like the servant who owed 10,000 talents in Jesus’ parable. The king canceled the debt and set him free. Sinners know peace and joy like Psalm 119 says it:
10[God] does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
12as far as the east is from the west,so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
St. Paul reminds us how it happens in Ephesians 4:32: “in Christ God forgave you.” In Christ, God made payment for your sins, no matter how guilty, how they linger, how fearful, how big, how small. He made payment so that you need not be afraid. He made payment so that you would know your place – with God you are in the peace of his forgiveness because of Jesus.
In some of our services, after we confess our sins, after there is absolution (the proclamation of forgiveness), we say, “In the peace of forgiveness, let us praise the Lord!” And that’s what we set off to do. Right then we do it in song, but after church we do it in everything – our whole lives are praise to the Lord because our place is peace with him. This morning, we’re thinking about this praise… When we sin, we need to know the peace of forgiveness we have. When often we sin against one another, we need brothers and sisters who have that peace of forgiveness themselves and are at peace to forgive us. Or to flip the placement – when you are sinned against like Joseph, you need to know your place
…in the forgiveness of peace
Again, Joseph asked the question, “Am I in the place of God?” And he obviously intended a no-answer. I think, actually, it probably helps people who have been sinned-against to answer that question both “no” and “yes”.
Saying “no” to self-righteousness
Sin is insidious, isn’t it? My sinful heart carries me away in temptations especially when I’m in the righteous position of being sinned-against. With sin, “righteous” is always only a skip and four letters away from “self-righteous”, isn’t it? Isn’t your sinful heart just self-concerned like mine? Just like Adam and Eve’s were way back? In almost any situation, there’s this temptation to say, “I need to be like God…” And the devil whispers, “You can be! If you only do this…then you’ll be like God…” Aren’t you tempted when you’re wronged to take the place of God? To take revenge, to join in gossip about the sinner, to assume the worst of them, to return their sinful weakness with hatred, to hold a grudge? And isn’t because our sinful hearts are so hurt or so afraid – they feel like God isn’t in his proper place and so we need to take it? He’s obviously not taking control of life in the right way so I have to be afraid for myself! To those hearts of ours, so tempted, to them we say with Joseph, “No…you are not in the place of God.” Not like that…
Saying “yes” as God’s righteous people
It’s interesting, I think – Genesis started out with two people tempted and trying to be just like God when they were already were…and now it ends with a story about one of God’s righteous people trying not to be like God and take his place. Ironically – when sinners try to be like God they most often are not; and when, humbly, they let God be God they are just like him. This is how God’s righteous people know their place and in the forgiveness of peace can say “Yes. Yes I am in the place of God.”
Did you know the Greek translation of the Old Testament – we call it the Septuagint – it translates Genesis 50:19 this way, “Joseph said to them, Fear not, for I am God’s [person].” That is, “Don’t be afraid, sinners, God and I are on the same page, we’re in the same place – I’m his – in his peace.” Joseph went on to remind how God used the brothers’ evil intent for an astoundingly greater good. And Joseph used the moment to express his trust in that God and then his love for his brothers. God calls us to the same.
When you and I know our place in God’s peace – that he has forgiven us in Christ; that we’re called for his purposes by faith in Christ; then we know our place rightly. We know that we don’t know how he will use this hurt or that experience, but we trust he’ll do so for our good. And we are just as Proverbs says it, “the righteous [those who have been forgiven and are at peace, they] are bold as lions.” We do boldly stand in the place of God in this way: when sinned against, he provided forgiveness in his Son – when sinned against, we have the confidence to provide the forgiveness he has given us to sinners who need to know their place in his grace.
My dear brothers and sisters, let us not take the place of God in order to put others in their place. But lets us be filled with the joy of our place in God’s salvation through Christ. Let us not speak for expediency or just so that we can sit together in church or at a meal. But let us speak to the hearts of our brothers and sisters with kindness and compassion. Knowing our place in the peace of forgiveness, living freely in the forgiveness of peace and freely sharing it with one another, let us imitate God our Father and praise the Lord with lives of love.