Today’s readings have two connected themes: forgiveness and the impossibly fantastic potential of people to change. The story of Joseph in Genesis 45 tells how Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery; that must have been hard for them to take and is surely Mandella-like in its magnanimity. Paul’s explanation in I Corinthians 15 of what we might become, likened to the growth of a seed into something utterly unlike a seed, are clearly linked. Forgiveness enables change. This is the time of year when children start looking forward to frogspawn becoming tadpoles in ponds and caterpillars miraculously turning into butterflies and moths. Organisms can change beyond recognition.
The Bible stories sugest that forgiveness is essential in this process. Unless Joseph’s brothers could accept forgiveness, they would not have stayed in Egypt under Joseph’s protection; they would not have survived the famine. Accepting forgiveness rids the soul of the need to turn regret into anger. Unless Joseph had forgiven his brothers, he could not have welcomed them; indeed if he had allowed bitterness to occupy his soul, there would have been no room for the personal growth that got him to the position of power from which he could help everyone. People asked Paul what their resurrected souls would be like – You just can’t imagine, says Paul; but it depends on accepting the Grace of God in forgiveness.
So, continuing last week’s theme, forgiveness seems to be essential, not just to the forgiver, but to the forgiven. Unless we can accept forgiveness, we can’t or won’t change. Accepting forgiveness can transform us into creatures we would not recognize.
I am reminded of the conversation between two caterpillars, one saying to the other as they gazed at a butterfly: You’ll never get me up in one of those things! I lack evidence as to whether caterpillars recognize butterflies as older versions of themselves, or whether tadpoles recognize frogs as their older brothers and sisters. I can’t imagine a sunflower looking at goldfinches on a bird-feeder and thinking: There but for the Grace of God go I; but maybe it happens…
And so it is that we should not limit our ambition by our present capabilities. We should believe that we have the capability to change. The world is in need of people consumed by love for each other, and love for the planet. As for the first of our “loves” at Baildon, we have a phrase often used but little explained: Loving God. We can’t expect people outside the church tradition to accept a phrase like that without understanding what we mean, and we tend not to practice explaining.
People’s ideas about God have changed over the years. I am sure that people both now and in history have been able to say that they love God, whilst engaged in creating poverty, committing murder, cheating for personal gain and other behaviour, quite unchristian to our thinking. Loving anyone involves accepting that what is important to them is important to us. We have some idea about what was important to Jesus, let’s take that on board as a starter.