It Runs In The Family, Week 2 — The “What You Can’t UNSEE” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Addressed the truth that when bitterness runs in families, it ruins them;
  • Dug into the generational forgiveness we see in Genesis 33 and Genesis 50;
  • Concluded in way that moved from exhortation to exaltation;
  • Led to this bottom line:  You can never UNSEE the freedom that forgiveness brings … so let the next generation see it a lot.


In a lead sentence that could ONLY COME FROM TEXAS, I read this: An argument between two brothers over $5 sent one of them to the hospital Sunday night with two gunshot wounds to the chest …

Lord, have mercy. Whatever runs in that family, I doubt common sense is on the list. Nor is reason. Nor is membership in Gun Control USA. Nor is … forgiveness. $5 and two gunshots; that’s the math of unforgiveness if I’ve ever seen it.

See, we’re talking about stuff that runs in families, linking generations for good, for ill, for everything in between, and here is something I’m pretty sure does: bitterness. The bitterness that comes from unforgiveness. The bitterness that counts up slights, nurses grudges, ends relationships. That’s the attitude and those are the practices that kids grow up seeing and because it’s what they’ve seen they end up repeating. They don’t know any better; they’ve been conditioned to think that bitterness and unforgiveness is normal and inevitable.

Maybe it’s that way in your family. Some of you are estranged from your parents because of something someone said one time or what someone did one time or even, even … abuse that was perpetrated and enabled. And then others are estranged from your kids because they accuse you of the same attitudes and behaviors that you accuse your parents of. And then you’ve got it going on with siblings – a lot of you, I know – or even with friends. Some of you are unforgivING and other are unforgivEN and the bitterness digs deep like rot. And it functions like a leash on a dog … that dog is eager to run free, gets to the limit and CLECHHHH! It gets brought back. Unpleasantly. That’s what being unforgiving or unforgiven or both does to you. In fact one of the best surveys I saw recorded that the leading cause of BURNOUT was not overwork but … bitterness. Yuck. And I want to stop that from running in the families of this church if I have anything to do with it. I don’t want you to be one of THOSE families who simply cycle and recycle dysfunction and dissolution.

Because families do. And the stuff runs deep. In fact the First Family Of Faith was kinda like this. I don’t know if you know this or not but Genesis 12-50 (the back 4/5ths) is really an extended family drama of an extended family. It’s drama that becomes melodrama that really becomes the world’s first Soap Opera.  This is the family that starts with Abraham & Sarah, moves to Isaac & Rebekah, and then super zeroes in on some names you may have heard like Jacob, Esau, and Joseph. And what happens here is so phenomenal, so dark, so light, so ugly, so beautiful, that I can’t wait to share. Because this part of the story that has everything to do with bitterness running through a family OR NOT starts Jacob, a twin of Esau and if anyone deserves unforgiveness, it’s him. There’s a reason there’s no St. Jacob Church anywhere (just a step above St. Judas).

Because in alliance with his mother, he cheats Esau out of his inheritance and his birthright and his standing in ancient Hebrew society – everything vital. Esau is ticked – as well he should be. Look at Genesis 27:41:

41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”

Now: can we agree that a grudge leading to murder is a family problem? A major one? And these guys weren’t even Texans! Not only did grudges run in the family but blood was getting ready to as well.

Well, Jacob, the scoundrel, gets wind of Esau’s plan, flees the region, stays gone a long, long time and ultimately gathers to himself twelve sons, immense flocks, and multiples wives (don’t get me started; the bible describes what it does not endorse; mayhem ALWAYS stems from this arrangement). And he takes this entire caravan of characters back home with him because he has felt the need to see Esau at long last. As he nears the reunion place, just before he reaches the family farm, he sees Esau (33:1) coming … with 400 fighting men.

Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men;

His own militia! And the whole family must have thought, “this is it! Daddy’s finally gonna get what’s coming to him!” And you know that Joseph, Jacob’s 11th of the 12, was hanging on to daddy’s leg, maybe thumb in mouth, blanket in hand, “don’t hurt my daddy! Don’t hurt my Daddy!”

But look what happens in 33:4&9:

But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.

But Esau said, “I already have plenty, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.”

Uncle Esau doesn’t exact the revenge that would have been perfectly justified even after all these years; instead, he forgives, restores, and renews. And Joseph had a front row seat! Once he SAW it, he could never UNSEE it! He knows what dad deserved – a knife in the back – he knows what he got – a reprieve – and he sees this relationship that coulda been DONE, that shoulda been DONE received new life and fresh legs. Uncle Esau does it. It’s really the heart of what forgiveness is … this hurts but it’s not the end.

All that matters because Joseph grows up. And guess what runs in THIS family? Sibling rivalry! This time, in the fascinating way this extended family drama of Genesis plays out, Joseph finds himself on the OTHER end. As a young man, Joseph gets on the wrong end of the 11, and they do worse to him than their dad Jacob had done to Uncle Esau – first they plan to kill him and then in a fit of guilt they sell him into slavery instead. The slave traders end up taking him to Egypt – YES he is Joseph with the Dreamcoat and YES he is the Prince of Egypt!. The brothers go back home and report to daddy Jacob that Joseph has been killed by wild animals. And eventually the brothers forget about Joseph and the wrong they’d done him. Years pass. Man, the stuff that runs in this family!

But through a miraculous turn of events, Joseph works his way out of slavery and into leadership in the nation of Egypt. Part of the Cabinet; maybe Sec of the Interior! And THEN there is a famine back home in Israel and the 11 brothers journey to Egypt to beg for food. Guess who’s in charge of the food distribution supply chain management? Joseph of course! And initially, in order to honor his father that scoundrel Jacob, who is still alive, tottering in his old age, Joseph gives the brothers forgiveness and hospitality. But then we get to Genesis 50, today’s reading and look at 50:15:

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”

Which means: Joseph is now free. Just like Uncle Esau had been free when Isaac died! He is no longer bound by Diddy’s influence in deciding how to treat his brothers. He can get even, he can deal with this grudge, he has all the cards all the authority and must have seen an opportunity for delicious revenge.

Maybe you’re there now. No one is stopping you. You can hold that grudge. You can get that revenge. I know I’ve been there! High school. Had a best friend. Good. Had a nice little girlfriend. Good. And two months later, what song describes my life? She’s my best friend’s girl … and she used to be mine! What to do? What would you do? In family, among friendships, relationships could be over, maybe SHOULD be over, what do you do?

But look at what Joseph does. When in that moment of freedom he has the option of forgiveness or revenge, look at what he does:

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

These are the most poignant words in all of Genesis; some of the most eloquent in the bible. Say 50:20 with me: READ. Why, when he had all the freedom, all the authority, when daddy’s not watching!, does he opt for forgiveness? I know why. You know why. The lesson he learned on daddy’s knee, watching Uncle Esau offer forgiveness & restoration that Jacob hadn’t earned and didn’t deserve, that lesson never left him. Once he saw it, he could never unsee it. Because: You can never UNSEE the freedom that forgiveness brings. Kids, especially. They have a front row seat to the reality that just because a relationship is damaged, it’s not done. They have eyeballs on this hurts, but it’s not the end. It was etched in Joseph’s mind, seared into his retina and that did it. Forgiveness, it turns out, runs in families.   You can never UNSEE the freedom that forgiveness brings.

Because listen: virtually every family within the sound of my voice has a choice. You can have bitterness run in your family. You’ll be bitter, your kids will inherit it from you and think it’s normal, and they will raise bitter kids themselves. And when bitterness runs in families, it ruins them. You never get enough revenge and you never have enough estrangement. You become the kind of people who wake up in the morning looking for ways to be offended … and you’re never disappointed in THAT! You’ll raise a generation of victims and villains who think that state of affairs is normal.

But there’s a flip side. Forgiveness runs in families and it frees them. Lord, years ago I had kind of a row with one of my brothers and it was awful and awkward and either one of us could have said, “Damaged? Done.” “Hurts? Over.” But we didn’t. Persevered. And you know the cool thing? When I see the text or the email from him, no dread at all. It’s ahhhhhh. In family terms it makes me think of the dad who put an ad in the Madrid paper a generation ago: Dear Pedro, all is forgiven. Meet me in City Square at noon tomorrow. Dad. The next day, 20 young men named Pedro were there. Such a yearning for reconciliation, restoration, for understanding that forgiveness ultimately says “yes, we’re damaged but we’re not done.”

You know why I talk about “can’t unsee” here? Because that cliché forgive and forget? Impossible. That’s denial. Forgiveness actually remembers, usually confronts, and eventually perseveres. It doesn’t use that memory as leverage or ammunition but as a reality check. That’s why forgiveness is also something you discover even more than what you decide. In a lot of situations if I say to people YOU HAVE TO FORGIVE AND DO IT NOW, that’s not helpful. They’re not ready to forgive that affair, that abuse, that affront. But when you discover your similarities to the one who has wronged you, when you remember the times you’ve received a second chance you did not deserve, that’s when forgiveness comes. Discovered.   You can never UNSEE the freedom that forgiveness brings.

Something else. If you’re the wronged party and the other says YOU HAVE TO FORGIVE ME YOU’RE A CHRISTIAN! … oh that’s so manipulative. Just recognize it. You may end up forgiving but it may be the kind of forgiveness where there is not revenge but NEITHER IS THERE RECONCILIATION. Sometimes you have to get along with people by getting along without them. Just don’t get played even though you decide not to get even.   You can never UNSEE the freedom that forgiveness brings.

I love what the little boy prayed, Father forgive us our trashbaskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets. Pretty good! And pretty accurate. Because guess what? You can’t do this. Human nature and forgiveness are at cross purposes with each other. But … but … the cross is the purpose. What does Jesus say, embody, do? Father, forgive us our trashbaskets as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets. Pretty good! And pretty accurate. Because guess what? You can’t do this. Human nature and forgiveness are at cross purposes with each other. But … but … the cross is the purpose. What does Jesus say, embody, do? Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. His power breaks family cycles of fueds and begins new ones of relationship. His power loosens chains of resentment and breaks bonds of bitterness. Not your willpower; his cross power.

Because who else — who else — was abandoned for dead and then appeared, miraculously when least expected and did so in a way that everyone knew he had all authority?  Jesus, only Jesus.

And who else — WHO ELSE — put forgiveness on display and once you that forgiveness on display, you can never unsee it?  Jesus, only Jesus.