Exodus 14:19-31 – The Israelites are delivered from the Egyptians, through the Red Sea.
Genesis 50:15-21 – Joseph forgives his brothers. “Even though you intended it for evil,, God intended it for good…”
Psalm 114 – When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.
Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 – Moses’ song. “I will sing unto The Lord for he has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider thrown into the sea…”
Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 – The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.
Romans 14:1-12 – Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions… Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?… Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Matthew 18:21-35 – Peter: How many times must I forgive? The Parable of the Unforgiving Slave.
Prayer of the Day
O Lord God, merciful judge, you are the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness. Replace our hearts of stone with hearts that love and adore you, that we may delight in doing your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Alleluia. We have an advocate, Jesus | Christ the righteous; your sins are forgiven on account | of his name. Alleluia. (1 John 2:1, 12)
How Can We Help
In the wake of the flooding in Houston last week, August 25-31, 2017, this is the question I’ve been asked a lot. Thank you for asking. Here’s my stock response.
Pray. Give. Serve.
PRAY for the families of those who lost their lives, and for those who lost their homes. Pray for all who were displaced and all who serve them. Pray for congregations struggling to get back on their feet so they can serve, especially at Faith in Dickinson, Salem in Houston, Messiah in Cypress, and Christ the King in Houston.
GIVE to the Gulf Coast Synod Disaster Fund, which helps congregations and their leaders recover and serve. Or pick a congregation and partner up. https://gulfcoastsynod.org/hurricane-harvey/ Or give to LDR (Lutheran Disaster Response), which does case management among the most needy homes.
SERVING now means mucking out houses and buildings. The water has subsided in most places, but will take weeks in others. Mold grows immediately. Now is the time that unskilled volunteers can serve; carrying out soaked belongings, cutting and hauling dry wall, prying up carpet and other flooring. The trick is getting here and finding a place to stay. Because so many hotels are full, many volunteers tend to be local. If you come from out of town, right now there are some options for you, and these options will grow:
- Our Galveston retreat center has space. It’s near Dickinson flooding.
- Our camp in LaGrange has space. LaGrange had flooding.
- Tree of Life Conroe is set up to house workers at the church. They’re north of Houston.
September and October our gospel texts are from Matthew 18-22. These are teachings and parables that are instructive to the church. Life in Christian community.
Here’s an overview of our upcoming RCL gospel texts:
- September 10: Matthew 18:15-20 – Conflict
- September 17: Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgiveness (The Unforgiving Slave)
- September 24: Matthew 20:1-16 – Grace (Vineyard Laborers)
- October 1: Matthew 21:23-32 – Humility (Two Sons)
- October 8: Matthew 21:33-46 – Fruit (Wicked Tenants)
- October 15: Matthew 22:1-14 – Expectation (Wedding Banquet)
- October 22: Matthew 22:15-22 – Taxes (Render unto Caesar)
- October 29: Reformation – John 8:31-36 (The truth will set you free.)
Forgiveness is clearly the theme that weaves most prominently through our readings for this Sunday. That may or may not be what your congregation needs to hear if you have been through the flood. That’s a pastoral decision. There are other possibilities. But forgiveness is an absolute necessity for any relationship or community to work, so it is always en vogue.
The first option for the Hebrew Bible reading (Exodus 14) stumbles across a different, but poignant theme: the Israelites deliverance through the waters of the Red Sea. The Psalm picks up this theme, either by using the Song of Moses in Exodus 15. The theme is God’s deliverance from oppression. This is not a story of revolution – people rising up and overthrowing an evil empire by their own might. It is a story of escape. God delivers them and they walk away.
For those of us who have come through the raging waters, this reading might strike a chord. The Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 psalm does as well:
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea. 2The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 3The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. 4“Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea; his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea. 5The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone. 6Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power— your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. 7In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries; you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble. 8At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the floods stood up in a heap; the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea. 9The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ 10You blew with your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. 11“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?
20Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”
But take care here. Celebrating deliverance from the raging waters will fall flat for those who lost friends or loved ones, and for those who lost house and home. For many, this does not seem like a victory. It is good to celebrate that we are here, but consider how we celebrate. Our good fortune should spur us on to serve those who were most affected.
The other option for the Hebrew Bible reading might be a better choice if you are going to use the theme of forgiveness from the Gospel reading. Joseph forgives his brothers. Then Psalm 113 emphasizes this forgiveness: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever.”
This coming Sunday’s epistle brings to an end our marching through portions of Romans. Though Romans has 16 chapters, we end this run in chapter 14. A portion of chapter 15 appears in Advent 2A, when Paul quotes Isaiah saying a root of Jesse will come. A portion of chapter 16 (the last three verses of Romans) appears in Advent 4B: Paul says the mystery hidden for the ages is now disclosed, and made known to all the Gentiles through the prophets. Next week we begin four weeks in Philippians:
- September 24, 2017: Philippians 1:21-30
- October 1, 2017: Philippians 2:1-13
- October 8, 2017: Philippians 3:4b-14
- October 15, 2017: Philippians 4:1-9
Since rejoicing is a major theme of Philippians, this may be a good time to give thanks for the gifts of life, love and faith.
Romans 14 is one of Paul’s treatises on bound conscience. It gives us insight into his thinking, ethics and ecclesiology. “Welcome the weak, but not just to quarrel.” Some eat only meat, while others are vegetarians. The vegetarians believe it inappropriate to eat meat sacrificed to pagan idols. Since this comprises most of the meat in the Roman markets, some believe it is more appropriate and faithful (kosher?) to abstain from meat altogether. Paul’s take is that idols are nonexistent anyway, so eat up. He also clearly believes human religious traditions to be ineffective for justification. They can, in fact, work against one’s salvation by puffing one up. Nevertheless, the vegetarians and the carnivores should respect one another and stay together in community.
Clearly Paul considers those who abstain from eating meat to be weaker in faith, and the omnivorous stronger. He is not without an opinion on the matter. And yet, his admonishment to them is to accept one another’s differences. “Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?” Shades of Matthew 7:1-5, Sermon on the Mount.
Paul also hints at a disagreement about the loosening of the Sabbath laws, what day to take the Sabbath, or have worship. “Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord…” This may also be an argument about which days should be fasting days. For many Christians this became Wednesday, and Friday, in honor of the crucifixion.
Paul then says, whatever you do, wherever you fall on this issue, make up your mind and be confident, while respectful of others. The point he emphasizes toward the end of this passage is that we’re all going to stand before God on judgment day. People are accountable to God, not to you, so don’t worry about it. Let God be God. Jesus would add, work on the log in your own eye. You’ve got more than you can handle dealing with your own stuff.
Mark Reasoner tells an amusing story to make the point:
A story about Ruth Graham, wife of the famous evangelist, illustrates how differences can threaten our unity. Mrs. Graham, dressed and made up as would seem fitting for any American woman in the 1970’s, attended a luncheon with wives of conservative pastors in Germany.
These German Christians had more conservative ideas regarding how women should look. They did not believe that married Christian women should wear makeup or clothing that made them look too much like the world. As a result, a German pastor’s wife, sitting across from Ruth Graham, became very upset. She thought it was shameful that the wife of this famous evangelist looked so worldly. Why, Ruth Graham was even wearing mascara! The German pastor’s wife became so angry that she started crying right into her beer. Meanwhile Ruth Graham couldn’t understand why the woman was crying, although it bothered her that a self-respecting pastor’s wife was drinking beer at a meeting to prepare for an evangelistic crusade where Christians come together as the unified body of Christ.
Matthew 18:21-35 is a classic text on forgiveness. Jesus has just taught about how to resolve conflict to maintain cohesiveness in the community. Now he will talk about forgiveness.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
Then, to illustrate his point, Jesus tells a story about a king who forgave an enormous sum owed by a slave. The slave then goes out, and fails to forgive a fellow slave a much smaller sum, throwing him in prison. When the king finds out, he scolds the slave for not “paying it forward,” and orders him to be tortured, ironically, for lack of mercy. Then Jesus hits them with a punch in the gut: “So my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Jesus’ shocking hyperbole drives the point home with power. Jesus makes it clear: We are to forgive. Especially when preaching close to 9/11, we should be very clear about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.
A parishioner once told me this passage made her stay in an abusive marriage too long. Another said his childhood abuser wanted to “friend” him on Facebook. Forgiveness does not mean we allow destructive things to happen or continue. It does not mean discarding healthy boundaries. Forgiveness does not mean we are going to be best friends. Forgiving an abusive ex doesn’t mean you have to marry him or her again. Forgiving an abusive person does not mean you keep putting yourself in the dysfunctional arena in which the abuse takes place.
Stanley Hauerwas, in Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, says, p. 166,
As the parable makes clear, the forgiveness that makes peace possible is not without judgment. The question is not whether we are to hold one another accountable, but what is the basis for doing so and how is that to be done.
Forgiveness does not mean restoration to a position of trust. An example: your treasurer embezzles $50,000. Do you forgive him? Yes. Do you make him treasurer again? No. Restoration to a position of trust would be unkind to the community, and to former treasurer, who clearly has a weakness. The preacher needs to take care not to proclaim too shallow a vision of forgiveness.
If forgiveness doesn’t mean these things, what does it mean? I believe this kind of forgiveness means I choose not to hold hatred in my heart. I may be so wounded I have trouble letting go, but I will not work relentlessly and harboring anger. Forgiveness means I am not going to let the wrong or abuse define me. I am not going to let it keep me from living into a hopeful and joy-filled future. I choose not to carry around the heavy anchors of anger, bitterness, resentment or hate. I choose to live into the future, in spite of the scars of the past. I forgive because Christ has forgiven me. Ephesians 4:32.
Lewis Smedes says forgiveness is relinquishing my right to get even. It is not eliminating all the consequences of the evil that has been committed. It is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me. Frederick Buechner reminds us that forgiveness is an act of radical self-interest. We punish ourselves by carrying around our grief and anger when we do not forgive others.
Forgiveness is not easy, but is something the Bible talks about a lot. Jesus says we are even to love our enemies, those who have hurt us, or seek to hurt us most. Paul says if your enemy is hungry, give them food. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. Learning to love the enemy is a lifelong pursuit.
The preacher must be able to tell a concrete, true story of forgiveness that makes a difference, either from the saints or from his or her personal life, to connect with the congregation. Without this, we risk spouting shallow, pious platitudes.
I will close with some thoughts from C.S. Lewis:
Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. It is not that people think this too high and difficult a virtue: it is that they think it hateful and contemptible. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’
So do I. I wonder very much. Just as when Christianity tells me that I must not deny my religion even to save myself from death by torture, I wonder very much what I should do when it came to the point. I am not trying to tell you in this book what I could do – I can do precious little – I am telling you what Christianity is. I did not invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do?
– C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 3, Chapter 7