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September 13, 2020 is Pentecost 15A/Proper 19A/Ordinary 25A

Exodus 14:19-31 – CROSSING OVER: 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 of victory: “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.

Gospel Acclamation
Alleluia. We have an advocate, Jesus | Christ the righteous; your sins are forgiven on account | of his name. Alleluia. (1 John 2:1, 12)

Two Sermon Series for Fall 2020 

  1. Set The Oppressed Free: August 23-September 13, 2020
  2. Bread for the Wilderness: September 20-October 18, 2020

Just a reminder that this is the final week of a 4-week series on Exodus: Set the Oppressed Free. Next week we begin a series about being in the in-between places – liminal space: Bread for the Wilderness..

Set the Oppressed Free

EnslavedExodus 1:8-2:10Aug 23Moses in a basket raised by Pharaoh’s daughter
CalledExodus 3:1-15Aug 30Moses’ theophany at the burning bush
Set FreeExodus 12:1-14Sept 6Moses gives Passover instructions
Crossing OverExodus 14:19-31Sept 13Moses parts the Red sea

Bread for the Wilderness

ComplaintExodus 16:2-15Sept 20God provides manna/quail as people complain
ProvisionExodus 17:1-7Sept 27Moses strikes the rock and water comes out
LawExodus 20:1-4,7-9,12-20Oct 4Moses receives the Ten Commandments
IdolatryExodus 32:1-14Oct 11Moses finds the Israelites worshipping a calf
GloryExodus 33:12-23Oct 18Moses sees God’s back, no face

Set the Oppressed Free Series Week 4:

Crossing Over
Exodus 14:19-31
September 13, 2020

19The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

21Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”26Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Ruminating on the crossing of the Red Sea, Casey Thornburgh Sigmon, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship; Director of Contextual Education at Saint Paul School of Theology in Leawood, Kansas invites us to consider that God is always pulling back the chaotic waters, from the beginning of Genesis to the story of the Exodus. She also suggests that the story speaks to God’s power over the weapons of tyranny. Creation is more masterful than the armies of empires. Israel need not overpower the enemy. God can handle weapons of mass destruction. The horse and rider are thrown into the sea. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, not a war horse. The Berlin wall fell without a shot fired. The Civil Rights Movement was won when people saw white police officers beating unarmed Black protesters on national television.

Anathea Portier-Young, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Duke University Divinity School says Pharaoh is grasping at straws. His economy built on forced labor, cheap labor, exploitation, and domination. “In refusing to let God’s people go, Pharaoh leads his own people to their grave.” Oppression enslaves the oppressor. The “waters of new creation dismantle his chariots and drown the machinery of war and abduction.”

The road from slavery to freedom is through the chaotic waters. The Red Sea has provided a metaphor for generations, to all who seek liberation from any form of bondage, slavery, addiction, or abuse. Freedom can be terrifying.

At the end of the 18th century, medicine in the U.S. was at a crossroads. Age old remedies had proven to be ineffective. Science had begun to discover real cures, anti-toxins and vaccines that made verifiable differences in the lives of the sick. The old was no longer viable. A new medical model was needed, but it had not yet emerged. Medicine entered a time of chaos, as the models shifted.

Sometimes we find ourselves in that chaotic place. It’s a frustrating place to be, but there is no new life, without going through the chaotic waters. It is required to break through to the other side.

What have been some of the biggest challenges and frustrations during this time of pandemic? What have been some of the bright spots and surprises? Invite people to discuss this at home for a few minutes. Make sure everyone gets a chance to list one or two highs and one or two lows. If you live alone, take out a journal and write your thoughts, or call a friend on the phone and invite them to watch worship with you and discuss. Invite people to share their thoughts in the comments section of your livestream, or to text or email you.

Name some of the challenges and frustrations in the comments section: Some lows are likely not being able to travel. Were vacations postponed or cancelled? Have some become sick with the virus, or lost loved ones? Kids may really miss not being able to be with friends. Some might miss school, while others may not miss it as much. Some are going to school, and the parents are scared. Some families may be reluctant to report one of the biggest challenges some are having: loss of income. Some are grieving the loss of prom and the graduation they had envisioned. Weddings, funerals and baptisms have been disrupted. Some who live alone are experiencing increased isolation and loneliness.

It is so important to name the truth of the situation. Lament the reality. It is also good for people to understand others’ grief and sorrow, even if they are not experiencing the same themselves. This may open their eyes to what others are experiencing. Allow these laments to find their way into the prayers today. If we are to come through the chaotic waters, we must engage the truth of the situation.

Then name some of the bright spots and surprises that people have experienced in the midst of this pandemic. For some, this time together may have brought the family together and closer in new ways. In our household, the pets are glad we are home all day. Some report having lost weight because they are walking more and are not eating out as much. Some are celebrating not having to commute and battle the traffic. Some have discovered new hobbies. A few have taken the time to work on some much-needed home repairs or yard projects. Others have found new opportunities to do business, and other ways to conducting their work. What pleasant surprises have been there for you in the midst of the various losses? This pandemic has not impacted people proportionately, but perhaps there have been some glimpses of hope in the midst of the chaos.

There are many watershed moments in life:

  • Starting a new career
  • Starting a new business
  • Leaving an abusive spouse
  • Getting married
  • Getting a divorce
  • Having kids
  • Taking a leap of faith

These times are frightening and exciting at the same time. They are difficult beyond belief, but on the other side is new life.

Letting Go

Think about the process. In order to cross the Red Sea, we must say goodbye to Egypt. We have to let go of what was. Even if the past was difficult, it is not easy to let go. This requires some grieving, even if it didn’t turn out well. You grieve the dream, what could have been, the idea that took you to what was in the first place.

Consider a move to a new job in a new town. Once you have made the decision to accept the new job, the first step is resign from your current job. You’re not sure how it will turn out, but you make the decision. Then you have to tell everyone goodbye, processing their feelings and your feelings. Then you have to sell the house, pack it up and move. Saying goodbye is important. There are people to thank and people to forgive. There are those to whom you may need to apologize. You say goodbye to favorite haunts, restaurants, parks, friends, family, and more. Then you load up in the car and drive out of town, for perhaps the last time, saying goodbye to all of it. You let go. Something comes to an end.


As you drive away from the old, you are homeless. When the Israelites took that first step out of Egypt, they were homeless. This is the wilderness period. You are no longer where you were, but you are not yet where you will be. You are, in a sense, homeless, even if you know where you are going. There is a sense of displacement. The future is uncertain. Will this be better? Will it be worse? The wilderness is a dangerous place, but it is also the place of becoming. It is a place of creativity and innovation. You can remake yourself. It is a time in life when you have the most potential of becoming something new.

This is perhaps like Holy Saturday. Good Friday is over, thank God. Easter has not yet come. There is that in-between time. We’ll talk more about this in the weeks to come, as we read about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness.

This wilderness experience can extend itself into your new job. The honeymoon period is still wilderness. Have you found a home yet or are you living in temporary housing? You’re still getting to know people. Everyone is tiptoeing around one another. It’s like the dating period. The gloves are not yet off. Soon they will come off. This must happen. To move from nominal community to real community, people have to open up and be honest. At some point you have to wrestle with ideas and come around to a common vision. As you do, some people will get anxious, angry and maybe walk away. This is the time when leaders need to do a lot of listening. It’s time to lament with those who lament. There may need to be some changes to the plan to help people get on board. Slowly the vision comes into focus.

New beginnings

At some point in the journey, the game plan is set. The course is clear. Some people get on board; others do not. Those who do will finally let go of what was in order to embrace what is new. Newcomers arrive to be a part of what is happening. Something new is born. This is the life cycle.

You have said goodbye. You took that first step to cross the Red Sea. You made your way through the chaotic waters, and you step foot on the other side. This is a breakthrough. God is about new beginnings, new life.

Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.
– Isaiah 43:18-19

Behold, I make all things new again! – Revelation 21:5

Begin with the end in mind. What is the new life you seek? What is does the breakthrough look like? Where is God calling? What chains need to be broken? What captives need to be liberated?

God is inviting you to cross over. You will have to walk through some chaotic waters. Take the first step.

Genesis 50: Forgiveness

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.”

Romans 14: Passing Judgment

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: Forgiveness

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 6: Matthew 18:15-20 – Conflict
  • September 13: Matthew 18:21-35 – Forgiveness (The Unforgiving Slave)
  • September 20: Matthew 20:1-16 – Grace (Vineyard Laborers)
  • September 27: Matthew 21:23-32 – Humility (Two Sons)
  • October 4: Matthew 21:33-46 – Fruit (Wicked Tenants)
  • October 11: Matthew 22:1-14 – Expectation (Wedding Banquet)
  • October 18: Matthew 22:15-22 – Taxes (Render unto Caesar)
  • October 25: 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. Forgiveness is an absolute necessity for any relationship or community to work, so it is always en vogue.

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.

Forgiveness does not mean tolerating abuse. 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 the 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? This kind of forgiveness means choosing not to hold hatred in our hearts. We may be so wounded we have trouble letting go. Forgiveness means choosing not to relentlessly harbor anger. People need to be held accountable, but vengeance and retaliation are off the table. Forgiveness means I am not going to let the wrong or the abuse define me. I will not 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.

I once held a backpack in a sermon. I stood in the aisle and described wrongs that people experience. With every wrong I put a large rock in the backpack. Then I handed it to someone and asked the congregation to pass it around. As they handed it from person to person I continued the sermon. There was grunting and laughter in the congregation. Do you want to carry this around with you for the rest of your life? What would it look like to let these rocks go? Who suffers most when we carry grudges?

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