Gigantic Debts Forgiven 15 Pentecost, Proper 19
A Sermon by the Rev. Tom Bates September 17, 2017
Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd
Silver City, New Mexico
“The Lord is merciful and loving; slow to anger and full of constant love.” In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
In Exodus, we read again about how God parted the Red Sea, allowed the Israelites to escape the Egyptian Army and how God destroyed the Egyptian Army. Our Kerygma Bible Study says that the sea the Israelites crossed was not the body of water we call the Red Sea today. According to our Bible Study text, the Israelites had been living in the land Goshen, just east of the Nile delta and to reach the Red Sea they would have had to gone way out of their way. In fact, the text says, the Hebrew word does not mean “red” at all, but “reed”. The Israelites did not cross the Red Sea; they crossed the Sea of Reeds.
According to our study text, “The map shows that the natural route out of Egypt into the Sinai Peninsula would have taken them more or less directly east, through an area filled with lakes and marshes, where reeds grew in abundance. We learn from Exodus 13:17 that they did not go by way of the land of the Philistines, i.e. along the shore of the Mediterranean, where the going would have been relatively easy. This was the main road between Egypt and Palestine, and that route would have made them subject to threats from one army after another. Instead, 13:18 tells us they went by way of the wilderness, through the marshy area farther south into the desert of Sinai. Who knows? They did camp at Marah and Elim which are both on the west bank of the Red Sea. Elim, as you know, is the name of our sister church in Palomas. I found it interesting that there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees at Elim. At some point in that region they found themselves with water in front and no clear way through, just at the time the Egyptian army was catching up with them.”
What really happened at the Sea of Reeds?
“Cecil B. DeMille gave us one version of it, in his movie, ‘The ten Commandments’. A great blast of wind and a neat pathway appeared between walls of water. How the wind could do that was left for us to imagine, but DeMille’s depiction of it took Exodus 14:21 as literally as one could.” So what happened? The author of the kerygma study, Donald E. Gowan suggests that the place to begin may be with fact that it happened at night so probably no one saw what actually happened. There was wind, water, mud, and a lot of confusion, an undisciplined mob and darkness. There was movement, and when dawn broke they found themselves on the other side, with Egyptian chariots in the water and dead soldiers on the shore. I do not think that Gowan is disagreeing with the Bible. I think he’s saying that since we were not there it’s difficult for us to explain what happened. He calls the event ‘The Wonder at the Sea’ and considers a wonder an event that produces an abiding astonishment. To him a wonder is a miracle.
Gowan goes on. “More detailed explanations have been attempted. The water was shallow in the lakes and marshes of this region, so an unusual storm or earthquake might have produced a temporary escape route for those on foot. The mud might have bogged down the chariots until the water returned to its usual place.” We don’t know what happened and it’s not important, according to Gowan. “What is important is Israel’s recollection that when threatened with death by water or by sword they were delivered, and from that point they were truly free from Egypt.
The miracle or wonder of the crossing of the sea had a continuing effect on Israel. It led first to a song that is one of the oldest pieces of poetry in the Old Testament. Its earliest form is probably the brief song of Miriam: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” The longer version is known as the Song of Moses and can be found as a canonical in the Book of Common Prayer.
Gowan notes that Miriam appears at the beginning and at the end of the exodus story. In chapter 2 she stood by the side of the river, watching over her baby brother, Moses; in chapter 15 she stood by the side of the sea, leading the victory song.
Jane and I just returned from two weeks in Montana. My mother is 98 years old and lives on Flathead Lake where I grew up. The first week that we were in Montana, the news was Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in Houston. The pastor in Lakeside, MT, tried to put the amount of water dumped on Houston in perspective.
Flathead Lake is the largest fresh water lake west of the Mississippi. It’s 30 plus miles long, 7-9 miles wide and when I was growing up so deep that it could not be measured. There’s a lot of water in Flathead Lake. The pastor calculated the number of gallons which was in the trillions and estimated that four Flathead Lakes were dumped on Houston. It made an impact.
Most of the time that we were in Montana, the atmosphere was smoky. Lakeside was classified as unhealthy and then very unhealthy, but other parts of the state were classified as hazardous. There were and still are over 100 wild fires burning. Most will not be put out until there is a good snow. Over one million acres had been burned when we there. This was the first time that a million acres had burned in Montana. To put this news in perspective, the newscaster explained that one million acres was roughly the size of the state of Rhode Island.
Let’s see if we can put the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in perspective. The Good News Bible says that the unforgiving servant owed the king millions of dollars. The ESV Bible puts the debt in today’s value at $6 billion. The idea is that the king forgave an enormous amount. The king in the parable is equated to our heavenly father and I think the idea we are to take from the parable is just how great a debt we are forgiven by God for our sins. So when we forgive someone else who has sinned against us, the amount is miniscule in comparison with what God has forgiven. I think that’s important to understanding forgiveness, the vastness of God’s love and understanding why Jesus says we must forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven times and why Paul in his letter to the Romans says we are not to judge our brothers and sisters based on their personal opinions.
Forgiving and not judging are difficult. Would you agree? Take for example our political situation. Some of you have probably wondered how so and so could support President Trump. Others are probably wondering how a rational person cannot see that his policies are good. Not to judge is difficult and sometimes forgiving is even more difficult.
In place of the After School Program, our church is considering doing something called Messy Church. My thought is that “messy” describes most churches in general. When we work together with other people, whether in business, a family, or a church, things can get complicated quickly. Having people around can lighten the load, but it can also add frustrations and headaches. In a group we have a variety of gifts, resources, and people to support us, but we must also be prepared to be challenged by others’ ideas, personalities, and failings. For some people, that’s enough to want to stay away from church altogether.
Sometimes we can be quick to read things differently, taking our conflicts as a sign of God’s absence. But, maybe, God gives us one another in community as a way to learn what it means to love the way Christ loved us. Maybe it’s through community that we learn to receive grace.
While in Montana, we were able to visit our daughter and son-in-law in Great Falls, MT and our 18 year old grandson. Our grandson had coordinated his visit to Great Falls to correspond with our visit to Great Falls. The Missouri River is probably a half mile wide in places in Great Falls and snakes through the city making it picturesque. During our visit, our grandson wanted to visit with us about going into the Marine Corps. He had visited with the Air Force recruiter and some airmen from the air base in Great Falls. He said that his goal for military service was educational, but he thought the discipline would be good for him as well. The Air Force is such that four years training in the Air Force gives one an Associate Degree upon completion. For Jane and I, the work would be more interesting and there would not be the danger of repeated tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Michael liked the Marine Corps uniforms and I think emotionally he had connected with the Marine Corps. Michael’s personal opinions about military service varied greatly from ours, but because we love him, accepting his opinions without judging him as not too bright was easy.
In summary, I hope from this homily that you’ve gotten a little greater appreciation of how loving and awesome is our God and what a great debt he forgives in forgiving us our sins. Amen