Sermon for 15th Sunday after Pentecost - September 17 2017

Sermon for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
September 17, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

We’ve skipped ahead in the Old Testament story – three weeks ago, Joseph was reunited with his brothers; two weeks ago, Moses was drafted to free the Israelites; last week the plagues were concluded, and Pharaoh had agreed to let the Israelite slaves depart, which led to the first Passover feast – and finally, today we read that they came to the Reed Sea.  Oddly enough, they had chosen a different route, and were well on their way, but God turned them back to where the Egyptians were pursuing them, and led them through the parted water.  Needless to say, it did not turn out well for the Egyptians.

In fact, once God set about freeing the children of Israel, things went worse and worse for the Egyptians, including the deaths of their first born sons, not only human but animal, the poisoning of their water, invasions of insects and frogs, and on and on. 

Despite all these awful events, the Egyptians, especially the pharaoh, were amazingly reluctant to let the Israelites go.

I get the impression that letting go of their slaves was hard for them.

I get the impression they thought having slaves was fundamental to their society and their economic wellbeing.

Their reluctance to let them go led to their own deaths, by the hundreds, in the Reed Sea.  It destroyed them utterly.

Feels a bit creepy, really.

But I’m not just going to go where you might expect this line of thinking to take us.  It’s not just about whether human beings have any business owning other human beings.  That’s just the extreme version, and we already know the answer to that one – although some of our forebears certainly struggled with that, and there are still people today who seem to think it’s a debatable point. 

In my view, the main idea is that holding onto anything to which we have no right, and against the clear will of God, can lead to our ruin.

So we may want to ask ourselves, what might we be holding onto, either physically or emotionally or even intellectually?  What might bring us to ruin?

Here are a few suggestions: the way we live our lives, using fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow, without considering what it might cost us.  Or how about the idea that since we are not affected by systemic racism therefore it doesn’t exist.  Or the idea that it doesn’t matter that we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction.

Those are global issues, larger than we ourselves, and over them we may not have a lot of control, even if we advocate for renewable energy sources or fair judicial treatment of minorities, or wildlife protection – although I wouldn’t rule out advocacy on that account.

How about closer to home?  Do we ignore homelessness or drug abuse?  Do we mentor students so they do well in school? 

How about in our own homes?  In our own minds and hearts?

Are there things we cling to, and don’t let go, even if by holding on we continue our own pain?  Are there things we don’t let go, or don’t forget, or don’t forgive?

And, oh, look, we’re in the Gospel… Which says we are to forgive as we are forgiven – In fact, being forgiven is the grace that makes it possible for us to forgive others.  But if we do not forgive, if we do not let go of the idea that we must hold on to even those things which God invites us to let go, those things we must let go … this also can work to our ruin – not because God punishes, but because God is enough.

I wish I were better at explaining this.  When the Israelites fled, God protected them.  God stopped the Egyptians from seizing them again, and made sure the Egyptians would not continue to follow them.  But even freed, they still had a long way to go – and even though Moses and Aaron and Miriam told them that the God of Jacob had set them free, they doubted, they grumbled, they wanted to turn back, to what they knew, what they understood, and what they thought would be security and survival.

God called them out, pulled them out, forced them out, and led them into the wilderness.  They, too, had to let go of the old ideas, to forget their slavery and to learn to live their lives trusting in God.  They lost their lives – their old lives – and their new ones were scary and hard.  But that’s what freedom is – it’s scary and it’s hard. 

And it means trusting God has our back.

And it means letting go of hurts and injustices and anxieties and turning our back on that which holds us back, and walking forward into the wilderness, where God is.

Seventy times seven – as many times as it takes – we are to turn away from that which would destroy us, as children of God, we are to turn away from turning away from God.

I’m afraid that’s the best I can explain it.  I hope it helps. 


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