St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for September 17, 2017 

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
September 17, 2017
Proper 19 A
Exodus 14:19-31
     God of new beginnings, meet us where we are in our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
     Water. Crossing the Red Sea. Hurricanes. Baptism. Forgiveness. These are the themes in our readings and our service this morning. A lot to think about. A lot to pull together.
     During the past two weeks, we have seen the devastation and destruction caused by the wind and waters of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We depend on water in order to live, and for plants to grow. But when too much of it comes too fast, it causes death and destruction.
     Our Old Testament lesson this morning deals with the parting of the Red Sea. The lectionary has skipped over the seven plagues that God sent for Moses and Aaron to impose on the Egyptians so they would let the Israelites, who have been enslaved for many, many years, go free. Finally, the Pharaoh agrees to let the Israelites go, but later changes his mind and sends the Egyptian army follow them to bring them back.
     The Israelites flee until they reach the Red Sea. With the Egyptian army coming behind them and the Red Sea in front of them, they seem to have no place to go. But God saves them by parting the Red Sea and allowing the Israelites to cross on dry land. When the Egyptians try to follow them, their chariots get stuck in the mud and the waters of the sea cover them. The Israelites make it safely to the shore and they are now free. They have been rescued from their bondage. God has saved them and there is great rejoicing.
     But what about the Egyptians? They have been wiped out, drowned, killed in God's daring rescue of the Israelites. What are we to make of this story? What are we to learn from it?
     In this case, I think the Egyptians represent those who sin and oppress other people. They keep others in bondage. They stand in the way of God's truth and God's ways. Often times, we are the Egyptians. We are the ones who are the sinners. We are the ones who are denying justice to others. We are the ones who have turned our backs on the poor and the oppressed. We have brought suffering to others, or, having witnessed the suffering of others, we have remained quiet and done nothing to help.
     What we need is forgiveness - forgiveness from God because we are not fully living as the people God created us to be. Forgiveness from those we have hurt or ignored. Forgiveness of ourselves when we have fallen short and not done things we should have done.'
     And that is what our gospel lesson is about. Peter wants to know how many times he has to forgive someone. He thinks seven times is enough, but Jesus says, NO, seventy seven times. Because forgiveness is not a number. You don't ever reach a quota of times you have forgiven others. Jesus means you keep forgiving until you lose count, until forgiving one another becomes a way of life, a way of living. Jesus is saying there is no limit to forgiveness. It becomes embedded in our DNA, in who we are.
     The parable of the unforgiving slave illustrates for us the amazing amount of compassion and mercy that God showers upon us every day, forgiving us time and time and time again for all our transgressions and erasing our debts. It illustrates God's extravagant and limitless forgiveness. The second part of the parable, when the forgiven slave will not forgive someone else who owes him money, illustrates how little forgiveness and compassion we have for each other. We demand repayment, getting even, retribution.
     Forgiveness is not easy. It must be prayed for and struggled with every day. Forgiveness is not about denial or minimizing ones feelings. Feelings of forgiveness come and go. But if the power of forgiveness is in your heart, it will prevail. Offer it up to God in prayer. Because forgiveness is not something we can do by ourselves. We need God working in us and through us to achieve forgiveness.
     Forgiveness is also something we do for ourselves. When we don't forgive, we are the ones who are imprisoned. When we stand in the way of God's truth, holding onto a grudge, or oppressing others, or not caring about  the poor and marginalized, we are the ones who are in bondage.
     As God rescued the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea, with a wall of water rising on their right and on their left, God set them free to live in the promised land, to be God's followers, to be God's chosen people.
     In just a few minutes, we will celebrate the sacrament of baptism, of new birth, of new life in the Body of Christ. Cheryl and Manav Nayyar have brought their son Niam here to be baptized today. He will be washed with the water of baptism, cleansed from sin and claimed as a member of the Body of Christ. We will thank God for the gift of water and remember the Holy Spirit moving over it in creation, leading the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. We remember Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan River and his anointing by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah. We thank God for the water of baptism, where we are buried with Christ in his death, share in his resurrection, and are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
     Niam is joining a very large family of the baptized, as followers of Jesus Christ, including the saints who have gone before, the saints who are with us now, and the saints who will come after us. Baptism is Niam's entrance into this great body of faith, where he will be loved and nurtured in the faith.
     As we reaffirm our own baptismal covenant, may we remember who and whose we are and that we, too, are baptized into the Body of Christ and made heirs of God's eternal kingdom. Amen.
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