St. Paul’s – Proper 19 – 9/17/2023
Throughout the tales for this week, the Exodus (Ex 14:19-31), Psalm 114, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome(Rom14:1-12), and a story about extraordinary forgiveness (Matt 18:21-35) is the overarching story of God’s love for all humankind, and an invitation to come home to God.
As Moses would later remind the people, For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you—for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deut 7:6-8) And so we see that during the great escape, YHWH the God of Sarah and Abraham, Rebekah and Isaac, Leah, Rachel and Jacob, shelters and protects them from Pharaoh’s army.
And opens and closes the waters to protect and liberate them. All despite lots of complaining and grumbling all through verses preceding (Ex 14 10-18).: Why are you making us leave Egypt? Is it because there are no graves for us in Egypt that you took us out here to die in the wilderness? Yet, God loves them anyway. It turns out God has the patience of Job.
As celebrated in Psalm 114, a mighty act of remembrance and source of hope for the present. It recognizes that this mass escape forged a rag-tag group of slaves into a people – God’s people. It is a psalm that is meant to astound us and make us grateful. As Psalm 115 just after this begins: Our God is in the heavens. He does as he pleases. You don’t have to like; you don’t get to vote on it. What a God! Mountains and hills skip with glee, the seas fled, the Earth trembles at the presence of the Lord, the God of Jacob. There is no more fear of intimidation by any Empire in these people because YHWH has acted!
Then Paul urges the fledgling church in Rome to embrace diversity. Some of you are vegetarians. Some of you are omnivores. It is the God of the Exodus, the God who can make diverse tribes into one people, who calls you and welcomes you to Christ’s table. Note, Paul does not even attempt to adjudicate whether or not there is a right way or wrong way to come to God’s table. Healthy community takes precedence over right belief, whatever that may be. For we all stand before the same judgment seat of God. We look pretty silly passing judgment on one another when in the end we are all accountable to the One God I Am who got this all in-motion back at the burning bush instructing a fugitive murderer to confront the powers of Pharaoh and his Empire and lead us all to a life of freedom with God and one another.
We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord…. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be the Lord of the living and the dead!
To give us some idea what kind of Lord invites us to come home to the Lord’s table, along comes Peter with a question for Jesus. I feel a particular empathy for him in all these episodes like the one today where he asks, God bless his heart: If someone sins against me how often must I forgive? As many as seven times? Now the custom at the time was to forgive three times, so Peter thinks he is going the extra mile. But once again Jesus burns him: seventy-seven times. Or, because the text is unclear, it can even be translated seventy times seven times! Which in the context of the story he tells really means forever! For as it turns out, in those days the ten thousand Talents the man owes the king represents approximately 150,000 years wages for the average worker. No one can ever hope to pay off such a sum in this life time. The king knows this. God knows this. Jesus knows this. Yet, the man in the story is forgiven. That, by the way, is the punch line. The text means for us to realize we are all forgiven sinners invited to the same table, the Lord’s table, open to one and all, vegans and omnivores alike, even to this pathetic creature who clearly does not grasp what being released of his debt really means – that we are to act more like the Incredible Forgiving and Loving King in the parable.
There is a video that shows a woman alone in church saying the Lord’s Prayer. Each time she says a line, God speaks to her. When she gets to, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us, she tries to sneak out of the pew and the church. God stops her, and asks, What about your brother? I knew you were going to say that, she blurts out! How can I forget what he has done to me? I don’t know, asks God. How do you want your forgiveness: with or without forgetting? Long Pause. How about you just begin to think about forgiving your brother, and I’ll do my best to forget all the times you have forgotten about me? You got me again, she says, and the dialogue continues. As Elie Wiesel often said and wrote, God created us because he loves our stories and loves to continue the dialogue.
We promise in our baptism that everything we say and do will proclaim the Good News of God in Christ. Yet, it’s not clear that we all know just what that good news is. No doubt that is why William Countryman wrote a book titled, The Good News of Jesus. He begins it like this: What God says to you in Jesus is this: you are forgiven. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is the message Jesus lived and spoke…. There are other things God could conceivably have said to us. And we may as well face it, most of us know forms of Christianity that relay a message quite different from this one. They say things like, ‘Good News, if you are very very good, God will love you.’ Or, ‘Good News, if you are very very sorry for not being very very good, God will love you. Or, (most insidious of all), ‘Good News, God loves you. Now get back in line before God’s mind changes!’ These messages may be good news for somebody, but they are not good for all of us …. God might have said it more simply, ‘You are loved. I love you.’ This message is true, but it would have been ambiguous. It might have meant, ‘I love you because you’re good.’ It might have meant, ‘I love the nice bits of you, but I really wish you’d clean up your act.’ It might have meant, ‘I still love you and would like to go on loving you, but I won’t tolerate your behavior much longer.’ Instead God says something quite unambiguous: ‘You are forgiven.’ What this means is, ‘I love you anyway, no matter what. I love you not because you are particularly good nor because you are particularly repentant nor because I am trying to bribe you or threaten you into changing. I love you because I love you.’ p. 3-5
Which takes us back to Moses in Deuteronomy reminding the people why God redeemed them and protected and sheltered them as they escaped Egypt and the iron rod of Pharaoh’s Empire. God loves them. We are all forgiven debtors and sinners welcomed to God’s table. This is the Good News we are given. This news is meant to drive all that we say and all that we do, loving God and loving our neighbor, all neighbors, as we love ourselves. And we should love our selves a lot. God does! Welcome home to God’s table! Amen.