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. Amen.
19 The 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. 20 It 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. 21 Then 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. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At 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. 25 He 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.” 26 Then 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.” 27 So 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. 28 The 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. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel 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.
1Hallelujah! When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange speech,
2Judah became God’s sanctuary and Israel God’s dominion.
3The sea beheld it and fled; Jordan turned and went back.
4The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like young sheep.
5What ailed you, O sea, that you fled, O Jordan, that you turned back,
6you mountains, that you skipped like rams, you little hills like young sheep?7Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
8who turned the hard rock into a pool of water and flint-stone into a flowing spring.
21 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?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31 When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
I’m turning to Dan Erlander’s wonderful summary of the events up to this point. Once upon a time God was vexed with a nation called Egypt. In this nation a big deal Pharaoh was on top. In the middle were various big deals and ordinary citizens. On the bottom were the slaves who lived under heavy oppression. The slaves were descendants of early believers in God—Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Isaac, Leah, Rachael, and Jacob. It was Sarah and Abraham who received the promise that their offspring would bless all nations.
Because of the slave labor, the big deals of Egypt lived in ease and luxury. The Pharaoh, who thought he owned everything, depended upon the priests and the military to keep the whole system going and to maintain the status quo. Everyone, including the slaves, considered Egypt to be eternal. God detested this system.
God did not plan the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt as it was happening. There was a goal and a plan. God wanted the Israelites and Egyptians to see that Israel’s God is Lord of all the earth. And so, God performed a creative and cosmic act which led the Israelites to praise God.
Creation of the dry land leads to freedom of the oppressed. The Israelites are liberated. The work of God as creator effects the redemption of a people. The Egyptians oppose what God has newly brought into being. The Egyptians’ anti-creation activity turns the creation against them, and they suffer at its hands.
Then Moses stretches forth his hand over the sea again and the dry land disappears. The Egyptians drown in the midst of a chaos of their own making. But Israel walked through the sea on dry land and was safely standing on the opposite shore. The created order is once again established.
The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” This confession is a grudging admission of defeat. We hear something like it in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus breathes his last breath on the cross and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. The centurion confesses, “Truly this man was God’s son.” The power of the Roman Empire at long last concedes to the power of Jesus.
The abundance of creation language indicates that something more than military victory has been achieved with the Exodus. A new creation has occurred, offering Israel a future that is free from the dominating reign of Pharaoh. Drawing on images from both the Bible and the ancient Near East, our story today assumes that creation and chaos are in conflict.
God’s victory over the Egyptians is not simply a matter of defeating ancient chaos monsters. Human costs are involved: “The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived … and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.”
The rabbis were particularly insightful in naming this reality. One commentary explains ministering angels desired to sing a song of praise before God in response to the decisive victory over the Egyptians. God, however, said to them: “My handiwork [the Egyptians] are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before me?”
A quick reading might suggest that Exodus 14 is nothing more than a tribalistic, us-vs-them story. But in highlighting the impact of Pharaoh’s policies on the bodies of Egyptian soldiers, the story shows that the Israelites are not the only victims of Pharaoh’s hard(ened) heart. The Egyptian system of domination and violence also drew Egyptian soldiers into its orbit, as enforcers of the pharaonic will.
One scholar I heard talk about this story said that it was an unrepeatable event. In other words, this story’s liberation and new creation are beautiful themes but the loss of so many Egyptian lives makes in unrepeatable. I think he is right.
As a friend and I talked through the story earlier this week she said this was a good place to use the phrase, “Kill the crown, but keep the head.” Said another way, throw over pharaoh, empire, oppression, exploitation, but keep the human life which God can surely redeem.
As long as human beings are running them, systems of oppression will need to be drowned in the waters of the sea, or flood, or elsewhere. The Israelites themselves serve as an example. They sang and danced with their liberation on the shores, rightly so. Generations later, in possession of land and serving kings, they collectively embodied an empire that acted similar to Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
Last Monday, as our country celebrated Labor Day, I thought of all the amazing labor movement stories and protections that came about through various movements—child labor laws, safety measures, overtime, benefits, fair wages, non-discrimination. It is quite impressive and something to celebrate. But I would also be the first to admit that unions, at the heart of many of those stories, can become corrupt and greedy. Why? Because they are made up of human beings and human sin is tenacious.
It is why Martin Luther insisted that we remember our Baptism daily. Every day, we remember that we too came through waters, our sin was drowned, we were washed clean and given new life, our own liberation from sin and death. We might do well to remember that in the service of Baptism we are asked three questions: Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God? We reply, I renounce them. How precisely does this happen? Where are we give opportunities to live out our baptismal covenant?
There is a sort of line drawn in through our country right now that this renouncing of the devil is either done by each one of us in our daily life, through acts of kindness, or we renounce the devil by changing the big policies that guide us. Today’s Scripture passages from Exodus and Matthew show us just how ridiculous a choice the media and politicians have given us.
Jesus tells us to forgive those close to us and also those distant from us. Forgiveness itself brings liberation for the transgressor and the one offering forgiveness. And the Exodus story shows us that a whole policy and system—Pharaoh’s system of slavery and exploitation of the Israelites, needed to be overthrown—tossed in the sea, drown forever.
Please do not think that this is an Old and New Testament distinction. There were plenty of times before Jesus’ birth when God gave instructions about how we are to treat one another up close and personal—see exhibit A—the Ten Commandments. And there were times when Jesus turned whole systems upside down—see exhibit B—his crucifixion and resurrection.
We need policy changes and we need changes of minds and hearts. It is always both/and not either/or.
I personally see the pandemic, the protests this summer, and the economy exposing policies and systems that are unjust, exploitative, and in need of reform. White bodies are valued, still, over black and brown bodies in this country in so many ways. This disparity, this many years after the Civil Rights Movement, should fill us with compassion and the drive to transform society. Racial inequalities are surely not the only part of our society that is broken, but it permeates everything—housing, income, jobs, schools, healthcare.
I certainly don’t think we need to burn it all down or, sticking with the metaphor of the day, drown it all. But change needs to happen. And as much as I would like to get everyone on board first, sometimes policy needs to come first.
What if law makers had waited for every CEO to sign-on before enacting child-labor laws? We might still be waiting. What if Lutherans had waited for every pastor and lay person in the country to be okay with ordaining women before the governing body voted for change? I might still be waiting. What if no one had thought to protect big plots of land? The west would sure look different. This year is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act? What if every employer was required to approve before it became law?
Policies, and enforcing policies is part of how we get better as large bodies of people. And often living into the policy is how we discover that we all are better—all have more life—all experience liberation.
But just as important and valuable as policies are to our life together, so are human encounters. Remember, it’s always both/and. We all know that transformation happens, dry land appears, when we stop and truly see each other—in line at the grocery store, on the sidelines of a soccer match, while making small talk before the meeting begins, in the school cafeteria or playground.
Somehow, when we see another human being as a child of God, there are new possibilities for relationships, for the community, for the world. There is hope for a new creation. Oppression, domination, and exploitation begin to crumble.
Gathered together around this simple meal of Christ’s body and blood we remember the first Passover, God’s redeeming work at the sea, and the new covenant. Through words, bread, and wine we receive forgiveness of all we have done and left undone. We are free in the most marvelous way—free to praise God and free to take the hand of those we know well and those who are strangers—with the Holy Spirit before us and behind us—we can walk across dry land.
Prayers of Intercession
Drawn together in the compassion of God, we pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.
A brief silence.
You welcome us when we are weak in faith. Uphold your church throughout the world; make it a place of welcome. Strengthen faith through Bible studies and Sunday schools, confirmation classes and youth ministries. Nurture new ministries of education and growth (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
The heights of the heavens show us the vastness of your steadfast love. Have compassion on your creation. Where human selfishness has brought ruin and destruction, we look to you to heal, renew, and redeem your world. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Make your ways known to the nations. Speak kindness to our bitter grudges. Settle our hearts when we want to settle accounts with violence. Bless our leaders with patience and wisdom (especially). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Bring healing and justice wherever harm is dealt. Provide vindication for all who are oppressed. Free victims of human trafficking and forced labor; deliver all who are bound by debt. Feed all who hunger, and guard refugees fleeing famine, poverty, and war. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Teach us to forgive. Remind us that you do not always accuse us. Still our tongues when we are tempted to pass judgment and argue over opinions. Make this congregation a community of mercy for one another and for all our neighbors. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Whether we live or whether we die, we are yours. We thank you for those who have showed us faithfulness, for the knees that taught us how to bow to you and the tongues that taught us to praise you (especially John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, whom we commemorate today). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
All these things and whatever else you see that we need, we entrust to your mercy; through Christ our Lord. Amen.