Math wasn’t my best subject in school so I’m not too floored by the command that we must forgive 70 X 7 as we heard today in Matthew’s Gospel, and I’m not too shaken either by the vision of the Red Sea parting to allow God’s chosen people to pass through, after all, we’ve all seen “The Ten Commandments” so we know how it’s done. I know too that Paul’s letters were written to particular communities in the early church and spoke to their particular issues. All of this took place a very long time ago so none of it really pertains to us, or does it?
Today’s reading from Exodus highlights the journey of God’s chosen people out of slavery and into freedom. This journeying with God has never been an easy one, and we at St. Matthias are being called once again to walk in faith without knowing exactly where we’re going. The Exodus story reminds us that we were never promised an easy journey, but we are also reminded that God is always ahead of us, with us, and in us.
At creation, the Ruah, the spirit of God hovered over the deep, God created light in a place of darkness, divided the waters assigning each their place, gathered together the waters of the earth so that dry land might appear and named them earth and seas. As God leads God’s people from slavery to freedom, God again makes light in darkness and, by the Ruah, rearranges sea, reveals land, and divides waters for the people to pass through. It is by the same power by which God created the world that God saves and transforms. It reveals a path for God’s people and builds walls to protect them from the chaos and death of the sea. And it is through that same power that God leads us to new life, transforming us in the process.
Yet the crossing remains treacherous. Though there is light in this new creation, there is also darkness. I am not going to try and explain or justify the violence of Pharaoh’s destruction or of the deaths of his soldiers and horses or explain the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart that led him to pursue the Israelites. This part of the story is hard to understand but it demonstrates the consequence of Pharaoh’s grasping. It shows the end result of an economy built on forced labor, exploitation, and domination. In refusing to let God’s people go, Pharaoh leads his own people to their grave.
There are two words for “dry land” used in this passage. One is yabbashah. This word is most often used in descriptions of the miracle God performed at the Red Sea. It also describes God’s work in creation and the people’s miraculous crossing of the Jordan River when they enter the land of promise.
But another word for dry land also appears in the story of the Red Sea crossing, the word is charabah, meaning to dry up or be in ruins and refers to the waste and desolation that follows upon warfare, judgment, and destruction.
Martin Luther King, Jr. called this end “the Death of Evil upon the Seashore.” In his sermon by this title which he first preached in 1954, King called out the evils any could see in his own time.1 They included greed and war, places where people are willing to sacrifice truth on the altars of their self-interest,” and “imperialistic nations trampling over other nations with the iron feet of oppression.” King names nations and numbers. And he narrates racial desegregation as God’s work of ending and reordering in his own day. For example, he saw the Red Sea open in the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Our world has changed and not changed in the sixty odd years since King first preached this sermon. What shape does slavery take today? What is the machinery of oppression, domination, exploitation, and new colonialism that must be dismantled so that God’s people may all truly be free? Can you pierce through the cloud and gaze upon the shore to discern and preach the work that God is doing to bring these to an end?
What is the dry land that we at St. Matthias are currently walking on? what place do we have at this time in God’s creation? Where do we see ruin and devastation? We are only too aware of the wars, the discrimination, the environmental devastation, the many people who are homeless for all kinds of reasons. This can be discouraging as we feel we have so little agency to influence the global situation.
During the past weeks the lectionary readings have been telling us how we are to live as people of God, as a community of faith. In Paul’s letter to the Romans this is reiterated: we are called to work together, pull together, to serve together, but we are all different, we all come from different backgrounds, we are at different stages of our life, we are at different stages of our Christian journey. So, it’s not an easy walk, and yet our differences don’t cancel out our call to be in unity. There hasn’t been a time in church history when there hasn’t been conflict but we have to work through our conflict. To complete this teaching, we hear in the Gospel of Matthew today that there can be no limit to our forgiveness of one another. It is not about how often we should forgive, or how much we should forgive. It’s not about math. It’s about mercy. And it’s not only about what is happening across the world, but in our homes and communities. Seventy times seven is a lot, but it’s nothing compared to how often God has forgiven us. Ten thousand talents is a ridiculous amount that the slave is forgiven. But it’s nothing compared to how much God has forgiven us. God’s forgiveness can’t be counted, or added up, or quantified at all. It’s endless and infinite.
Whatever you have done, or not done, that is contrary to God’s desire for you, God has already forgiven you. And when we really get our minds around how much God forgives us, and how much God still loves us, and how much God wants us to do the same for others, then there is no wrong, no injustice, no slight, no sin against us that can hold a candle to the wrongs, the slights, and the sins we have done against God.
That’s really what this gospel reading is trying to teach us today. Just how much God has forgiven us. And just how much of a difference we can make in the world by paying this forgiveness forward. One person at a time. Realizing how much God has forgiven you, believing it with all your heart, and sharing a little of that with the people around you, may be the most important thing that happens in your life this week, or even this year. And I pray that it happens, many thousands of times, all around our community, and all around our world.