Sunday, September 14, 2008
Eighteenth after Pentecost, 2008
September 14, 2008 XVIII Pentecost (RCL Proper 19A) Ex. 14: 10- 15:21; Rom 14: 1-12; Mt 18: 21-35
I guess there are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES. Water into wine, quieting the storm, feeding a multitude from one eight-year-old’s lunch pail--all pretty cool, no question about it.
But then there are these moments when you’re running for your life, dragging some kind of a cart holding all your worldly possessions, following this guy who you’re 95% sure you can trust, or I guess make that 90% . . . 85%, anyway . . . and the kids are exhausted, and the sun is beating down--and then in the far distance, way, way behind you, you hear the faint echo of dogs barking, and then you see the dust beginning to get stirred up back there, and you can picture them in your mind’s eye: roaring chariots and huge horses and armed soldiers whipping them on, and in hot pursuit, and they’re getting closer, and closer, and you’re beginning to wonder as you try to catch your breath if maybe a life of slavery under the power of brutal and murderous oppressors and sadistic overseers might not just have had a few positive elements you hadn’t previously appreciated.
And then you come up over a rise and you see stretched out before you for as far as you can see to the left and to the right and on ahead--nothing but a vast inland sea. And you can’t even swim. You look over your shoulder and see them coming, you look ahead and see all that water, and you think, man, those are two slices of bread, and what I am, what we are, stuck here in the middle, is nothing but dead meat. We are finished. Done for. History. Dog food. And then, what? This Moses guy gets up on a big rock where everybody can see him and points back at the Pharaoh’s advancing chariots, and those barking dogs, roaring down towards us now under the great blue sky of the desert afternoon, and he calls out to us: “All right, boys: now we’ve got those Egyptians right where we want them!”
Well, we all pretty much know the story. Heard it again this morning. And like I said earlier, there are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES. We’ve seen the movie, C.B. DeMille and Charlton Heston--and no question for me, anyway, that that was exactly what happened. How it seemed later when they told the story, anyway. So vividly telling the story, that they could still smell the electricity in the air, feel the burning sand as it radiated that impossible heat into the air around them. And then. The breath of God over the water, the outstretched arm of Moses, as the wind streamed through his hair, and that roar, like thunder, and the waters of the sea lifting up in great walls on either side . . . opening a way forward a wide road . . . and the cheering of the people as they gathered their things, the children running on ahead, skipping all of a sudden in joy and amazement, until –how did this ever happen?--the whole crazy mob of them, kids and the elderly, the strong and the weak, not one of them left behind, not one—until they were all safely on the far shore.
And as soon as they were across, remember this, the edge of the Egyptian sword right at their back, and the wind falls silent, and the high walls of waters collapse in one magnificent and breathtaking crescendo. And it’s all over. The pursuers are swept away. And here we are. The hopeless, suddenly, all at once, people who have something to hope for. A people with a future. With a destiny. Moving forward, and gloriously. I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.
Like I said: I’ve seen the movie, and no question in my mind anyway, but that that was exactly what happened. There are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES. It’s a story that gave birth to a nation, a people, a whole new way of thinking about the world, a new way of thinking about the God of heaven and earth. Savior and redeemer. Whose strong right hand and whose mighty arm will bring forth victory, transformation, restoration, renewal. In whom we can put our trust. Who acts on our behalf. Who comes to save us. There are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES.
And somebody says, “all that is great for Charlton Heston and his pals, for all those people in that book so long ago, but it’s not real, is it? Maybe it was just a coincidence after all, an earthquake and a windstorm, or some kind of strange tidal surge. Lucky for those Hebrews, long ago and far away. Pictures in a Sunday School book or a goofy old movie, but nothing to me. Nothing for me, for us.” And all I can say, I guess, to reply to that, is that who would say that must move in different circles than I do. Because I see it all the time, all the time.
And especially when I turn to the reading from St. Matthew, that begins with this conversation between Peter and Jesus, and then with the strange parable of the Two Debtors. Just as a final word or observation this morning. And I think how for me, anyway, and what I see every day, the vast ocean that is hardness of heart stands so often deep and impenetrable, and how the armies pursuing us, the barking of the dogs and the churning of the chariot wheels, the edge of the sword, these are realities. No pretending otherwise. Hardness of heart, meanness of spirit, unforgiveness. A brokenness and pathology and a sickness unto death. “Come on, Moses, weren’t the graveyards in Egypt good enough? Why bring us out here to this wilderness to swallow our share of mother earth?”
But there are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES. The breath of God across the face of the waters, which is for us the abundant love of Jesus at the Cross, his blessing, his hand reaching out to us and opening a way. Which is what that passage from Matthew is about, the treasure that is entrusted to us, the secret story of the universe, the love that breaks through, that parts the sea, that opens a way forward and the possibility of life and transformation and healing and peace. Forgiveness is a miracle. Not something we do or can find in ourselves, but the breath of God in us, filling us and changing us, finding in us the miracle that God intended for us to be at the hour of Creation. Anointed by his holy oil, we become that mystery, that grace. And I’ve seen that, and we have seen that. With our own eyes. In you, and among us, and we will see it, we will continue to see it. Unexpectedly, but beyond doubt. A sure promise.
So we have these really hard times. Our bodies turn in on us, or there is distress in our family, or the neighborhood or the nation seems on the brink of something beyond remedy. We know what that’s all about. Horse and chariot bearing down on us, and nowhere to go. Thinking about our church in these weeks—not here at St. Andrew’s of course, thankfully, but in the wider family. And thinking, how can any blessing come from this? Any freedom? Any new life? Any forgiveness and healing? Anything new?
And the answer is yes. The answer from this moment in the Wilderness, the answer from the hill of the Cross. Not just a parlor trick, but something real. Miracles possible and miracles necessary and essential and guaranteed. Miracles not simply for us to watch and applaud, but miracles for us to join in, to share, to become ourselves. If Peter asks, “Lord, how much forgiveness is enough?” His reply, that we would not stop until forgiveness ceases to be something that we do, and becomes instead who we are, God’s blessing, God’s hope and promise and healing and new life. An infinity of forgiveness, of blessing, of new life. All the time. Which is kind of intimidating, of course. And it seems impossible. But, to say again, it happens. There are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.