A while back Narcie when Narcie was firming up all of Wesley’s escapades for the semester she mentioned she would be out here and there – and she needed someone to preach on occasion… Guess who volunteered for today? “I’ll do it.” Those words just shot out of my mouth again, so for my lack of personal restraint- I apologize. But here we go:
When I first read through the various texts for today in the lectionary, I just laughed. Here we are; the Ten Year Anniversary of 9/11 – Specials all over TV, even my ATM is taking a moment to remember – and the texts either read:
What in the world, a little extreme one-way or the other, right?
But let’s look at Exodus 14:19-31 – and if you don’t like to read, the video will sum things up for you:
19 God’s messenger, who had been in front of Israel’s camp, moved and went behind them. The column of cloud moved from the front and took its place behind them. 20It stood between Egypt’s camp and Israel’s camp. The cloud remained there, and when darkness fell it lit up the night. They didn’t come near each other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD pushed the sea back by a strong east wind all night, turning the sea into dry land. The waters were split into two. 22 The Israelites walked into the sea on dry ground. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians chased them and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and cavalry. 24 As morning approached, the LORD looked down on the Egyptian camp from the column of lightning and cloud and threw the Egyptian camp into a panic. 25 The LORD jammed their chariot wheels so that they wouldn’t turn easily. The Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites, because 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 comes back and covers the Egyptians, their chariots, and their cavalry.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. At daybreak, the sea returned to its normal depth. The Egyptians were driving toward it, and the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the cavalry, Pharaoh’s entire army that had followed them into the sea. Not one of them remained. 29 The Israelites, however, walked on dry ground through the sea. The waters formed a wall for them on their right hand and on their left.
30 The LORD rescued Israel from the Egyptians that day. Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the amazing power of the LORD against the Egyptians. The people were in awe of the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
Did we all see the evidence of God’s presence? Yeah – we know God was there actively fighting for the Israelites. God was, the fire, the raging waters, right there behind Charlton Heston’s steely blue gaze. But seriously, the power of God was on full display. The Egyptians recognized real quick what was going on, put it in reverse, and tried to get out of there. What would it be like to have been an Israelite at that moment? To have just witnessed God swat the most powerful country in the known world like a gnat, for a people far from being the most powerful – a people of slaves, Israel.
The story of the Red Sea was passed on within the tribe of Israel to tell of God’s great power – and the lengths at which God will go to protect Israel, and of God’s incredible faithfulness.
But now here we are with this story of God’s mighty intervention to save – and when we turn on the tube, listen to the radio, check Facebook, look outside our windows we will be reminded of the terrible loss of life from ten years ago. What are we supposed to make of that? Where was God then? How was God’s presence made on that day – and days without a TV special that are equally tragic?
Perhaps that is not the right question.
What is we didn’t ask why – but rather asked:
How Lord would you use me?
Jesus was faced with opposition, and there was violence against the people of Israel during his times. And here are the Israelites, what have they heard all their lives? How God is mighty, and powerful, and at times vengeful; so Jesus – let’s see what you can do with these Romans!
But what did Jesus respond with?
Turn the other cheek. (Matthew 5:39)
If someone wants to sue you, give your coat & your cloak. (v. 40)
If you’re forced to walk a mile (this would be a soldier forcing one to walk and carry their gear) – walk two. (v. 41)
Jesus is redirecting the energy here.
When I taught elementary music I would have large classes – sometimes quite large – and there would be the occasional student to get unruly. I found the best thing to diffuse the situation was never meeting this child with aggression (Stop it or… Do I need to call your mother… Shall I call the office…) – nor was the best thing simply ignoring the child hoping he or she would stop. The best solutions were when I would simply move near that child, place a very gentle hand on his or her shoulder w/out slipping a beat; or even giving this child a task to help with.
Redirecting the energy of that child.
But then Jesus then takes it a step farther and says in Matthew 5: 44:
Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.
Seriously Jesus? Come on! The people of Israel have grown up hearing about God’s awesome power! Let me see some sweet Pillars of Fire Cloud Action! Come on….!!!!
Jesus showed there was, and is, another way. A way that is not passive – but is also not reacting to violence with a mirrored violence. Because when the cheek is turned – when everything is given – when the extra mile is walked – it is the Love of God shown.
But sometimes things do hurt, the pain is great and it may seem impossible to walk that extra mile.
Enoch, my 4-year-old son for those who may not know, is a rather rough and tumble little boy. He’s also on the plus side of 50 pounds and real tall. He’s a big kid. And when he plays, he plays with abandon, and there are times when he just will plow into something, and my first thought it – “That’s gonna leave a mark.”
But if you ask my mother about me as a child, she’ll tell you she had three Enochs (because I have two younger brothers). Our play, often left marks.
In fact, grew up in Montgomery, AL. In what can only be described as a prototypical American childhood. Rode bikes around town (complete with baseball card in the wheels), drank from the hose, did real stupid things with fireworks, and my best friend’s grandmother really did live two houses over. So we would just run through Ms. Barrnet’s backyard to play – and separating all our yards were those chain length fences with the spikes – well I fell on it once and messed my arm up real bad. The scar is still there, and it is a big one. The events of that day left a physical scar on my arm. But there are things that happen in life that may leave scars, which cannot be seen, and those may be stories we don’t like to tell over a glass of iced tea.
This brings us back to Matthew 18:21-22:
21 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times. (CEB)
We are asked to forgive one another not seven times, but seventy-seven.
This will not erase what has happened, because it happened. This forgiveness is not a magic wand, which will make everything better. The pain may still be present. Those scars will still show, perhaps even after forgiveness is offered.
But – like our nifty video pointed out – when Jesus came back and made himself known to the disciples, he too had scars.
And as followers of Jesus, we are called to leave our mark on those around us. We are called to show a way of Love and Faithfulness, not to lead a life of passivity or violence, despite what our world may throw at us.
Chuck Ferrara enlisted in the Army and went to Vietnam. He then came back and became a NYC police officer for 16 years, before turning in his badge to be a minister. Now he is the pastor at New Life Community Church, United Methodist, in New Fairfield, Conn. Right after 9.11 he went to Ground Zero to try to help, and this is what he said about those first days:
I couldn’t help but wonder what I could possibly offer these guys in the form of hope and encouragement. I felt so ill-equipped, so inadequate for the task at hand. If I were a cop again, I could help dig, give directions, set up a temporary headquarters — everything a cop or emergency services worker instinctively does. But I was in a different place. I was a man of the cloth, a representative of God in the midst of what had every indication of godlessness.
What I learned was to practice the ministry of presence. The firefighters, police officers, ironworkers and others were not looking for verbal mini-sermons, but rather sermons acted out without speaking a word. I wish I had a dollar for every cop and fireman I just hugged and allowed to weep into my chest.
Ferrara was showing a different way to help. He was living out, rather than speaking about, the Love that Christ has shown to us all. This love that Christ took upon the Cross and made the ultimate sacrifice, for which bore the scars – the ones that Thomas demanded to see.
It is though those scars we have been forgiven.
And we continue to show our scars of forgiveness though living out Grace
Forgiveness – and God’s Love.