Love and Forgiveness
Sept. 12 Love and Forgiveness Exodus 14:19-31, 15:1b-11, 20-21; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35
One of my most memorable summers as a kid was after fifth grade, when I took part in a fun summer school program where we studied different parts of the world and learned how to cook their food, such as squid, which still freaks me out, but not as much as octopus. It was also the summer that we made a big vacation trip to Southern California. Space Mountain was the big new thing at Disneyland, and Splash Mountain was the highlight at Knott’s Berry Farm, but I did not have the courage to go on the Xcelerator, their corkscrew rollercoaster. I also loved visiting Universal Studios and taking the tram tour. This was the late 70s, so the ride took us through the spinning tunnel from the Six Million Dollar Man, one of my favorite shows at the time, and along a small body of water where the bridge we were on suddenly “collapsed” and lurched us towards the water, where Jaws came up out of the water. If we went back now, these would all seem to pretty cheesy compared to today’s computer-generated special effects. Even though it had been twenty years since the Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston had been released, part of the tour also included the parting of the Red Sea, which the tram then drove through, right after our perilous encounter with Jaws.
Like many kids back then, I received my first Bible at church in 3rd Grade. I remember that day, and actually started reading that Bible, which I still have. Moses parting the Red Sea was one of my favorite stories then, it was so vivid and powerful. Back then, I got the message of the story, of God’s power on display and his rescue of his people. His victory was amazing. It wasn’t until much later that I could image what it must have been like from the Egyptians’ point of view. We begin to think about things that probably were not important to the original purpose of recording this event into Scripture, which was to relate God’s revelation of Himself to His people and the unfolding of His plan for them. Certainly there were winners and losers in this story, but we only get the story from the winner’s perspective, as in most cases of the historical record. We know much more went on than is told, but we as God’s people are meant to read it from that perspective, as heirs to the victory. Our reading from Exodus concludes: “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.” This is also our purpose in reading this about this event many centuries later. With all that is going on in the world right now, we may feel like we are at a different place right now: either with the Egyptians, perhaps, are just arriving on the other side of the Red Sea with 40 years of wandering in the desert ahead of us. Wherever we are, we must stay focused on God, stay in awe of His power, and trust in Him to get us to where He wants us to be. But we too may bicker like the Israelites along the way.
When we read the Bible, we will all have different ideas pop into our heads, based upon our experiences, our background, and just because we were all created unique. We of course believe our opinion is the correct one, and the one God shares. Such things may cause us to have conflict or even look down on others. We may even judge the faith of others as less than ours just for having different ideas and perspectives. It is very difficult to be a unified people when our natural inclinations are for individuality and comparison. Paul encourages us not to be judgmental of others, for we all are equal before God. We are not to put ourselves first, or consider ourselves to be smarter. Paul writes:
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; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
We live in a world that tells us to put ourselves first, but in the Kingdom of God we are to put the people of God first. As a church, we seek to put the good of the church before our own as individuals. Right now, we must take steps to ensure that the ministry of our church into our community is strengthened and endures through this difficult time into whatever the future holds. We of course will disagree on what this will involve, so we come together as a community to share ideas and work towards a unified plan of action. We who belong to the Lord seek to be faithful and complete the tasks He gives us. We assume the best in others and accept the decisions of the group even when we don’t agree.
When we are working towards bettering something we care deeply about, such as our church, we sometimes let our anger overcome our love for each other. Or in bigger churches, we find opposition from people we don’t know well, and ignore them. We can’t do that here. Perhaps we need to view forgiveness as a spiritual discipline, something that requires practice, diligence, and sometimes, sacrifice. Sometimes we don’t want to forgive others, we justify ourselves and hang on to our anger as it gives us a sense of power, but we need to let go of it if we are to move on. By making forgiveness a practice, both of others and ourselves, we can grow in Christ and be more like Him.
Forgiving others takes work, and it is not optional. Forgiveness should define us as a people. Both Paul and our Lord remind us that we will be held accountable for our hardness of heart. Paul says:
Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God.
And Jesus says:
So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
As we seek God’s forgiveness, and know that it is freely given to those who confess Jesus as Lord and proclaim His sacrifice on the cross for us, we too are to forgive others and let go of our anger and resentment. Our failure to forgive others can have an impact on our salvation. We don’t do this just because it is the “nice” thing to do, we do it because our Lord commands us to do it, just as He commands us to love one another.
We all know that there is a great divide between conservatives and progressives. This is not just about politics but involves worldviews and many other aspects of our lives. Whichever side we are on, over the years our ideas and actions become hardwired and we are no longer able to see the opposite point of view, but it is something we must do to stretch ourselves and fight our initial reactions, for much of this hardwired behavior is no longer consciously activated. We usually are not even aware of it happening. This divide also exists in our churches, too, and influences how we view the Gospel, God, and just about everything else. When dealing with each other, we need to keep our differences in mind as we seek to find common ground. We won’t agree on everything, sometimes not at all, but we must love each other enough to see things from different perspectives and forgive one another when our differences get the upper hand. There is a generally course towards a bad end. First, we recognize that there is a division between “us” and “them”. Then we move on to polarization, as we gradually pull away from each other more and more, identifying more differences. Finally, we start to demonize the other person(s), and it is extremely difficult to ever come back to any sense of unity. It’s generally a one-way path with no return. People become “dead” to us. The better path requires forgiveness and love. Forgiveness requires love, and love requires forgiveness. Here, we have an ongoing cycle of dialog that helps us to better understand each other and move forward even when we disagree.
With all of the horrible things going on in the world, we must stay unified as God’s people, forgiving each other and loving each other, as we all need that support and connection right now. At times we may feel like we are the Egyptian soldiers caught in the sand, with disaster threatening, but like the Israelites, we must trust God to rescue us and bring us home even when it is nowhere in sight. It’s hard to see beyond the present, be we also need to let the love of Christ reign in our church as we look to the future. So many folks are suffering, and we need to pray for them and ask how we can help. We are all scared and confused and need this church family to help each of us get through this, as God guides us where He wants us to go.