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Forgiveness Is Sometimes So Hard

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Exodus 14:19-31

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. 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.
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. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 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. 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.”
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.” 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. 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. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 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.

The Gospel

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 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. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 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.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 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. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The Sermon

The story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt continues. Remember what has led up to today's readings of events. Moses is convinced by God that he is to lead the people out of Egypt. Then Moses has a difficult time convincing pharaoh to let them go but finally after a half dozen plagues he does. Moses and the Israelite head out only to be chased by pharaoh and his army. Now Moses is stuck. He has the Egyptian army behind him and the Red Sea in front of him.

As Pharaoh and his army draw near the Israelites start saying things to Moses like, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? … It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

Moses tells them not to be afraid and he uses the power of God to separate the Red Sea so the people can escape and the Egyptian Army drown.

So what are we being told through this story? Have faith in God!

What are we being told in the new testament reading today? Jesus tells Peter to forgive seven times seven and then he drives the point home by telling him a story of a king and his slaves. What this tells me is that God forgives us for our misdeeds when we are heartfelt in asking for His forgiveness. Yet, there are those of us who hold grudges.

Jesus was the perfect example of forgiveness. Even as he was dying on a cross he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

As a more current example, the shooting of the Lancaster County Amish school children eleven years ago comes to mind. The families of those murdered children forgave the man who committed this atrocious crime. They new that God's message of forgiveness applies to us as well in our relationship with others. It is often not easy and it does not mean one should not forget what happened.

The Amish community in Pennsylvania will never forget what happened to their children but they understand that vengeance is not theirs to give. The same holds true for me and you.

Conflict and Relationships: Last Sunday's Sermon

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The Readings

Old Testament

Exodus 12:1-14

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

The Gospel

Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

The sermon

Conflict and relationships

When I was in the process of thinking through these lessons and looking for a common thread between them I came to the conclusion that common ground was relationships and the conflict that occurs between people.

The old testament reading is a continuation of the story of Moses and his conflict with the Egyptian Pharaoh. What we did not read today were the dramatic events leading up to today's reading of the Passover. Moses and Aaron tried to convince pharaoh to peaceably let them leave Egypt but pharaoh would have none of it. So, God sent plagues upon the people of Egypt. God sent frogs, gnats, flies, the river ran blood red. boils, and still pharaoh would not listen. Finally, the last plague does it. It results in the death of the first born of everyone and everything in the land. However, if certain rituals were performed in the households of the Jews then the angel of death would passover those households. Pharaoh's son dies with this plague. He finally sort of gives up and the people are allowed to leave.

In our reading from Matthew, Jesus talks about conflicts and how to settle them. He says if a member of the church sins against you talk to him in private and try and settle it that way. He progresses with further steps, each a little more serious in nature until he finally says if the person still will not listen then you should have nothing to do with the person.

We are a social people. Christianity is a religion that is meant to be practiced in community. In other words, we need to get along. The last thing we want is to be a caustic church. In-fighting among church members can poison the very foundation of a church community. Believe it or not there are people who join a church and then actively work to tear it apart. I have heard the stories and I have seen it happen.

I love our church family and I believe you do too. I have seen that we genuinely care about each other and I am so grateful for the care and love you have shown me. When I say, “let us share the peace.” and we a we all shake hands or give hugs it means something to me.

Please remember that at the end of this gospel reading Jesus says, “when two or three are gathered in my name, I am among them” he is telling us that he is a part of our community and he is present among us. So, remember that Jesus is among us when we gather to worship. Amen

Jesus and Sacrifice: Last Sunday's Sermon

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The Readings

Exodus 3:1-15

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.

The Gospel

Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

The Sermon


If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life.”

This part of the Gospel reading is great food for reflection. As most of you know I have a strong interest in Eastern thought and this reading reminded me so much of the Tao Te Ching that I decided to read it again. I believe it is a good idea to be open to wisdom wherever it appears. Sherry and I were watching a movie titled, Dr. Strange the other night and there were a couple of pieces of dialogue that struck me. One was, “ You cannot kill the demons that are in your life but you can live above them.” What those words said to me was that we all have temptations and they never seem to go away but as long as we do not stoop to them we will be successful in life.

Another Dr. Strange comment which is Biblical as well as Eastern was, “Surrender and give up everything and everything will be yours.”

I think Jesus was sending a very powerful message to his followers (that is us) when he said, “those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” We put so much value on things, and things never last.

What profit is there in gaining the whole world but losing your soul. My elderly cousin John Steinbach would frequently say, “I've checked out those caskets at the funeral home. There aren't any pockets in them.”

We need to keep reminding ourselves that the more we give the more we get. As most of you know I work on Fridays as a counselor at the food pantry. There was a lady who came to us the other day. She said to me, “Ya know, I don't have much money. All I get is $600 a month in social security, but I am so rich in other ways. I have many friends who are like family and I know that if I really needed something they would be there for me.”

Jesus was right. If you have all the possessions in the world but lose your soul, you have nothing.

The soul is everything.