Sermon Notes for September 11, 2011

Scriptures for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A, Proper 19)

Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114 
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35


  • The Old Testament lesson is the powerful story of the children of Israel exiting Egypt and crossing the sea in front of Pharoah’s army.  Every time I read this lesson I am reminded of Cecil B. Demille’s Ten Commandments.  Charlton Heston has been a couple of generation’s model for Moses.  This is without a doubt a victory story and is full of celebration.  Also, it calls into question our Christian call to “love our enemy” and “turn the other cheek.”  I have never served a congregation that didn’t find this passage to be a bit divisive.  On one hand, it is God’s victory over generations of oppression and slavery.  On the other hand, it is a story that reeks of revenge and smugness.  The dichotomy leads to some interesting possibilities for the preacher.
  • The Psalm for the day (Ps. 114) is a great victory Psalm, and it is not as graphic as the Canticle from Exodus which is the alternative for the day: Exodus 15:1b-11,20-21.  I find that when we chant this Canticle, it has a powerful effect.  Like the first time I ever chanted “dash the babies heads against stones” at Belmont Abbey, it makes you sit up straight and consider the words you are repeating. They may not be the most Christ-like words we could speak, but are they that far off from our hardened hearts?  Definitely a need for a prayer of forgiveness in the liturgy if you use these texts.
  • The Romans text is a classic.  Paul is dealing with some practical issues in the congregation at Rome.  Eating of meat (food possibly sacrificed to idols) –eating anything– vs. those who choose to abstain.  When it comes down to the basics, Paul encourages that whatever we choose to do, we are the Lord’s and should treat one another as the Lord’s.  That means not passing judgment on one another over these kinds of differences.  In the end, we are all going to be accountable to God for the choices we make.
  • Peter asks the question that is on the disicples’ minds–“How often should we forgive?”  The Rabbi’s certainly had a mathematical formula, something that should have led to a whole number of some kind that would not be too huge. After all, there are a whole lot of vengeful scriptures in the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus, instead, offers an ironic exaggeration-not 7 times (perfect number), seventy-seven times (a really big perfect number).  Then he tops that off with a story about a king who is settling accounts with his slaves.  A powerful  call to mercy and forgiveness, are we ready? … 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.”
  • There will be no way to forget that this Sunday is the 10th anniversary of 9/11.  Definitely a day to consider the concepts of mercy and forgiveness in light of our history of oppression as a people of God.  Here is a good article that was posted on the 4th anniversary–The Arithmetic of Forgiveness by Dan Clendenin. He offers a powerful response to one of our country’s darkest days.  There will be no easy way to deal with 9/11 themes–though it happened 10 years ago, the emotions and pain are still on the surface for so many.  The pastor worth his/her weight will preach the Good News of forgiveness and reconciliation to which Jesus calls us. There will be plenty of voices that will speak words of vengeance and divisiveness on that day (even some who will call themselves “Christian”), but Jesus makes it clear that we are called to a more extraordinary life.
  • I remember a sermon given by Stanley Hauerwas who stated that the reason he keeps preaching love, forgiveness and pacifism in the face of war and violence in the world is that maybe he will come to believe and live the Gospel of Jesus himself.  (He of course said it more eloquently with a cranky, blue-collar, Texas accent.)  May we come to believe and live it as well.
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