Sermon preached Sunday, September 17th
Christ Church Sei Ko Kai, San Francisco
Exodus 14: 19-31
Christ Church Sei Ko Kai, San Francisco
Exodus 14: 19-31
Yesterday was my Dad’s birthday, we talk once a week or so, he lives on the East Coast and often the topics we discuss include politics, what’s happening at the Episcopal Church where I grew up that just celebrated their 50th anniversary as a parish, and family history. When I told him that I couldn’t talk long because I needed to work on my sermon --- he asked what the readings were and then went on to tell me a few stories. He talked about his long deceased father, my grandfather’s panic attacks driving at night and how he thought those were connected to his experiences serving as skipper on a boat, an LCT Craft during World War 2 in the Solomon Islands, my Dad isn’t sure what sort of combat his father had experienced during the war, because his Dad didn’t like to talk about it, but he did say that carrying coffins and gasoline around at night on the open sea must have been scary. My Grandfather died relatively young perhaps a consequence of alcoholism and diabetes, we believe he suffered from PTSD at a time few people understood what that was or what could be done to help.
My Dad went on, despite my having said, I need to go, I’ve got this sermon to write, to talk about an NPR story he’d heard awhile ago about an African American WWII veteran who had returned from the war and in a southern city, perhaps Jacksonville where his mother, my grandmother was raised, and where her Dad my great grandfather had served as an Episcopal priest. The black veteran who was in uniform saw that there was a whites-only cafeteria and that Italian and German prisoners of war were being seated there, the black veteran couldn’t find the black only section and went inside to ask where he could find it, the management of the cafeteria began harassing him and called the police to have him arrested for coming inside.
When I told my Dad that I was preaching at your historic congregation he knew something of your community’s story without my needing to tell him. He immediately said how outrageous and wrong it was that so many Japanese Americans had to endure internment camps but very few Italian and German Americans did.
Today’s lessons from sacred scripture give us much to consider, the iconic story of God parting the sea allowing Moses and the Israelites to cross over and then drowning Pharaoh’s army and Jesus insisting on forgiveness being an essential part of the life of the church.
Starting with the story from Exodus, as someone raised in a family committed to nonviolence, despite having or perhaps because of significant military experience all the way back to the Revolutionary War, the idea that God would drown the Army of Pharaoh has always left me uncomfortable. Wasn’t Pharaoh’s Army just carrying out their leaders orders?
The biblical narrative seems to suggest that God is not a fan of empires, whose ever they are, and that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob favors the underdog and chooses to work with particular communities of human beings so that they might be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Pharaoh and the Egypt he ruled were brutal task masters, who behaved like many empires before and after them considering themselves almighty and even divine, oppressing the weak and ruling unjustly. The Hebrew slaves had no weapons, all they had was faith in God and trust that by following God’s liberating voice coming from Moses and a burning bush life outside the empire of Egypt would be better than life in bondage.
Jesus in today’s Gospel like Moses seems to believe that God was calling him to lead a revolution, but one that required no weapons but trust and faithfulness. A revolution of the heart, one that could reach wealthy lords as well as slaves.
Today’s gospel seems to suggest that forgiveness is not something that we can demand of others only something we can seek humbly, offer, and practice. A great hymn that has always fed me is “its me, its me oh lord standing in the need of prayer…Not my father not my mother but its me oh lord, not the preacher not the teacher but its me oh lord.” Our nation seems to be at a critical moment when each one of us is being challenged to live into our better natures, to work for a more perfect union inviting us who call ourselves Christians to seek humbly, offer and practice forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean denying the truths of our nation’s brutal history current or past, in fact in order to really know we need forgiveness we must be confronted with the wrongs we have committed or come face to face with those who have harmed us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his profound book the Cost of the Discipleship distinguishes between cheap grace and costly grace. Cheap grace he says and I am paraphrasing a bit is: the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, church discipline. confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, without the cross, without Jesus Christ. Costly Grace Bonhoeffer says confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a person to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him.
That’s why I feel so grateful for having been part of the Episcopal Diocese of California these past 10 years, even as it has been far from easy. I have learned so much from my own and others struggles, challenges, misunderstandings, and earnest pursuits of truth, justice and love. We are thanks be to God a rainbow of congregations, institutions, organizations, and individuals who are hopefully growing more and more in our awareness of the need to seek and practice forgiveness. May we with no weapons, armed with our trust and love of God continue to pursue a future in a land of freedom and not bondage, may we be able to distinguish the voices of Pharaohs from the voices of Prophets and may we together find ways to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, siblings in Jesus’ revolution of the heart.
-The Rev. Will Scott