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"Don’t Be A Stick In The Mud!"

September 17, 2023 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: Exodus 14:19–22, Matthew 18:21–23

September 17, 2023 Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost The text is Exodus 14:19-31 / Matthew 18:21-33.


Exodus 14:19-31

19The 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. 20It 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.

21Then 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. 22The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24At 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. 25He 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.” 26Then 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.” 27So 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. 28The 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. 29But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31Israel 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.

Matthew 18:21-33

21Peter 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?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, 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. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But 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.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

When we read about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, as Moses recounts for us this morning, the discussion usually revolves around the enslavement of the Hebrew people, the tyranny of Pharaoh, and God’s mercy.  There is no more uneven relationship than that between slave and master.  One holds the very power of freedom, life, and death over the other. 


Thus, when the Israelites in bondage had endured all they could and God sent the ten plagues to Egypt they took the chance to flee, to escape their brutal overseer, the Egyptian pharaoh.  And things seemed to be going pretty well until the fleeing Israelites found themselves between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”.  They face Red Sea in front of them, with Pharaoh’s mounted and chariot-driving soldiers bearing down on them from behind.  Now, much has been written concerning whether their crossing to freedom was a miraculous parting of the Red Sea or perhaps something somewhat less impressive.  Many modern scholars postulate that the area the escaping Israelites found themselves pursued to was actually the Reed Sea; a marshy, muddy swamp at best.  And some bible academics have suggested that the original translations were a bit generous when referring to this as a “sea”.  And many argue that the crossing of this marshy area would have been difficult for people on foot and their herds of sheep; muddy and slow, but achievable.  But also that this environment would prove nearly impossible to cross for heavily armored soldiers on horseback and riding in chariots, who would be bogged down and unable to give pursuit.

And whether you embrace the parted sea miracle or the muddy swamp theory, the end result is the same; God provided for the salvation of his chosen people, leading them from enslavement to the promised land.  But this poses the question; who provided for, who protected the welfare of the Roman soldiers who were lost in this engagement?  Certainly, not Pharaoh, for he sent them off to recapture these formerly enslaved people whom he had earlier released from their bondage in Egypt.  God provided for his chosen people, while Pharaoh callously discarded his soldiers, many of whom were conscripts, draftees, in order to soothe his bruised ego at the exodus of the Israelites, the loss of his enslaved pyramid builders.

Yet the Jewish descendants of these ancient Israelites remember with sympathy the misfortune the Egyptian people suffered from the plagues that Pharaoh caused to be brought upon them.


As our Jewish brothers and sisters lament this tragedy at the Passover seder today, we ought to recall that Jesus would have done the same as he and his disciples met in the upper room as they celebrated their Last Passover Supper together.  A portion of the Passover liturgy is a remembrance with sympathy and sadness of the suffering of the Egyptian people.  The institution of the Eucharist that came to be at that Passover meal was, and is a celebration of universal compassion and forgiveness. In instituting Holy Communion, Jesus stated that the salvation he was to bring was to include “all people”; Israelite and Egyptian, slave and master, fleeing escapee and pursuing soldier.  This remains true in the present; the redemption that Jesus secured is intended for the current day sinner and saint; you and me.  Our God has created one family, one humanity.  We are joined together in our common suffering; and in universal salvation and forgiveness.  The bread and the wine today are given for “all people”.

In this bonding together as children of God it is incumbent on us that we strive to emulate this desire for everyone to have a share in all that the Father has provided.  And that basically comes down to treating everything and everyone as equal; in worth, in stature, in value.  If we aren’t all on the same page in mission to protect what is valuable to us as individuals, it becomes impossible to safeguard that which is dear to the whole of creation.  The enormously wide gap that exists between and among different groups is contrary to God’s will, and often precludes meaningful achievement of anything of worth.

This morning Matthew recounts Jesus’ telling of the parable of the “Ungrateful Servant”.  The ten-million-dollar or so debt of the first servant is forgiven, while that same servant refuses to allow the one indebted to him the opportunity to repay the paltry few hundred bucks he owed.  There’s that wide gap of inequality again.  This story is meant to teach us that we ought to always be willing to forgive the wrongs that have been done to us and work toward a successful and fair resolution to the issue.  The one who was owed the impossible amount was compassionate and forgiving.  The other, who was owed a small sum was perfectly willing to have the debtor imprisoned, while the ruler in the first instance was willing to overlook the enormous debt.

The deeper meaning we ought to take from this parable reveals that God cares so much for God’s children that he is willing to forgive the impossible debt that we all owe, that of our sinfulness.  By the Father’s grace we are forgiven for entire lives of unfair actions towards those around us.  In the parable, the incredible sum owed of 10,000 talents of gold or silver is meant to portray the forgiveness of something of inconceivable value.  It was an amount that could never be obtained.  And as valuable as the sum is, it is as nothing when compared to the reward that the Father promises us in God’s willingness to overlook our debt; that of our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.

We are assured life eternal where all debts owed, paltry or enormous have been overlooked and forgiven, through the work of Christ on the cross.  And if our Savior was willing to give up his life for our debt, are we then not compelled to work together to ease the burdens of all?  Jesus’ parable highlights the value of the individual, in that forgiveness should be shown to everyone, whether a small or enormous debtor.  God’s deliverance of the Israelites, and our Jewish brothers’ and sisters’ willingness to weep for the tragedy of Pharaoh’s foot-soldiers, expands the circle of forgiveness to include all of Creation. 

In a few moments, the Words of Institution will be spoken, in remembrance of that Passover meal 2,000 years ago.  We will once again hear Jesus’ proclamation that forgiveness is intended “for all people”.  And as we partake of this immeasurable gift of God’s grace, let us remember that it is our responsibility to at least attempt to offer others some amount of graciousness in response to it.  God forgives all; we ought to at least try to forgive a little.  For when we release others from that which burdens them, only then do we really strive toward the redemption of the whole of Creation.  We are called to seek out the need that surrounds us; we don’t have to look too far to find it.  God’s people are suffering; the commandment to feed, clothe, and shelter Christ’s people has not diminished since Jesus first instructed us to do this.  And whenever one of our siblings’ burdens is eased, the world is brought closer to the establishment of God’s kingdom.  Let us go forth from this place intending to make a difference in this coming kingdom.  Let’s imitate the mercy shown by Jesus and the Father.  Don’t be a “stick in the mud”!   

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, we fail to recognize the needs of the world you created.  So much so that we often don’t see the suffering of your individual child right before us.  Help us to contribute to the common good, remembering that our tiny efforts may be added to those of others; and that overall, your will for Creation will be fulfilled.  And we pray these things the name of Jesus Christ, the One who on the cross secured forgiveness for the debts of the world.  Amen.

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is GoodAmen.