Wishy-Washy or Forgiving?

Snoopy and Charlie Brown

Snoopy and Charlie Brown

At home in the curio

At home in the curio

Today I brought visual aids to church to help with the sermon. I placed Snoopy and Charlie Brown on either side of the light that is on the pulpit. They sat through the whole message just looking out at the congregation. It was a hoot. It was really cool because they never get to leave their home in the curio. Below is the message that went with them and the scripture for today was Exodus 14: 19-31 and Matthew 18: 21-35. The title as listed above was “Wishy-Washy or Forgiving?”

I have with me today, two of my favorite characters, Snoopy and Charlie Brown. What is not to love about a boy and his dog? What is not to love about these characters created so many years ago by Charles Schultz? I know that my grandson looks at these two stuffed toys in my curio every time he comes to visit, and I have yet to be generous enough to let him play with them. They are pretty special to me, and I figure we can find something else to play with. In fact, this is probably one of the first times either of them has ventured out in a long time.

So, who could dislike either of them, really? Well, Charlie Brown is not well liked by his peers, especially the girls because they say that he is wishy-washy. They put him down for not being a stronger leader. Mostly it is because of the way he manages his baseball team. Baseball is one of those sports that has some pretty tough rules. Think about it three chances is all you get at bat for either the batter or the pitcher (except with fouls, but …). When going around the bases don’t even think about getting close, you better touch it, and if you want to tag someone out, don’t drop the ball.

Part of Charlie Brown’s problem could be that he doesn’t always take a stand, or maybe it is because he backs down too easily. He just isn’t a good manager, but then think about his team. How many girls does he have to deal with, and who wouldn’t back down to Lucy. She threatens her little brother with a punch every time he gives her any type of sass. Charlie Brown would have to be more of a tyrant than a decisive leader to gain the respect of the crew he has to work with. I am thinking that they expect him to have that three strikes and you are out mentality, but he doesn’t. He gives his “friends” a little lee way.

In the passage we read in Matthew today, I am thinking that Peter speaking on behalf of the disciples was looking for something like the three strikes and you are out rule. The story says that Peter asked Jesus how many times is it proper to forgive someone? It seems he was willing to go to seven as the number of times one should offer forgiveness. Seven seems to be a sort of “magic” number in Biblical terms. We get the idea that Peter thinks forgiving someone seven times, is a rather was a generous offer. And maybe if we think about it in terms of someone doing us wrong, well, seven does seem like quite a few times. But it is nothing in comparison to the answer that Jesus gives. The NRSV states it as 77 times, but older interpretations us the term 7 times 70, which comes out as a much greater number. And basically we are to take it as nearly infinitely. Wow.

I looked this up in my Interpreters Bible because I wanted clarity on the real meaning. What I found made me do more digging, imagine that. Their explanation connected the words of Peter in this passage back to Genesis 4:24 to the story of the descendants of Cain who killed Abel and it says, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” Lamech was the great-great grandson of Cain, who killed a young man for wounding him. The story in Genesis in the days when the human race was just coming into being, we see that vengeance/revenge has no limits.

Jesus, in his answer to Peter, is telling the disciples and us that forgiveness/mercy has no limits. The days before God chose Abraham and the Israelites as the people of God, the days before Moses went up on the Mountain to receive the 10 Commandments, those days were times of great vengeance, but the days of Jesus, both when he walked on the earth and after he was crucified to today, these are days when God expects us to forgive because he forgives us. Each week we recite the Lord’s Prayer in which we say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” These two go hand in hand God forgives/we forgive. Not an easy thing.

And more so, how do we forgive so many times without being seen as wishy-washy as Charlie Brown? This is not an easy concept to figure out. This is not something where I have any firm hard answers, except to say, somehow there is a need to discern the action from the one doing the action. We forgive the fellow human in Christian love, but we don’t always agree with or put up with the actions that the fellow human is doing. Sometimes that is really hard to separate, but God never said this following what we are asked to do is always going to be easy. On the other hand, there might be days when we ask if any of it could please be easy.

The story Jesus relates to Peter and the disciples outlines what he means. The servant who has been forgiven much (15x entire year salary) by the king (using South Dakota minimum wage for this year, which is (7.25x40x52= a little more than $15,000×15 about $226,000-that is the least it would be in today’s standards) refuses to forgive the little (about $20) that another owed to him. Looking at that, I realize just how many times that could be me. How many times have I been upset with someone who I believe has wronged me or owes me something that is really small and petty, yet there have been others that I have not done right by in bigger ways, but it is ok because….not really. God doesn’t see it that way. God wants sincere from the heart repentance. But the good news is that God is merciful and forgiving when we repent.

So I need to ask how can we reconcile this forgiving and merciful God of the New Testament with the God, who closed the sea around the chariots of the Egyptians? Didn’t they have enough grief with the loss of all their first borns that we talked about last week? How could Jesus who preaches and teaches and demands all this forgiveness and mercy be the Son of a God who causes all this death and destruction? Holding the sea separate and dry for the Israelites as they hurry through it to safety, then letting the mud clog the tires of the chariots and dropping the sea wall down over the Egyptian Army is the act of a determined and decisive leader. There is no wishy-washy in the God of the Israelites, but does that mean there is no forgiveness either? How do we reconcile this?

The best I have is that God has given the Egyptians ample time to change their ways. The killing of the first-born was not the first plague to hit them. The Hebrew people asked if they could leave peacefully. There were lots of chances, but the leaders refused to listen. They refused to cooperate. They made their choices. We too must make our choices. Do we refuse the love and forgiveness and mercy that God offers to us? Do we accept the tasks that God demands of us? It is our choice just as it was the choice of the Egyptians.

One resource also suggested that the Israelites leaving the Egyptians could also be looked on symbolically. Egypt could be seen as representing “allegiance to the world.” When the Hebrew people crossed through the Red Sea they became a directed, determined people led by God, and when they crossed through that Sea, the door to the past was shut behind them. (Mears, Dr. Henrietta, What the Bible is All About pg. 55).

We, too, when we decide to follow Jesus need to shut the door to following the wants and the desires of the world. We need to keep our focus on what is the right thing to do, the forgiving and merciful way to be. We need to remember that we are not just Sunday morning Christians. The love and the mercy and the forgiveness and the joy of Jesus our Savior needs to be shared with each other and with others on all seven days of the week. And when we do that, we will know that it is God who is holding back the waters of our own personal Red Sea so that just like the Hebrews, we can pass through those tough and scary times. Amen!

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