However, at this time most people get to camp by boat. You are brought to the dock at Loffs Bay and you are loaded onto a large heavy duty barge that we perhaps mislabel a pontoon. As long as I have been here some of us have been talking about the deep holy value of the boat ride. Of how it is a boundary crossing, a clear border between the everyday world of everyday loves and heartaches, and the space apart that Camp Cross very much is. No camp, whether scout or church camp, no camp I have ever encountered has such a complete crossing over. A real way in which the pressures of life and the terrors of brokenness can seem very much thrown into the sea and left behind on the other side of the water.
It is almost impossible to calculate how crucial the Exodus experience is for ancient Judaism and therefore early Christianity. It is the background rhythm of nearly every track of the Old Testament. It is a tune that the New Testament writers are humming and assume you are too. Not the experience itself which is beyond historicity and mechanical proofs. The crossing through the waters is the metaphor of metaphors in our scriptures. Figuratively it brings straightforward images of freedom and cleansing, as well as serious danger and the transitory nature of things. The Hebrew word for waters in this Old Testament passage occurs 575 times. It runs all through the Psalms and is splashed across the Prophets. The exiles in Babylon and beyond asked, ‘Who are we, what is God like’. The answer is that we are people who were set free, by a God whose love and forgiveness are boundless. There wasn’t a checkpoint on the way out of Egypt. No Pearly Gates and Peter absurdly checking the lists of proper and naughty slaves, no hoops to jump through for the very human, certainly sinful people who were caught in the grinding wheels of empire and the gruesome powers of big D death.
Having watched the whole span of human being-ness for years I believe that forgiveness is both a natural gift and something we have to learn to do over and over again. Today's parable is children's chunky book simple. We don’t need advanced degrees to get his metaphor today. Someone is forgiven: endlessly broadly completely. We were slaves in Egypt and caught in terror and we were not asked for our papers at the shoreline. We were set free. We passed through the waters. Freely. And the only proper and faithful response is to become just as forgiving.
People will let us down, we will let others down. Living together can be an adventure in lies and dead ends that seem beyond escape. I don’t know how easy or hard it is for God to forgive. For me, sometimes it is easy and other times it takes years to let go of those moments of slights and ghosting and manipulation. It may even be that I hold the betrayals of the people I love longer than I hold the betrayals of myself. For me the forgiveness doesn’t come so much with cognitive effort, but only with prayers of the heart and time walking with a community is centered on the way of Christ. Trusting what Jesus says about God and about us means that we are living with him on the other side of the shore. We still live in the whole territory of earth and humanity where the garbage heap of demeaning selfishness and big D death resist God’s reign. Yet trusting in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we become free. Free to choose to cooperate with such wretchedness, or not.
Most of the young people who have spent a session of camp with me have been invited to the dissolving of sins. If what I am known for in the long run is an immensely effective liturgical parlor trick, so be it. The counselors cheer when they hear we will be naming our sins before God! Strange! They cheer because this parlor trick feels like it works in a tangible way. In the middle of an evening worship service by the lake, we hand out markers and slips of this paper (holding up a slip). In a variety of ways, we invite folks to take a slip of paper and write on it some grief or sin or brokenness that they need to give to God to dissolve. All those bones of small contention, the self-dislike, the neighbor who is annoying, unforgiveness big and small.
I use the same paper and a bowl of water when I greet Whitman students each August. My sign says dissolve your anxieties. The bowl grows in particles of issues written and dropped in the water. The students always say wow, that feels better. Like a little bit of therapy. However, there is a big difference between the effect in the bowl and the effect in the lake. In the bowl, there are remnants visible. Watery marker and little bits of the rice and starch that make up the quilting stabilizing paper I use for this parlor trick. And in this small stable water, they don’t go away completely. It eventually looks a bit like a witches brew. This is how it is with us. We forgive, but we have bits remain. Which leads us to do exactly what the main character of the parable does. We do not forgive as we have been forgiven.
What happens in the lake, however, is what I trust happens with God. The slip is placed in the living water of the lake and it utterly disappears. Churned up by the winds and the wakes of the boats they simply are gone. So I have the paper slips here for you today. And I want you to take one. Take it and hold onto it until you are near a living body of water. Mill Creek, the Puget Sound, the Pacific Ocean. When you find that living water, I want you to take a deep moment of prayer. Imagine yourself crossing through the sea of Reeds, what checklist of tears were you not asked about? Find yourself in the memory of this parable. That moment where you have not forgiven as you have been forgiven. Write something on that slip of paper, and put it in the water. Let it Go.Let it be as it is with God when we confess and make amends. Utterly dissolved.
The forgiveness Jesus offers us in this parable is for the little things we cling to so tightly and the big ones that hover around us like a fog. The forgiveness offered here is as death-defying as hiking across the sea on dry ground. Forgiving as we have been forgiven tramples down all the deception and shaming that the powers that be ever dole out.
I wonder what can be written on that sheet and set into living waters? Jesus asks us today, can you offer yourself or others the same freedom you have been so freely given by God?
Let us pray silently together,
Imagining ourselves with that paper in hand,
Standing on the shore. (Ocean sounds over the sound system.)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
September 17, 2017
Walla Walla, Washington
Proper 19 Year A Track 1
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