YOU CAN NOT GO BACK TO EDEN
Exodus 14:1-35, Exodus 15, Matthew 18:21-35
September 12, 1999 by Tad Mitsui
One day, a doctor was listening to a patient”s endless litany of aches and pains. At one point, the doctor had his turn. He said, "At your age, sir, when you get up in the morning and don”t have any pain, you must be dead." Pains are God”s way of telling you that you are alive, but that you have to pay attention to a ceratin parts of your body. There is something terribly wrong with you, if you don”t feel any pain. A leper does not feel pain, because his body is rotting. Pain is a gift just like pleasure is a gift. Pleasure gives us the joy of life. And pain makes us realize that we have a responsibility to ourselves.
The Bible teaches us to appreciate God”s gifts, be it a pleasure or be it a pain. The memories of the past can be good and bad. We all like the memories of good times that make us feel happy, and do not like bitter memories that make us feel angry or sad. You have to be able to take up the uncomfortable part of your live as a challenge, just as much as you appreciate the joy of life. If you want to move on to the next phase of your life, you must appreciate both good and bad. Then you have dealt with the past and can let go of it. If you don”t, you will become obsessed with the past. You will be sucked into a bog of nostalgia or bitterness and get stuck there, while life passes you by.
On the shore of the Red Sea, the Hebrew people faced a serious predicament. They were caught between the sea in front and the enemy behind. They complained bitterly to Moses, "Did you have to drag us all out into this God forsaken desert only to be killed by the Egyptian army?" Obviously, they had completely forgotten all the miracles God performed for them. Because of those miracles, they were freed from the miserable life as slaves. Those who refuse to appreciate God”s gifts, can see only the negative side of things. A story has it that there was once a woman minister. She was kind and caring; she had visions, worked hard for the church; and to top it all, she was a mighty preacher. She was one of the best in the church. But no matter how good she was, always there were people who did not like women ministers. One day, she performed a miracle. She walked on water. But her antagonists said, "See? I told you. The woman can”t even swim."
When you don”t like a challenge and do not want any problem in life, you see everything in front of you negatively. Future is always hopeless for those who can not accept a challenge, because they have no eyes to see the gifts of God in what is not familiar. They cling to the nostalgic memories of the past and refuse to go on with life. They do not want to admit that they are conveniently ignoring the fact that what they remember is only half truth, because they forgot what they didn”t want to remember. This is what happens when you do not like challenges. You see future only as a pack of troubles.
Seeing that people were very upset in the face of a potential disaster, Moses took a walking stick and dipped it into the water. A strong wind blew the water away and they were able to walk across the bottom of the sea. A theory has it that the Red Sea in the Bible actually is what is known today as the Sea of Reeds on the Red Sea coast. It is a swamp full of reeds, which allows people and animals to run across to the other side when the tide is low. Some people, however, believe that it was a miracle – an act of God just like the Bible described it. In either case, the point is the same: those who were brave enough to face an unknown future as a challenge win the day. The Hebrews remembered God”s mighty acts of the past with gratitude, thus could see a potential trouble as a difficult path but as an exciting adventure. They must have been terrified but they trusted God”s unchanging love and found the way out of the trouble.
The Jews could run fast because they were a bunch of escaping slaves carrying very little possession. The Egyptians, on the other hand, were a mighty army wearing heavy armours riding the horse-drawn chariots made of metal and wood that weighed tons. So the Egyptians got bogged down on the muddy sand. When the tide came back, they drowned. How true this is in our lives too. We surround ourselves with stuff. We love stuff. There is nothing wrong in that. But we must also be ready to let go of it. Otherwise, possessions may drag you down and will make you immobile when you have to move fast.
You must give thanks for good things. But from time to time, you may have to let go of them to get on with life. Do not dwell in nostalgia. You must also let go of the memories of bitter experiences. You must learn to appreciate the lessons that the difficult experiences teach us. Otherwise, you will end up hating the world, and everybody and everything in it. What is the point of living if you hate life. This is why forgiveness is a most essential life skill. Forgiveness allows you to let go of the bitter past and go forward in your life.
It is clear from the Gospel reading for today that Jesus thought forgiveness most important. It is letting go of the bitter past in order to get on with life. Jesus said that we must forgive not just once, but seven times, even seven times seven – 49 times. Our lives depend on forgiveness. Forgiveness makes it possible for people to let go of the past and to accept each other. Our lives can not go on without acceptance and support of each other.
Two things are sure in our lives. We can not go back to the Garden of Eden, no matter how wonderful it is. We can not look back on Egypt any more either. We have to let go of the bitter memories of difficult times. Like Paul said, "When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways." Let us thank God for the good things, let us forgive the past, and move on like adults. Life before us is wonderful.