Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Talking about forgiveness 10 years after 9/11

 Below is the message I shared on Sunday, which was as you all know was the 10 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  All last week I heard a lot of other pastors wrestling with the fact that the lectionary passages dealt with forgiveness and how difficult that might be.   I found it to be good.  Until Sunday morning when I was getting ready for church and I had the TV on and was watching Pres. Obama read Psalm 46 and I heard the 2 moments of silence (if that makes any sense).  It hit me much more powerfully than I had imagined it would.  Anyway, I really believe forgiveness - our forgiveness of others - is how we most powerfully share God's love with the world.  Anyway, here you go:

Exodus 14:19-31
 19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.
 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
 23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed[a] the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”
 26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” 27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward[b] it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
 29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Matthew 18:21-35

 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
 22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[a]
   23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him.25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
   26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
   28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[c] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
   29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
   30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
   32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
   35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Prayer: God, as we gather together to worship you this day we ask that would open our hearts and our minds so that we might hear and understand your Word for our lives.  We ask your Spirit to work in us to transform first our hearts and then our lives.  Guide us Lord to move from our personal transformation to becoming instruments of transformation for the world around us.  Use us Lord to bring your kingdom near.  Amen.
"Seventy times seven" is a lot of forgiveness. Once is tough enough. Twice, almost unreasonable. "Seventy seven times?" It Almost seems ridiculous, yet that is precisely what Jesus commanded in his dialogue with Simon Peter. Keep on forgiving, he counseled, even when forgiveness seems illogical. For often forgiveness is more of a gift we give ourselves than a favor we bestow on others.
These are interesting and challenging words for us on this particular day – but appropriate words as we look to the start of a new school year and we think about the fresh start each new beginning gives us.  A new beginning that begins with the principal of importance.
Jesus illustrated that principle with the story of a servant who owed the king a fortune. "Ten thousand talents," to be exact—several years, maybe even a lifetimes wages. No way possible he could ever pay up! But his pleading for mercy touched a tender chord in the gracious king, and the servant was forgiven. His account was marked "paid in full."
However, the servant soon met another man who owed him a mere handful of denarii—several days wages. The debtor pleaded for mercy but received a sentence to debtors' prison instead. The king, upon hearing of the first servant's refusal to forgive, rescinded his former offer, and the servant wound up on the locked side of a prison cell "until he would pay his entire debt" (v. 34). His refusal to forgive was his undoing. So it usually goes.
Practicing forgiveness illustrates an awareness of God's love for all of us.  A love that was shown to us without us first ‘deserving it’.  God’s forgiveness represents a fresh start or new beginning for each of us.  When we practice forgiveness in our own lives it allows space for God to cultivate new relationships, fresh starts and the exact new beginning that we need.
We see this evidenced in our scripture lesson from Exodus
The Israelites, through the Spirit of God, were granted a miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  They are God’s chosen people, and they were delivered from the hand of Pharaoh so that they could follow and worship God. 
They were given a new start – not just because – but so that they could live the lives they were created for.  So that they could worship God with all of their lives and they could worship God. 
In order to fully and truly worship God and to really begin their new lives they couldn’t dwell on what had happened to them  - and it took them 40 years of wandering in the desert before they were willing and able – before they were ready to move on and move into the lives that God had saved them for.  That God had created them for. 
In our own lives, we can’t move on from what we are and what has happened to us into the new beginning and the new, transformed lives that God has for us without forgiveness.  This idea – the importance of forgiveness and the connection between the receiving and the giving of forgiveness – is the meaning behind the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matt. 18.
A new life in Christ begins with the forgiveness we have in, through and because of Jesus Christ.     But that forgiveness is only the beginning. 
We can only fully receive the forgiveness of God and only truly be transformed into the new creations God is calling us to be when we begin to share that forgiveness with those in our own lives.
We have to let God’s forgiveness take root in our hearts and lives and flow out of us – even to those, maybe even especially to those that have hurt us the most deeply and those that probably don’t deserve it.
Because If Jesus loves others enough to die for them, perhaps our refusal to forgive them is spiritually inappropriate. 
And the truth of our situation is that we don’t deserve Jesus Christ any more than those people that we are struggling to forgive – but Jesus chose to come and live his life for us and eventually to die for us so that we might spread the love and Kingdom of God – a love none of us deserve to every person and every corner of this world – God’s world. 
This is only possible when we move from looking at the world through the lens of ‘what has happened to us’ or ‘what people have done to us’ and begin to see the world through the lens of Jesus Christ.  So that when we see the world we don’t see the pain we have suffered but the healing and transformation we have received through Jesus. 
Our view and interaction with the world needs to be motivated not by the world’s actions to us, but by Jesus Christ’s action for us!

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