Monday, September 12, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011: Forgiveness

Jesus will share with us his ability to forgive.

Pentecost Thirteen:
Proper 19A RCL : 10th Anniversary of 9/11
Exodus 14:19-31 :Psalm 114: Romans 14:1-12 ;Matthew 18:21-35

Our Gospel is a powerful story about forgiveness. We connect both to the person who is forgiven and to the person who is not. We have all been there. And we connect to the one who forgives and the one who does not forgive. Again, we have all been there. And though I do not think any of us have literally spent time in jail, there are times we have all been metaphorically in prison because we were not forgiven, and I imagine we have jailed many people ourselves because we have not forgiven others.

Let's examine some of the teaching about forgiveness in our tradition.. First, forgiveness is not the same as repentance Forgiveness is when we let go of a wrong and give a person a future.
Repentance is when a person is sorry for a wrong and desire forgiveness. There is no reconciliation between two people without both forgiveness and repentance

We are called to forgive, and we are called to repent. There is no reconciliation, the relationship is not truly whole, until there is reconciliation and the relationship is restored.

However just because someone shows no sign of repentance we are still asked to forgive right away so that it is available as soon as a person might repent. The truth is, if we do not learn to forgive, it will eat us up.

As Christians we are called to be very intentional about both forgiveness and repentance, and both forgiveness and repentance demand the virtue of humility, and the suppression of pride. Love requires us to admit our faults in relationships and seek forgiveness when we need to, and Love requires us to be forgiving, and to desire reconciliation..

Peter is wrestling with this. So when someone offends us how many times will we forgive them... Seven times? Okay, Peter is ready to forgive, but the question is, does it ever run out. Can my patience wear thin? Is there a point where I don't forgive.

Jesus's answer is we forgive seventy times seven times. We forgive as often as it is necessary. St. Augustine of Hippo and the early church theologian Chromotius both see in this parable, in the seventy times seven and in the 10,000 talents a symbol of the sin of the whole world throughout time. If we forgive on this same scale, it means that we forgive just as Jesus forgives, the whole world, without exception, without reservation. If we need to see how costly that forgiveness might be we need look only at the Cross.

Do you feel daunted by such a demand? To forgive all the world? And on this anniversary of 9/11 isn't it hard to forgive those who act in such cold-blood. Yes it is. It is for me. It is practically impossible. The cruelty and wickedness of human beings can drive us beyond anger even into rage, deep hurt and grief.

The ability to forgive in this way is not humanly possible.

That is why we do not try to do it on our own strength. We confess to God that we are unable, and we ask for God to give us the strength to be forgiving in this way. We must look to Jesus on the Cross who is ready to forgive us the sin of the world.

We look to Jesus for our forgiveness, and we look to Jesus for the forgiveness of the world. Perhaps I am not able at this time to forgive, but I turn to Jesus and I opt for him, not for myself. I choose his behavior, his way of life, not mine.
We can look to the wisdom of our teachers in the faith from our tradition for help how we might open ourselves to that power. The tradition recommends, sit down, breath, pause, and be aware of the presence of God.

There is no better course of action when we experience extreme and disturbing events. Pause.. "Be still and know that I am God" the Psalms tell us. The Holy Spirit is here always, and when we pause to remember that, to let it penetrate the deep places in our heart, we connect to the power of Jesus, we can live according to his ways, and not our own.
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a book, "Writing in the dust" and he said in response to the evil destruction inflicted on the victims of the World Trade Center we must pause, in order to connect to the Spirit of God. And from there respond.

I reviewed so much about September 11, 2011 in preparation for today, and I so want to share a story, but I don't have time now. It is about two people who paused on 9/11 inside the towers themselves. One survived and one did not. Both paused because they were in the process of helping someone else escape. I hope you will ask me about it, because I so want to mediate on these two stories.

As we remember 9/11 today we too will pause. We grieve for those who have died and those who lost loved ones. We grieve for our nation and we attempt to make sense of the events that have transpired since that day. We have anger at those who would take the lives of others, and even do it in the name of God. Today, we will pause and connect to God. We are invited to choose Jesus's way, and to open ourselves up to what that might mean, by being still. In our silence we ask for the love and the wisdom of Jesus.

After the creed we will have a special form of the prayers of the people. We will enjoy a long long silence and during that time all are invited to come and light a votive light. We light these lights as a prayer, and we also light these candles with the prayer that our heart and life may become a candle for the world giving off the light of Christ. In the name