Sermons That Work

Today Is September 11…, Proper 19 (A) – 2005

September 11, 2005

Today is September 11, a date that will be remembered for generations yet to come. It is a date that Americans consider one of the most significant in the nation’s history. It is a date that is associated with other epic historic events such as the founding of the United States, the end of the conflict between the North and the South, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the end of World War II. It is a date that challenged the freedom of a free people. “9/11,” as many call it, is a day a free nation became even more resolute in its desire for freedom for all people—people of all races, creeds, and colors.

September 11, 2001, was also a date that challenged the grace of forgiveness that we who claim to be Christians have been told by our Lord Jesus Christ to offer, even to our enemies. Life itself is sometimes not easy! And forgiveness is not an easy gift to give! Yet, for our own health, it is a necessity.

Jesus in today’s Gospel answered Peter’s question, “How often should I forgive?” with “Not seven times, but I tell you seventy-seven times.” In talking about righting wrongs, Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, echoes Jesus when he says, “We will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” He adds a quote from Isaiah, the prophet, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God. So then, each of us will be accountable to God.”

For the last several years—beginning even before 9/11—the world has been faced with great outbursts of hatred, bitterness, and anger; and with the desire, of various groups and individuals, to cause harm to others. Often these actions are done “in the name of God.” But our God is not a God of hatred. Our God is a God of unquenchable love.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, retired Anglican bishop of South Africa and formerly chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, says to forgive goes beyond the unselfish devotion to the cause of others. He adds, “to forgive is a process that does not exclude hate and anger. These emotions are all part of being human.” Tutu continues, “You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things; the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.” This great Anglican humanitarian and spiritual pioneer reminds us of our responsibilities. Tutu stresses that, “When I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.” Until we find in ourselves the capacity to forgive, we continue to be linked to the cause of our anger and our unforgiving emotions. Only as we forgive are we able to move on and become the more Christ-like person that God has called us to be.

A young woman was interviewed not long ago on television after one of the London bombings. Having been on a bombed subway train, escaping with bruises and shattered nerves, she was asked by a reporter could she forgive those who caused the bombing? She responded, “I would hope that I could, but I don’t know whom to forgive. Until I am able to see the face of such hatred, I do not know how deep I must dig in my spirit to find forgiveness.” Hatred comes in many forms; the great hatred that causes tragedies like 9/11, the suicide bombings in Palestine and Israel, Muslims killing Muslims, young gangs doing harm to other young people over territories controlled for drugs and sexual favors. We must not take these actions of hatred lightly for they affect the health of the world.

Yet acts requiring forgiveness are much more personal to most of us than those cited. Incidents of simple human frailties challenge each of us to a personal level.

  • The need to find forgiveness in painful family relations.
  • The need to find forgiveness with an employer.
  • The need to find forgiveness with a friend who has deserted us.
  • The need to find forgiveness for the teacher who may have judged us wrongly.
  • The need to find forgiveness when in conflict with the one you most trusted.
  • The need to find forgiveness when “the church” turns against our beliefs.

And the beat goes on! Forgive me Lord, for I have sinned!

God is in the forgiveness business! God sent God’s only Son to be the Savior of a fallen and sinful world. In Ephesians 1:7 Paul writes, “In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the richness of his grace.” Paul later reminded the Christians at Ephesus, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.”

We often think of forgiveness as something that someone who has done us wrong must ask of us! Let’s take the high road, difficult as it may be. Let us forgive the person who has wronged us before the hatred eats away at our ability to forgive. It will not be easy, but God is there to help. We can do this by offering that individual up to God, not sitting in judgment, but by simply saying, “Help so and so and mend our relationship.” Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” Believe it because God is the Divine. When we withhold forgiveness, we remain the victim. When we offer forgiveness, we are doing it only for our own well-being. Forgiveness allows us to move beyond the pain, the resentment, and the anger. We always have a choice; to forgive or not to forgive. When we forgive we make the choice that heals.

We may never forget the hurt we have experienced, but we can choose to forgive. As life goes on and we remember an incident that was hurtful and caused great anger, we need to remind ourselves that with God’s grace we have already forgiven the one that hurt us. Time does heal memories. Time can dull the vividness of the hurt and thus the memory will fade. We must never let the person who hurt us own us. Forgiveness finally changes us from prisoners of our past to being liberated and at peace with our memories. There is a great old gospel hymn entitled, “Victory in Jesus.” There is greatness in being victorious because we have felt the presence of Jesus in our lives as the wind of God’s Holy Spirit brings the healing power of God’s mercy.

Such hellish acts as those of that tragic September 11 may take a lifetime of forgiveness. Every day, visualize your forgiveness as Jesus anoints you with his healing oils. Visualize that God is real, that amidst this trauma God is still God. Visualize those who caused such destruction as sinful men needing the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ. Sing out the old redemptive story that some sweet day we will sing with the angels, “Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever.”

Whether it is the act of hateful people who killed thousands on that fateful morning in Washington, New York, and the fields of Pennsylvania; or the act of a child or parent that disappointed us in crude and inappropriate behavior; we need to reach out to a loving God and ask God to walk with us as we struggle with the need to forgive.

God is good. He will not fail! Are we up to the task? Can we forgive as Christ forgave those who crucified him?

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Christopher Sikkema