Benediction Online

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Forgiveness towards a better destiny
The Rev. Faye Hogan

In every lifetime at least one major event happens that changes the course of our world as we know it. Seven years ago, on September 11, was one such event. Religious zealots we are told. Protected as we were by our belief that we were the strongest nation in the world and that everyone respected us, even envied us, there were those who, in all sincerity asked, “Why do they hate us so much?” And seven years later, many of the same people who grieved with us, who set up small shrines for our dead and lay sweet bouquets of flowers at those shrines, who sent material aid and prayers to New York, now have turned away from us, no longer trust us. The very soul of our country is lying in the rubble of villages destroyed in an increasingly unpopular war.
How do we regain the trust with the rest of the world? Many in the Middle East had access to radios and TV. They heard and saw what had happened and we are told many ran into the streets cheering. But there were also those who worried about their family members in New York. And were there others who saw how very alike we all are. Saw Americans responding in just the way they would. Did they see the TV footage of people from all over the U.S. paying their own way to New York to find ways to help? Did they see schools and churches become soup kitchens and shelters?
Bishop George Packard, Bishop to Chaplains in the Episcopal Church, sent out a memo last week in commemoration of 9/11.
“How can we forget those days?... We huddled in fear but we also cleaved to each other in some certainty that a better destiny was found together.”
“That a better destiny was found together.” Isn’t that what today’s scripture, in the end, is all about ? In the reading from Genesis [50:15-21] we have been following the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph, mistreated by his brothers yet compassionate to them when they and Joseph’s father, Jacob, fled to exile in Egypt, now has the opportunity to get even. With Jacob dead, the brothers fear retribution from Joseph so decide to try to save their skins by begging on their knees for Joseph’s forgiveness. Joseph not only forgave them with apparently no conditions, and said with conviction, “God meant to bring good out of it.”
“That a better destiny was found together.” Paul ‘s letter to the Romans, apparently a broken body of people, chides the Jewish and Gentile Christians not to argue back and forth over the pervasive self-righteousness each had about the beliefs and practices of the other. Paul reminds them that each is part of a larger picture, each a member of God’s household and that if God has accepted them, who are they to judge one another? “Not everyone has to think as you do. Not everyone has to agree; persue the things that make for peace and build up the common life. Leave the judging to God.” [Romans 14:1-12]
None of us can choose the family we are born into We can’t choose who will be called to become a member of the Christian family, or a member of St. Benedict’s. We do not have to like them. We certainly do not have to love them. We do not have to agree. The hope is that we can help one another to grow into more the person God wants us to be. Disagreement, frustrations with one another present opportunities to learn to live in deeper unity as the body of Christ.
“That a better destiny was found together.” Joseph forgave his brothers. Paul reminds us that the Christian journey is a journey of growth in which forgiveness plays a huge part. In the gospel reading from Matthew [Matt 18:21-25], Peter brings up this whole idea of forgiveness. Most likely Peter knew the answer before he asked. In the culture of his day, Law dictated that you forgive someone 3 times. Only on the 4th time were you permitted to take action. But Peter also, no doubt knew, that Jesus would expect them to be a little more patient with those who offended them. II suspect many of us have had the same question. “But, when is enough enough?!”
William Willimon, religious scholar, writer, and Methodist Bishop, wrote:
“The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural emotion. It is natural for the Human animal to defend itself… to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural. It is not a universal human virtue.”
I’m so glad that Willimon said that. Each one of us knows that forgiving is often almost impossible. In support sessions with many people, I have heard things like, “I’m a good Christian but I just can’t get past this. I’ve tried but I can’t forgive him/her/them. He’s not even sorry. It would mean that she got away with it. I’ve prayed about this yet I can’t forgive and forget. What’s wrong with me?”
So back to Peter’s question, “When is enough enough?” Enough comes when you finally realize that you have ended up in chains of your own making. Enough is enough when you realize that the one who offended you has gone on living their life and you are still stuck in a mire of anger and resentment. Enough is enough when you finally realize that you have been missing an opportunity given to you by God. Is it possible that friction and disagreement may be the places where our faith is most deepened.
Bp. Fred Borsch, former Bp. Of the Los Angeles Diocese, was fond of reminding the clergy that life took place along the fine line of disorder and that changes often seem random, mysterious and strange and that we continually strive for balance between chaos and order. But into this mix, if we surrender some of our control, we are able to begin to love the mystery and to trust the beauty of a world in which God asks of us only that we attain inner peace and live in love and harmony with all others of God’s creation.
I close this morning with an untitled and anonymous poem that points to the good that one person saw coming out of 9/11:
As the soot and dirt and ash rained down,
We became one color
As we carried each other down the stairs of the burning building,
We became one class.
As we lit candles of waiting and hoping,
We became one generation.
As the firefighters and police officers fought their way into the inferno,
We became one gender.
As we fell to our knees in prayer for strength,
We became one faith.
As we whispered or shouted words of encouragement,
We spoke one language.
As we gave our blood in lines a mile long,
We became one body.
As we mourned together the great loss,
We became one family.
As we cried tears of grief and loss,
We became one soul.
As we retell with pride the sacrifice of heroes,
We become one people.

(with thanks to Dr. Larry Bethune, from Remembrance of Hope)


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