Benediction Online

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Exodus 14:19-31
Exodus 15:1b-11,20-21

Romans 14:1-12

Matthew 18:21-35

Our task this morning is to take the readings from sacred scripture and place them side by side with the memories and feelings and understandings we have about 9-11 and how it has changed our world; to create a dialog between the words and experience of our ancient ancestors as they sought to describe their experience of life with God, and the experience of our contemporary world. In so doing we invite the Holy Spirit to inform our thoughts, transform our heart and renew our lives.

Our readings start with the Hebrew people escaping from bondage in Egypt. This is a wonderful story and one which encapsulates a keynote of our understating about God. God delivers us from slavery and sets us free. That’s an underlying promise which continues to give us hope. Regardless of the difficulties we get into, whether we find ourselves trapped by unemployment, addictions, habits or life circumstances, God is faithful. God is with us in bondage and God will set us free!

The fate of the Egyptians in this story is however, troubling. When we are released from the things which bind us we want to be rid of them so it’s not a bit surprising that the Hebrews rejoiced in the demise of their enemies. But how do we handle a God who apparently wreaked revenge on those Egyptian soldiers who had survived the plagues, by killing the entire army and their long-suffering horses? Personally I am relieved that so far no independent historical record has been found that supports this story as it is passed down to us. Although Egyptian records exist back to 3900 years ago they do not mention a slave uprising nor the Egyptian army being drowned. The only similar account is the expulsion of the Hyksos about 1550 BCE which the Egyptians recorded as a great victory.

When we try to put the story into a historical context like this, it seems to tell us more about the Hebrew people and their understanding of God than it does about God’s way of dealing with their enemies. We do not have to imagine a vengeful God but rather a God who brings us out of Egypt and sets us free. A God who leads us by night as well as by day. A God who hears our lamentations and shares in our celebrations.

The New Testament reading concludes our series from the letter to the Romans. Paul has turned his attention to community life and the importance of honoring one another and accepting each other’s beliefs without judgment. Then he says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”

Taken out of context this could be the manifesto of a fundamentalist suicide bomber, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord”. But that’s taking it out of context. Paul is actually talking about living entirely for Christ so that the decisions we make about our diet, the way we care for our bodies and our homes and our loved ones, the religious festivals we honor and those we don’t, all these decisions are to be placed in the context of living for Christ. If you are vegetarian be vegetarian in order to honor Christ, if you eat meat, eat meat in a way that honors Christ. Our lives are no longer our own; they are God’s. Which means that we are responsible to God for how we live and the actions we take.

I am not totally a pacifist. I am the product of my country and family and I believe the war against Hitler was a necessary one even though it meant more people suffered pain, loss and death. However there has not been a war since which seems to me to have been fully justified. As followers of Jesus our calling is to bring life and hope. So the way we live and the decision we make must point towards life and towards wholeness.

We will never know how much the motivation of those who plotted and carried out the 9-11 attacks sprang from their faith and how much it came from political ambition tied up with religion. We can see only too often in our own country how politicians can exploit religious fervor and how preachers can exploit social issues to their own ends.

Love of God and love of country must lead us as Christians to that which promotes life; that which promotes human and planetary flourishing. Because God is creating a world and God sees that it is good and it is our task to co-create that good.

And so to the Gospel reading. That challenging passage about forgiveness. How it makes us squirm. We don’t want to let go of the “strands we hold of other’s guilt.” We continue to justify ourselves. “Yes I forgive her for spilling the communion wine but she should realize that…” “Of course I forgive her, I just wish she would be more careful…” That is holding on, forgiveness is letting go.

When a tragedy happens, large or small, we struggle to make sense of it. We want to blame someone for it, it’s a way of trying to make sure it won’t happen again. If we can just understand how it happened, who was at fault, then we can prevent it. To forgive is to let go of trying to apportion blame. It is to accept that what happened happened and to move on with life. Jesus once said to a potential follower “let the dead bury the dead”. Let the past be past.

So today we remember the horror of that morning ten years ago when the twin towers fell. We remember those who died and join in the grief of their families. We remember those who contracted serious illnesses from inhaling the debris. We remember those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of our country’s response.

We remember.

But let us try to remember with God’s eyes. As well as the tragedy, the horror, the anger and the loss let us see the heroism. The people who worked selflessly to bring relief, to find those who could be found, to clear up the remains of those who were lost. We remember the firefighters who kept going into the buildings even as others were running for their lives.

That is our calling. To be those who bring life and hope. Those who come with gentleness of heart, but firm resolve and great courage to bring hope and life, to nurture flourishing, to foster peace.

I finish with a few lines from W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, the day Hitler invaded Poland,

We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


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