10th Anniversary of 9/11, Sept. 11, 2011, 24th Ordinary, Pentecost +13 A, Isaiah 2:2-4; Matthew 18:21-35

10th Anniversary of 9/11, Sept. 11, 2011

Isaiah 2:2-4

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2    In days to come

the mountain of the LORD’S house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it.

3 Many peoples shall come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of the God of Jacob;

that he may teach us his ways

and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

4 He shall judge between the nations,

and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war any more.

Matthew 18:21-35

21Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

 

“A More Excellent Way”

We gather as the church, on this tenth anniversary of the attacks on 9/11, 2001, as a community of faith, to do what people of faith always do, to cry out to God.

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Israel in Egypt, as slaves, cried out to God, and the Lord heard their cries, and delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh.

Cries to God are prayers.  The book of Psalms is the collected prayers of Israel as she cries out to God, both in praise, and, more often, in lamentation.  In the Psalms we find every human emotion in raw form, unsoftened by Hebrew poetic conventions which had room to say what was really in the heart, even if it was almost unspeakably raw.

Too Raw?

I love the honest prayers of the book of Psalms; I read Psalms every day.  But there are people whom I love and respect who are revolted by the brutality of vengeance often expressed in the Psalms.  They have cause.  The worst example, Psalm 137, is one that starts out so beautifully :

1    By the rivers of Babylon—

there we sat down and there we wept

when we remembered Zion.

2 On the willows there

we hung up our harps.

Israel was in exile, in Babylon; the slaves whom God had redeemed from Egypt so long ago were now exiled from their land, captives once again.  The psalm continues:

3 For there our captors

asked us for songs,

and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,

“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

I suppose it is a kind of psychological torture to be “asked” to sing by your jailor.  The psalmist cannot bring himself to pick up a harp and start plucking a pretty tune; it’s unimaginable.  He continues:

4    How could we sing the LORD’S song

in a foreign land?

Curses: bad to worse

The psalmist writes from a place of suffering.  Anyone who has ever been in deep pain can go there with him.  It feels impossible to imagine happiness and singing ever again.  It feels so bad that the only thing that can roll off the tongue is a curse against the psalmist himself, should he ever betray his homeland.

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand wither!

6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem

above my highest joy.

Here is where it gets bad.  The psalmist, whose mouth produced a self-curse, now turns to curse his enemies.  The Edomites next door joined in the Babylonian assault, so in absolutely brutal honesty with his emotions, he cries out to the Lord against them:

7    Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites

the day of Jerusalem’s fall,

how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!

Down to its foundations!”

His rage must feel good to him – rage always feels good – it’s so justified; he’s so righteously indignant.  From the self-curse, to the curse on Edom, now comes the third and final curse, reserved for Babylon and all her babies:

8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!

Happy shall they be who pay you back

what you have done to us!

9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones

and dash them against the rock!

It is horrible, it is revolting, and it is why some people turn away in a permanent disgust from the Psalms, if not from the whole Old Testament also.  Who needs more encouragement to embrace the culture of death?

If anything can be said in favor of this poem, it is that it is totally honest.  These are the real feelings of people who have survived brutality.  They want something in

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response.  They call it “justice,” but what they really want is vengeance (there are no new ideas; only newer methods).

What we want on 9/11

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11 we, who gather to cry out to God, must ask ourselves honest questions.  What do we want; justice, or vengeance?  What are the odds of getting either one?  Is there a third option besides justice and vengeance?

Prophetic Imagination

There, in Babylonian exile, along side the psalmist with his poetic curses, is a prophet.   He too has felt the suffering; he too longs for something, but there is something different about him and the psalmist.  They are facing opposite directions.  The cursing psalmist is facing the past, daring himself not to forget.  “Never forget!”  A curse on forgetfulness!

The prophet, however much pain he feels, looks to the future.  Beyond vengeance, even beyond justice, he looks towards redemption and restoration.  He has a prophetic imagination of how things can be, if God is truly God.  He sees a vision of a redeemed, restored city replacing the pile of rubble that the Babylonians had made out of Jerusalem, or as he calls the city, the mountain of the temple, mount Zion (from Isaiah 2):

2    In days to come

the mountain of the LORD’S house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it.

If God is God, then God can be relied upon, trusted, to fulfill his purposes for the world that he made, and every human being made in his image.  Could it be that instead of judgement and vengeance, all of the peoples of the earth, along with Abraham’s children, could find redemption?  He can see it happening:

3 Many peoples shall come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,

to the house of the God of Jacob;

that he may teach us his ways

and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth Torah (instruction),

and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Nations and peoples are notorious for settling their disputes – and they always have disputes – by the sword, the gun, the bomb, or by the asymmetrical insurgency scalp, or  IED (improvised explosive device) or passenger airplane.  How could the future fail to repeat the violence and vengeance of the past?  It would take an act of God to change the way it has always been.

Well, if God is God, then the prophet is able to see this vision:

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4 He shall judge between the nations,

and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war any more.

Some have a vision of a world which can only picture smoking piles of burned out rubble.  If our enemies embrace that vision, must we also?

Asserting Our Alternative Vision

No!  As people of faith in the God who made the heavens and the earth, we assert, against all odds, an alternative vision, beyond judgment, beyond vengeance; a vision of redemption on a global scale.

So how do you get from the backward looking cursing psalmist with his bloodied landscape to the place in which you can believe in the power of redemption which the prophet looked forward to?

Compiling Evidence

By compiling your own story of the power of redemption.  Every single day, as you write the page of your life story for that day, you compile evidence, detail upon

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detail, of how you have lived into the vision of redemption, through the power of forgiveness.

Some days, because everyone in your life does exactly as you want them to do, you  have little to record.  On other days, your page is filled with 70 X 7 examples of the power of forgiveness to turn away wrath.  On those days, 490 things happened that could have called forth curses, but you believe in an alternative vision, so instead, you offered forgiveness, from your heart.

You refused retaliation, even when you could have justified it (at least to yourself).  You refused to give back in kind, the pain you had been given; you absorbed it.  You refused to add momentum to the spinning cycle of violence; you let it stop with you.

Joining Jesus who would rather die than kill

You believe that God is God and you believe that you live under the mandate of his Son.  You live under the reign of Jesus, who instead of resisting evil, allowed it to exhaust its dark powers on him.  You follow the Master who would rather die than kill.  Who, on the cross, at the point of the greatest justification for calling down curses, said,

Father, forgive them.”

And everyday, you pray the prayer he taught us.  You pray the cry to God from the place of real life and all of its raw emotion.  And in that prayer, you ask the God who hears his people’s prayer, to be forgiven only in the same measure with which you have also forgiven.

 “forgive us our debts” you pray, “as we forgive our debtors.

So that when you finish, and the book of your life says, “the end” you will have written a million times,  “Father, forgive them. Father, forgive them. Father, forgive them.”

On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we, who gather to cry out to God, do not cry out for the destruction of our enemies, but for their redemption.  Our mouths do not speak a curse against the causes of our pain, but voice a vision of a restored humanity, an army of plowshare bearing, pruning hook-carrying, forward looking people of faith, forgiving, just as we have been forgiven.

 

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