Monday, September 5, 2011

Sermon prep for 9/11

I'm preaching this Sunday up at St. Michael's Fort Bragg and would love to get a little input as I mull over the readings. Specifically the gospel, which is this passage from Matthew:

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, 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. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But 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.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

Here's the thing: the 10th anniversary of 9/11 seems like a great time to talk about forgiveness, but I don't want this to be cheap grace or easy platitudes. This is not an easy gospel, nor was 9/11 an easy moment; I don't think the sermon should be easy either. In fact, there are a lot of ways this gospel works against preaching about forgiveness. After all, are we talking about other members of the church? And weren't the events of 9/11 more than owing a few hundred denarii?

But there it is, and I think the gospel demands being faced head-on and in conjunction with all the remembrances and events. But this will require some care and consideration. And I'd love your help.

What comes to your mind, hearing this gospel in tandem with remembering 9/11?

Ground rules: State your own opinions and respect those of others. Personal reactions are just that: personal. If you have a completely different reaction it's because you are a completely different person with a different experience and perspective. How people should feel or what people should think is irrelevant. I am grateful for your honest thoughts; I hope that you will be kind to one another.


Anonymous said...

I'm not preaching this week, but have given this a lot of thought. I will be praying along with the rest of the world, but want to focus on what we have learned about suffering and then taking vengeance into our own hands: it might feel powerful at the time, but ultimately just creates more opportunities for um, misunderstanding and scapegoating, not to mention sin. So I will be contemplating how to move forward out of suspicion and fear and into true peace: how to be in relationship with any with whom I disagree, over issues small and large, and how I change to embody Christ more closely. There are so many ways to do this;one is an idea for an interfaith project that will get everyone physically working together and provide opportunities for conversations in and among the tasks at hand... For what it's worth.

RevAlli said...


The small congregation I serve has asked me to do a meditation grounded in the BCP prayer for enemies. I've been sitting with this for several weeks and now think I'll begin with what I used to think forgiveness is and then move on to what I now think forgiveness is(letting God's grace move through us so that we are gradually able to release that which stands between that of God in us and that of God in the other person). I probably will weave in what forgiveness is not in between those two poles of my understandings of forgiveness finally moving to holding our enemies in prayer.

I did re-read what Luise Schottroff has to say about this parable in her book PARABLES OF JESUS. She cautions against reading the parable allegorically with the king being a stand-in for God. Now I'll probably look at what Herzog has to say about the parable.

Thanks for putting out the question.

Susan A-H

RevAlli said...

One more thought:

Just remembering that the parable is told in the context of Peter asking Jesus how many times we forgive. It's sounding to me like the parable is a negative example in opposition to how things work in God's reign. Just a thought from the shower.

pixie said...

I don't follow a particular religion although I am a spiritual person who tries to live according to the words of Ghandi, "BE the change you want to see in the world".
Your words reminded me of an article on Prayers for Unbelievers which comes from Buddism. From their perspective the function of prayer is to connect us with that which is greater than our small self. First, you sit down and pray for yourself, then for someone you love, then for a neutral person and then, and here's the kicker, you pray for someone you dislike. In doing so, you nourish seeds of kindness and love in yourself and then let it radiate outward.
The people that performed the horrendous events of 9/11 are misguided individuals who truly believe that they will go to heaven for their actions. Some, of not most of them, might very well have been trained and indoctrinated with a twisted view of the Koran from a very young age in the isolated setting of a madrassa. In a sense they can't help being how they are; if we had been stuck in a religious 'school' from age 3 on we would have been exactly like them.

it's margaret said...

Thinking of this in the context of last Sunday's gospel too --what we loose or bind will be let go or bound --in heaven as on earth... --so if we bind debt, our debt is bound too, now and always.

Because loosing and binding are all part of forgiveness.

Perhaps, if we look at forgiveness as part of our legacy as inheritors of the Kingdom --seeing what we have let go of or determined to enact retribution for as a result of 9/11 should speak of the legacy we are building for others... what have we done except taken our neighbors by the throat and demanded payment from them.... ?! Is that the legacy we wish to leave? Is that the inheritance we want?

Just thinkin'....

Anonymous said...

Heading off in a completely different direction, this passage reminded me of the story about the centurion who asks Jesus to heal his slave (Luke 7:1-10, Matthew 8:5-11). In both versions, when Jesus offers to come to the centurion's house, the centurion responds with variations on this theme: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.
That is why I did not presume26 to come to you. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed.
For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

What I love about the centurion is that he has both an outside and an inside view of authority - he knows what it is to be subject to someone else's and what it is to exert his own.

This satisfying symmetry is what is lacking in the story of the central slave in Sunday's story from Matthew. This particular slave knows what it is to be forgiven, but not what it is to forgive.

For me, then, some of the relevant questions about September 11 in the light of this passage would be these - what is the forgiveness that America has received, from whom, when, where, why, how, and in what circumstances? and how might we pass it on to someone else?

If you have any answers, I look forward to hearing them!

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Anonymous said...

ps - As I think again about Matthew's story about the slave who receives forgiveness but refuses to forgive, it also occurs to me that there is a second slave in the story, one who asks for forgiveness. That being the case, I might ask some additional questions such as - who is seeking forgiveness from America? What is the debt they owe that they want America to wipe away? How might America do that?

Although I must admit that this line of reasoning is taking me into some tricky territory because - if America forgives the debt, whatever it is, then America is following the example of the king who is seeking to settle his accounts- and even though that king acts as a good lord in this story, I can't say I like thinking of America holding authority over other parts of the world as if we were masters and they were slaves.

MetroMonk said...

All the comments are good and food for thought. For some reason, the phrase "A kingdom divided" keeps popping up in my head.

I don't want to be long on here so I'll try keep it short and concise. I feel these texts are timely (as they often are) and expose the paradox we currently live with as an American people living in the midst of tension between nationalism and faith (or the kingdom of the US and the kingdom of heaven).

We pray, as we were taught, the Lord's prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." Grace and forgiveness are the attributes of heaven and in contrast to the attributes of any place here on earth it seems.

These texts remind me, yet again, to remember to give grace, don't be harsh. Remember to forgive, do not harbor bitterness. These texts heighten my earthly-mindedness to see, yet again, the kingdom perspective.

loosecanon1 said...

I found Robert Farrar Capon's book, "Kingdom, Grace, Judgment" pp.195-200 very helpful in understanding this parable better. Getting past the "keeping score" mentality and recognizing that all is Grace, ie, we are ALL "forgiven sinners."

LKT said...

Thank you all for your very helpful and gracious comments! I'm certainly going to be drawing on all of your insights as I prepare for tomorrow. I'm also quickly reading Archbishop Rowan Williams' book, which still speaks very well to the issues I think. I'll keep you posted.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to reading what you wrote!