Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering, honoring, forgiving, healing

Today's lessons are Romans 14:1-12, and Matthew 18:21-35. We have a guest preacher, The Rev. Dr. Michael Suarez, who is an English professor at the University of Virginia, the head of the Rare Books School, and a Jesuit priest. He is a dynamic preacher and speaker, a good friend, and I hope you will come hear him at 10 am.

Today is our "Welcome Back Sunday" convocation for the University of Virginia, and we also will remember the attacks of ten years ago in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania.

Here is my sermon from the 8 am service:

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Just beyond the door of this chapel, on an outside wall of our church, is plaque that commemorates the people of this parish whose ashes are interred in our garden.
The plaque reads, “We are the Lord’s.” 
The full quote is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans 14:1-12, and we hear it this morning:
“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.” 
I believe that is a good place to start on this Sunday, a day that is more somber than many, for as you know, it marks the tenth anniversary of the events we now call “Nine-Eleven.”
Many words already have been spoken, and many more will be spoken today in town squares and places of worship, on television, in the newspapers and on the Internet. 
The New York Times is devoting an entire edition, and President Obama will be speaking later this afternoon at the National Cathedral. 
We will, by day’s end, be saturated with words. 
So I do not propose to say much today, but do propose to say a few things. 
We must note that in these last 10 years have been troubled at best, not just for us as Americans but for much of the world. 
Our politics at home, and in much of the world, is more polarized, coarser, more personal, more hateful. 
The same can be said for religion throughout much of the world. The xenophobic intolerant fringes of Christianity, Islam and Judaism have moved into the mainstream in many places.
At home, our economy is brittle and our national spirit is even more brittle. 
Much of the world is mired in poverty, made worse by economic recession and the paralysis of western democratic governance. 
We’ve fought two wars in the last ten years, and those wars have not come out as their architects promised. Wars rarely do. 
Nine-Eleven has made us less trusting of each other, less trusting of the world, less trusting of “the other.” And that is sad. 
Yet in all of this, we are still the Lord’s. All of us. That is a good place to stand today.
We especially do well to remember not just who we are, but whose we are. We are the Lord’s. There truly are no boundaries for our Lord. 
Everyone is embraced by our God – you, me, those we love, and yes, our enemies and those who wish us harm. We do well to remember who else is the Lord’s. 
Our loving God created us for this purpose: to love our neighbors as ourselves, to love our God with all our hearts and all our minds, to be healers and peacemakers. 
If we have any privilege at all as Christians, it is to be healers and peacemakers. 
As we appropriately remember the devastating events of 10 years ago, we should also remember that even in the smoke and ashes, peacemaking broke out. Even on that day.
You could see it all across this country as people came together to dry the tears of those in pain, to pause, to hold each other, to pray together. 
You could see it in the street-wise New Yorkers who put themselves in harm’s way to rescue strangers. 
A few weeks after the attacks, Lori and I went to New York to Ground Zero to see for ourselves. 
We spent a day at St. Paul’s Chapel, the Episcopal church that was in the shadow of the World Trade Center. 
When the towers crashed, St. Paul’s Chapel found itself on the edge of a crater. The graveyard was covered with debris and the pulverized remains of the dead. 
In the days and months, and the year that followed, St. Paul's Chapel became a refuge for those digging out the dead and removing the rubble. 
When Lori and I went there, the work was in full swing. I wrote this in my notebook:
"St. Paul's was overwhelming, with a shrine to the dead in one corner, and banners on every wall and cards hanging from every pew. Firemen and cops and construction workers were sitting or milling about or eating lunch or catching a nap on a cot. A priest was just beginning the noon Eucharist... The sounds of machinery outside came through the walls. And many inside seemed just very, very weary. Some slumped in pews, some praying, some looking at the ceiling. A group of firemen in full battle gear came in to get water and looked briefly at the prayers then departed...The sights of hope were everywhere, bursting through and covering walls with banners and signs and cardboard colored paper signed and colored by children from all over the U.S. It was awesome and overwhelming and humbling."
All belong to the Lord, and somehow, everyone knew it in that place. It didn't matter if they were Christians, Jews, Muslims or nothing at all. 
Religious labels were irrelevant. St. Paul's Chapel was a place of prayer, a place of sanctuary and a place of rest. All belonged to the Lord, whether they lived or had died. 
The Kingdom of God was surely in that place. Healing was surely in that place. Even forgiveness was in that place. 
Today’s gospel lesson from Matthew, as it happens, is about forgiveness. 

I am aware that 10 years later, forgiveness may not come easily for some, and may never come. Forgiveness that is forced by arguments, or coerced from guilt, is not forgiveness at all. 
Yet somehow I know that people like us – ordinary people – can find places and moments of forgiveness, not just for the calamitous events of 10 years ago, but for the smaller wounds and hurts that are much a part of our daily life. 

We are the Lord’s and the Lord can and will bring us to that place of forgiveness if we find a way to be open to it. 
But I don’t think any of us can get there alone. I believe we need each other and the grace of God to find forgiveness and healing.
Yes, we are called to be peacemakers – to be the blessed peacemakers – but it is hard to be that if we cannot find forgiveness and peace in our own lives. 
Our starting point – and ending point – must be in prayer. 

Not just prayers that are word machines, but prayers from the deepest longings of our hearts; prayers from our wounds; prayers from our dreams and hopes for a better place for all God’s people in this world and in the next.

On this Sunday, this day of remembrance, this day of honoring the dead, this day that I hope will bring forgiveness and healing; I invite all of us into a deeper place of prayer.
I invite each of us to pray for strength and compassion for the living, to pray for healing, forgiveness and especially for peace for all who belong to the Lord, which is all of us in the world. 

And may the God of Hope, the God of Grace, the God of unlimited salvation be our ever-present guide, now and always.

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