“We do not live to ourselves”

September 11, 2011 – Tenth Anniversary of 9/11
sermon:  Weldon D. Nisly

TITLE:  “We do not live to ourselves”
THEME:  A Service of Lament and Prayer for Peace” – 10 years later
TEXTS:  Micah 6:3-8 O my people, what have I done to you?
Romans 14:1-12 We do not live to ourselves
Matthew 18: 21-35 How many times must I forgive?

Everything has changed

Everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same again. In the early morning hours, the world and our lives were changed forever. The predictable, the expected, the anticipated course of daily events disappeared in the drama unfolding that morning.

In silence look around the sanctuary…see each person here…Who do you see?
Do you see people created in the image of God?
Do you see members of the body of Christ? …….SILENCE……

Yes, everything has changed. Nothing will ever be the same. In those early morning hours our lives and the world were changed forever.

It is not 9/11 we speak of but that all transforming Easter event that changed our lives. [pause]
In those waking hours of that first Easter morning so long ago, God raised Jesus from the dead – this Jesus, the ultimate innocent victim of sacrificial violence, is now alive.
And our lives and the world is changed forever.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ foreshadows and far overshadows September 11, 2001.
(Thanks again to Dennis Hughes sermon at the SU ecumenical service 9/12/01)

Some of you may remember that juxtaposition of Easter and 9/11. I began a sermon with those words several Sundays after 9/11 in the fall of 2001. (adapted from WDN sermon 11/25/01)

We are in a season of remembering and change. If we don’t root our remembering in the risen Jesus Christ none of our remembering or changes will be truthful or faithful or even helpful.

There was so much I wanted to speak to on this 10th anniversary of 9/11. I have been overwhelmed with thoughts for days. We have been bombarded with words from the public world for weeks. We’ll talk about some of those in the adult study session after worship. Here I want to turn our attention to God’s biblical word that defines who we are as God’s people of peace in a war-torn world and war-subverted church. Let us first turn to lament.

Lament and the Tears of the World

When 9/11 happened Kathleen O’Connor, who teaches Hebrew Scriptures at Columbia Theological Union near Atlanta, was writing a commentary on the Old Testament book of Lamentations. Her husband was also undergoing treatment for cancer. Watching her husband suffer and watching the WTC towers fall on 9/11 greatly impacted her life and lament. The background of her work also held a social critique of North American culture that saw “a deadening blanket of ‘covert despair’ fostered by wealth, power, and violence that distract us from our spiritual hunger, alienation, and meaninglessness” (xiv).

This “deadening blanket of covert despair” is predictably unleashed in sacrificial violence as Rene Girard explains. That is more than we can address today. But in a nutshell it works like this. As uncertainty and fear grow something happens as a trigger event and all eyes are immediately focused on the one who is “at fault” for “our troubles.” Rage erupts in revenge seeking to kill the one at fault. The death of this sacrificial victim will clear up our problems and heal the nation so we can feel certain and secure again. It never turns out to be true. But we never seem to learn that it doesn’t work and keep repeating the same patterns of sacrificial violence even though Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection unveiled forever that very lie of sacrificial violence and victimizing.

In her work and life O’Connor reveals true lament that leads to impassioned hope and work for justice. She calls it Lamentations and the Tears of the World where weeping is a political act and prayers of lament teach faithful resistance.

Micah 6: 1-8 — Worried People Wearied God…what God requires

In light of lament we hear the prophet Micah speaks God’s plaintive question to God’s people:
“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!”

Are our ears tuned to hear God speaking these wearied words to war-mongering people?
“O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!”

God goes on to remind God’s people of what God has done for them.
“I brought you up from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery….”

Micah goes on to speak a prophetic word of truth about what “God requires” of us.
God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8

Is prophetic lament so hard that to embrace that we weary of what God requires of us and turn to our own mechanisms and meanness? Do we really believe that violence is our best answer and revenge our rightful response?

Why does God continue to pursue us and have patience with us? Because God created us and loves us and is a God of grace and mercy as well as a God of Judgment. This is what God sets before us. Will we seek peace or exact revenge?

Gospel of Matthew 18: 21-35 — Jesus command to forgive and parable of mercy

Perhaps no word of Jesus is harder or more central than the one we hear from Jesus’ mouth today. Perhaps there is no more vital time to hear it than on this 10th anniversary of 9/11.

An indignant and impatient Peter goes to Jesus and demands, “If [anyone] sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

“Nope!” says Jesus. Peter’s heart jumps. Jesus pauses then adds, “Not seven times. I tell you seventy times seven!” And Peter’s heart sinks. Doing the math it dawns on Peter that after forgiving 490 times keeping track of how many times I forgive another is meaningless.

“And here’s why” says Jesus and goes on to tell another hard parable about mercy and forgiving.

However hard it is to forgive endlessly, remember that Peter is already being reshaped by Jesus. Peter knows the traditional code of revenge spelled out in the law of Leviticus to be an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (24:20). Peter has already given up revenge. Now he is trying to wrap his mind around “forgiving” rather than revenge – forgiving seven times. Jesus breaks through Peter’s limited vision and dismantles boundaries of purity codes.

Peter’s challenge is our challenge. Isn’t it ironic that in a many churches using the common lectionary these hard words of Jesus come on this Sunday the 10th anniversary of 9/11. God knows what we need to hear. Jesus confronts us with an untenable command on this very day. “How many times must we forgive” is a question that forces us to reconsider what it means to be human and even more what it means to be Christian.

The prayer Jesus taught all disciples – the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer – has only one quid pro quo in it – one conditional act. What is it? Jesus taught us to pray to God naming the condition and recognition that God will “Forgive us our debts/sins as we forgive others.”

Romans 14: 1-12 – Living and dying for/in Christ

Our third Word from God is from the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 14 on new life in Christ. Paul appeals to us that by God’s mercy our bodies and being are God’s not our own. Do not dishonor any body – yours or anyone else’s.
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…
(12:7-9a).

I called this sermon “We do not live to ourselves” inspired by the truth of this text. As humans we are God’s people created in God’s image not our own creation. We are to embody the love and mercy of God rather than wreak hate or exact revenge. As Christians we are members of the body of Christ meaning we embody Christ for ourselves, our neighbors, and our enemies. Knowing ourselves to be God’s people and Christ’s body, it is not possible, as my Christian brother and radio talk show colleague insisted a few weeks after 9/11, that we can ‘love someone and kill them’ in circumstances such as 9/11. God have mercy.

In his Second Letter to Timothy the Apostle Paul tells us, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then of the testimony about our Lord…but join me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God” (2 Tim 1:7-8).

Symbols and Seeing – Images for Right Remembering

On this Sunday when we lament and pray for peace, symbols also help us see and remember. These images in worship today help us visually hold this tension we know between Jesus’ way of peace and all the suffering and violence in the world, between lament and hope for the world.
At the front of the sanctuary hangs the dove of peace draped in black.
On the altar the black and barren cloth also holds a beautiful bouquet of flowers and lit candle.
The flowers are from Christie McGoodwin and Kong Cheung’s wedding yesterday as a symbol of love that flowers even in the midst of suffering and violence.
The candle is the light of Christ placed in a bullet casing that has been made into a candle holder.

Holding prayers of lament and hope for peace in our hearts, let us pray the Prayer of Saint Francis together as our communal response and commitment (Hymnal: A Worship Book 733).
We sang the song version of the Prayer of Saint Francis in that worship of Lament and prayer for peace that first Sunday after 9/11 on Sun September 16, 2001.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

As Towers Fall and Lives are Lost by Jeffrey Rowthorn

As towers fall and lives are lost,
in war we trust, whate’er the cost;
yet here, amidst the dust we pray:
“Have mercy, Lord, grant peace today.”

Come, Man of Sorrows, weeping still
to see such readiness to kill,
each heart from rage and fear release
to find in you fresh hope and peace.

Come, Risen Christ, throw open wide
the bolted doors of scorn and pride,
and bless us with humility
to live at peace, one family.

Come, Lord of All, and help us see
the havoc done to land and sea:
let our indulgent greed give way
to making peace with earth this day.

Come, Prince of Peace, our hatreds stem
and build your new Jerusalem
where spire and minaret and dome
proclaim to all: Salaam! Shalom!

2003 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.

Sung to Old Hundreth or HWB 499 “Lord, speak to me”