St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 13 2011 Sermon
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Jim Campbell

Some related 9/11 stories can be found here.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the horrific events that occurred on September 11, 2001 in New York City, Washington DC and in western Pennsylvania.  You likely have read and heard many stories and seen lots of information reminding us of those events, and what this has meant to the lives of Americans and the entire world—from television, radio, newspapers, and the internet. 
 
For me, I see a lot of the effects in how the sports world is acting this weekend.  High school and college football games all over the country this weekend are taking moments of silence and other actions to remember those who died on 9/11.  The NFL is saluting "the American spirit" during its games on the first full day of the season, today, Sept. 11.  Pregame tributes will be synchronized on CBS and Fox telecasts and shown on videoboards in each stadium hosting games. Coaches, players and local first responders will hold field-length American flags for the playing of the national anthem. The league said in a release it hopes to "unite fans to recognize those who lost their lives, honor the families who lost loved ones, and salute the American spirit, the early responders on 9/11, and other heroes that contributed to the nation's recovery."  Major league Baseball has been playing “God Bless America” (in place of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game!”) during the 7th inning stretches in most stadiums ever since the 9/11 event, to honor those who died that day and in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since then.  The American men’s pro golf tours are all taking this week off from playing, to remember those fallen heroes, and possibly out of concerns about security with travel and at golf venues this weekend.
 
I’m going to share a couple of stories, too, but with a slightly different focus—I hope!  I want to take this remembrance of 9/11 out of the over-religious, nationalistic and for those who have taken advantage of it, the political arena, to somewhere else.
 
First, I’m going to talk about two places that have gotten relatively little attention in media circles, but have the focus right about what to remember and how to move forward from 9/11.
 
Information for the first place comes from the magazine Trinity News, produced by Trinity Episcopal Church at Wall Street, New York City, and is from their Summer 2011 issue.
 
St. Paul’s Chapel, part of the Trinity Church Wall Street complex, escaped destruction when the World Trade Center buildings collapsed across the street from St. Paul’s.  Although the churchyard and church were filled with debris and dust, there was no physical damage to the building.  From immediately after the destruction at Ground Zero to May 2002, St. Paul’s Chapel opened its doors to firefighters, construction workers, police officers, and others for meals, beds, counseling, and prayer.  Medical personnel, massage therapists, chiropractors, podiatrists, and musicians transformed the chapel into a place of peace, rest, and reconciliation.
 
St. Paul’s Chapel continues to play a vital role in telling the 9/11 story.  More than one million people visit annually to learn about the ministry that took place at the Chapel.  Photos, cards, drawings, banners, flags, and other items sent to encourage rescue workers or as memorials can still be seen.  Today St. Paul’s still serves as an active Episcopal worship space.  In addition to Sunday services, prayers for peace are said daily and visitors are invited to take part in services.  The chapel also hosts concerts, community sing-alongs, labyrinth walks, visiting choirs, organ recitals, and other events. 
 
The second place was discussed on the National Public Radio website in an article called 'The World Speaks' In Response To Sept. 11, by Audie Cornish. 
 
Construction is still under way at Ground Zero, the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York.  A memorial plaza, but not the complete memorial/museum, is set to open a week from Sunday, 10 years after the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings.  (My own comment here—a memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania for the victims of Flight 93 has still not been completed either.  Ten years later—no memorials completed yet?)
 
Amid the bulldozers and cranes, there are newly planted oak trees. Workers are putting the finishing touches on the two massive waterfalls that will flow into the foundations where the towers once stood. The official museum won't be ready until 2012.
 
The only place where visitors to the neighborhood can learn about the events of that day — at least for now — is at a little storefront on Liberty Street.  While the museum across the street was mired in politics, the September 11th Families' Association opened the Tribute WTC Visitors Center a few years ago.  Glass cases perch on the walls of each gallery. Bit by bit, they reveal the stories found buried in the rubble of Ground Zero.  Many of the pieces were donated by relatives of those who died, others by the agencies and recovery workers who spent months amid the ruins.
 
The real mission of the museum is to celebrate the lives of the victims, honor their families and share in what they can teach.  There are no references to the breakdowns in first-responder radio systems, of the hijackers, or the politics of the wars that followed.  Nowhere is the message clearer than in one of the final galleries, where there is a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall collage of mementos of those who were lost.  There are home photos, school pictures, baseball caps, handwritten notes and even a death certificate marked "homicide" — all donated by families of Sept. 11 victims..  What started as a temporary memorial to fill the gap while the official memorials were built, now has a life of its own.
 
For the rest of my talk, I will be using ideas and thoughts from the Rector of Trinity Wall Street, the Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper—who better to be knowledgeable about how we might look at this event and what should be our response 10 years later.
 
From our Gospel reading from Matthew today: Then 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.  (Some translators say an even larger number--seventy times seven!)
 
This passage screams one-word: forgiveness!  Simon Peter thought that he was being generous with his seven times forgiveness, since the Jewish law as interpreted by the Pharisees called for only three times. Jesus significantly expanded Peter's arithmetic. He told the ridiculous parable we just read about an "unmerciful servant" who received forgiveness for his own ginormous debt, but then instead of extending forgiveness for a tiny debt that was owed to him he imprisoned his debtor.  (Just for reference, one reference said that a single talent is equivalent to 15 years of wages, so 10,000 talents would be equivalent to 150,000 years of labor.  A 100 denarii would be equivalent to a 100 days wages.  The ratio is $30,000,000 to $60, or 1/500,000th, small debt to large.)
 
Jesus told us to forgive not merely seven times, but seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven, which is to say--beyond calculation or even comprehension.  He warns us that obtaining forgiveness is totally linked to offering forgiveness.  As for receiving forgiveness, Jesus established a law of proportionality.  We can expect divine forgiveness in the measure that we extend human forgiveness.  At our Bible study on Wednesday we had hardly discussed this Gospel reading at all when Lee (Avery) brought up that the point of it is very clear—the last sentence from the Gospel: "So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  We affirm this in saying our Lord's Prayer; we pray: "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."  Our own need of forgiveness becomes the basis upon which we freely forgive others.  We forgive because we have been forgiven.
 
When we forgive others we liberate them from their sins and failures, remove their anxiety, guilt and shame, point them toward a future of hope instead of mire them in a past of regret, and encourage them to hit the "reset" button to begin again.  We grant them permission to carry on! 
 
Even more important, when we forgive others we liberate ourselves from feelings of victimization, vengeance and bitterness that will kill our souls as surely as any wrong we have committed.  Our attitude of forgiveness is not just for the other person's sake, but really for our own well-being.  Holding deeply held grudges affects us more than the begrudged person.  Forgiveness heals us.  It can remove our inner turmoil and desires for revenge. Forgiving the other doesn't restore the relationship, but it needs to precede any chance of reconciliation.
 
Jesus’ words on forgiveness today reverses the thoughts of human revenge between individuals, families, clans, tribes, ethnic loyalties, religions, and even nations.  For some, there are ongoing thoughts of revenge (or “justice”) for those who perpetrated the events of 9/11.  But forgiving as Jesus described it speaks to the whole world of human relationships and is not confined to conflicts with individuals, but also refers to tribes, clans, ethnicities, religions and nations as well.


In this theme of forgiveness Rev. Dr. Cooper discusses 6 things to do at Trinity Wall Trinity, and here, too, in remembering this day:
 
1. Remember to love.  This is Trinity's parish theme for the tenth anniversary.  Maybe there is no better advice. The horrific nature of the attacks had their counterpart that day in the messages that were spoken person to person, prayed, and heard by God.  Remember to love.  Every day.
 
2. Not a day, but a decade.  Let's try to make this anniversary more like a season and not just a day. Let's look back ten years and remember. Let's also look ahead ten years, considering how we might make the world better, and remembering that as God loves us and forgives us, so too do we love and forgive.
 
3. Practice forgiveness.  Remember to forgive (and remember that you are forgiven). When we remember we are forgiven by God, we pass that forgiveness along to others. Our capacity for forgiveness is not like a possession we hold on to.
 
4. Find the spiritual response.  In Trinity Church, just after the first tower fell, the congregation that had gathered there did something remarkable: they read the Beatitudes. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers. A spiritual response to physical violence and as powerful—more so—than any physical violence.
 
5. Be part of the story.  Millions of people visit St. Paul's Chapel every year. Why do you think they come? Perhaps to be part of the story they have heard about—the story of the best of humanity emerging after we all saw the worst of humanity. The St. Paul's story of volunteers giving their time and energy to those who needed it is a Christian story, a story the Church has been telling for ages.
 
6. Go help.  Why did so many volunteer at St. Paul's? Because we heard the whisperings—God loves you, you are forgiven—and the call to action that results: go help.  Again, not a day, but a decade.  Bring those whisperings to others as we journey on together.
 
And, finally, from The Rev. Dr. Cooper--
Ten years ago, the final act of many 9/11 victims was one of love. Facing the unthinkable, their parting gesture was to reach out to their families, friends and colleagues. Ten years later, let us 'Remember to Love' those who are gone, those who remain and those to come. Let us further remember and honor those who perished by generating a post-anniversary community committed to reconciliation and peace.  AMEN.



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