Monday, September 12, 2011

There is a force at work in the world greater than fear.

There is a great debate amongst preachers and church leaders over the use of the common lectionary in organizing Sunday worship and as the basis of Sunday Sermons. The aim of the Common Lectionary is to take the church through the scriptures over the course of a three year period. The readings are meant to coincide with the Christian calendar or liturgical year, reflecting the meaning of the seasons of advent, Christmas, ordinary time after epiphany, lent, Easter, Pentecost, and ordinary time after Pentecost. The years a labeled A, B, and C and the readings are always the same for those specific years. The other side of the debate encourages pastors to prepare topical sermons and sermon series based on their perceived needs of the church. In fact, studies have shown that topical preaching is more popular and is used more often in growing churches. I’m a lectionary preacher. Mainly because the lectionary is tied to the Christian calendar and I believe that following the Christian calendar is one of those ancient practices that give order and meaning to my life as a Christian. Additionally I believe it is good for churches to be on the same page, preaching, teaching, and praying over the same text each week all across the world.

Now I don’t attach myself to ancient Christian practices just because they’re ancient. I believe these practices have had meaning for the church for centuries and still have the power to speak to the church today. I believe that the Holy Spirit works through these practices to connect us to God and to each other. This flows from my basic belief that we are all created in the image of God and we were created for relationship with God and others. God calls us individually in to communities. God has willed that our individual relationship with God be expressed through the community of believers, the church, and the body of Christ.

Now that was a long complicated introduction of today’s readings, but I wanted you to know that I don’t just select texts each week. I pray and read through the text provided by the common lectionary and try to listen for the message God wants to deliver through me. In this process I am often amazed at the power of the text and the power of the Holy Spirit in revealing the relevance of that week’s text to my life, our lives, and to the church. This is one of those weeks. The text today were selected for this day long before evil broke into this world and conspired to use September 11 as a day to destroy lives with fear, death, and destruction. The texts for today were selected without the knowledge that the 10 year anniversary of such an evil event would fall on a Sunday. The text for today speaks directly to our hearts and our experiences, our needs, and our faith on this very day.

The three readings for today come together in such a way as to remind us who we are and whose we are. We are forgiven and reconciled children of God and we have that place in God’s family not because of anything we’ve done, or anything we can do. We are who we are because of the grace and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And Jesus clearly teaches here in the reading from Matthew that as forgiven and reconciled people we must forgive each other and even forgive our enemies.

In his letter to the Romans Paul reminds us that all Christians make up the body of Christ. Paul tells us that because of Christ, we must learn to love each other and respect each other’s needs. We are all Christians whether we sprinkle our babies with water from a font to baptize them into the church our wait until they are teenagers and immerse them fully in a Baptismal pool. We are all Christians whether we celebrate Holy Communion once a week, once a month, or once a year. The only thing that is important about our particular practices is that we practice them because we love Jesus and we find comfort and hope in doing things a particular way. No one way is the only way. All are intended to make us better Disciples of Christ and we are to respect the needs of others and the practices they have that meet those needs.

Our OT reading relates the story of God intervening in the lives of the children of Israel and delivering them from slavery and death in a miraculous way. God, through Moses, parts the red sea allowing the Israelites to escape from a place that seemed inescapable. Hemmed in by mountains and by water. Trapped in an inescapable place, facing certain death, but God made a way. God always makes a way.

The power in this Exodus story is not in the death of the Egyptian army. The power in this story is in God’s deliverance of the children of Israel. The power of this story is in knowing God is faithful to His people. And who are the people of God? The people of God are those who keep His laws. The people of God are those who follow His teachings. The people of God are those who trust in Him and in Him alone. The people of God are those who have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior and have been baptized by water and by spirit into Christ’s family. The people of God choose faith over fear. The people of God choose love over hate. The people of God choose forgiveness over revenge. The people of God choose life over death.

None of this is easy. All that Christ calls us to be runs counter to every human emotion and inclination we have. All that God calls us to be runs counter to everything our culture and our world teaches and believes.

How do we forgive the unforgivable? First we must remember that forgiveness does not necessarily mean continued relationship. Yes there are times in our lives that we forgive with the desire of continuing in relationship with someone we love. But we are called by Christ to forgive our enemies. To forgive people we don’t like, people who don’t like us. The truth of the matter is that our enemies may well remain our enemies, even after we forgive them.

How do we forgive the unforgivable? Forgiving our enemy does not change our enemy, but forgiving our enemy transforms us. Forgiving our enemy transforms us from the image of our enemy into the image of Christ. In forgiving our enemies we say that we will not be slaves to the wrong that has been done to us. By forgiving we say that our enemies will not define who we are and how we live. By forgiving our enemies we say that our God, our families, our community, and ourselves are more important that the actions, desires, and demands of our enemies. By forgiving we say that we will not be controlled by fear and hate. By forgiving we claim our place in God’s family and we choose to submit control of our lives to Jesus Christ. Lives in Christ are lives of hope, grace, and love.

There was a force greater than fear at work in the world on September 11, 2001. There is a force at work in the world and in your life that is greater than fear today, September 11, 2011. That force is the force of Love, Perfect Love. That force is Jesus Christ.

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