Forgiveness and Pain

September 11, 2016

It was a clear Tuesday morning 15 years ago when the attack on American soil changed our lives and sense of security forever.  Like some historical events of the past such as the assassination of Kennedy, the detonation of the first atomic bomb, the first walk on the moon and the Boston Marathon bombing, this day became etched in our hearts. We will never understand the hatred.  We will never logically come to an explanation; we only know the tragedy that affected us.  It has been 15 years since that morning when time stood still and we were starved for new information.  Planes were grounded and the great nation began to redefine itself.  Families reached out to families for safety and the sound of the voice of loved ones brought us all closer together.  In the shock and in the horror, we turned to God.  Churches were packed, prayers services and memorials were held and a need for God intensified.  We longed for the One who calmed the storms on the Sea of Galilee to calm our storms.

We gather today, somber and alert to the hatred that fills our headlines.  Shootings in the city, protests and racial mistrust expose our brokenness and lack of security.  Sometimes the voices of feeling disrespected have drowned out the perspective of a bigger picture.  The disconnect to a greater good, the disconnect to a common ground and the disconnect from one’s own value in the process has triggered the pain.  You might have heard of the football player who has chosen to sit through the national anthem at the NFL games.  He stated “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” While he has the freedom to do this, what is lost is the reality that no nation is perfect. What is lost is the reality that many sacrifice their lives to protect our freedoms and our borders by following their orders, because they attest to a greater good.  This greater good allows people to get paid for playing a game on a weekend in the safety of a stadium filled with protection provided by others who sacrifice for higher values. He states that this is bigger than football and I agree it is, but he hasn’t left football, rolled up his sleeves and become a social worker in the streets.  In the streets there is another kind of disconnect.  When shots are fired, when gang violence erupts, when human trafficking takes place, what is lost is the original dignity in which we are all created, in the image of God. Somehow when a trigger is pulled, seeing the face of God in the other has been abandoned.  We would never do these things to one created in the image of God if we really thought about it. If we saw the image of the face of Jesus in the individual in the moment of conflict we would look at things differently.  Disconnect allows the anger of a situation to lash out in destructive behavior, no matter the cost.  Jesus already paid the price with His life; there was no greater cost than this. The loss of this profound realization propels some to violence and retaliation in a cycle that seems endless.  Voices of mothers cry out to stop the senseless killing, yet it seems their cries are not heard.

In the Gospel today we are invited to build a relationship with the One who calmed the storms in Galilee. He longs for us to get connected with the greatest reality of all time.  We are created in the image of God and we are called to bring forth His forgiveness into the world just as we have been forgiven.  Jesus tells us that He will search out those who are lost, as well as be patient until we come to our senses and begin the journey home.  He states that His forgiveness will bring rejoicing when we embrace the One who is giving it. Connecting to this reality is not easy. Connecting to the forgiveness of terrorists, embracing an equal love to people of all races and religions even when their beliefs are in conflict to our own, is a frightening step. To see the common ground is  to realize that no religion, institution or nation is perfect, yet when we focus on the value that they are capable of providing, the truth of God can be revealed, and we can reverence what is holy.

We gather this day to remember and reflect.  We gather to extend our hand to one another knowing that there is only One who can save us, only One who can protect us and only One who can sustain us.  On this day we reverence the journey of our brokenness and incompleteness. It is because of this we may hunger for the arms of a forgiving God who is one directional, always moving towards us with His original love that no one and nothing can ever take away.  Our prayers go out to victims and first responders, to everyone whose lives are forever changed by the happenings 15 years ago.  Our prayers go out to the perpetrators of crimes and violence, to those unsettled by life and the situations in which they find themselves.  Our most sincere prayers implore that we may be given the grace to walk in ways of faith, searching for the common ground that has been placed within our souls since the moment of conception. It is not enough to only remember, it is equally important to begin a journey of forgiveness. This happens only with the help of God.  We must ask Him to enter in.

May God bless us and protect us as only He can,

Rev. John J. Ouper