Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

09/11/11 Sermon

Matthew 18: 21-35

May the words of my mouth…

10 years ago today, the United States of America watched in horror as 19 members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airliners crashing two of them into the World Trade Towers in New York City, killing everyone on board.

Within two hours of being struck, both towers collapsed, claiming nearly 3,000 lives. The hijackers then crashed a third airliner into the Pentagon.

The fourth plane, United Flight 93 crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after some of its passengers and flight crew attempted to retake control of the plane, which the hijackers had redirected toward Washington, D.C to target the White House.

It was10 years ago today, business men and women, pilots and flight attendants, fire and police personnel, volunteers; people who were moms and dads, family and friends went to work like they had always done not knowing of the terror and tragedy that lied ahead of them that day.  And in the aftermath of that day, we as a country have mourned the personal stories of these victims. We’ve heard stories of individuals who were on the phone with their loved ones saying goodbye before their deaths.

One story is that of Jeremy Glick, a passenger on United Flight 93. Jeremy was the Sales and Marketing executive of a hot internet company. He was recently married and the proud father of a beautiful three-month-old daughter.

He didn’t want to go on Flight 93. It was his first business trip in months since the birth of his daughter, Emmy.  However, there was an important conference in San Francisco and his wife Lyzbeth urged him to go, and stop worrying about her and the baby.  Jeremy planned to fly out on the previous day, but got stuck in traffic on his way to the Newark Airport. He rebooked for the following morning. Not long after the flight was underway, Jeremy called Lyzbeth on his cell phone to report that five hijackers had taken over the plane.  She told him about the plane crashes into the World Trade Center and later the Pentagon.  Jeremy and several other passengers on that flight determined that they had to do something.  We presume that the passengers managed to carry out their intention because Flight 93 was the only one of the four hijacked planes that didn’t take any casualties on the ground.  A group of people literally gave their lives to save the lives of people they did not even know.

Jeremy’s wife, Lyzbeth spoke about her final conversation with her husband before the plane went down. Interviewed on “Dateline,” she shared the conversation: “We said I love you a thousand times over and over again, and it just brought so much peace to us,” says Lyzbeth . . . “He told me, 'I love Emmy’ and to take care of her.  Then he said, ‘Whatever decisions you make in your life, I need you to be happy, and I will respect any decisions that you make.’

She said that gives me the most comfort. He sounded strong. He didn’t sound panicked, very clear headed. I told him to put a picture of me and Emmy in his head to be strong.”

Those were the last words spoken…………..

Stories such as this, and the many others we’ve heard of those left behind in grief and mourning, are difficult for us to hear.

9-11 can be a day of sadness and fear; frustration and anger. All feelings of grief and loss.  Today is a very difficult day to remember for our country. We who lived that day will never ever forget it.  In fact----- never forgetting 9-11 has actually become a rallying cry for our country.

Memorials have been built, 2 pillars of light shine up in the sky on each anniversary in New York. Today there will be ceremonies and monuments raised so as to never forget. Even the NFL players will wear shoes and gloves with the words “never forget” on them.  The rallying cry of “Never forget” has also had an impact in other ways of life---

Never forgetting has affected our air travel and other security precautions; it’s changed our way of life and our freedom.

Never forgetting has also had an impact on our foreign policy as a country. We’ve never forgotten as we’ve hunted down al Qaeda members in the Middle East. It’s also led us to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Never forgetting was also demonstrated as Americans celebrated in the streets when we heard the news that Osama bin Laden was found and killed.

No, as a country, we’ve never forgotten 9-11…….But as we read our scripture on this 10th anniversary of 9-11, the question brought before us as Christians is not whether we have forgotten 9-11----the question is whether we have forgiven 9-11?

You know I find it very interesting that today’s lectionary scripture is this story of Jesus teaching about forgiveness.

Of course as Christians, forgiveness is a cornerstone, a foundation of our faith.  But I wonder if the more than 75% of the Americans who claim to be Christians, associate the word forgiveness with our “never forgetting” 9-11.  It’s certainly not easy to do. Especially for those Christians whose lives have been so altered and scarred by this tragedy.

Will Willimon, a bishop in the United Methodist Church recalled an interview he saw  with a couple on the day after 9-11. They were standing on the street, before the wreckage of ground zero, obviously in great grief.  Their beloved daughter had perished in the tragedy. Through tears, they shared their grief with the reporter.  The reporter, stammering, said to them, “Well, I know that you will be able to go to your place of worship this weekend and there maybe you’ll find some consolation in your faith . . .”  And the grieving mother replied, “No, we won’t be going to our place of worship this weekend ’cause we’re Christians, and we know what Jesus commands about forgiveness, and frankly, we’re just not yet ready for that. It’ll be some time before we’ll want to be with Jesus.” …………………

Jesus’ message of forgiveness in the midst of such tragedy can be hard to accept.

Our first reaction as human beings is rather a desire for revenge instead of forgiveness.  We want justice, we want the bad guys to get what’s coming to them---we want payback…………………But for Christians, revenge against an enemy is not an option. We’re called to forgive. 70 times 7 Jesus says to Peter.

Still, as a nation--- we can read this scripture and think that Jesus couldn’t have really meant what he said. Surely he wasn’t talking about these evil terrorists…..

After all we’re a country that prides itself on getting even. Our TV sets and our movie screens bombard us with the message of the American way of being strong avengers.  Our heroes are people who are fierce fighters, American patriots who pack weapons to destroy the bad guys. ……………Jesus surely knows that---he’s one of us.

Still the scriptures don’t offer us justification for our way of revenge. We read in Leviticus 19:18 that “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people”. Paul tells us in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God”.

The message of the Bible is clear for Christians. We’re not to be revengeful people; we’re instead to be forgiving people.

But why?

Why are we to choose forgiveness over revenge?

Well perhaps Jesus wanted us to be forgiving people because he knew the harm that un-forgiveness can cause in our life as a country and as individuals.

Dr. M. Scott Peck, a psychiatrist, says in his book The Road Less Traveled, that unless we are able to at least move toward the work of forgiving the person who hurt us, even the person who does not deserve our forgiveness, there will not be mental health.

Kenneth Hart, a psychology professor at the University of Windsor studied sixty-six recovering alcoholics. The individuals had one thing in common: They were all angry with someone.  Hart found that teaching forgiveness is one way to break the cycle that causes recovering alcoholics to relapse.  If they release their anger through forgiveness, they no longer have a reason to use alcohol as an escape. A former addict said, “Forgiveness is more for yourself than for the person you’re forgiving. For me to forgive that person sets me free.” (6)

The same can be said for those who harbor hate and resentment thru a divorce who then affect their children.

The point is that the UnForgiveness we carry around inside of us is a poison that can consume us. It’s an evil that seeks to throw gasoline on the fire.  It affects us as individuals as well as a nation.

You know, 9-11 has taken away more than just the innocence of a way of life when things were simpler.  It’s also taken away an innocence and goodness that wouldn’t have celebrated in the streets at the death of Osama bin Laden.  That kind of celebration lowered us as a nation.

You see Jesus’ call to forgiveness is not about the person or persons who need forgiving; it’s instead about us being free from the evil poison of unforgiveness that those who live in hate (like terrorists) harbor.  Jesus wants us to forgive 70 times 7 in order that we will not experience the poison of hate, revenge and vengeance. For those are the ways of the world.

Now you might be thinking that that’s all good in theory but terrorists, and child abusers, rapists and cold-blooded killers need to be brought to justice.  Besides that, we certainly don’t want to be friends with those who have hurt us and murdered our loved ones.  But as we see, Jesus isn’t saying we have to turn the other way and be friends with those who have harmed us.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget. It simply means we don’t remember with revenge. The two can be separated.

I’m reminded of CS Lewis speaking to the issue of forgiveness when he talks about how we can love our enemies and yet they not be our friends.  Lewis makes the point that we can still love others while we hate the evil that is within them.  He knows this to be true as he gives the illustration of looking at himself in the mirror everyday.  Lewis says when I look at myself I see someone I love and yet at the same time, I see things about myself that I do that I hate………

Forgiveness is like that.

While we can forgive someone, forgetting is a different story.

But the forgetting doesn’t mean we harbor hate and revenge. “Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t want to destroy White America he wanted to redeem it, Gandhi didn’t want to wipe out the British, he wanted to covert them, Pope John Paul II didn’t want to kill Communists, he wanted them to become better people”.  

Jesus doesn’t call us to a “forgive and forget mentality”; nor does he call us to remember with revenge. He instead calls us to remember with redemption and resurrection in mind:  Mary Fetchet's 24-year-old son Brad worked on the 89th floor of Tower 2. After his death, she channeled her grief and anger into lobbying Washington for an official investigation into the attack and subsequent rescue efforts.  Fechet's work was instrumental in the creation of the 9/11 Commission, where she called not for revenge, but for change. "We want to prevent other families from suffering the loss we've had to endure," she said. We want systemic failures identified and problems resolved."

Just after the death of Osama bin Laden, Fetchet appeared on NBC Nightly News. "There is no closure when you lose a son in a terrorist attack," she said. "I wanted accountability, but I feel if you have revenge, then they win in the end."

She went on to emphasize that commemoration of the victims is ultimately more productive than any act of revenge. The organization she founded, Voices of September 11, works on behalf of victims and survivors toward commemoration as well as prevention and preparedness related to terrorism……………………..

Mary has forgiven while not forgetting……………Her remembrance is about redemption.

Today, as we remember 9-11 we as a nation are called to never forget. But how we remember is very important.

Will we remember with revenge in our hearts or will we remember with redemption?

Will we seek to hate or will we take this moment to pray for safety for those who serve?

Will we celebrate the killing of terrorists or will we decide to volunteer as a fireman?

Will we continue to beat the drum of war or will we become visitors of those who grieve?

And while we seek to forgive as a nation on this day, today you and I are also being called to ask where we might need to forgive someone who has hurt us individually in our own life?

Where are we harboring revenge and resentment toward others? Do we have feelings of bitterness and prejudice against a group of people, other races, other religions?

Is there someone who has hurt us personally that we need to reconcile with?---------Jesus wants us to be free from this poison.  He came to forgive us of our own terrorist actions against the kingdom of God when he died on the cross for our sins.

And as a result, like the king in this parable that forgave this enormous un-payable debt of the servant, we as Christians are called to go with gratitude and offer forgiveness to everyone else who might owe us in some way.

On this day of remembrance, let us never forget 9-11. Let us remember those who suffer in grief and mourning.

But as we remember, let us not see that day not with revenge in our hearts----Instead let us see it thru the eyes of the ways of the kingdom: ways of redemption, resurrection and new life.


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen