Inexhaustible forgiveness

Heidi
09/06/2011

Inexhaustible forgiveness

Tiles for America began on September 12, 2001. This 9/11 memorial fence is in front of St. Vincent's Hospital at 7th Avenue and 11th Street in New York City.

Text study for Genesis 50:15-21 and Matthew 18:21-35
Lectionary texts for September 11, 2011


As a New Yorker, I can’t help but commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. Contexts differ, but what happened here has impacted us all in ways that bear reflection, and our readings come to help in our weakness.

We live in a world with increased fears -- of terror, of strangers, of immigrants. Our wars have converted the loss of almost 3,000 lives into losses of hundreds of thousands and counting and consumed massive economic resources in a time of economic distress.

Sunday’s texts speak to God’s inexhaustible forgiveness and our response. Genesis and Matthew address in-house reconciliation. Peter asks about forgiveness between church members, Joseph forgives the betrayal of his own brothers.

Our churches and families are unmatched schools for us to practice and grow in what it means to forgive one another as we have been forgiven. That’s hard enough, but God also sends us as ambassadors of reconciliation for all of the world.

Borderless compassion

After the devastation of 9/11, I remember how the usual limits of family and tribe broke open on 9/12. There was communal outrage against the violence and borderless compassion for the tragic losses.

I’ll never forget the cards, letters, visits and donations from all over the country and around the globe.

That solidarity was short-lived. I remember visiting a man who survived but lay charred almost beyond recognition. His wife and I prayed at his bedside. She didn’t want our rage to hijack our best values. She prayed for peace. Are not each of our readings a cry from God’s heart for "shalom"?

I am inspired by the Genesis verse: "Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…" I do not take this to mean that God intended the evil that befell Joseph when his brothers cast him into the pit anymore than God intended the evil pit of Ground Zero.

Rather, could it be that God intends and enables good to rise up in the wake of betrayal and horror?

I think we must confess that we have not always responded according to this intent. We have allowed terror to beget terror, revenge and hate.

As churches, we know how to rise up to do great good when disaster strikes, but we are often silent and passive in the face of policies and prejudices that bring their own disasters. Which is harder: to forgive or to humbly examine our own need for forgiveness? Thanks be to God whose steadfast love and mercy can still redeem our life from every pit!

Talkback:

• How do you experience God’s peace in the wake of disaster and terror?
• Have you seen God’s mercy and reconciliation rise up in the last 10 years as a response to the tragedy of 9/11?
• For what conflicts and prejudices do you pray? How can God’s mercy and compassion flow through your life in response to your prayers?

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Heidi Neumark is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan and the author of "Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx." She has served in urban ministry for the past 28 years.

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