Remembering Back And Remembering Forward

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost                                                         11 September 2011

(Genesis 50:15-21   Psalm 103   Romans 14:1-12   Matthew 18:21-35)

“Remembering Back and Remembering Forward!”

Pastors and preachers across the country have spent countless hours this past week trying to figure out what they might say from their pulpits this morning that may have meaning.   For me, it has come down to two thoughts:  “Remembering Back” and “Remembering Forward!

I’ll begin with Remembering Back.

This has been a difficult week of remembering.  It has been a week of heartfelt pain for many people.  We’ve relived the events of 9-11-01 again and again, seeing images of destruction, hearing sounds of terror, narratives of heroism, stories of grief, words of anger, echoes of hope.  

Anyone sitting in this church this morning, age 16 or older, surely remembers 10 years ago today.  We can, each one of us, tell our story as we remember it.

We were all living our normal lives on Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001.    And, as it began to sink in that something was terribly amiss, we tried to be in contact with family and loved one.  If we knew people who worked in the Trade Center Towers or at the Pentagon, we tried to find out about them.  We remember the horror from the images, the desperation from the sounds as we watched and listened, most of us totally helpless to do anything more.  Sometimes remembering is very painful.

One day this past week I saw a man on a news show from NYC with a jacket flaunting the slogan, “I didn’t forget; I don’t forgive.”  That, certainly, is one way of remembering.  It certainly is a very powerful way of remembering that fuels many people’s lives, but it is not the way of remembering that will transform the world.

Above all else, Christians are people of remembering.  Every time we come together in worship, we remember the faithful love God has demonstrated in our lives.  Every time we gather to celebrate Holy Communion, we remember God’s selfless love for each one of us, coming through yet another story of deathly horror.

“Do this in remembrance of me!” we hear each and every time we gather around the communion table!  Remember; remember God’s steadfast love for each of us in Jesus Christ.  We are people of remembering!

Remembering the events of 10 years ago is the most human thing we might do today.  But to do so with a forgiving spirit is to remember in such a way that the purpose of our remembering is not to seek revenge and get even.  Forgiveness is precisely about remembering in light of the faithful love of Jesus Christ.  To remember through the lens of God’s vast love is the only way tragedy can ever become the catalyst for justice and peace.

This past Tuesday, NPR broadcast a show entitled, “Remembering Forward,”  from St. Paul’s chapel that served as a refuge to emergency personnel for the days and weeks following 9-11.

This leads me to my second thought.

So where do we go from here?  How do we remember forward from those events of 10 years ago?  Where is our resolve today?  What kind of future are we willing to create?

A story from 10 years ago may help lead us toward an answer.  Later in the afternoon of 9-11-01, I knew I wanted desperately to get home as quickly as possible.  But there was one more thing I needed to do.  I drove to the local hospital, where a little boy had been born in the early hours of that day.

Maybe selfishly, but I wanted to hold baby Jimmy in my arms and feel his breathing chest.  I needed the physical assurance, in the midst of such devastation and destruction, that new life is guaranteed!  That moment and that baby became the symbol of what the future could to be about!

If the horror of death touches deeply the most human part of each one of us, so does the joy of new life touch just as deeply that part which is most human within us!  It is precisely such deep belief in new life that sustains us to remember forward with new hope.

God makes grace out of grit; God causes salvation out of sin.  We are saved, ironically, not by doing it right as much as by the suffering of having done it wrong.  We come to God not through our perfection (thank God!) as much as through our imperfection.  In the end, who we are must be to be people of forgiveness and reconciliation, remembering forward in a way that allows hope to become love in action—only, and most importantly, because we have first been forgiven by Christ!

To move into tomorrow with genuine compassion is the beginning, the middle and the end of the whole gospel, as far as I can see.

Without radical and rule-breaking reconciliation—both received and given—there will be no reconstruction and renewal of anything, only vengeance and Muslim-bashing, suspicion and fear.  Without forgiveness and reconciliation there is no future.

We all have hurt one another in too many historically documented and remembered ways, yet we must move out of the present hatreds between peoples that continue to enslave us!

Teilhard de Chardin once said that, “The world tomorrow belongs to those who bring it the greatest hope.”

What else is there for us to do?  As believers, as Christians, what can we bring to the world, if not hope?  And here is where I will now get terribly personal.

My greatest wish is that I simply want this congregation of St. James to irrigate this town, this community, this world with hope, because without hope we are all literally creatures of despair.  If we cannot stand for something more, we become something less; just as if we cannot look to something above, we will surely sink to something below.

So I stand with de Chardin:  “The world tomorrow does belong to those who bring it the greatest hope;” and I stand just as faithfully with Jesus: “Forgive…not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Today…remember back ten years, but also, remember back to the story that gives meaning to all remembering—the story of God’s love!

Remember forward to the story of our future.  And, may we find the resolve to make it the best future humanity has to offer!

If not us, then who?  Amen. 

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