sermon, September 2005

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

My friends in Christ, I’m a procrastinator. I have a longstanding habit, going back to my childhood, of doing things at the last minute. My justification in doing this has always been that I work better under pressure…perhaps that’s true, but my habit of putting things off is a habit that has not endeared itself to the people I live with, for both my wife and daughter are what I call “take charge kind of girls”.

I try not to procrastinate when I’m scheduled to preach. My usual habit is to begin to study the Propers several weeks beforehand, reflect on them, maybe jot down a few ideas or themes…but I don’t actually start preparation until a few days before I’m scheduled to preach. I’m a bit flummoxed today because, yes, the Gospel is important but there are a few other things I need to talk about, too.

The heart of today’s Gospel confronts us with these sorts of questions: “How do we keep the church community together when forgiveness needs to happen right under our own roof? How should the Christian community deal with sin that lurks so closely at the door? What is expected of us as we learn how to be Christians?”

Again, as we have for several lessons this summer, Peter is asking questions. He comes to Jesus asking the sorts of questions I’ve just mentioned. Imagine how he must have felt. He knows what people are like, how easy it is to hold a grudge, to become bitter, to offer forgiveness once, twice, maybe up to three times as Jewish tradition permits. Wanting to be generous, Peter proudly steps forward to answer his own question. “As many as seven times?” he asks. He was willing to go the extra mile…and then some…or so he thought. Jesus tells him not to assume that forgiveness is something that you can count and then be done with. Forgiveness must become a practice…a commitment… something sustained and renewed each day of our lives. It is not a single action…it’s a way of life. Peter asks how generous he should be, but he’s still asking about limits. He’s thinking quantitatively while Jesus answers qualitatively…with the offer of limitless forgiveness. That’s what God is like.

Listen to what Susan Pendleton Jones, of Duke Divinity School, writes in Christian Century magazine: “Christian communities are sustained by people who know what it means to discover the miracle of God’s forgiveness, and who are thus committed to a way of life as forgiven and forgiving people. We do not abandon others, and refuse to be abandoned ourselves. We cannot rest content with conflict or division or even with “conflict management”; we aim for the more difficult and more rewarding practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. As we live in communities shaped by these practices, we will experience anew what it means to be forgiven — and forgiving. Perhaps then, when the invitation is offered, all of us will come to the table joyfully.”

Now, I have to mention two things that are in my mind and on my heart…what’s happening in the Deep South, and the anniversary of September 11, 2001.

With Hurricane Katrina still dominating the news, parishioners have asked Ron and me what we, as Episcopalians, are doing (and can do) to help in the relief efforts in the affected areas.

Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) is on the scene helping people. Unlike many charities, their overhead and administrative costs are paid for in the national church budget; anything you contribute to ERD goes specifically to relief efforts. I urge you to consider donating to ERD. My friend Margaret Heckendorn, the diocesan ERD representative, will hopefully be here on October 2nd to talk about ERD in the adult forum.

At the diocesan level, clergy from the metropolitan area met this past Wednesday at Saint Andrew’s Church to talk about what we can do. Father Fred Mann and Father John Spicer, from St. Andrew’s, spoke at the meeting, as did our bishop’s assistant, John McCann. Archdeacon McCann has been in direct contact with the Diocese of Mississippi. Their greatest need is for generators, as power is expected to be down for several more months. Our diocese has procured transportation to deliver generators to their diocesan office and they hope to leave, loaded with generators, for Mississippi, on Wednesday of this week. The cost for one 700 watt, 13 HP generator (plus peripheral equipment such as gas cans and power strips to connect) is roughly $800.00. I urge you to consider donating to this effort…Please make your check out to the Diocese of West Missouri, place a memo on your check “generators” and I will hand-deliver the checks to the diocesan office tomorrow or Tuesday. They will buy the generators; all they need is the money to do so. If you’d rather buy a generator yourself, they need to be delivered to Saint Andrew’s by Wednesday.

The Kansas City metro area Episcopal Churches are also establishing a Disaster Relief Task Force, and they are asking one person from each parish to serve on this task force. This task force will be at work for many months to come, and there will be much to do. If any of you are interested in serving as our parish representative to this task force, please speak with me and I can give you further particulars.

Finally, if you care to do some hands-on local volunteering, the Gregg Community Center has been set up as the local entry point for evacuees. This is a “one stop shop” for all needs, and every element of local assistance is represented at that location.

On this anniversary of 9/11, I think back on my internship as a deacon, which was spent at Bishop Spencer Place. The first anniversary of 9/11 came while I was at BSP. The chaplain, Juli Sifers, was away that week, and she asked Deacon Bob Long, who lived at BSP, and myself to create and officiate at a liturgy for that day. I happened to be on vacation from my secular work at the time, so I was spending more time at BSP than I usually would. The residents were asking the same sorts of questions we’re asking about Hurricane Katrina…why would God let such a thing happen…where is God in all of this?

These sorts of questions are questions of theodicy…theodicy is the branch of theology that deals with questions of why God lets bad things happen…why is there evil in the world? Most of residents were struggling with such issues. When Bob and I sat down to plan the service I asked to preach…my problem was what I could say to those residents.

Wednesday arrived, and surprisingly about 60 residents, ambulatory and in wheelchairs, showed up for the memorial service. I told them the same thing I say to you today: God was in those planes, he was in those towers, he was in that field in Pennsylvania, and he was in the Pentagon just as he is today with those people in the Deep South…and just as he is present here with us right now. He weeps with them and he weeps with us today. Please pray with me:
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your
Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance
and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to
accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations
and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

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