Monday, September 12, 2011

"Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good."

“Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”
I think we can remember a time when someone harmed us.
When someone intentionally or unintentionally did us wrong.
Today is a good day to think about how we feel when others do harm to us.
Ten years ago on a crisp, beautiful September morning, 12 terrorist hell bent on destruction and death, filled with hate, flew plains into the world trade center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
In all they killed over 3,000 people.
They inflicted intentional pain upon thousands more.
Family members, co-workers, friends, churches all were affected that day.
Not to mention our country and our sense of whom we were in the world.
President Bush was right to talk about what happened in the starkest language possible.
Calling what the terrorist did as evil.

But ten years from the day as we think back, as we remember what it all means to us and our country, can we say that what the terrorist intended for evil, God intended for good?
What can we say about ourselves as a people, our country, and our lives?

There are some bad things that happened because of 9/11.
Our government allowed people to be tortured to obtain information, we started two wars one of which was unnecessary, and we became more distrustful of our Muslim neighbors.
We can’t say that everything is good.
But we can also say that lots of good happened after 9/11.
That day and the weeks following we had an incredible sense of unity.
We came together as a country.
We came to see that all of us are of one humanity people died from 90 different countries.
We started to question the wisdom of religious extremism.
We started new interfaith dialogues in an attempt to understand.
People started new groups such as the Women Transcending Boundaries which is a group of woman who gather for service and understanding to stop discrimination.
There are other things that have happened since that day.
Others ways that people grew in understanding and love.
Like Cecelia Kuath who this year went on a cross country bike trip to honor her father, and other who died on September 11th, and raise money for World Bicycle Relief.
Or Marie Rose Abad whose husband built 50 new homes in the Philippines to honor his wife.
"It's like a new life sprang from the death of Marie Rose and so many others." said villager Nancy Waminal.
There are so many good things I couldn’t possibly tell all the stories in one sermon.

When Joseph says to his brothers that what they intended for evil God intended for good he was not saying that everything was going to be great forever more.
He was seeing in the story of his life, and the life of his family a larger narrative at work.
I wonder if we too are able to step back from intended evil to see something greater at work.
Are we able to forgive people and move on because even though they harmed us we can still see God at work?

I am wondering in our lives if we are able to see as clearly as Joseph did.
Are we able to forgive and move on with our lives seeing even in the things that harm us God’s work?
I want to be clear.
I am not suggesting that God intentionally had fanatical terrorist kill thousands of people so we could learn a lesson about our humanity.
The people who committed that act did it intentionally of their own free will.
They choose that path for themselves.
I am suggesting that as people of faith we be able to step back and see greater forces at work then evil.
See God at work in all things.
See the good that grows out of even the worse things that happen to us in our lives.

Let us also be clear that the forgiveness and wonderful words that Joseph speaks to his brothers only come after a long time.
This is the end of Joseph’s life and his forgiveness and his reconciliation has been many years in the making.
For us too forgiveness is never an easy solution.
It takes years to work out our pain and hurt.
It takes years to overcome something like 9/11 and for some the affects still linger, and for them it might take even more years.
But forgiveness is a way forward.
As one of the family members who lost someone on 9/11 said, “Deep down I have to forgive and move on. I am just not ready.”
The time to be ready will come.

This is the view of faith that we see all things through the lens of a God who wants good for us and our lives.
It is why Sunday school is so important
Sunday school helps children to know God and know him intimately.
And when evil happens they can deal with it.

Sasha Vaccoroo
was in kindergarden when he saw the planes hit the towers.
He said of that day, “Before, I thought the world was perfect and everyone was nice,” he said. “It’s when I stopped believing in God.”
I hope that our children learn that the world is not perfect, and it is not always nice.
I hope that they learn there are parts of the human heart that do evil.
But that we as people of faith don’t have to be afraid of it.
We can see through evil intention of people to the greater intention of God.
I hope that in Sunday school our kids learn how to forgive.
I don’t think that our kids need Sunday school to become better people, you as parents teach them that every day.
But in Sunday school we learn about God’s love and forgiveness, because forgiveness is often the healing balm of our lives.
Without it we cannot move forward.

And we all need to forgive someone for something or maybe multiple things.
This is why Jesus tells us to forgive not just seven times, but seventy times because it will take lots of forgiveness to get us through life.
Our parents maybe didn’t love us enough, or maybe they loved us too much.
Our siblings didn’t treat us right and tried to undermine us.
Our boss is a jerk.
Maybe we were picked on as a kid.
Whatever the pain is that we carry around the only way forward is through forgiveness.
That of course takes time; it is not an easy answer but a faithful answer.

I think it would help us a lot in our lives if we are able to step back and see the greater intention.
If we could let go of what others do to hold us back to see God working to bring us to where we need to be.

I think if we could have that perspective about 9/11 we could see God at work even amongst the evil.
said about 9/11 “Human history is full of tragedy, and within these tragedies there is room for growth. There is no growth in human beings without struggle. I’m convinced of that.”
Joseph grew through his life struggles.
He grew from a self righteous brat to a man of forgiveness and humility.
He was able to grow to the point where he could even see God at work in what his brothers did to him.
He grew to the point where he could forgive them.
I am hoping we too are able to grow to the point where we see God at work even in the sin that happens to us.
I am hoping that we are always able to forgive, not just seven time, but seventy-seven times.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


If we are honest we have all done it on more than one occasion.
We have all talked about someone behind their backs or made discouraging remarks about another person when they were not in the room.
I hear it all the time in conversations, “I can’t believe she did that. I would never do that.”
We all have been guilty of spreading rumors or talking out of turn.
I know that whenever I do it I almost immediately feel wrong about it.
And most of the time it comes back to get me.
Not only in our personal relationships but throughout the history of Christendom this has been a problem.
How many times after a council meeting do people go out in the parking lot and begin to talk about other people, or the pastor?
It is the amazing thing about Jesus that nothing is too small for him to care about.
Jesus even cares about how we talk about other people when they are not around.
This morning Jesus gives what I have always considered to be practical advice on how we should interact with each other.
"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”
How many problems could we avoid in life if we simply take Jesus advice?

I know in the church we could save ourselves a lot of drama if we stopped making assumptions about people’s motives and simply talked about our differences.
So in part our Gospel for this morning is simply about good advice in dealing with conflict among people church.
I would suggest it is good advice in general and not just in the church.
Most of the time the things that others do to make us angry or upset are not done out of spite or because the other person is bad they happen as a misunderstanding or what one person considers wrong would never occur to another person.

For example, I had a friend in seminary.
She told me about this person she was dating.
Since none of us ever met this person or knew about him I made a bad joke about how he probably lived in Canada. (Wink, wink)
When it was time for our senior year I noticed that she stopped coming over our house for dinner.
I also noticed that some of my other friends had stopped coming around.
I was told by one of my classmates it was because I made that joke that she didn’t want to hang out with me anymore.
I was shocked!
If you know me you know I make jokes.
I mean nothing by them they are just meant to be funny.
This one was not funny.
I think it was sad that this person simply didn’t confront me with her feelings.
I could have apologized.
We could have saved a lot of drama.

Anyway, you get the point.
Jesus advice on handling of our internal problems is a good one.
If you have a problem with someone talk to them about it!

But I am not sure that our Gospel for this morning is merely about good advice Jesus gives when handling our personal disagreements.
I think it is about the imperfection of the church.
Jesus has no disillusionment about the church.
Jesus knows that someone in the church will sin against someone else at some point.
Jesus also knows that it will be our first reaction when someone sins against us to go and talk about it behind their backs with someone else.
Jesus presupposes sin in the church.
I wonder if we are as truthful about what happens here as Jesus.

There is a joke about a man who is rescued after many years on a desert island.

As he stands on the deck of the rescuing vessel, the captain says to him, "I thought you were stranded alone. How come I can see three huts on the beach?"

"Well," replies the castaway, "that one there is my house and
that one there is where I go to church."

"And the third one?" asks the skipper.

"Oh, that's the church used go to."
Many people have left a church because they did not like the way someone did something.
Many people have been disillusioned because the Church did not live up to its or their high ideals.
I have met so many people who don’t go to church because they say that the church is filled with hypocrites.
To which I always reply, “Well of course it is there are people in the Church.”

But this morning we see the truth about human relationships.
They are very complex.
They take time, work, and most of all forgiveness.
Jesus has to come up with a very long system for dealing with these disagreements.
First confront the person, if that doesn’t work bring another person, if that doesn’t work bring more people.
What is even more amazing about what Jesus says this morning is that despite all this Jesus would still be in found where his followers gather.
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Jesus is among two or three even though he knows it will not be perfect.
Jesus knows that were two or three are gathered there will be a problem.
The Church is not meant to be a place where perfect people come together to make themselves feel superior to the rest of the world.
It is meant to be a place where imperfect people come to worship a perfect God.
There is no such thing as a perfect church only a perfect God.
It is meant to be a place where we struggle with living in a community of people that we don’t always agree with.
I would say that gathering in Church helps us do away with our disillusionment of perfection or high ideals.
The church shatters our false notion that somehow somewhere there is a perfect community out there with perfect people.
The good news is that Jesus is among us and still despite this empowers us to love others.
To loose and bind chains.
How much better is it for us to be able to let go of resentment?
How much better for us to seek reconciliation with each other?
As Joseph Campbell once said, “We sacrifice in a relationship not for the other person but for the relationship”
This morning what we are confronted with in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is this question about our lives.
How will we live with the limited amount of time we all have left?
St. Paul tells the church in Rome, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.”
Paul like many people believed that the end of time was coming soon.
He believed that when Jesus told his followers he was going to return, Jesus meant sooner rather than later.
And because of this Paul often pleaded with people to act like their time on earth was short.
We have become less and less enthralled with this idea, because as time has moved on we see that Jesus has not returned sooner rather than later.
In fact, we often take tomorrow for granted; we simply believe that whatever we leave today we can always do tomorrow.
But if we live like there is no tomorrow we can see that there is simply not enough time to be resentful, petty, or angry.
If we live like there is no tomorrow we live in love.

Relationships mean so much to us in our community because they are the back bone of what we are about.
In a society that teaches us we can have everything our own way it is good that we still have places where we don’t always get our own way and we still have to compromise and learn to live with people of different opinions and world views.

That is why we gather here every week.
It is why we attempt to go out and invite others in.
We do it because we believe that Jesus Christ is present in this place.
We believe in forgiveness of sins.

To me this is good news.
It means that we owe each other nothing except to love one another.
Loving means forgiving each other, and living amongst our own fragilities and complexities.
Jesus was not disillusioned about whom we are or what the church is.
May we learn to disillusion ourselves so that we are open to accepting the forgiveness and presence of Jesus Christ and live our short time on this earth in love.