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     This Week's Focus -  "9/11 + 7x70:
     A Formula for Forgiveness"  

   

        
 



 
Dear Friends,

Years after the atrocities of 9/11, the pain remains – intense for those closest to the victims, a dull ache for those of us further removed. Jesus reaches out from the gospel to take our pain – if not with a quick cure, surely with a sound road to recovery.

Forgiveness is the essence of Christian love. It is not restricted to overlooking petty faux-pas or even gross insults. Forgiveness is the transcendent courage to absorb a despicable blow without being consumed by a blood-lust for revenge. Forgiveness is not a largesse we dispense by power of our innate superiority. It is the grace of God transmitted through us. It is the ultimate witness of Christ’s love in the world.

But don’t be confused. Forgiveness is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for perpetrators. God has not issued an easy pass for evil in the world. Civil justice should be tempered by Christian love... not eliminated by it. We are the principle beneficiaries of our forgiveness, both in this world and the next.

We can choose to spend our lives obsessed with settling scores … with terrorists, with rivals, with noisy neighbors, with line jumpers, with the wise guy in the next lane … even within our own families. Life presents us with infinite opportunities to get even or to forgive seven times seventy. The choice is ours. We can live in love or we can live in hate. Both are transformative forces. We can become what we value and love or we can risk becoming the evil we obsess upon. From painful personal experience, love is better.

But there is a price to pay for choosing love: “A soft touch.” “A mark.” “A pushover.” “A patsy.” The world has lots of nasty names for people who lead with their hearts. We call them Christians. And every day our Christianity is put to the test.

A contractor demands you pay top dollar and a lousy job. A brother-in-law borrows five hundred bucks. That was three months ago and he doesn’t return your calls anymore. A co-worker lets you down and you take the blame. Sound familiar? We all have these tales of woe. What sets us apart is how we deal with life’s nicks and dents… and especially its calamities.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean you walk through life with a “kick me” sign on your back. It doesn’t mean you pop up smiling in the face of evil. It doesn’t mean that you suspend reason and invite abuse. It does mean that you actively live in Christ. You read and follow his word everyday. He guides us in all things, particularly over the rough patches… the hurts that are hard to forgive.

In this gospel, Peter comes to Christ looking for some practical advice. What’s the rule of thumb for forgiveness? Peter had obviously given the subject some thought and had a suggestion. The rabbinical scholars of the day had given the matter even greater thought in their effort to provide precise benchmarks for every aspect of behavior. They came up with a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule for forgiveness. Peter doubled down on that and added one for good measure. Lord, was seven the magic number? Christ’s answer shreds this whole accounting approach to love.

In biblical terms Christ’s reply, seven times seventy, was the numerical equivalent of infinity. In other words, stop counting and start loving. That is the way that God views our entire lifetimes of sins and slights, omissions and commissions. To reinforce his point, Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven a staggering debt and then refused forgiveness to a fellow servant. His sorry fate awaits all of us who will not forgive.         

You can’t fake forgiveness. It’s a hard road. Our primal instincts reject it. Man got to the top of the food chain by being the world’s champion predator. Get in our way and we’ll have you for dinner. And that goes double for our fellow humans. It takes a lot less than survival for our killer instincts to kick in. A different race, a different faith, a different opinion, a slight, a misunderstanding, a bruised ego… all have proven ample grounds for endless bloodletting.

And then along comes Jesus. He stands athwart an avalanche of abuse and retribution and cries: “Enough!” Enough of the chaos we’ve made of Creation. Enough of the moral monsters God’s children have become. The God who made every atom of our being, knows how those atoms work. He knows we must absorb the blow. He knows forgiveness is not built into our DNA.

We have to work on it. We have to pray on it. We have to commit to it, even when our instincts repeatedly keep rejecting it. True forgiveness is a long painful process, not a shake and bake solution. It requires moral muscles built by the rigorous exercise of sharing Christ’s love. Sometimes it hurts. But we have no useful option.

We are not being advised to forgive by our therapist. We are being commanded to forgive by our Lord and Savior who went to the cross for our forgiveness. And lest there be any room for confusion, our loving, forgiving God puts it plainly, we can forget about our own forgiveness unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart. It is the essential Christian quid pro quo… God’s formula for forgiveness.

        
God love you!
 
 


A Reflection from the archives
on the Occasion of the Anniversary of 9/11

©The Reverend David F. Sellery



We prayerfully remember the nearly 3,000 people whose lives where lost in New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

 
Copyright © 2018 David Sellery, All rights reserved.


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