Sermon – September 11, 2005

Hope in Troubled Times

Just to look at this date on the calendar brings feelings of sadness, anger, fear, confusion. Today we mark the 4th anniversary of the tragic bombing of the World Trade Center, an unadulterated act of hatred and violence and evil. Since then we have been at war and as a result, thousands of people have died. The events surrounding the last couple of years has created deep division among the people of this nation. Today, as we reflect on that, we struggle as a broad community of people with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Our eyes are blurred and our minds are numb from the relentless images of the victims of this fearful storm.

How do will live in hope in times like these? How do we not throw our hands up in despair for the cruelty of humanity and violent capriciousness of Mother Nature? How do we live in hope in times like these?

Some the most enduring images of these two events were aerial shots. . . . in New Orleans and Mississippi and Alabama of the flood waters and the devastation, aerial shots of Ground Zero of the twisted metal and the smoke rising and the stark vacancy where two grand buildings fell and became the grave of three thousand.

I would invite us to consider another image from above and see the world as best as we are able through the eyes of God, whose love and mercy broods over the world permeating tragedy, standing against fear, mitigating anger, offering forgiveness and hope. If we adopt that view, we can live in God’s hope and act in God’s hope in times like these.

What transpired in the transaction between the king and the slave in Jesus’ parable today went far beyond the settlement of a debt, the resolution of a conflict. It was an unexpected and unwarranted application of mercy and the consequence of that mercy was hope. The slave owed an absolutely impossible debt, that in 274 lifetimes of labor he could not repay. Despite his promises to repay , the obligation and debt was beyond his means and ability. It was only the merciful act of forgiving the debt on the behalf of the king that brought with it otherwise unattainable hope.

Jesus here is talking about changing the way we live in the world as we live through the kingdom of God, as we see one another and the world with the eyes of God. Jesus is ushering in an economy of mercy and hope and empowering that economy to be lived out by those who have received his mercy.

Now, how does that speak to us? Where is our debt? Our understanding of God’s grace is that God has taken from us a debt that we could not pay, could never pay, could never break through because of our sinfulness and our inability to be reconciled with God. It was Luther’s dilemma in the 16th century that he could not become righteous before God on his own, and it is our reality, too. But we have received an unlooked for mercy and received an otherwise unattainable hope through the cross of Jesus Christ. God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s mercy and God’s hope are expressed for all time and for all people by that act of Grace. And we who have received this hope and mercy are called, expected, blessed to live it out, to live out an alternative way, which defies the old way reckoning.

The point of Jesus’ exchange with Peter was that forgiveness in the kingdom is no longer characterized by keeping score, but is instead a vehicle of mercy and hope.

In William Shakespeare’s play, “The Merchant of Venice,” the character Portia, a woman, poses as a lawyer, if you remember, in the exchange between the merchant and Shylock. Shylock is the lender who has demanded of the Merchant a payment for a debt of one pound of his flesh. Though offered monetary compensation, Shylock is merciless and demands the pound of flesh.  That’s his justice. Portia instructs him in the ways of mercy, saying

” The quality of mercy is not strain’d: It droppeth as the Gentle Rain from heaven Upon the Place beneath. It is twice Blest: It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes. ‘Tis mightiest in the Mightiest; it becomes the Throned Monarch better than his Crown. His Scepter shows the force of Temporal Power, the Attribute ot Awe and Majesty, Wherein doth sit the Dread and Fear of Kings. But Mercy is above this Sceptered Sway; It is enthroned in the Hearts of Kings. It is an Attribute to God Himself, and Earthly power doth then show likest God’s when Mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Shylock, though justice be thy Plea, consider this: That in the course of Justice none of us should see salvation. We do pray for Mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”

God broods over the world in mercy and forgiveness and because God does, we can have hope for the day after the storm, the day after the bombing, the day after the loss. In the midst of all this, God’s mercy is present, God’s forgiveness is alive and God’s hope will find a way, maybe shrouded today by our pain or fear, but it will find a way because God loves that which God created.

That is our conviction, that is our hope, and they are the consequences of God’s mercy. So, when we approach these days, praying for peace, extending our hands and hearts in compassion, seeking God’s strength to do the next thing, we do so knowing that we bear God’s hope into the world. To live in the consciousness of God’s kingdom is the source of our hope and our purpose. Might not God’s way today be your way and mine? As the Bard reminds us, “We do pray for Mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”

May God bless us all as we live together in hope in these times.