It’s been 15 years to that tragic day when the heavy jets slammed into the Twin Towers in New York. Can you remember where you were? I was getting ready to go to church and watched the horror unfold. I had an 8am service with the children of our school and wondered what I would say to them.
That day and the ensuing rescue efforts were the subject of all our daily prayers, but the hardest part of it all for me, during the aftermath, was listening to all the calls for revenge. I was in Arizona and our senior Senator John McCain spoke for so many. He said God have mercy on the souls of the men who did this, because we won’t.
These words by Sen. McCain summarized the clarion call for revenge against any and all who could be blamed for this violence toward us- so called sacred violence because we knew God would approve it. President Bush even used the word Crusade to describe our response. God might show mercy, but we would show no mercy to those who attacked us. All of this coupled with the shadow threat of weapons of mass destruction directed against us, gave us no choice but to respond with the full power of our armaments in shock and awe.
The choices we make when we suffer the violence of other human beings are in great contrast to God’s choice when the ancestors of those same human beings brought about violence and ultimately death to Jesus. God, in Jesus, chose forgiveness and mercy rather than revenge. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
When we respond to violence with our own righteous violence and claim God’s approval we make God into an idol. This is the great temptation always, as Moses found out when he came down the mountain after talking with God and found his people dancing around a Golden Calf worshipping it. God becomes a god of our own creation. We forget God who is love refuses to have anything to do with our human violence, only picking up what’s left of any human dignity left behind.
The Apostle Paul was a prime example of how God picks up the pieces of our lives. Paul was a perpetrator of violence against the early Christian community. He was absolutely confident that God approved the rounding up of the members of this new sect and putting them to death. But
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he has judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
God deals with our ignorance with mercy and the gift of repentance: the ability to change our thinking and bring our thinking and actions into alignment with Jesus’ own. Like Paul, God has utmost patience with us!
Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
The root of repentance is a change in thinking and our actions that result in deep joy. Today’s Gospel about the lost sheep and the lost coins teaches this. Jesus is criticized by the Pharisees and Scribes for having table fellowship with sinners. Jesus tells two stories about finding something that was lost. If a man has a hundred sheep and one goes lost, does he leave the ninety-nine and go after the lost sheep? Or if you are a woman with ten valuable coins and lose one, do you sweep and search until you find the lost coin? If you find it, you rejoice with all your friends and throw a party that will probably cost a lot more than the sheep and/or coin were worth. If someone simply offered to replace the sheep and coin it wouldn’t be the same. It’s finding the lost that brings the excitement and joy.
What is Jesus getting at here? As human beings we live in what is called a sacrificial economy, where it’s ok to let one or some remain lost or be sacrificed for the good of the majority. But Jesus teaches real joy is in the recovery of the lost. You could give a sheep to the shepherd or a coin to the woman, but it would only be a sheep or coin. No big deal. But to find what was lost is a big deal and leads to rejoicing. The whole enterprise of God is to find, one by one, each of us who are lost.
This way of thinking leads to Holy Communion. Rather than settling for an un-holy communion where in order to achieve justice someone must die. Counter to what we usually think, God’s mercy is not directed to the group, but to the lost ones. This is the Good News: One is worth it. It may be you or me.
Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.