Summary: We can continue to be hurt by the events of September 11, 2001, or we can choose to follow the path set out by Jesus Christ, the path of forgiveness.
Have you ever been through an event so distressing that it restarted your clock? Like, for example, the year when the tornadoes hit? Or the year that your lost your home? Or maybe it was the year that your spouse died. Have you ever experienced something like that? A situation so intense that it makes you forget all the other years that had faithfully marched ahead in your life? Or maybe your heritage? Perhaps even the year you were born? We regularly mark time by the month, day, and year. It's how we schedule meetings and date checks; it's how we plan for the future or refer to the past. But sometimes, something happens in our lives that changes everything; an event that stops time and starts it all over again, but now in a different way.
What kind of event has the capacity to restart a person's historical clock? Perhaps your memories include the year of the big World War or the year that the stock market crashed. Or maybe, for you, your clock hovers around that year that all the planes in America were grounded for days -- when hijacked planes took down the World Trade Center in New York and penetrated the impenetrable Pentagon in DC.
At 9 o'clock on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was walking into the Registrar's office on the campus of Furman University. It was the first day of my senior year of college, and my class schedule was wrong. As I stood in the office waiting for the changes to be made, I heard a voice from a cubicle in the back, "Another plane just hit!" As the lady who helped me walked by on her way to the copier, she looked and me and said, "Did you hear that a plane flew into the World Trade Center?" Of course I hadn't. And as the news broke that morning, I don't think any of us could fathom it's total impact.
When I was moving a year ago, I came across the printout of my new class schedule for Fall Semester 2001. It was dated 9/11/2001, 9:08 a.m. I kept it. That's where I was when I heard the news of that fateful day. That was the time when everything changed. I still remember the hours, and days, and weeks that followed. The images. The words. The sense of loss and insecurity. I remember frantically trying to contact my Dad that morning as the media talked of the plants in Oak Ridge as potential targets. I remember watching the news every free moment for two weeks, longing for more information, for good news, for something that I now see couldn't be fulfilled.
The events of 9/11 affected us all in a lot of ways, and it affected us all in different ways. In the decade that has now ensued, we have all had our own ways of reacting and responding to the attacks of that day, and many things have changed. We are still in the midst of a war that is the direct result of that day. The way we go through airport security has changed dramatically. Some have adjusted to life without a loved one. Others have been through job changes because of the widespread economic impact of that day. As a post-9/11 people, we have two choices, we can either look at the present condition of the world as the worst thing that has ever happened here, or the greatest opportunity that the church has ever had. And that's where these words of Jesus we heard this morning come into play; in a mighty way!
Today’s Gospel Lesson from Matthew 18 propels us to wrestle with one of the most difficult practices of Christian discipleship—forgiveness! Forgiveness is a hard road to walk, but it is the way to life and life abundant. Forgiveness is the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. And while revenge may seem to be much easier and more desirable, it in fact is what leads to bondage and death! Did you know that the Greek word for “forgive” means to “let loose”? It’s like a really tough knot that suddenly gives way and becomes completely untied. It’s like a dark bondage from which there is sudden release. That’s what it’s like to be forgiven. And that is what it is like to forgive as well!
Forgiveness means to release, to let go of the other, but forgiveness is not denying or forgetting our hurt. When we minimize what has happened to us, gloss over it, or tell ourselves that it was not really that bad, we cannot really forgive. Today, as on every September 11, we remember how awful those attacks were. But perhaps we also remember the pain and the hurt, the fear and the anger, that have changed our lives in the last decade. Forgiveness is only truly possible when we are able to acknowledge the negative impact of another person’s actions in our lives. And what Christ teaches us is that once we have acknowledged the hurt, we are to forgive the perpetrators. We have to make a conscious choice to release those who have wounded us from the sentence of our judgment, however justified that judgment may be.