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Using this Sunday’s Gospel on September 11th, 2011

Using this Sunday’s Gospel on September 11th, 2011

At first glance, it looks like a great text for this Sunday:

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)


The story that follows, however, is a complicated one involving a king and his slaves: not the easiest of subjects, especially as we start assigning the parts to various groups of people in our personal understandings of the text (Matthew 18:23-35).

I haven’t personally figured out how to use the text in reference to the remembrance for September 11th that we are doing. And I’m not the only one…

Episcopal priest “LKT” writes on her blog “The Infusion”:

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 seems like a great time to talk about forgiveness, but I don’t want this to be cheap grace or easy platitudes. This is not an easy gospel, nor was 9/11 an easy moment; I don’t think the sermon should be easy either. In fact, there are a lot of ways this gospel works against preaching about forgiveness. After all, are we talking about other members of the church? And weren’t the events of 9/11 more than owing a few hundred denarii? But there it is, and I think the gospel demands being faced head-on and in conjunction with all the remembrances and events. But this will require some care and consideration.

She’s gotten some excellent and thoughtful responses so far: a help to anyone (especially a preacher) struggling with the question of forgiveness.

Check in with LKT’s blog, or leave additional thoughts here on the Cafe!

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Rod Gillis

Jeffrey raises some really good points. Just to complicate things, I would add that troubling features in a text, strata that discomfort, undercurrents in tension with the notion of God’s abiding covenant love, looking for and facing the same can make us attentive to major tensions in the text that then allow the text to challenge us, allow old myths to renew or renovate our faith experience.

One book I pitch to folks these days, one that has really helped me as a preacher in dealing with these kinds of texts, is “Reconstructing Old Testament Theology: After the Collapse of History. Leo G. Perdue. Fortress Press, 2005.

I think we also have to abandon the rather false dichotomy of O.T. Law vs. NT Gospel. The Hebrew Scriptures are life giving and a witness to God’s good news, not as proof texts and prequels, but on their own integrity as Sacred literature.

Jeffrey L. Shy, M.D.

Re: The drowning of the Egyptians

The church has long struggled with the issue of divine violence in the biblical narrative. Some have gone as far as to say that the “Old Testament” god was not the god of the “New Testament.” I wonder sometimes if we should re-capture some really old ways of biblical interpretation for some of these difficult texts, such as symbolism and allegory. Since there is really no archaeological evidence that the Exodus ever really happened as it is told in story, how about a non-factual/non-literal interpretation? Pharaoh represents the tendency to use power and privilege to exploit and harm and control. The waters of the sea are the waters of baptism and the spirit that drowns our hatred by our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus in which we then experience liberation, healing and victory over sin and evil? The “Egyptians and Pharaoh” are “We” and our all-too-human but un-Christlike inclinations to do harm to others. By our imitation of the love of Christ and his forgiving compassion and his victorious defeat on the cross, we cross the sea in pilgrimage to the heavenly city?

Too flowery?

Rod Gillis

Hi Chris, appreciate your concern.

Last week we had the Passover with the death of the first born, this week the crossing of the sea of reeds and the drowning of the Egyptians. The narrative episode is especially acute at the Easter Vigil when the “Song of Moses” follows it

I share the concern. This coming week, as last, I plan to name the dark feature in the text for what it is. It is troubling. Must salvation for one group always be coupled with some divine visitation of judgment on another group of people?

A perhaps conventional reading lures us into thinking that god chooses sides. We feel justified in that which we then visit on the other. Terrorists wrap themselves in religion to rationalize their violence. A countervailing national chauvinism wraps itself in religion to then justify its position.

The problem is compounded by a social climate, at least in this country, where people do want to hear from any religious tradition because of perceived complicity with systemic violence.

I think there is a way to face the text, using Christian “Zen” verbal judo, breaking the balance of the feelings of justified retribution that run at us from the text, turning their momentum toward faithfulness.

Not a lot of space here, but do we see our society as the Israelites and the Egyptians as our enemies getting their just desserts?

Or, do we see our society as constantly wrestling in times of crisis between opportunities for salvation and the rush into violent oblivion?

Christopher Cooper

Something about God drowning the Egyptians in this Sunday’s reading from Exodus does not seem appropriate for September 11th.

Roberta Karstetter

An art assemblage piece I did several years ago will be on display at Christ Church for this coming Sunday. Also, copies of the Lord’s Prayer in Arabic, that our priest brought back when he was in Saudi Arabia about 7-8 years ago.

http://pensys.com/pages/jrjkk/ForgiveCollage.JPG

I thought these just seem to relate to the Gospel message for Sunday, Sept. 11th.

We’ll be hosting a Peace Walk on our new labyrinth, in the Chapel, open to the community, after the Sunday Services on that day too.

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