I’m sure it was difficult for any of us to ignore or be ignorant of the significance of today. Turn on the TV, check the paper, watch the opening of the football season, go to church, and a whole host of other activities served to remind me of the date. 9/11. To be sure this is a day to remember, never to forget the loss and tragic events of a decade ago. However, rather than spend time relaying the story of where I was and what I experienced, which I am sure pales in comparison to others, I want to talk about today, because today is a day I won’t soon forget.
As part of my internship I get the pleasure of attending a church where people are kind and welcoming and genuinely seem to care about who I am as a person. People are always quick with a kind word of encouragement or a sarcastic remark to lighten the mood. Sometimes though, the words people speak have implications far beyond what they intended or imagined and today, that was something I experienced this weekend as I sat and listened to a sermon.
It was by accident I ended up at all three services this weekend. I wasn’t sure when Sunday school teachers were going to be recognized so I decided I would go to all three. Fittingly, it would seem, the sermon focused on Matthew 18:22, a story of Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Of course, the answer is never one someone wants to hear, a numerical value hyperbolizing the reality that there is no limit to forgiveness. The first time I heard the sermon I thought he was speaking directly to me. By the middle of the second time, I was sure of it.
I make it no secret that I have struggled through my life with the tradition of my childhood. In particular I felt wronged by those who I thought were supposed to care about me. I became so embittered by my experiences that by the time I made it to seminary I could hardly bring myself to be optimistic about anything having to do with the LCMS. This bitterness is coupled with a fear and love which I cannot ignore. I have encountered so many wonderful people in my life many of whom have a connection to that same place I call home. But I was always afraid to embrace certain aspects of Lutheranism. I used important books containing theological confessions as doorstops because I knew how people wielded them. I was too afraid to look at them and entertain the idea that the confession held within those pages was the same one I held in my heart.
So when I arrived on the campus of the seminary in St. Louis I was scared and bitter, and when I left, I was even worse. Today I realized its time to forgive. To let go of the past. I don’t know if you can actually forgive an abstract non corporeal system but today I did. As I listened to that sermon today I knew that the one thing I never gave, the one thing I always held back was grace and forgiveness. The irony of this isn’t lost on me. Lutheranism defines itself by the grace it has received through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross and it was the one thing I never gave.
It shouldn’t surprise me because the same has been true of me when it comes to dealing with people in my family. I get annoyed far sooner with those whose blood I share than with those I hardly know. I am so slow to give them the benefit of the doubt and it has hurt relationships in my family. As I work to fix those and rebuild what was lost it has become incumbent on me to do the same to that which I love and call home. It doesn’t mean I’ll forget my experiences but it will allow me to move forward, because there is a road ahead of me I don’t want to walk.
As I thought about how I had been wronged I realized how complicit I was. I realized there are things I need to apologize for. Things I need to seek forgiveness for. People I never gave a fair shake to. Ideas I was once afraid to engage I have to take seriously. The time ahead of me is not one I look forward to, yet to that time I must go. It is to those people I have to reconcile. It is with my past I need to make peace.
And yet the most beautiful part of today was not in realizing the forgiveness I need to give and receive from others, but of the forgiveness I have received. The forgiveness that was purchased on a lonely hill outside the city walls. The forgiveness that is extend to anyone and everyone, no matter who they are and what they have done. Sitting there in church today I realized how broken I really was. How prideful and arrogant I am. How entitled I feel. Like somehow I was the only one who did things right.
Perhaps most fittingly today is 9/11 and everywhere I look I see signs with the same message… Never Forget. Although they have a specific meaning for this country and those affected on this day they have a special meaning for me. Reminding me never to forget what happened. Never forget where I came from, the moments that made me bitter, the moments that brought pride and arrogance, the moments that caused me to walk away. But also never to forget to forgive. To forgive myself and others. To let go of the pain, the bitterness, and all that goes with it. And never to forget how hard the road ahead is going to be. Forgiveness and reconciliation is never easy, but its something I can never forget.