September 9, 2019
There's a wideness in God's mercy,  
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in God's justice
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth's sorrows
are more felt than up in heav'n.
There is no place where earth's failings
have such kindly judgment giv'n.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #588]
The assigned lectionary readings for September 15, 2019, the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
I have a couple of books on my shelf of sermons preached in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. One of them is pictured here.
I am always torn when this week rolls around. Like most Americans, I remember, and I grieve the terrible tragedy that took place on that day. But perhaps unlike many, I am saddened that we continue to use the event to justify hatred and revenge, specifically against a certain group of people.
As I look back on that day and the weeks that followed, I pick up the books in search of inspiration through a sermon that speaks to me. I have a few favorites, influenced by the fact that I've either heard the preacher at one time, or I simply enjoy the message. I often gravitate to one by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, titled "No Future Without Forgiveness."
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Tutu, you may recall, chaired South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, following the end of the racially oppressive and brutal era of Apartheid in his native country.
For a space as brief as this one, I have to be highly selective and resist the temptation to reprint the entire sermon. (There are also copyright laws that would prevent me from doing that.)
But two quotes from Tutu's message stand out for me because, in many ways, they complement the readings for this coming Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost.
In our Gospel reading Jesus challenges the Pharisees to look at the tax collectors and sinners, not as tax collectors and sinners, not as objects to be discarded, but as they would consider objects of value - people created in God's image and loved by God.
Tutu writes: "What are you in the U.S. willing to do? Are you willing to consider the possibility of forgiving even when you say that the perpretators should be brought to justice? Are you willing to believe that even though they are guilty of a diabolical act, they still continue to be children of God - not monsters or demons, but those with a capacity to change?"
And further in the sermon he continues the theme: "God does not give up on anyone, for God looks on each of us as a masterpiece in the making. But God took an incredible risk in creating us not to be automatons but to be decision -making creatures with the freedom to choose to obey or not to obey God, to love or not to love God."
The readings for this Sunday emphasize God's infitite capacity for mercy - a capacity that our finite human minds cannot begin to conceive how God even seeks to save those who work evil and who rejoices with all the angels when even one of them repents.
We come to worship each Sunday just as we are - lost sinners - to be found by God, fed at Christ's table of forgiveness, and sent out into the world, where there are so many others who have lost their way. God is constantly looking for those who are lost, and that becomes our mission too. It is up to us to share the message, to seek the lost and tell them that, "you are valuable - you are loved."
This Wednesday our first-call rostered ministers will gather at the Northeastern Ohio Lutheran Center. The session will be led by the Rev. Angel Jackson, who is now officially flying solo as our synod's Coordinator of Candidacy.
This week I begin my rounds of annual fall visits with the rostered ministers in the seven conferences of our synod. On Thursday, September 12, I will be at Advent Lutheran Church in Mentor to gather with the ministers of the Cleveland East Conference.
Sunday, September 15, I will be with the people of God at Trinity Lutheran Church in Vermilion, Ohio, as the congregation celebrates its 60 th anniversary.
This week and always, may you hear the joy and gladness of God's forgiveness, that God may create a clean heart in you and renew a right spirit within you.
+Bishop Abraham Allende