MONDAY MUSINGS - TUESDAY EDITION
August 31, 2020
Where charity and love prevail,
there God is ever found;
brought here together by Christ's love,
by love we thus are bound.
[Evangelical Lutheran Worship #359]
The readings for Sunday, September 13, 2020, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
Several years ago, shortly after his release from jail, I watched a television interview with Rubin Carter. Better known by his nickname, "Hurricane," Carter was an outstanding professional middleweight boxer who, in 1966, was convicted of three murders he did not commit. He served nearly 20 years in prison until a federal court judge set aside the convictions in 1985, ruling the prosecution had been racially motivated.
Appearing on ABC's "Nightline," he was asked by host Ted Koppel, "After serving all those years in prison, how can you not be bitter?" [This may not be the exact phrasing of the question, as I am recalling from memory.]
Carter replied, "Ted, if I have learned nothing else in my life, I've learned that bitterness only consumes the vessel that contains it."
I was so struck by that statement and have never forgotten it. I would find out later that it had become a mantra in all of his speeches. Carter would go on to work for the release of others who had been unjustly imprisoned until his death from prostate cancer in 2014.
As I searched for a photo of Carter online, I also came across one of him with Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison because of his refusal to submit to the segregationist rules of Apartheid in his native South Africa.
I thought of the Carter interview as I read the story of Joseph in the Genesis reading for this coming Sunday. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, but in the end, he forgave his brothers even though he was in a great position to get even.
Joseph's story complements the Gospel reading, in which Peter questions Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
Jesus replies,"Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."
Depending on which Bible version you read, the answer may also be seventy-times-seven. Jesus then goes on to tell a story, a parable, about one who has just been forgiven an unimaginable amount yet cannot forgive another what is a trifling sum by comparison.
If we understand the reading correctly, Jesus calls Peter, and us, to forgive without limits. But if we're honest with ourselves, we are more inclined to identify with the "unmerciful servant" of the parable. That's why people like Carter and Mandela are noteworthy. They go against the grain of typical behavior.
These readings appear right around the time of the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, 19 years ago. No matter how long ago it happened, many still feel the pain, agony, fear, and anger. Vengeance and revenge are our ready responses, preferring the "eye for an eye" approach, rather than Jesus' call to forgive.
Our nation and our society has been conditioned to rely on the quick fix over the long and arduous work of reconciliation. We invoke the right to defend ourselves and justify our aggressive actions by the misguided notion that it somehow will achieve peace.
Elected officials find it easier to blame their opponents instead of working to develop policies that strive to solve complex and profound problems.
Individually, we hold grudges that, if allowed to fester, will eventually guide our actions and, over time, will erode relationships and adversely affect our life.
Sadly, this attitude has seeped into the church. That brings us back to the Gospel lesson and the response that Jesus gives Peter. Jesus introduces Peter and his hearers to the world of God's mercy. It is a world in which people don't have to do anything to earn or deserve God's affirming love. It is a world where, as the psalmist says, God has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor repaid us according to our iniquities. [Psalm 103:10]
If anything, as we learn from the story of Joseph and his brothers, God can use our worst sins and failures in mysterious, redemptive ways.
God gives because God's heart is extravagantly kind. Understanding what this means and choosing to live within such a world is a large order for each of us. It takes work. Whether we can respond in kind is an open question, a bottom line question for each of us for whom Jesus tells this parable.
My electronic meeting schedule this week is as follows:
Tuesday: Assembly Zoom Training Session
Wednesday: Guidelines and Definitions for Discipline Conversation
Assembly Zoom Training Session
Thursday: Conference of Bishops Weekly Check-in
Friday: Northeastern Ohio Synod Online Assembly
Saturday: Northeastern Ohio Synod Online Assembly
The next Northeastern Ohio Synod Rostered Ministers Monthly Gathering will be Wednesday, October 7, 2020, beginning at 10 a.m.
Because of the Northeastern Ohio Synod Assembly this Friday and Saturday, the Lutheran Center will be closed next Monday. So Monday Musings will publish on Tuesday for the second week in a row.
Our Northeastern Ohio Synod Assembly will be held this Friday and Saturday. Friday's opening session begins at 1:00 p.m. I would invite any of you, whether or not you are a voting member, to visit our Synod Assembly Page for more information and to stay abreast of the proceedings, especially to follow the bishop election process.
I would also encourage all of us to continue in a time of prayer and discernment for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we prepare to call our next bishop. As you've read here many times, this assembly will be unlike any previous assembly in history in that it will be held entirely online. Technology has made it possible to conduct the worship and the business of the assembly electronically, including the election of a bishop. If all goes well, we will be the seventh synod of the ELCA that will have elected a bishop through an electronic meeting this year.
This is our final in a series of closing prayers that will center on this very important event. The bishop election committee has prepared these prayers and asks that you keep the voting members as well as all potential nominees and pastors who will be named on the ecclesiastical ballot in your prayers.
As we gather remotely, apart from each other, imprint on our hearts the unity we have in you. Guide our assembly and our voting members. Guide our synod leadership and our ELCA representative, ELCA Secretary Deacon Sue Rothmeyer. Strengthen our trust in this new process because of the trust we have in your presence and the Holy Spirit's guidance. Be with those whose names have been lifted up and who may be called to serve. May your eternal "Yes" bind us together as one in Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.
+Bishop Abraham Allende