Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Ripple Effects" - A sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at 10 am at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011  

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.”

John Donne, one of the most brilliant preachers the Anglican Church has ever known is most remembered for this part of a sermon he preached

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

Put another way, we are all waves in the same ocean. And every action, every event, … has ripple effects in that ocean that spread out in every direction. Ripple effects that change who we are and shape not just our lives but life itself.

Ripple effects.

Nelson Mandela knew all about ripple effects.

Mandela spent 27 years in Robben Island prison for opposing apartheid in South Africa. Twenty seven years because he saw the world as it was and knew it not only should be different but that it could be different. But even from the depths of his prison cell,  Nelson Mandela knew that he could not do it alone. He knew he needed a whole nation united in purpose and dedicated as much to one another as they were to the idea of one South Africa. 

And so even though he was told he was in prison for life, he began building that nation from his cell. Because actions – all actions -- have ripple effects. And he did it by starting small. If the only way to bring down Apartheid without mass slaughter was for black and white South Africa to do it together, he would start right there, right in the prison where he had been sentenced even for trying to bring this about.

And so Mandela set out to learn about the Afrikaners, the descendants of the Dutch settlers who were the power of white South Africa. He learned their language and he built relationships with some of the white, pro-Apartheid, Afrikaner guards.  When Mandela and other prisoners set up schools in the prison to teach one another, he insisted that the guards who asked to be included be welcomed. And a funny thing happened. They found common values and common loves, including a common love for South Africa. And even though there were still many things about which they disagreed and even deep fears of one another, by looking each other in the eye day after day, by learning to speak each other’s languages, by uncovering and discovering the common humanity they shared, buried deep as it might have been, they not only stopped demonizing each other, they slowly became not an us and a them, but a we.

And these small actions, this new way of being … had ripple effects.

The first ripple effects were in Mandela himself. What had begun as an idea -- that we must always view enemies as future friends and treat them as if that day of friendship has already arrived – what had begun as just an idea became a conviction that would shape him and shape history. And that conviction had ripple effects, too. Ripple effects that burst the walls of that prison even before Mandela did. Ripple effects that led to a nearly bloodless revolution that nobody believed could ever happen. Ripple effects that led to an inauguration where his former jailers stood by him as Nelson Mandela ascended to the presidency of that one South Africa -- black and white. Once enemies that were now friends, because Mandela refused to wait to treat them any other way.

Ripple effects.

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.

It’s about ripple effects.

We have to look at this Sunday’s Gospel together with last Sunday’s, where Jesus laid out the widening circles for when someone sins against you in the church – first go to someone directly, then take one or two witnesses, then go to the whole church.

Why does Jesus say that? Why bring more and more people in, if necessary, expanding that circle like ripples in a pond? Because sin is never just about one person or two. Like everything else, sin has ripple effects.  John Donne was right. None of us is an island. What affects one affects all. And so if it takes the whole community to make it right, that’s OK, because whether we can see it or not, the action affects the whole community … and beyond.

The same thing is true this morning when we hear Peter ask about forgiveness. But here it gets even trickier. Forgiveness is not a get out of jail free card. It is a sacred bond that comes from looking deep into each other’s eyes and hearts and pledging ourselves again to beliefs and a way of life that we hold together. In the church, it is restoring that relationship of mutual, self-giving love that we pledge to each other and God in baptism. That means both parties – the one who has sinned and those sinned against – we look at each other and say, “OK, we’re all in. We messed up but we will try our best once more to love one another as Christ loves us.”

It’s what the exchange of the peace in our liturgy is all about. It’s not a greeting. It’s a sacred bond. A sacred bond of deep love and reconciliation. When we look at each other and say “the peace of Christ be with you” we are gazing deep into each other and saying whatever has come between us that is unloving – whatever we have just confessed in the confession – we renounce that.  And together, we reaffirm and embrace our commitment to loving each other because God loved us first. That’s why when it’s time for the peace, we should actively seek out those whom we have the most conflict with, and look them deeply in the eye and pledge once more together to try to love one another as Christ loves us.

And Jesus says in that case there is no limit to the number of times we should forgive and be forgiven. Why?

Well, first, we forgive without limits because we have been forgiven without limits. That is the depth of God’s love for us. But God's forgiveness is not "oh, its all right, it doesn't matter." Jesus is clear that our behavior does matter - for ourselves and for the community. God’s love is not conditional on our actions, we don’t have to earn God's love and we can’t lose God's love. But we also can't embrace God’s love if we do not live God's love. God loves us as we are but does not leave us as we are. Forgiveness is "go and sin no more." Forgiveness is “Go and love lots more.”

But we also forgive without limits because just as sin has ripple effects, forgiveness does, too. The smallest act of grace. The smallest act of forgiveness, deeply done, can change lives.

And so we are individuals and we are a people with a choice. Which ripple effects will we let spread out endlessly in all directions? Will it be the ripple effects of sin and death and hatred? Or will it be the ripple effects of love and forgiveness and grace?

Jesus knew this choice from the cross, which is why he said to God about the people who even at that moment were torturing and killing him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And it is that choice he gives us this morning and every morning, noon and night. An amazing opportunity to love and forgive because as we live this kind of love and forgiveness, the ripple effects will change our hearts, will change our families and our Cathedral community, the ripple effects will change the world.

Perhaps the choice before us has never been more clear than it is this morning.

John Donne begins, “No man is an island,” but he concludes just as famously.

Any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

At 7:46 this morning, several of us climbed the steps of the bell tower and began to ring the great bell, the largest bell in the state of Missouri.

It was 10 years to the minute that American Airlines flight 11 smashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

For two minutes, the bell tolled.

It tolled for the women and men who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that day. For everyone who lost a mother, father, sister, brother, lover and friend.

It tolled for the first responders who have since died from terrible diseases from working on the pile.

It tolled for the 7,500 coalition military women and men and for the estimated nearly one million civilians who have died in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for all those who have lost jobs and had needed services cut as in the wake of $1.3 trillion dollars spent on those wars -- wars the choices we made about how we would respond to that day 10 years ago.

It tolled for the lost innocence of all our children who now live in a world with color coded threat levels and having their shoes x-rayed for explosives at airports, for Muslims across our nation and around the world who for fear and ignorance have been made to feel as not only less than Americans but less than human.

It tolled for the wasted opportunity of Sept. 12, 2001 when the French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed “Today we are all Americans.”  For all those who embraced us then but deride us today. It tolled for you and it tolled for me. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. It tolls for we.

We have seen the ripple effects of this senseless act of blind hatred 10 years ago today. This week, in the media we have heard again many stories of love and sacrifice and grace that emerged in its wake, and the deep ripple effects they have had. But we are also so aware of the deep and wide ripple effects that meeting these attacks with vengeance and fear and hatred has wrought upon us all. We are all diminished by the human suffering that has rippled out from that day, because we are all involved in humanity.

But we have a choice. The choice Jesus made from the cross. The choice Nelson Mandela made sitting from his cell. We have a choice and it is a small choice, an everyday choice. A choice for you and for me and a choice we make as the community of Christ Church Cathedral.

Throughout our lives in this Fox News-MSNBC nation, will we choose to call those who differ from us enemies, or will we embrace each other as future friends.

Will we continue the cycle of bickering, demonizing and blame throwing between the city, downtown residents, the business community, New Life Evangelistic Center, nonprofits and faith communities. A cycle that has characterized decades of response to homelessness downtown. A cycle whose ripple effects have cemented a status quo that improves no ones lives and is beneath all our human dignity? Or will we learn each other’s languages, seek our common ground, build new friendships and partnerships whose ripple effects can actually help build a city that makes glad the heart of God?

Will we deal with the honest differences that come up in our own life as a Cathedral community by backbiting and turf-defending? Or will we continue to embrace the peace and this Table as the center of our life – where anything that might divide us pales before the unifying love God has for us as sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ.

In the words of our baptismal covenant, will we, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord, look each other in the eye and ask for God’s forgiveness and each other’s. Will we, in the words of Gandhi, in our homes, in our lives and in this place, be the change we wish to see in the world?

This morning, while the world looks back at that day 10 years ago and all that has happened since, we have gathered together in this Cathedral to say with one voice that we have had enough of bells tolling. And we have had not nearly enough of dancing.  To say with one voice that we believe with Nelson Mandela and countless others before and since that there is a different and more excellent way. The way of Christ. Loving and forgiving 70 times seven and beyond. And that like in that jail cell, it begins small, right here, right now.

In our time together, I have seen us all come together and embraced God in each other in amazing ways … and I know you’ve seen it, too. We are looking honestly at the challenges we face, and we are seeking creative solutions and God’s wisdom together. We are learning one another’s languages and the vision of a new and wonderful undiscovered country before us is starting to come into view.

We have made the choice for life, for grace, for forgiveness and all we need to do is keep making it and the ripple effects of the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

So sisters and brothers, I have just one message for you this morning.

Keep it up.

And let’s watch ... and be what happens.

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