Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from our most merciful God, from the compassionate Christ, and from the holy and life-giving Spirit. Amen.
This is a KYRIE ELEISON kind of day, this September 11th, ten years later. Our worship had barely begun this morning before we prayed the ancient Latin liturgical words now translated into our common language: Lord, have mercy.
“In peace, let us pray to the Lord.” In peace, not in strife. In peace, not in retribution. In peace, not in hatred. KYRIE ELEISON. Lord, have mercy. God knows the strife, retribution, and hatred that remain in our hearts.
“For the peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord.” The peace from above, not the peace from below or within. There can be no peace within us without the peace from above us – the peace that is beyond us, the peace that is bigger than us. The peace we have within us is limited, even as we are limited & finite. The peace from above saves us. KYRIE ELEISON. God knows the peace we try to replicate and find within is not lasting.
“For the peace of the whole world, for the well-being of the church of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord.” For the peace of the whole world, we pray, not just for some of it, not just “God bless the USA.” For the peace of Afghanistan and Pakistan, for the peace of Libya and Egypt, for the peace of Somalia and the Sudan. This is not a day for being praying patriots, rather it is a day for being world citizens asking God’s mercy for all nations, for all peoples, tribes, and tongues. For the unity of all, not just for us here. And as for the well-being of the church of God, I think we can be even-more expansive than our liturgy dictates. This is a day to pray for the well-being of Islam, for the well-being of Judaism, of Buddhism, of Hinduism – for the wellness of all people of faith and all the religions of the world. KYRIE ELEISON. God knows the smallness of our nationalistic flag-waving and our myopic Christocentric lenses. In the words of Dr. Maher Hathout, the president of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California at last evening’s interfaith service on the steps of City Hall in downtown L.A.: “God does not belong to a religion. All religions belong to God.”
“For this holy house, and for all who offer here their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord.” You know the motto, “Think globally, act locally.” Peace begins in our house. Yes, we also pray for all holy houses but – for us — peace begins right here and right now in this holy house. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us, here and now, where this worship then segues into service in the world. KYRIE ELEISON. God knows the fingers we point at others and their religion or our-perceived lack thereof.
And finally, “Help, save, comfort, and defend us gracious Lord.” Us being all of us, the whole human race, not just us who are praying this prayer right now, but those for whom we are praying the words. Help all of us, save all of us, comfort all of us, defend all of us, gracious Lord. KYRIE ELEISON. God knows our tendency to keep to ourselves and keep it to ourselves, to hoard the gift of grace.
This is a KYRIE ELEISON day, and it is also a day – to which all our scriptures point – for praying “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
From Joseph who, in today’s first reading, was pushed beyond his limits to forgive his brothers who had thrown him in a pit and left him for dead, only to be sold into slavery in Egypt. When asked for his mercy, Joseph told his lying, deceitful, and fearful brothers, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
God knows how much we enjoy putting ourselves in God’s place as judge. And God knows how quickly we forget that God is, in the words of this morning’s prayer of the day, a “merciful judge” and “the inexhaustible fountain of forgiveness.”
The God described in today’s psalm is, quite frankly, beyond belief. Summed up in the psalm refrain we sang, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness,” that’s only where it begins. The psalmist is reminding him/herself, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits” and begins to list them: #1 at the top of the list: forgives all your sins, heals all your diseases, redeems your life from the grave, crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, satisfies your desires with good things, renews your youth like an eagles’s, provides justice for the oppressed, does not deal with us according to our sins, does not repay us according to our iniquities (which, translated, means no paybacks, no retribution), and then here it comes, full circle with benefit #1: “as far as the east is from the west, so far have you removed our transgressions from us.”
We who know how far east is from west: East LA from West LA, east coast from west coast, the Western world as we know it from our sisters and brothers in the East: Asia & the Middle East, we who know the vastness of that distance, are given a picture in the psalm of the distance God puts between us and our wrongdoing, our iniquities, our sin.
It’s the same distance Jesus describes in today’s Gospel parable about the king who forgives his slave a great debt. Just one talent in the ancient world was worth 15 years’ wages of a slave laborer. This slave owed the king 10,000 talents, in other words: 150,000 years, hyperbole, a humanly-impossible sum for a slave to repay. But all was forgiven as the story goes: the vastness of the amount owed was obliterated. As far as the east is from the west, so far did the king remove the slave’s infinite debt from him. And yet, when that slave encountered his fellow slave who owed him 100 denarii – 100 days of wages – the slave who had been exorbitantly forgiven refused, in turn, to forgive his fellow slave, perhaps even a friend, the smallest debt.
We get the picture. There is no end to obligation to forgive. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
On this weekend as cry Kyrie Eleison on the world in which we now find ourselves living, 10 years after the towers fell, after the Pentagon burst into flames and after a field outside Shanksville, PA became the place of impact for United Flt. 93, we recall the courage of those “first responders” – including those on the planes whose stories are known to us and others whose stories are only known to God and the others who perished. Their attempts at responding to the terror were with blatant acts of counter-terror: acts of self-less love of neighbor, acts of resistance to the crimes being perpetrated upon Creator and creation, acts of fierce compassion which sent them into the dust and debris, into chaos and wreckage, into fear and flame.
Their acts of response mirror the God who is for us and who is always the “first responder” of forgiveness in our lives. The God who sees us and knows us and weeps with us and for us. The God who in the Crucified One cries, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Father George Rutler, a Roman Catholic priest in New York City, was called to New York City Hall ten years ago today, to minister to the first responders. He says:
The firemen were being lined up in front of the City Hall. And then they began coming asking me for blessing and for absolution. There were so many, I couldn’t hear individual confessions, so I was giving absolution to the men. I remember saying to one that I’m sure he’d be safe but when he got home to go to — I was giving him absolution — when he got back home, to go to his parish and make a regular confession. These men knew what they were getting involved in. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be going to confession.
Sisters and brothers, before we can even utter a single word, before our breaking hearts can cry yet another Kyrie Eleison, before we are even aware of our need for absolution, God, the first-responder of forgiveness, welcomes us all, whether we know or know not what we do. And bathed in the light of that forgiveness, God sends us forth into the world to respond in blessing, in compassion, in hope, and with peace-filled acts of resistance.
The words of St. Paul to the Romans in today’s second reading are often spoken at the gravesides of our beloved dead but are spoken to us today who live and move and have our being in this post 9/11 world:
“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and living.”
Even as our Kyries this day are endless, so all-the-more is the mercy, the kindness, and forgiveness of God on this broken and beloved world.
We cry out our Kyries – our “Lord, have mercy(s)” – only to find that our most merciful God already has.