The Rev. Paul J Cain
St. Matthew 18:21-35, Romans 13, et al
Reflecting on 9/11
Proper 19, 11 September 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph’s brothers asked him for forgiveness after all that they did to him.
It can be hard at times to reconcile two very different things when seen or heard together. You might see your teacher out-of-context at the grocery store. Recently I had a conversation with other Classical Lutheran school Headmasters about why “mandatory volunteering” doesn’t work. And then there’s today, the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11. The Bible readings from Genesis, the Psalm, and the reading from St. Matthew speak overwhelmingly of forgiveness. And the message of Matthew 18 is hard to hold together with the harsh reality of a post-9/11 world.
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.8 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.9 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant10 fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,11 and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,12 until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
For Christians, no matter what befalls us as citizens, be it Pearl Harbor or September 11th, no matter what we endure as individuals, personal or family tragedy, persecution, hardship, or just a bad hair day, nothing can overshadow Good Friday or Easter Sunday because of the forgiveness of sins. The centrality of Christ’s death and Resurrection overcomes all the shadows of this world. Look at our calendar. B.C. and A.D. or even the secular B.C.E. and C.E. still center our history on Jesus’ story.
The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments center upon Christ and Him crucified, offering comfort and hope and forgiveness to hurting and anxious people today. That Gospel, Good News, should be the common thread running through any pastors’ sermon, whenever he takes the pulpit. Sometimes, other concerns seem to overshadow the Gospel message we have been given to proclaim.
Much has been said about patriotism in the last ten years. Also, much has been shown. In the days after 9/11, some flag burners have become flag wavers. For all of its diversity, America stood united against terrorism. For all of its power, patriotism cannot save. Even the most patriotic American in the Twin Towers, aboard Flight 93, or working in the wrong part of Ring E of the Pentagon was not spared in the terrorist attacks. There are times, like then and now, when patriotism is not enough. Eternal security and eternal citizenship are our real needs.
Surely, the Scriptures commend good Christian citizenship as an extension of the Fourth Commandment’s teaching to honor father and mother. But there is more. Citizen and government each have responsibility to one another.
Last week’s epistle, Romans 13:1-10 (ESV) teaches this: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are (ministers) [servants] of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
We honor God by being subject to and obeying the government authorities. Government serves as God’s “avenger” in the here-and-now until the Last Day when the Lord fulfills “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19.
“But what about men like Hitler? What if I lived in Afghanistan under the Taliban?” Well, Acts 5:29 (ESV) makes it clear that "We must obey God rather than men.” We are not to be subservient robots. We honor and respect the government as an agent of the Lord, placed there by Him, but we are free to disobey if it commands things contrary to the Lord’s Word.
The government has responsibility for its citizens. It takes up the sword, according to the Lord’s Word. This may be for capital punishment, or a “just war.”
(Veith, Terrorism, pp. 119-121) Gene Edward Veith explains the concept well: According to Augustine, there are five criteria for a “just war.” First, the cause must be just. Wars are justified in cases of self-defense and should not be waged for conquest, plunder, or [for the purpose of] political oppression. Second, a just war must be initiated by a proper authority. Nations with lawful governments, legitimate leadership, and duly organized and disciplined militaries have the authority to wage war. Irregular bands of fighters and unorganized mobs, bent only on plunder and mayhem, are not fighting a just war. They lack the vocation for it. Third, a just war must be fought with the right intention. That is, the purpose of the war should be peace. Waging war out of bad intentions—to slaughter the innocent, to scapegoat an enemy as a political distraction, to seek power for its own sake—is immoral. Fourth, a just war must have a reasonable chance of success. Hopeless causes make people kill and die in vain. A tiny army against the Roman Empire, Augustine would say, would do best to surrender and accept terms rather than fight to the death. Even a powerful army, for various reasons such as political limitations, may not enjoy a reasonable chance of success—think of the Vietnam War. Fifth, a just war must use means proportional to the end. Slaughtering a whole population because of a trade dispute is wildly out of proportion. If the end, the purpose of the war, is to liberate an oppressed people, it makes no sense to bring them under further subjugation…
By these criteria, it is evident that the terrorists of 9-11 were not waging a just war. Conversely, each of the requirements for just war is met in the American response…
(Veith, Terrorism, p.129) Veith continues: Implicit in what Dr. [Martin] Luther says [about war, according to Paul Althaus] is that he recognizes only a defensive war which is forced upon us by an aggressor. War is right only when it is “our only miserable way of defending ourselves.” Luther knows that most wars are waged for [a] quite different reason: selfish motives of princes and lords, lust for the property and possessions of others, desire for glory, the feeling that our honor has been insulted, wrath, and the desire for revenge. However, a Christian prince is forbidden to wage war for such reasons. The one and only purpose of a war must be to protect his subjects against attack. In this sense, the decision to go to war and the decisions about how war is to be waged must be quite “simple” [by comparison.]
To summarize, lawfully instituted government authorities rule as God’s instrument. Our Lutheran Confessions (AC XVI) say: “Christians owe obedience to their magistrates and laws except when commanded to sin. For then they owe greater obedience to God than to human beings.”
The common thread? God. The authority of all government comes from God. The authority to wage a just war comes from God. Christians obey government in obedience to God. Ultimately, we must trust Him, especially if government seems to fail us, or allows things contrary to His commands.
The abuse of even constitutional freedoms, especially freedom to worship, is contrary to God’s will. The Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion. Our Lord, however, does not. Such freedom is abused, used in vain in God’s eyes, if the government-allowed freedom to worship is not used to believe, follow and worship the one true God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. Just because a government allows something does not necessarily make it right in the Lord’s eyes.
Our Lord calls for repentance from sin and habits of sin, for believing the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus forgives us for past sin, removes the punishment hanging over our heads, and enables us to resist further sin and to trust in the Lord.
Sometimes, patriotism is not enough. Patriotism has its own good purposes. We can show solidarity against a moral evil. We can show support for our Presidents—past, present, and future—and the armed forces. We can show a united front against terror and for truth, justice, and political freedom. But patriotism has its limitations. It cannot forgive sin. Patriotism cannot guarantee homeland security. It cannot guarantee eternal security. Sometimes patriotism is not enough.
A Canadian-born pastor writes: In the process of becoming an American citizen I learned that, since the mid-1970s, Canada has recognized the citizenship of a Canadian who has taken out citizenship in another country. I am technically the citizen of two countries [he says]—the United States and Canada. It’s called dual citizenship.
Jesus described His followers as being part of two kingdoms or two worlds [in] (John 17). Physically, they were a part of this present world and therefore under the rule of human kingdoms. Spiritually, they were also part of a heavenly kingdom, representing a greater allegiance…
“By virtue of natural birth, I am a Canadian citizen,” he continued. “To become a citizen of the United States…I needed to be naturalized.”
Christians have been “naturalized” into citizenship in the kingdom of heaven by the Holy Spirit. Holy Baptism is a washing of rebirth, regeneration, and forgiveness where disciples are made, in conjunction with instruction in all that Jesus has given us. The Holy Spirit uses that Word of God in and with the water of Baptism to bring an unbeliever to faith, and gives the gifts of new life, forgiveness, and the promise of resurrection and eternal citizenship in heaven.
This is taught Biblically in Philippians 3:17-21. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Our eternal Christian citizenship is in heaven!
It has been interesting to see what has gone on today and leading up to this tenth anniversary of 9/11. There has been, I believe, a good deal of emotionally charged "hype" as we have drawn closer to this day, but not as much as the first anniversary had. Not everything promoted in the public square has been helpful. Much has been opportunistic. Our emphasis today is as it has been, "Is not even this in God's hands? Remember your Baptism! You are a child of the heavenly Father! Our Lord will neither leave nor forsake you!"
Our Lord, however, is an ever-present help in trouble and prosperity. For all the overuse and “corniness” of the poem “Footprints in the Sand,” it expresses the Lord’s care for you every step of your life. In fact, His concern for those and for that which He has created is all that keeps this world going. The Lord is the only true security anyone can have. That is why Christian congregations like this exist. That is why Christian pastors preach. Our message is Gospel, literally, Good News. The Lord is the only true security anyone can have.
Today’s psalm, Psalm 103:1–12, says,
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Those outside of Christ will face judgment according to their own deeds. Those in Christ have as Judge their own defense attorney. Christians are judged according to Christ’s work. In an age of terrorism, patriotism is not enough. We need something more than a secure homeland for this life. We need an eternal home, for a Christian’s eternal citizenship is in heaven. The Lord is the only true security anyone can have.
I would like to share with you this morning a few paragraphs that look at the "big picture" in which we live today, in an age of terrorism, and all the issues that have arisen in light of the 9/11 attacks. A thoughtful reflection from a gifted writer, I highly commend the entire work and these thoughts to you.
I am struck by how appropriate and wonderfully author Gene Edward Veith is, providing statement that captures the essential realities of the times in which we live. It is precisely this clarity of confession and this genuine witness to the Gospel that the world needs to hear. Nothing can be more loving than to speak this very truth, in love, in gentleness and with respect for all. This is from the book Christianity In An Age of Terrorism
“The United States, its citizens targeted in an unprovoked attack, is waging a war of necessity, indeed, a just war. And yet, we have much to repent for. Every kind of catastrophe, every horrible accident and crime, reminds us of the fragility of our lives, taking away our security by which we deny the certain prospect of death. Facing death and the ever present possibility of death speaks to us of Law, the inescapable reality of sin, and the wages of sin.
“The uneasy climate of the age of terrorism, the realization that an attack or a bombing or a biological weapon could be imminent at any time, makes it less easy to enjoy complacency, that great obstacle to the faith. Living in the knowledge of death and the knowledge of sin in the world, including our own, can drive people to the grace of God in Christ.
“Christianity has to do with the Gospel, and Christians must beware of lurching from complacent immorality to the other extreme of a new self-righteous legalism. We are not saved by our good works, and those who think they are—such is the power of sin—tend to actually perform bad works. Thus, the terrorists claim allegiance to the most moralistic of religions, which they use as a pretext to commit the most brutal atrocities. Christians must not play that game.
“Some think today that all religions of the world are the same; that is to say, equally good. Others agree that they are the same, but conclude that they are equally bad. Perhaps Christians, who believe in the Gospel, should agree with the secularists [on this one point]: The world’s religions are all wrong, insofar as they result in self-righteousness, self-divinization, and a seared conscience that justifies wickedness in the name of its false gods.
“The Gospel, in contrast, puts its trust in God’s action, not our own, trading sin for forgiveness, hate for love, and glory for the cross. In an age of terrorism, Jesus Christ is the only security anyone can have.”
Let us forgive as we have been forgiven in Christ. Even on this tenth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11 we can pray for our enemies and for an end to endless war. And let us conclude our meditation by hearing a portion of today’s epistle, Romans 14, perfect for today.
5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For 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. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.