One of my professors in seminary told us, “It’s a remarkable thing. Every Sunday, our readings for the day are defined in the calendar of readings called the lectionary. Sometimes, you may think you are constrained by the lectionary, which tells you what readings you must do each Sunday, but the gift of the Holy Spirit is that the lectionary readings for a given Sunday will have exactly what you need in that moment, whatever it may be.”
I was reminded of that when I looked at the appointed readings for this Sunday, especially the Gospel reading, where Jesus instructs Peter and the other disciples that they are to forgive others that wrong them not once, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Forgiveness. Complete forgiveness. A radical thought to Peter and the disciples, who had been brought up believing “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was the proper way to repay an offense. A radical thought even today, when “giving as good as you got” continues that same kind of response.
And here we are on this, the tenth anniversary of 9/11, that day when our belief in our safety and security was shaken to its core, and we’re supposed to think about forgiveness. Acceptance that we all are both victims and offenders.
Those who devised the lectionary many years ago could not have predicted that these texts would fall on this day. My professor was right. The Holy Spirit works in remarkable ways to get our attention, doesn’t she?
When I told a friend of mine, someone who was in downtown Washington DC as I was on 9/11, that we were having five baptisms today, she was shocked. “You’re kidding me. It’s the 10th anniversary of 9/11. How can you do that on that day? Aren’t you going to do something in remembrance of the attacks?”
All I could say was “I can think of no better remembrance of that day, and our faith, and the hope that is part and parcel of our baptismal promises, than to celebrate the sacrament of baptism.”
Because that is the heart of what these children and their parents and godparents will promise today...remembrance and hope. The same words that each of us promised as part of our baptismal covenant.
We remember the gracious God who has given us life, who has given us to our families and to the world. We remember the gift of Jesus, who redeemed us from our sins, and how he will help us. We remember that the Holy Spirit is with us always. And then we promise what we commit to do in our lives as Christians. We promise to avoid sin, to live in a way that proclaims the Gospel, to serve others, to fight for justice for all and dignity for all. And each time we make a promise, we say “We will, with God’s help.” Why? Because we are human, and we cannot do it alone.
And in each of those promises is ingrained a corollary: because we are human, we may fail, and others may fail, in keeping these promises, even with God’s help. We all make mistakes. And when we do, we seek forgiveness.
The remarkable thing is that God always forgives us. God always has. That’s what Jesus is about: the ultimate expression of loving forgiveness, in human form.
And that is the heart of what becoming a Christian is about. That’s what baptism is about. When we are baptized, we choose to embrace values that make no sense to a world bent on revenge and greed and power. We choose to commit to a belief that our relationship with God and with each other is most important.
The world says that we should do whatever it takes to come out on top, to make more money and amass more goodies than the next person, because we are supposed to want to be number one in riches.
But we know that the true riches are the love that we get from our heavenly Father, and that material things don’t satisfy the soul the way that love does.
The world says that having the most power is important, so you can be in control of your world.
But we know that God is the one in power, not us. We see it every day, in the rising of the sun, in the turning of the seasons, in new life like these youngsters who will be baptized.
The world says when bad thing happen – bad things like people calling you names, like stealing things from you, or even like terrorist attacks – you should poke ‘em in the eye. Get revenge. Show ‘em who’s boss.
But we know that we’re not the boss, God is. We know that only God gets to judge others. We know that revenge poisons our hearts and our souls. We know that we are supposed to forgive, because that heals us in a way that getting even can never do.
Being baptized as a follower of Christ means that as we are adopted as God’s children, we adopt God and God’s values. We live in a way that the rest of the world might not understand, because we are not about revenge and greed and power. We live in a way that puts love and forgiveness first, and that puts us at odds with the world around us.
But we remember what is important. We remember that sometimes terrible things happen: planes flying into tall buildings, people dying in wars and in refugee camps and in hospital beds, Jesus crucified on the cross. And then we promise that ridiculous promise that sets us apart from this troubled world.
Not once, but seventy-seven times and more, because that is what belief and love demands.
May these children and all the children, our hope for the future, be blessed, and may we be a part of their blessing.