Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
These few words from Psalm 51 could be a daily prayer for most of us, even multiple times a day. Truth and honesty abide here. I read these and these words follow: Have mercy on me, O God, that I may extend mercy to others. When will we learn the ways of mercy?
The fifteen anniversary of 9/11 has many saying, “Never forget!” I’m not a fan of this sentiment. It implies holding onto a fearful anger that prevents healing and certainly gets in the way of mercy. As I look around at the rise in Islamophobia and race-related violence, I can’t help but wonder how we did not learn from the horrific events of 9/11. How did we not learn that fear, ignorance, and hatred lead only to destruction and death? We are not safer when we wrap ourselves in xenophobia and fail to distinguish a refugee from a terrorist. We are not more secure when we endorse systemic racism and fill our prisons with people of color. We are not better protected when peaceful protesters are arrested and charged with terrorism. There is no wall that will keep our economy stable and “make America great again.” Running an oil pipeline through tribal lands will not decrease the impact of global warming just because it’s in someone else’s backyard.
I have no trouble remembering 9/11. I don’t need anyone to remind me of what “they” did to “us.” Islamophobia is alive and well in the US. It does not need to be fueled. On the other hand, how hard are we trying to remember those who worked tirelessly on rescue efforts? The communities that came together to worship, to mourn, to find hope, to care for one another? During those few months after the Twin Towers fell, people were kinder to their neighbors at least where I was living. Then life went back to usual and people forgot how much they needed to gather in community and care for each other.
The parable of the lost sheep is so familiar to most of us that I think we fail to hear the message of mercy. We are too busy identifying with the lost one, the other 99, or even shepherd to hear the set up. The Pharisees and scribes went to Jesus complaining about his radical, rule-breaking behavior. He would eat with sinners and tax-collectors. He would embrace the unclean. When I think about what we as a country have not learned from 9/11 and read this parable, I am convinced that the privileged white church is not so much the lost sheep, the 99 huddled together waiting for the shepherd to return, or the shepherd who is desperate to find the lost one. We are the ones passing judgement and finding fault. We are the ones upholding the status quo even if only by our silence. We are seldom the merciful shepherd who returns the lost one to community with a joyful, grateful heart. We are too busy preserving our own traditions and ensuring a predictable future for ourselves.
God has repeatedly shown God’s people mercy. We have wandered far from the ways of Christ over and over again. We forget that our ways are not God’s ways. Yet, God showers mercy on us and has since the beginning of time. God does not desire for us to preserve our traditions so much as God wants us to embody Christ to one another. Showing mercy is a good way to start.
If we are going to remember 9/11 we must also be honest with ourselves. We have benefited from the mercy of God and we have not shared that mercy freely. We must step out of our comfortable pews and take a stand against hatred, fear, and ignorance. We will honor those who died that day when we create communities of love and mercy that truly seek out the lost ones, the forgotten ones, the hated ones, the feared ones, and invite them to the table where all are welcome and all are satisfied. Isn’t it time we put into practice the lessons of mercy God has been teaching for generations?
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
RCL – Year C – Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 with Psalm 14 or
Exodus 32:7-14 with Psalm 51:1-10 and
1 Timothy 1:12-17 and
Photos: CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe