The 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time at St Mark the Evangelist Church in Norman, OK
August 25, 2002
Isaiah 22:19-23 + Romans 11:33-36 + Matthew 16:13-20
We stand in the face of raw power today. It is a power greater than any known source of energy. Greater than the universe and its boiling stars, greater than the fusion of atoms, greater than the wind and the sea and all that is in them. It is the source of the greatest cures and miracles and healings. It is the power exercised by Christ Jesus, rooted in the faith, and given to those who will call it by name and embrace its potential.
It is the greatest of the miracles. It is greater than anything we’ve heard so far in Matthew’s Gospel. It is greater than water into wine or the raising of Lazarus. It is greater than walking on water. It is greater that restoring sight to blind people or strength to the lame. It is the power given to those who have named Christ their Lord and accepted the new identity that Christ has come to bestow upon his believers. It is the power of Forgiveness.
The greatest weapons used by the greatest armies have no power to bring peace. The power of wealth, privilege, and position are inadequate. We cannot buy, bribe, force, nor reason our way to peace in Ireland, the Middle East, Central America, in our families, between friends, nor in our hearts. It only has one source: Forgiveness.
The power of forgiveness is the gift Jesus provides in the Gospel today. It is the turning point of Matthew’s Gospel. Having been dazzled and awe struck by the things that Jesus has done, we will, in the weeks to come shift our attention toward Jerusalem and what will happen there. The seed is planted in us that bears fruit in understanding the Passion and Death of Christ as he experienced it and rose from it. The power he had to rise above the betrayal, the abandonment, the hatred, the questioning of his motives and sincerity, his own wonder about God’s care for him all are wiped away by the power he used as he was nailed to a cross: “Father, Forgive them.”
We are a church, as Matthew says, founded by and upon the power of forgiveness. Not one of the apostles more clearly models that truth than Peter, who no sooner answers the question: “Who do people say that I am?” than he says in the courtyard of Pilate: “I do not know the man.”
Peter, and you and I know about forgiveness. We want to have it all the time, but are often too give it. We are church gifted with an ancient and wise tradition rooted in a ritual we fail to use wisely. Lately some have chosen to hide in the crowd and enjoy the convenience of “Communal Penance Rites” and while those rites might well maintain a level of communal prayer and demonstrate our public confession of need; they leave unattended a greater need of confession. I have often found it curious that many find healing and discover the deep meaning of the Incarnation not in their churches, but in A.A. or other Twelve Step Programs where they come to the awareness of God’s healing presence in the confessing community of those who dare to search for healing.
None of us can really feel loved and cared for when we have to hide our sins and failings. The expression of love from another gets blocked when our minds say: “If you only knew the feelings I have sometimes or the things I’ve done, you wouldn’t be saying you loved me.
Even in our relationship with God, there is forgiveness to share, and I’ve come to discover in recent years that it isn’t bad to forgive God now and then and keep alive a relationship of love and trust. “I will give you the keys.” says Jesus. With them, we can unlock more than the Kingdom of Heaven. We can open the human heart and the wounded soul. We can open the boundaries of hatred and dissolve generations of memories that retell and repeat atrocities of the past. We can recreate broken friendships and restore unity. Best of all, with this gift and this power, we can endure every trial, know peace and embrace love.