SERMON Pentecost 13A 9/11/11
On that day, the day none of us will forget, think about where you were, who you were with, and how you responded. I was at work like I had been so many days before and this morning was no different than any other morning. I placed my nice hot cup of coffee on my desk, because I had just left my friend’s office where we shared a few jokes and stories about our weekend adventures. Then suddenly, one of my co-workers walked into to my office. Something was wrong and I knew it because his face bore a fear I had never seen before. “You have to come to the conference room now and see what’s on TV … they are attacking New York City,” he exclaimed. There would be no more work done that day. The staff spent the next hours glued to the TV in horror, in fear, in sadness, and in shock. I don’t remember much more that happened that day other than the numbness and sense of overwhelming fear. That night I recall, we sat in a darkened living room until midnight and watched Headline News hoping for some reassurance from our leaders, some news that would settle this terrible fear, but none would be found on this night. We as a nation, needed a response by someone to this horrific tragedy that had been recently inflicted upon our nation. Where were you that day?
When we face tragedy, when we witness violence inflicted on someone, it is natural for us to expect some kind of response in that moment. When the woman was caught in sin and the crowd had stones in their hands ready to strike her down, and she was on the ground near Jesus’ feet, there was some kind of response required in that moment. In the garden, when Peter struck off the ear of the soldier who came to arrest Our Lord, some kind of response was required in that moment. When they beat, spat, nailed, and hung Our Lord on a tree, when he suffered a humiliating death, some kind of response was required in that moment. On September 21, 2001, only twenty days after the great tragedy that changed our nation, a telethon style concert aired on four networks called “A Tribute to Heroes.” This never-before produced event featured musical artists and celebrities (like George Clooney, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Sheryl Crow, Sting, and so many more) who gave of their time and talent to respond to the violence that had been inflicted upon us. This was a historic event watched by millions of Americans and people world-wide, and in a moment in time, uninterrupted by commercials, these dedicated Americans joined hands and in unity and with deep resolve, and with unparalleled commitment, raised nearly $200 million dollars for the victims of the tragedy. A response to violence inflicted on a nation emerged suddenly and with great support through a binding of our common mourning and fear, which resulted in an astounding outpouring of love. As I watched the concert, I raised my hand, I cheered, and my fears subsided.
Our Christian ethic demands a response to violence. We cannot remain silent and inactive in the face of violence inflicted upon the innocent. So, we must respond because we are a people who at our very core, are proclaimers of peace. We are a people who at our very core proclaim that we are our brother’s keeper as well ,and that we love our neighbor as ourselves. It is difficult to stand in the shadows of a sister or brother who is on the receiving end of violence and not respond. The question we must wrestle with is “How do we respond?” The response to violence and atrocities is complex and messy. Scripture is not clear either and it leaves us with a paradox of sorts. In some areas of the biblical narrative, we hear that our response to violence should be “an eye for an eye,” and a “tooth for a tooth.” In other areas, of scripture we can find “vengeance is mine says the Lord.” Then when you consider how Jesus responded to violence,the whole thing becomes even more complex.
The Christian response to violence and atrocities requires us to examine our heart and consider the good that we aim to achieve through our response to violence. Are we seeking to protect ourselves or other innocents through our response to violence? Are we seeking vengeance and retribution? Are we gathering together people who through their gifts and talents raise millions of dollars to help the victims? What is the intent? The complexities, the inner examination of our hearts may leave us with no clear-cut answer other than, as Christians we proclaim peace in a world filled with tragedy, heartache, and yes, terrible violence. The point is that the Eschaton, which is the Kingdom of God when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, has not yet been fulfilled and thus, we struggle as a people of peace wrestling with life in the midst of human brokenness. We live in broken world, and in its horrors, we must respond.
There was another response to that fateful September day, the day the Towers fell, the Pentagon was attacked, and the day so many gave their lives to foil the plan to attack a third target. On October 7, 2001, we as a nation who had been struck by violence and atrocity responded once again. In the shadows of the “Tribute to New York” event, merely sixteen days to be exact, we responded but this time our leaders had to face the tension, the complex paradox, the mystery, the uncertainty, the difficult decision to respond by putting people in harm’s way. Can you remember where you were on that day? I was having lunch with a friend in a local restaurant when the announcement came. It was as if every restaurant in those days were all turned to 24 hour news shows and many of us were watching. Then the announcement came that our next response would be in a remote country in a part of the world many of us knew very little about. I remember the cheers that came from the crowded restaurant. I recall my own feelings as the words rang clear, “The United States military has begun strikes against al-Qa’ida terrorist training camps.” My hand went up, I cheered, and my fear subsided. Something though inside me was in turmoil. With raised hand and a bit of elation in my heart over the news, suddenly I found my spirit troubled as I was haunted by the words, “Love those who hate you.”
Ten years later, we are rebuilding on the very same spot in New York City where the towers fell and over 2000 people died that day. Standing proud and with great respect and dignity is the exquisite design of a memorial, which features two square fountains made from the bases of each tower. Rising from the ashes is a new tower that will stand as a memorial to those who lost their lives that day, to those who lost loved ones, and to each of us who carry the memories of that tragedy which changed us all. With dedication, with solidarity, and with resolve a memorial rises out of the ashes of that fateful day and stands as our response to the horrific violence inflicted upon us. As I watched the news the other day and witnessed for the first time, the images of the 911 Memorial I raised my hand, I cheered and that fear subsided which rests just below the surface of my daily life, that fear associated with the atrocities of 9 11.
Out of death, we rebuild, out of tragedy there is new life and out of violence, we respond. For the woman who was facing stoning because of her sin, the response was restoration and new life given her by Our Lord. For the soldier arresting Jesus in the garden and for Peter who inflicted the wound, the response was restoration, healing, and new life given them both by Our Lord. For each of us, for all of creation, the beatings, the humiliation and the crucifixion was not the end because love won and Our Lord was raised from death to life everlasting. God’s promise is that he will not abandon us to fear, to violence, nor even to death. We will be raised from the ashes to new life and because of God’s promises we can live boldly, loving one another as ourselves, united together as sisters and brothers in the hope of peace in the age to come. It is because of this promise that we can raise our hands, we can cheer and shout “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia,” and rest assured that our fears and uncertainties will all seem to fall away.