Today is 9/11 and this is the sermon I wrote for the following Sunday on 9/16/2001. I’m not sure we’ve come very far in our forgiveness since then. And, I pray that no copies of the Qur-an will be burned today.
The skyline of your life
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the “legal” ordination of women to the priesthood. The clergy were to celebrate the event last Tuesday at our Clergy Day and I was prepared to report that it was a glorious event as we listened to the stories of the women, male priests and Bishops who were courageous enough to color outside of the lines and ordain the first women who burst open the way for the rest of us. But it wasn’t a celebration, it was a wake. The World Trade Towers and the Pentagon were attacked by terrorists and we all are still coming to grips with what that means for the survivors, their families and for us.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the skyline of Manhattan, so familiar to the world, changed forever. That day, the skyline of our lives changed forever too. For generations to come this event will be the starting point for some new way of life that is being defined as we sit here, still dazed, still shaking our heads, still incredulous. Still awestruck that a disaster of such magnitude could even happen, not only in the U. S., but anywhere in the world for that matter. And for what? To send what message? To retaliate for what? This ravaging of innocent life isn’t the work of one or two madmen such as the Oklahoma City bombing, or the assassination of President Kennedy. This ravaging of innocent life was done like clockwork, by a well-oiled machine, with precision and planning like the attack on Pearl Harbor or the horrors of the Holocaust. This was an act of enormous evil carried out by enormously evil men and women.
In anger, many ask, “Where is God in this picture?” Or they say, “How can God allow this to happen.” God doesn’t allow this to happen. Life happens, to the fortunate and the unfortunate. It is all part of being human and living in an imperfect world. If God sat on a cloud and manipulated the lives of each human being, it wouldn’t be life as we know it. It wouldn’t be life with all the fullness of chance, change and choice. It wouldn’t be life with all the variety, veracity and yes, even violence. It might be a perfect life, but then we would not be here on earth, we would be somewhere in eternity.
And God is in the picture. Walking side by side with each and every one of us through whatever adversity comes our way in this imperfect world. Holding us up through all of this ugliness. Whenever anyone asks me that particular question, “Where is God in this picture?” I am reminded of that wonderful poem, Footprints, by Mary Stevenson.
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the LORD. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonged to him and the other to the LORD.
When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life.
This really bothered him and he questioned the LORD about it. “LORD, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”
The LORD replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you”.
And God will always be with us. Never doubt that and never forget it.
My life, your life, and certainly the families of those whose loved ones died, many thousand perhaps, are left now to deal with it. To deal with it as Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and as Christians. And as hard as it is to sit here and hold back the tears in acceptance of what happened, what Christ calls us to do in the days and years ahead will be even harder.
As Jesus hung from the cross, as cruelly mocked, ridiculed and killed as those in the Trade Towers and the Pentagon, his final message was this. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Forgive them, I scream in my anguish and grief. Forgive them for committing this hideous and heinous act against innocent men, women and children. Never, never, I can hear myself shout. How can God ever expect me to forgive such evil?
But I know, and you know, that unless and until we fall on our knees and forgive these evil people, our lives will forever be tainted by the evilness of our own thoughts of disgust, hatred, retaliation and revenge. And I know I don’t want that to define the skyline of my life. Yes, the skyline of our lives will be changed forever, but this is our golden opportunity to make sure that change is positive. For right now, in this moment, we are creating how that change will look. We can go down the dark path of revenge and retribution, or we can change our consciousness, and change the world. Revenge and retribution was the driving idea in the minds of the men who boarded planes with the intent of using them as ghastly weapons of destruction. We can act from that same mindset, or we can change our minds, and find a better way through forgiveness, love, compassion, responsibility, freedom and justice without vengeance – for all humanity. What will the skyline of your life look like tomorrow? The choice is up to you alone. Let us pray:
Almighty God, give us the strength and the wisdom to find the light of Christ within us in the coming hours, days and months. Send the blessing and healing of the Holy Spirit to dwell with the survivors and families of all the men, women and children who have so viciously been taken away from us this week. May those who died rest in peace, and may peace rest in us. AMEN