Remembering 911

116_A_PhotoI came across some old files recently and found two sermons preached after 9-11.  I found myself back in the moment.  They speak to me not only about the events of that day – but of today, with the ongoing violence, hatred, and war-mongering of our society.  Nothing in these sermons has been edited for these posts, not even typos.  This was my raw and unedited comments. Following this post there will be another.  After writing these comments, I sent them to a email list I managed with about 200 people.  One of them managed a marketing list of 600,000 – he sent it to his list.  By the end of the week over 1,000,000 had received these comments.  I received lots of feedback and the next post will contain the responses.  I’ll publish these in a few days. This Week’s Violence and The Sermon on the Mount Dark clouds roll across the cities of Washington and New York caused by the evil acts of cowardly and unknown people.  The victims of this violence were janitors, secretaries, corporate executives, businessmen and woman, construction workers, tourists, mom, dads, children, friends and neighbors.  They were everyday people like each of us. The images of the planes and their impact, the explosions that followed, and the collapse of the World Trade Center will be forever etched in our minds.  Years from now people will say, “Where were you when the terrorists struck the World Trade Center.”  Sadly, we will all remember. It was about 10:00AM on Tuesday morning.  I turned on the radio in my car as my wife Jeana and I began a trip home to the Eastern Shore from Richmond, Virginia. Jeana had been in an orientation about a mission trip she will be taking to China in October.  That was when we heard the NEWS! For the next three hours we listened, wept, prayed, and even shouted in anger.  We listened to the unfolding reports with horror and sadness.  I’ve since seen the pictures of what happened.  In a strange way the radio was more intense.  The descriptive comments and the quiver of emotion in the reporters’ voices caused more shock and sorrow than did the pictures.  And the pictures were horrific. Like many of you, I shudder with each new video that surfaces revealing new and more powerful images of airplanes penetrating the World Trade Center.  I still hold my breath each time I watch the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapse, forever changing the New York skyline. Like many of you, I have friends in Washington, DC.  I have friends in New York City.  I am praying daily for their safety and sanity. It is not an understatement to say that so much has change.  They had to hide my president for a entire day to keep him safe.  That’s never happened before.  And when I look toward the heavens expecting to see the gas clouds caused from commercial airliners, the sky were strangely still and silent. Jeana and I arrive at the Bay Bridge Tunnel.  We were sent through one car at a time under the careful watch of police officials.  I don’t thing that there was any real danger or threat.  The police were just trying to be cautious.  Or perhaps they were just trying to do something, anything, to feel like they were a part of the rescue efforts taking place so many miles away. When we got back to Nassawadox around 1:00PM, and went immediately to the school to get our children.  We did have too.  We were not exactly afraid for their safety.  I think we just realized that in this world we can’t take anything for granted anymore.  We hug them tightly–tighter than they have ever been hugged before.  I weep a little more. At home I get word that my brother–a Sergeant in the Army, stationed in Korea–is okay.  He’s now–like the rest of the military–is on high alert.  We know he’s safe, but for how long?  I pray for him–and for others in our military.  I wept a little more. There are sketchy reports about lights blazing in the skies over Afghanistan.  The thought is that they might be harboring terrorist responsible for planning this action.   I’ve since learned that these lights were not the result of a military action from our country.  I know that such an action will eventually come against somebody someplace.   I weep and pray even more.  Now I find myself praying even for these enemies.  They are now my enemies.  I know that God loves them–even if I can’t right now. Finally I paused to take a deep breath and wonder:  “How should I respond in the face of such tragedy?” As a Christian Pastor I find myself drawn to the teachings of Jesus.  He is the one I believe to be Savior.  He is the one whom I follow as Lord.  He is the one whom I trust as my very Life. In a time of such tremendous sorrow–a time that will certainly be followed by tremendous frustration, fear, and immense anger–it is important that I turn to Jesus teachings and the presence of Holy Spirit within me to guide me.  It is also important as a Pastor that I try to turn the thoughts of others to His words as well. Here’s what he said in his most famous address, commonly called: “The Sermon on the Mount!” 1. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” 2. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” 3. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” 4. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” 5. “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” 6. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” 7. “Everyone … who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who builds his house on rock.” These words of Jesus draw my heart closer and closer in this hour.  These notes have stuck a cord in my soul in this so apparently sinful and evil world.  We live in a world where anger leads to more anger, violence leads to more violence, injustice produces more injustice, and vengeance produces nothing than more vengeance. I don’t want to be caught up in that cycle.  I need the words of Jesus to keep me steady.  I need the Spirit of Jesus to break that vicious cycle of violence within me.  I know that without Him I have no hope of breaking free. As I reflect on these words of Jesus, here are some random thoughts that come to my mind: This is not a time for a Holy War.  In fact, there is no right time for such an engagement. This is also not a time for quick and thoughtless retaliation strikes. We must not demonize anyone based on his or her ethnic heritage. We must not be too quick to move from our grief to action.  We need to take the time to weep.  We need to take time to really mourn if we are to ever know comfort. We need to remember that the world is not more evil or less safe than it was two days ago. The only thing that has happened is that the violence that entered the heart when people left God’s sight has only become more apparent to our national and personal consciousness. The illusion of safety has been revealed for what it really is.  Maybe is was the destruction of this illusion that prompted the Psalmist to say, “Some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.” We must remember that what we are experiencing for the first time has become a daily way of life for people in Israel, Palestine, the Sudan, Northern Ireland, and many other places.  The fight to end terrorism must not stop once we are safe in this country.  The fight must continue until ALL PEOPLE everywhere are safe. And when the time comes to use force to establish justice in this world–and that time will come–we must undertake that task resolutely and definitively, but with a profound sense of sadness.  There will never be anything about this event that should cause us to rejoice.  This event is now and will always be too tragic. And finally, we must not abide in our presence the lies of prejudice that would attribute responsibility to whole groups of people based on their race, color, or religion.  Already the ignorance of those who attacked us has led some of our people to ignorantly attack others in our land because of their ethnic or religious heritage. The day after the attack I was standing in line at K-mart and overheard two women talking.  One lady said to the other, “I think we ought to wipe out all those Arabs.” “I think you’re right,” the other woman replied.  Those Muslims are such violent people.  We ought to just kill them all.” Think about the perverse logic in that statement.  “They” are so “violent” that “we” ought to “kill them.” In case you have not heard, not all Arabs are Muslim.  Some of them practice no religion.  Others are Christian brothers and sisters.  Some of them are Buddhists.  I’ve even met one Arab person who had converted to Judaism. In case you have not heard, not all Muslims are Arabs.  In fact, many Muslims are neither of Arabic or African descent, but are white folks of European ancestry. In case you have not heard, not all Muslims are militaristic fundamentalists.  The facts are that many of them are just simple folks like many of us, folks just trying to get by. In 1986 I visited the Middle East, including Jordan, Syria, and Egypt.  From Egypt we went to Jerusalem.  While in the beautiful city of Damascus, Syria I visited a shop and purchase this plate. On which there is a picture of Jesus and His disciples at the Last Supper.  The shop owner sold this plate not because he was a follower of Jesus, but because it was a top selling item to western tourists like myself. The owner of the shop was a Muslim man named Amar.  He kept watch over the shop with his younger brother.  His younger brother seemed especially interested in talking to my two traveling companions, beautiful young blond-haired women. After a few minutes of conversation, Amar invited us to come to his home for dinner that evening.  Obviously we were a little nervous.  We’d been conditioned to think of every Arab Muslim as a terrorist.  Our guide told us, however, that Amar’s invitation was a common act of courtesy and that we should accept the invitation. We accepted his invitation.  When we arrived at their home we quickly learned that we had no reason to fear.  Amar was not a fanatical Muslim militaristic fundamentalist.  Rather he was a normal, decent human being who was trying to make a living and provide for his family.  We met his children, his wife, his brother, and even his mother.  His mother was just like good mother everywhere.  She cooked the food, loved her grandchildren, and fuss at her boys. None of them were demons. I realized that day that the vast majority of people in the Middle East were good people–people just trying to get by.  They respected me.  I developed great respect for them.  I will not allow these terrorist to rob me of that respect based on their ignorant and vicious act of violence. Please understand that those folks in Palestine with the guns in the streets celebrating the successful United States attack are really the minority.  These folks get the attention because they have the guns and make the most noise. Certainly we must bring to justice those who perpetrated this atrocious crime, what has been rightly been called an act of war.  And our President was certainly correct when he said that we must hold accountable those who would harbor and support such vicious and cowardly individuals.  But even as we seek justice, we must be certain not to allow the hate to control us. Somehow we need to allow Christ to work within us to break the vicious cycle of violence.  Somehow we need to be available for God to use us to work a ministry of peace, and love, and justice in such a way that such acts of violence in the world will decrease until they no longer exist. And there is one more thing.  We must not allow the fear to control us either.  We must not allow this act and these people to rob us of our hope, visions, dreams and ambitions.  We need to live our lives–not like we did the week before this happened, but even better. Other than this simple thoughts and reflections, I know nothing more than that I ought to pray. I pray for the survivors of this attack. I pray for the families who have lost loved ones. I pray for the rescue workers and police on the scene. I pray for the doctors and nurses caring for the hurting. I pray for the reporters who work through intense emotion to bring us the pictures and news of the day. I pray for the President and other elected leaders who so desperately need wisdom from above. I pray for the pastors in Washington and New York who care first-hand for the spiritual needs of those who have experienced this great tragedy. I pray for the intelligence agencies that seek to find out who would do this so they might be brought to justice. I pray for the men and women in the various branches of our military who will probably be called to action in the near future. I pray for those who did these terrible acts.  I ask for God to move them to repentance. I pray also for all those who might be tempted to think that violence accomplishes anything of lasting value.  We’ve seen much too much of it in recent years–from school violence, to the Olympic Bombing, to the Oklahoma City bombing, to drive by shooting.  The list goes on and on and sometimes it seems so overwhelming. I pray for our nation–that this event will bring us together as a people and turn our thoughts toward God. Lastly, I pray for myself. May God break the cycle of violence in me and use me to make a difference for His Peace and Grace in this sinful world.

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