“Remembrance, Healing and Hope”
September 11, 2011 sermon of Rev. Rodger McDaniel-Highlands Presbyterian Church
It’s been 10 years since those airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Hard to believe isn’t it. Hard to believe it’s been that long, harder to believe it ever happened. Like the events of November 22nd, 1963 it sometimes seems like only yesterday…because surely events of that long ago cannot bring fresh tears to our eyes…but they do!
I so dread preaching on days like this. Long ago I looked ahead at the calendar and when I saw that September 11th fell this year of all years on a Sunday, I groaned. I dislike preaching on days that are animated more by nationalism than faith, days when it seems so hard for Americans to distinguish between patriotic instincts and the teachings of Jesus. Like Jonah, I looked for a way out, but like Jonah, I realized there was none.
As much as I wanted to not preach this day, I also wanted to be with you and others trying to make some sense of what happened ten years ago and all that has happened since. The most confusing and baffling events of our lives are best understood in community. When we try to understand such event alone, we often reach conclusions that are at best driven by ego or fear and at worst by notions of revenge and hate.
10 years later we are as confused as we were that morning. Why did Al-Qaeda attack America? Why are we still at war, who are we fighting, what do we hope to achieve? Are we safer? Is the world safer? How should Christians respond? Where is God in all of this?
As we try to sort it all out, the death on that day in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, the suffering ever since in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere…as we look back and move forward…let’s look at the dialogue about suffering and evil in the Book of Job. God is listening carefully as Job and his three friends try to understand why evil happens just as God is listening to us try to understand the events we commemorate today.
After Job’s suffering became too great to handle, he became angry with God and cursed the day he was born, his friend Eliphaz reminds Job that “affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble simply sprout from the ground.” Eliphaz believes we bring on our own suffering.
4:7…“Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.” Do you hear yourself in the argument of Eliphaz? How about Job’s response. “If I have sinned, why does God not forgive me? Why does God instead cause me to suffer?”
7:17…”What are human beings,” asks Job, “that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?” .The argument among Job and his friends rages as the arguments have since 9/11. But we’ve not engaged in the dialogue Job and his friends had. We have sought revenge rather than understanding. Is revenge a Christian response?
As I thought about today it came to me that perhaps the greatest of all symbols of use in developing a Christian response to 9/11 is the deep, dark cloud of smoke spreading and lingering as the towers collapsed, crumbled and fell. In the last few days the image of the dark cloud enveloping New York has been played and replayed on television, kindling our memories of the fear the cloud brought to an entire nation.
I woke this morning with that cloud on my mind and then God crossed my mind with the words of the Gospel of John. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
In many ways, you and I have been preparing to understand this day for the last 20 months, making our way slowly through the Old Testament as a means of understanding the New. As we studied the OT, some of you have told me how surprised you are to learn of the level of violence portrayed in the history retold in those books. The OT is indeed an “eye for an eye” world where violence begat violence.
The word “forgive” is never used in the OT except when humans ask God to forgive them…never used to describe how it is humans are to maintain relationships with one another through the forgiveness of one another.
Just as the dark cloud hung over Manhattan ten years ago this very minute, so it was a dark cloud hung over all of humanity until the light of Jesus shined through the darkness.
And early in the first of the Gospels, Jesus speaks of how much his birth has changed the world, teaching us to pray for the forgiveness of those who do us harm. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors, for if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
A Christian response to suffering begins with Jesus and Jesus teaches it begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness begins with understanding. If we cannot understand, we cannot forgive and if we cannot forgive others, we cannot seek forgiveness ourselves.
Taking revenge without coming to understand why the acts of terror took place will not make us safer nor will it bring justice, nor will it make us followers of Jesus. Job 19.28-29 If you say, ‘How we will persecute him!’ and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him’; be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, so that you may know there is a judgment.”
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warns, "Put away your sword. Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”
Yet Job speaks for many of us in asking “where is the vengeance? Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power? Their children are established in their presence, and their offspring before their eyes. Their houses are safe from fear, and no rod of God is upon them. They spend their days in prosperity, and in peace they go down to Sheol. They say to God, ‘Leave us alone! We do not desire to know your ways. What is the Almighty that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’ Is not their prosperity indeed their own achievement?
Job may speak for us in his hope for revenge but Jesus speaks TO us about forgiveness. Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Today, again, God responds. God asked Job then as God asks us these ten years later, “Who are you to play God? Who are you to cast judgment, to exact punishment for those things you have not sought to understand? What makes you believe you alone are innocent?” Only God’s hands are clean.
Let us use this day to remember not only those who died on 9/11 but those throughout time who have died at the hands of those with ill motives for unjust reasons in every land, hands including our own, lands including our own. Let us use this day to think not about revenge but about how Christians can lead the world to heal. Let us use this day to replace the shifting sands of fear and hate with a sound foundation of hope.
Remember the dark cloud moving across Manhattan on that terrible morning but not without think of Jesus as the light shining even in that darkness, and don’t allow the darkness to overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
As followers of Jesus, we must also replace thoughts of vengeance and judgment with hope…the kind of hope God had for the world when the suffering of his son on the cross was answered not be revenge but by resurrection.