Here are my thoughts for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, 11 September 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Exodus 14: 19 – 31, Romans 14: 1 – 12, and Matthew 18: 21 – 35.
I have not quite figured out how I feel about this day.
I remember murmurs going through the school building where I was teaching ten years ago but not knowing what exactly was transpiring. After some time, the principal came on the loudspeaker and made some sort of perfunctory announcement that something had occurred but didn’t clarify exactly what.
I remember trying to get home that night on the train and watching train after train roar by the station, packed with people desperately trying to escape New York City. I could only presume that my wife had gotten out of the city and was on her way home. Cell phone communication was almost impossible, as was almost all communication, because the twin towers had served as the primary cell and radio towers.
My youngest daughter would later tell me that she was frantic, not only because she couldn’t reach me and she only knew that I was teaching in New York City (I was in the Bronx), but because she couldn’t reach her sister who lived in the D. C. area. And when I would go to Billings, Montana, to receive my 25-year award at the ABC national tournament (now the USBC Open), I found out that the plane that struck the Pentagon struck the offices where my mother had been a secretary.
Like many who preached, I was also faced with the dilemma of what to say on September 16, 2001. I posted the sermon last year as “Seeking the Truth.” On 9/11/2004, we had a revival at my church that some wanted to be a memorial service for 9/11 – my thoughts and concerns are posted as “There Is A Rock And Roll Heaven.”
Between 9/11/2001 and this day, there has been one other 9/11 that came on a Sunday. I posted my thoughts as “At What Point?”
The extent to which the events of 9/11/2001 extended beyond New York City will probably never be fully realized nor will individuals, families and communities ever recover from the innumerable losses incurred that day. And while we can count our losses, how many people in Iraq and Afghanistan have died? Shall we read their names as well when the roll call is made?
And while we may pause to remember those who lost their lives ten years ago, we seem to have forgotten those who have died or were wounded in the battles fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have only given lip service to those who had died and we cut Veteran’s Benefits at the drop of a hat. And heaven forbid that we would even think of caring for reservists and members of the National Guard. I do not want to cheapen the memories of those who died ten years ago but we cheapen that memory when we consider how we have treated the service personnel who have died or have been wounded.
But that was ten years ago; still, we make it seem like it was just yesterday. Of course, with each news broadcast that speaks of death and destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are reminded of what happened. But we don’t remember that none of those who planned the attack, coordinated the attack, or carried out the criminal activities of that day came from Iraq and Afghanistan. None of the justification for going to war was linked to what happened. In the end, if you want to call the mass murders carried out on 9/11/2001 terrorism, you can. But it was our actions in response that made it terrorism. If we had treated the attacks as a conspiracy and murder, we could have probably resolved this eight years ago.
Look at where we are today. Look at the deficit and tell me what the primary driving force behind the deficit is. Look at the bureaucracies of the federal government and tell me which agencies need to be cut (and, as a hint, they don’t do much in the way of social work).
I think that there will be a number of sermons today that will link the images of the cloud and pillar of fire in the Old Testament reading for today with the two beams of light that were created after the ground around the World Trade Center was cleared. But the cloud and the pillar of fire were reminders to the people that God was present in their lives and that He was protecting them.
The twin beams of light only served to remind us that our master is the dollar and that we will do whatever it takes to make sure that the dollar remains supreme. We invoked God when we went to war ten years ago and we have invoked God at almost every turn over the past ten years. We have stated unequivocally that our god is the better god (and I choose to use the lower case). And we have done so knowing full well that the God that Jews, Muslims, and Christians worship is the same God and that He protects us all.
And before you say anything, remember that 1) the Egyptians that are in the Old Testament reading were not Muslims and 2) their hearts, or at least the heart of the Pharaoh, had been hardened. God’s destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea can never be used as a justification for armed conflict in today’s world.
There are some who will disagree with me on that but I don’t think Paul would be one of them. When you read the 2nd reading for today, you read words of acceptance, not division. Paul’s words to me mean something I have said all along; it does not matter whether one is a Jew or a Muslim or a Christian, as long as they hold to what they believe. Just saying that one is a Christian is no guarantee that they will get into heaven. It is how you live your live having said that you were a Christian that will determine the outcome.
What happened ten years ago has done a great deal to change the nature of the church today. We have slowly transformed the church into an instrument of the state, an act that is antithetical to the true nature of the church. I find myself struggling with a church which tries to make God in its own image rather than trying to be the image of God for the people of the community it is to serve.
Today’s Gospel reading begins today with Peter asking Jesus how many times we must forgive someone. We expect mercy but we act like the servant who will not give mercy and what do we think the King will do to us?
I would hope that when all the speeches are completed and the sermons have been preached, that we will think, not about what the politicians and the preachers said, but what Jesus said and what Paul wrote. There is a great opportunity in front of us. There is an opportunity to preach peace and forgiveness, to build newer world in which we may believe as we so choose, not as someone would have to believe. There is a great opportunity to build peace in this world if the money and the energy that were spent on bullets and bombs and hatred were directed toward food and medicine and peace.
The question has to be which direction do we want to head? Ten years from now, will we once again gather in remembrance while a seemingly endless war continues to drag on or will we gather to celebrate that a peace that began on this day. Jesus spoke of forgiving those whom we would rather not forgive; Paul wrote of a world in which differences between individuals would be the starting point for discussion, not conflict. On this day, we have gathered to remember, can we also gather to begin to build a new world and not simply seek to destroy the world we have right now?
On this day, we must make a choice. The road that we walk seems destined to be an endless road of war and violence. But the road with Christ is a road of peace. It is the harder road to walk and that makes the choice that much harder. But on this day, we must make a choice. We speak of the future; now we must look to build the future. That is what this day should be about.