This sermon is written as an alternative for use on Sunday, September 16, 2001. It may be used in conjunction with the Lessons for the Day or as a topical sermon with other readings.
It is difficult to pick up shattered lives. While many people have been able to return to a mostly normal life after the devastating attack on our country last week, others are still waiting for news of missing family and friends, preparing for funerals, and trying to re-build their lives without people they loved.
God did not desire or will the events of last Tuesday any more the God desired there to be an attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President Kennedy. Throughout human history similar events have occurred, frequently altering human life and changing the course of events for many years.
This is a time to remember one important principle: While humans may fix problems, it is God who redeems messes. And we are in a mess. The world continues to be a very complicated and violent place, despite our best efforts to ensure peace. Technology, wealth and generosity are not enough to conquer evil. There are still people who build their lives around hatred, and they do not all live outside the United States. That is a mess, something we cannot fix. If we think we can do it by eliminating terrorist groups, we are deluding ourselves.
Those who seek to impose their power through evil means will have to have their hearts and minds transformed. Those who desire only revenge as a means of making the world secure will have to learn that violent retribution will not result in a less violent world.
Perhaps the comment of one rescue worker at the World Trade Center site captures the dilemma we all feel. He is reported to have said, "A year ago I would have said the people who did this should all be killed. But not long ago I became a Christian. Now I don't know what to think."
Jesus was born into a violent world. God chose to be born into a place that was under military occupation by the Roman Empire, a government that relied on brute force to impose its will on the populace, even using crucifixion to frighten people who might be plotting a criminal act. This policy hardly succeeded in bringing peace to Palestine as we all know. It was a violent world then, and it still is.
But it is also a transforming world. Jesus' life among us and his upholding of the law to love the Lord with all our heart and mind and our neighbor as ourselves have been transforming lives from vengeance and violence to peace for centuries. The Church is the place where that transformation occurs, among Christians who come together as we do this day, to worship the God who loves us, heals us and continues to redeem us.
We vow to renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces that rebel against God, and in the Baptismal Covenant to persevere in resisting evil and whenever we fall into the sin to repent and return to the Lord. Whenever we do this we have the conquering power of love behind us. When we turn instead to violent retribution Satan has found an ally, not a foe.
Sorting all this out is a life long journey. Sometimes the road gets really rough. But if we vow to follow the Prince of Peace our transformation will take place, and we will be a people to whom others turn in these troubled days.
Here are some suggestions for the journey:
- Invite Jesus right now to fill the places in your heart where hatred rules. Ask him to remove from you the need for vengeance. Let him show you what he wants for you. (Suggestion to the reader: pause here to allow a minute for people to pray silently)
- Lift up to God those who have died in our country and other place in this past week. At a recent funeral for a beloved bishop the preacher invited the congregation to see Jesus seated in heaven with his arms outstretched. Then the congregation was invited to lift up their beloved bishop to Jesus and let him take the body of their loved one into his arms and hold him, safely at home. Imagine the Risen One embracing each precious person who died last Tuesday, the people who were on the airplanes, those working in the Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and those who heroically died trying to rescue them. (Suggestion: the reader might pause briefly to allow people time to do this).
- Pray for those who serve in our armed forces who may be called on to direct and carry out military action against our enemies. They face difficult personal struggles and fear in their duties. (Suggestion: the reader might pause briefly to allow people time to do this).
- Pray for those who have directed and carried out acts of violence against people throughout the world. Holding them before God is something they cannot do for themselves, neither can they resist our praying for them. In offering prayer for our enemies, evil is rendered powerless over us. (Suggestion: the reader might pause briefly to allow people time to do this).
The days to come will surely result in new challenges and changes. Though we may be mentally distraught and emotionally fragile, let each one invite God, our merciful creator and redeemer, to set us on a sure foundation of faith in Jesus Christ, and love for one another.