Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11 Reflections

I preached the morning services at church today.  The topic was the importance of theology and introduction of the new statement of faith adopted by the denomination.  But since it was September 11th, I couldn't help talk about that too.  The following is that section of the sermon.

I’m not unaware of the date today.  I suspect that for most of our generation, September the eleventh will remain etched into our memories for all our lives.  Today, ten years later seems especially poignant, and deserves some comment from the pulpit, even if it is from a substitute preacher.  This picture was taken in July of 2001.  You can faintly see the twin towers in the background as we waited on the Jersey shore to take a ferry to Manhattan.  We had taken a trip to New York to meet some friends, and did the touristy things like going out to the Statue of Liberty, going up in the Empire State Building, and watching a baseball game at Yankee Stadium—even though for me, a huge Boston Red Sox fan, that was walking into enemy territory.  I wore my Red Sox hat that day to the stadium, and the infamous and boisterous fans in the right field bleacher seats let me hear about it, as they collectively pointed at me and chanted things that shouldn’t be repeated in church.  There was a moment there when I feared for our lives.
It was just two months later when some 2000 New Yorkers lost their lives in the terrorist attacks.  That morning I was back in Mishawaka, walking to the departmental office at Bethel to make some copies for my class when a secretary asked if I’d heard that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.  I immediately thought there was something suspicious about it and started monitoring the news.  I was watching the coverage live when the first tower collapsed.  It was such a surreal experience.  So unexpected, and so difficult to fathom the implications.  So much uncertainty that day as the other planes hit the Pentagon and went down in Pennsylvania. That evening the neighbors on our street spontaneously appeared out on the sidewalks, and we talked with each other in tones that betrayed our fragility and insecurity.  I thought it prudent to go out and fill up the gas tank, for who knew what might happen, and I waited in a long line at the station to pay the exorbitant price that had been hiked up to $1.75 per gallon. 
We were told that September 11 changed everything, that things would never be the same.  And of course that is true in some respects, especially for families and friends of victims.  And yes, gas prices have gone up, and getting through airport security has become unpleasant.  But the neighbors have gone back inside.  The goodwill toward each other that swells up in times of crisis has abated.  I’m afraid that human nature has remained the same.
There is more rhetoric today from politicians who play on our fears by pledging to do more than the last guy did to protect us from our evil enemies, as though we could stop evil by enacting the right policies or by brute force.  Not allowing people to bring a full tube of toothpaste on an airplane might stop one kind of evil, but there are a thousand others we can’t even imagine until they occur.  Sending our predator drones in by remote control to blow up houses might eliminate a few bad guys, but it usually incites even more hatred against us by the survivors.  It was Jesus who said, “If you live by the sword, you’re going to die by the sword.”  I think I’m inclined to trust him on this one.
Does this seem pessimistic?  I’m really an optimistic guy.  It’s just that my optimism, my hope is in a different kingdom, one that is not of this world.
Now don’t get me wrong: we have to be smart, we need to protect ourselves.  We lock our doors at night.  But let’s be realistic: we live in a fallen world.  The United States military is not going to usher in some era of lasting peace and happiness in our world.  Have we Christians bought into this myth?  Perhaps this is what has changed most of all since 9/11: we felt pretty secure and lived in this land of freedom and relative peace.  But the attacks suggested to us that we too are vulnerable.  But rather than accepting that as a fact of life, we’ve held on to the notion that we are somehow a favored nation.  The United States has had about 60 years now of being the top dog on the world stage.  The indications are that we won’t occupy that position for more than another generation.  Read your history books:  nations come and nations go.  I’m glad to live in a nation with the freedoms we have, but this isn’t the Kingdom I’m longing for.  Pastor Craig likes to quote Bob Dylan, but I’m from a different generation, so I’ll quote one of my favorite bands, Switchfoot: “I pledge allegiance to a country without borders and without politicians.”  I will seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness.  To do otherwise is the very definition of idolatry, putting other gods before the one true God.  And I will rest secure in the belief that nothing can deport us from that Kingdom or separate us from the love of God, neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers.  No matter what happens -- natural disasters, government shutdowns, and even terrorist attacks -- we are safe, we are free, we are loved by the God of the universe. 
Oh sure, some of us go through tough times—loss of jobs, loss of property and health, even premature loss of life.  We’re not exempt from that in our fallen world.  But we believe in a God who has broken into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Through his life, death, and resurrection the Kingdom of God has come to earth.  And all those who will follow him are empowered by the Holy Spirit to live in the Kingdom here and now. 
 Is that the God we believe in?  That was some pretty dense theology packed into a paragraph or two, theology that helps us makes sense of and respond to the situations we find ourselves in.  And here is the connection back to our main topic for the morning.  What we believe about God has consequences.  


D.C. Cramer said...

Wow. Powerful words. I would love to know how this was received by the congregation. As an aside, I remember watching the coverage with you on the second floor of the academic building that morning after FYE was cancelled. Kind of the beginning of my adult life, in some ways.

Erin K. said...

I saw this shared on Twitter today and I'm glad I clicked the link to read it. You have summed up a lot of what I've been thinking about since the last presidential election, not so much about 9/11 but about politics in general. It seems to me that a lot of energy is spent trying to elect the right person and pass the right laws so we can set up a perfect earthly kingdom and once again feel secure. What if we spent all of this energy pursuing God's Kingdom instead? Doesn't he promise that everything else will be added to us when we seek His Kingdom first? A good reminder for me today - thanks.

J. B. Stump said...

Thanks Erin. I wasn't aware I was being tweeted. Better be careful what I say!

Dave, it seemed to be received pretty well, especially considering there were other elements of the service that could have been interpreted more patriotically.