It was a day that is not easily forgotten. I was awoken by a frantic phone call from a friend. The sun was barely up. And the city of Los Angeles was eerily quiet. It took me a moment hear what the voice on the other end of the phone was saying. By the time I turned on the TV, the second plane had just crashed into the South Tower. Kathleen, who was 8 ½ months pregnant with Fiona, woke up. And together we watched our world forever change.
For those of you who were around 15 years ago, you have your own story about this sad and tragic mark on our country’s history. Because of it, a part of our lives are woven into those of the nearly 3,000 who were taken from families, friends and communities around the world. Yours, mine, theirs…each one of our stories contribute to the greater narrative of where and how we have come to be the beloved children of God.
On days like the one we experienced on September 11th 2001, it’s easy for us to wonder if God even knows we’re here. As I watched that great dark cloud bury Wall Street and choke millions of people fleeing from Manhattan, I can see how people might deny God’s existence, or question God’s providence and power. I’m sure some of you, when in facing your own personal tragedies, have thought, “Where was God when this happened to me?”
I cannot pretend to know why God allows these things to happen. No systematic theology can ever do any justice to such pain. All I know is my own story, my own questions of faith, and my need for reason and hope. As it does for many of you, my story begins with a Supreme Being who, throughout the history of time, has been good and faithful.
No one knows why God allowed planes with real people aboard to crash into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Many preachers have told their congregations it was divine justice for our national sin. Others preached the real presence of evil and the prevailing darkness that is taking over the world. As some cry for war and revenge, others pray for peace and reconciliation.
What I am sure of is this: We need not fear. For the Bible assures us that God’s word is faithful. God does not forget us, or abandon us. Instead God remembers us, and seeks us out to save from whatever we’ve gotten ourselves into. That too, remains a mystery to me.
The words of the prophet Jeremiah speak of a God who is persistently and fiercely loyal to the life and people He brings into being. This is a God who says, “I will fulfill the promise… I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.”
Such affirmations show us the character of God, of the works of God and the ongoing providence of God. Everything, everywhere, comes into fruition because of God’s remembrance, and steadfast love. God does not forget.
The event on September 11th, just as everything that has led up to this moment, has not escaped God’s sight. God knows what will come and when. The future does not surprise God and in fact, fits into the plan for his glory and the good of all people. Knowing this, Jesus reminds us with his ominous warning, “Keep awake for you do no know on what day your Lord is coming.”
Have you seen that bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming. Act busy.” I think it’s kind of silly. Are we to buzz around like bumble bees for no reason, just so it looks like we’re doing something? I don’t think so. Are we suppose to read it as some kind of warning sign, that cripples us to live in fear as we wait for the end times. I doubt it.
We don’t know now anymore than we knew on September 11th 2001. But long before then, the Apostle Paul reassured us that our faith has made us ready for the day the Lord shall return. Our faith in a God who remembers us. And knows we are here.
Therefore we must remain vigilant so our faith does not fall asleep. We must actively participate in it…not by fearing others but by caring for one another… constantly seeking peace, not division, retaliation, and war.
In other words, we should not to worry about the end time, but instead live life today as God’s children; doing what is right and just. It’s in our acts of righteousness that our faith becomes “faithful” to the God who loves us and saves us from ourselves.
Henri Nouwen writes, “The many disasters in our world, and all the tragedies that happen to people each day, can lead us to despair and convince us that we are the sad victims of circumstances. But Jesus looks at these events in a radically different way. He calls them opportunities to be living witnesses of God’s unconditional love, opportunities to testify and participate in God’s Kingdom and redemption. This is how we look beyond the passing structures of our temporary existence to the eternal life promised to us.”
Placing our faith in a system or an institution that can be attacked or destroyed has historically led to the downfall of every great empire. But the faith that is placed in the indestructible grace of God, it too becomes unbreakable and everlasting. So what is there to fear?
As long as we exist in a broken world, we will live with plenty of anxiety. But we need to look no further than the divine story of Jesus to find our strength, our peace, and our hope. Through our faith in Jesus we build up the Kingdom of God. Through him we preserver and overcome the obstacles and enemies who try to knock us down.
As the saints, sinners, and stewards of the church, Paul urges us to hold fast to the fiercely loyal steadfast love of God in Jesus Christ. “Therefore,” he says, “encourage one another and build each other up.”
September 11th 2001, was a day that reminded us all that we can’t do it alone. As Christians, and as a country, we must defend each other and lift each other up. We must help each other from getting discouraged or depressed, by offering hope and forgiveness and reconciliation. We must stand together…united, not divided.
To borrow from the ancient wisdom found in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple braided cord is not easily broken.”
As you leave here today, on this special day of remembrance, remember you have been given this assurance: When your faith is woven with God’s steadfast love, you inherit a power that not even death can conquer. Fear is erased so that life is lived abundantly. You are a beloved child of a God who is fiercely loyal and faithful. The one who remembers us and sustains and saves us each time the world comes crashing down upon us.