Summary: A Bible message on the tragedy of September 11, 2001. With introductory thoughts on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11.
This morning the September air in Charlotte, North Carolina reminds me of the air that day. As I breath it in, I join in the memory. But I join also in the hope of not only a rebuilding of the Freedom Tower, but a rebuilding of the American spirit that stirred out nation to prayer during those days after 9/11. May this message, along with other outstanding, faithful messages from God’s messengers, work together, under the hand of God, to bring revival to our land. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
INTRODUCTION TO THE READING OF SCRIPTURE (IS.61.1-4)
After the shock of national catastrophe, we begin to hear stories. The stories will weave a human face to the tragedy. We understand story in a way that is more meaningful than even the disturbingly surreal images of television. Like you, I have been moved by the stories of brave people like the former Federal prosecutor and television political commentator Barbara Olsen calling her husband Ted Olsen, the Solicitor General, and telling him to alert the FBI of the attack. Or the amazing story of the men of the United Airlines flight who voted to take on the highjackers. It may be that their effort saved many lives. There are many stories of heroism and we will need to listen for those stories and re-tell them in the days and months and even years to come. There are many more stories, of course, which are characterized as just plain sad. One story line kept getting repeated over and over again with different people acting out the same tragic script. A woman is going from hospital to hospital, looking for her husband. A man holds a picture of his wife as he screams her name and runs through the ruble. The only response is the terrified eyes of the walking wounded set in those unforgettable dust and debris caked faces. The most poignant response I heard this week came from a Hispanic woman whose husband was missing. She said, "I don’t know if I am supposed to keep looking or starting grieving. I’m stuck."
America herself, in many ways, is now stuck in a sort of Netherlands between hope and despair. We are ready for retaliation, but naming the enemy is different now than it was at Pearl Harbor. We are hanging in mid air between mourning the loss of life and the loss of peace, and showing a national resolve to get on with it and show the terrorist that they can’t stop us. I think September 11th, 2001 is a day that will define our nation. All of the experts are telling us that America will never be the same and I think they are talking about airport security, if not our national security itself. But, I actually hope America will now never be the same in another way. I hope we will never be the same people because we hear God’s Word in the mist of our tragedy and His Word changes us. I think, no I know, there is a message that speaks to our time, to our national grief, to our children’s watching eyes, to our fellow men who suffer in the ruble and the ruin of this national tragedy.
I’m not sure whether it was CNN or NPR or ABC or any number of other stations I was listening to on September 11th, but I heard this testimony given to a reporter. A man was running frantically from the tumbling towers of the World Trade Center. There was a veritable rain of melting steel, human body parts, flaming debris, and that ubiquitous, haunting gray-white dust everywhere. He said that he ran and ran as fast as he could, running with hundreds of others. He said he couldn’t see because of the debris caked over his eyes. He managed to make out what appeared to be church. He ran inside. It was a church: He scrambled inside its sanctuary. He said, "I saw this bowl of holy water. So, I washed the dirt and grime out of my eyes with the holy water. I could see again."
In a real way, millions of Americans are running back to God, flooding into churches, trying to escape this new rain of terror coming down inside our own borders. Our hearts, if not our eyes, are filled with the horrible debris of fear, shock, loss, anger, retribution, and sadness. In times like these we do tend to begin to get to the heart of things. We are like that poor soul in Manhattan. We too are stunned, breathless specters running into the church and we are not groping for new musical styles, fancy homiletic forms, or the latest self-help programs. We’re screaming, "Where’s the holy water?"
This morning, I invite you to come in. There is plenty of water here: living water, healing water, a fountain of never ending joy and peace, whose power is usually dispensed in times like these. For, the Gospel always shines best in the midst of ruin. The resurrection of Jesus Christ always shines best when cast in front of the black pall of death. The cross always for God’s people becomes their crown. The Gospel comes to people in devastation and leads them out of their hanging between hope and despair and shows them certain salvation.