Summary: A Sermon in Response to the 9/11/01 tragedy

September 16, 2001 — Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Sixth Day of National Tragedy

Christ Lutheran Church of Columbia

Pastor Jeff Samelson

The Tragedy Reveals Us

with reference to

Romans 8: 31-35,37-39

I. "The Human Spirit"

II. What We Are

III. What We Need

IV. What We Do with What We Have

Show us your unfailing love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation. [We] will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people.… The LORD will indeed give what is good [Psalm 85:7-8,12a, NIV]. Amen.

Dear Americans, Dear Humans, Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

One of the comments that is frequently made about World War II and Adolph Hitler is that he made one very large miscalculation that ended up losing him the war. That error in judgment, people say, was to grossly underestimate the effect of the United States of America entering the war against Nazi Germany. He thought we were too far away to play much of a role. He thought the American people wouldn’t have much interest in defending foreign soil. He thought our armed forces and our industry were too weak to fight and support a war against his mighty Nazi Wehrmacht.

Whatever Hitler thought about us, he thought wrong. The bombing of Pearl Harbor by Hitler’s allies, the Japanese, woke up a sleeping giant. It gave this nation the resolve and determination to not only enter World War II, but to win it — in Europe and in the Pacific. We had the means, we had the men, and we had the character. The tragedy that began the war revealed us for who we were.

Now the tragedies we sum up with the name "World War II" revealed us in other ways, also. Most of us would sooner forget than remember them, but history records them too clearly — Auschwitz, the Rape of Nanking, the massacre in Poland’s Katyn forest, the bombing of London, the bombing of Dresden, the Bataan death march, Nagasaki, and many, many more. Tragedy reveals us more than we like to know.

Our lives have all been shaken by a new tragedy — really, a multitude of tragedies — coordinated, compounded, and continuing. All of a sudden the shock and horror of national loss, misery, and anger is not part of our history but today’s reality. It will be a long time before we’re really ready to look back and reflect on it all, but even now there are truths which stand out — scream out — for us to understand, hold on to, and remember. The tragedy reveals us.

I. One thing which Tuesday’s events and aftermath have revealed is that spirit and determination that just make you proud to be an American. Tears come to our eyes when we think about the heroism of those police and firemen who risked — and lost — their lives to the crashing towers while rushing to save the lives of others. Or the passengers on United Flight 93 who attacked their hijackers, determined that their plane would not be used as a weapon, knowing that their bravery guaranteed they would never see their families again. Or the seemingly limitless energy of the rescue workers in New York, struggling and toiling to move a mountain of rubble in the faint hope that even just one more father might be returned to his family, one more husband might see his wife’s smile again, one more… one more… just one more life.

And we share the steely, angry resolve of our President that justice be done. We applaud the spirit of sacrifice and unity of purpose that has gripped people all across our nation — rich and poor, black and white, young and old — did you see the flag waving and the crowds trying to flood the Red Cross with their blood? We know — we know — that we will pull together and rise above this tragedy. They won’t beat us; we will beat them. These acts of terror will bring out the best in us, and the world will learn again about what makes us the nation that we are.

I guess a humanist might call this the "triumph of the human spirit". That’s really what we’re celebrating. I don’t know how particularly American it might be, but it’s definitely human. Men, women, and even children are capable of acts of incredible courage, sacrifice, and heroism — and it really doesn’t matter that much what their nations, politics, or religions are. Truly, when God made man the crown of his creation, he made man a remarkable being, capable of wondrous acts of love, courage and beauty. With their response to these tragedies, the people of this country have clearly demonstrated the best that man can be.

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