Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 19]
The Fifteenth Anniversary of “9/11″ / September 10/11, 2016
Washington Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge, PA + The Rev. Roy Almquist
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27
On September 11, 2001, nineteen highly motivated and disciplined young men commandeered four commercial airliners in a quite remarkable and coordinated act of hateful terrorism. One of the hijacked planes slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, followed shortly by a second plane which ripped into the South Tower, quickly destroying those iconic buildings, symbol of American wealth and commerce.
Within minutes a third air craft crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, the epicenter of America’s military strength. The fourth plane, intended for the destruction of the United States Capital building, was diverted by the courageous action of passengers, who caused that aircraft to crash in rural Somerset County in western Pennsylvania.
Almost 3,000 people perished in this coordinated attack. Among the victims were 343 firefighters and 60 police officers. Twenty-four people were never found. Our nation will never get over this event which touched so many of us … viscerally, emotionally, spiritually. The generation that can remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is slowly maturing to glory, but most of us alive today can remember where we were when the “horror of 9/11″ impacted our lives.
That terrible event was an unparalleled American tragedy. We know it happened fifteen years ago today but the sight and the smell continue to haunt us … changing the way we live our lives and removing forever our sense of safety in Fortress America. This nation had never been attacked so powerfully within our borders. No wonder this day is seared into our national consciousness.
We lost our innocence on September 11, 2001. The events of that terrible day have forced us to come to grips with the reality of evil in our world. Many people have skirted that issue by asking, instead, why did God allow such a tragedy to occur, that infamous question … Where was God on “9/11″?
I have never found a satisfactory answer to that question, but I truly believe that God is a God of love and compassion, who does not desire that any perish. But, alas, God gives free will and intellectual capacity to all people … people of faith as well as people who are filled with hatred.
The lesson of this horrific event we remember today is not simply a commentary on the mystery of sin and evil, but, also, a sharp reminder that we need each other.
This brings us to our Gospel lesson for today: The Two Parables of Lost Things. Lostness is a compelling theme in our lives. I never cease to marvel at how suddenly a human life can be uprooted. One moment we have everything under control and, then, in the blinking of an eye, we find our lives in total disarray. That is what happened on September 11, 2001 … but it is not limited to such catastrophic events.
In many ways we live in a nation of lost souls. The evening news reports each day a litany of lostness:
people without employment,
families losing their homes,
innocent children killed in savage warfare … many of them on the streets of our cities.
The religious people of Jesus’ day were more concerned with preserving the ritual purity of daily life than they were in helping the people who were lost and in bondage. Those religious practices and traditions were focused on labeling the lost, so that such people could be condemned and ignored. The scribes and the Pharisees were committed to a system that defined who was worthy to be in the circle of the righteous and who needed to be excluded and shunned.
This religious determination to isolate and discriminate drove Jesus to distraction. So it was that Jesus went out of his way to embrace the very people the religious leaders rejected: the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and other spiritual riff-raff. Our Lord’s unfailing solidarity with the lost and the rejected should give us pause whenever we are tempted to determine who belongs within the Church or whose behavior or lifestyle should separate them from Christian community.
Jesus came that no one should feel lost. The God our Lord described was not a fierce and angry judge, forever rejecting people from the small circle of the elect, but rather a God who acted boldly, pursued compulsively, and loved extravagantly. One lost sheep has so much value, Jesus insists today, that the shepherd will go far beyond expectations to restore the lost one to security, relationship, and peace.
This is a message that our world desperately needs to hear! As we observe the Fifteenth Anniversary of 9/11 we could easily make the mistake of simply condemning those heartless men who acted with malice and cruelty. But we must never forget that they were not unique. Many others before them and certainly many today are acting with the same heartless indifference.
Sadly, none of us are immune to the dark impulses of hatred and violence. Human beings, for a variety of different reasons, have slaughtered each other with such ferocity that over 200 million people have been killed in the past one hundred years. War and killing appears to be embedded in our human nature … and it is as close as the next shooting incident or ugly speech that drips with hatred and attack toward people who are different. We are the lost … we need a Savior.
There are two essential words in our Gospel lesson: the word until and the word rejoice. Like God, the searching shepherd and the sweeping woman put everything else aside until they found what was lost. Neither the shepherd nor the women would settle for a routine glance around … no, they searched until they found the sheep and the coin. Zero tolerance for estrangement … what a wonderful word of inspiration for the Church today! God will not give up his quest for the lost … in our society, in our Church, in our hearts and lives.
The second key word is rejoice. We are told that the shepherd and the woman both rejoiced when they found what was lost. Is this not a good definition of what a Christian congregation ought to be … a community of rejoicing. I am convinced that no church can long survive if it assigns a low priority to the task of seeking the apathetic and detached, reaching out to the stranger, and caring for the “least” of Christ’s little brothers and sisters.
So let us be of good cheer. God never gives up on us. Even when we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death … which is the meaning of 9/11 … we are never abandoned. Our Good Shepherd God pursues us and sustains us. For this simple fact let us simply say … Thanks be to God. AMEN.