Remembering September 11

Tomorrow is the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Most of us will never forget where we were at the moment we learned our nation was under attack. Like many of you, I was watching the Today Show with Christy in our apartment in Dallas when the second plane hit World Trade Center. As I drove to the church where I served as Associate Pastor, Oak Lawn UMC, I listened on the radio intently for more news. The shock and horror of that day was compounded for me especially. We had just discovered the day before, September 10, 2001, that Christy was pregnant with James. In the midst of such fear and suffering, I felt more than a little guilty that our family was celebrating. It didn't seem fair.

At the church a TV was on in Wyndal's office, our Business Manager. We searched the internet for faster news. We sent emails out to the congregation, urging them wherever they were to pray for victims, their families, and for the nation. We organized a prayer vigil for that evening, then followed up with a prayer service that Friday, September 14. I was to be the preacher that day, but to a full Sanctuary the best words of comfort I could find were from our sacred scriptures, mostly Psalms of lament, where the writer pours his heart out to God in the midst of profound suffering.

So it was with a profound sense of disgust that I watched and read reports pouring in from Florida about a church whose pastor scheduled an "International Koran Burning Day" for tomorrow, the anniversary of September 11. Despite appeals from President Obama, General Petraeus, leaders from around the world, as well as Christian, Muslim, and leaders of others faiths, the pastor refused to change his stance. How outrageous to exploit a day filled with national grief, mourning, and remembrance to further one's own personal agenda. And to do so in the name of Jesus Christ.

In the midst of evil, rampant suffering, our own need for recognition, and our mistaking ideology for theology, there is a profound sense of the presence of God. Many people were afraid that day, and tomorrow will bring those emotions back to the surface. Rightfully so. Wherever September 11, 2001 is commemorated tomorrow in ways that reflect the graciousness and goodness of God, there will be healing. When we observe the day as a way of spreading hate and mistrust of others
we dishonor the memory and grief of those who died and lost loved ones.

Last week we began a study of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. He begins the book thinking of some of our basic instincts-- food, survival, etc. He says when we see someone in trouble, two basic instincts begin to struggle within us-- the instinct to look the other way (self-preservation) and the instinct to help. He says only when a third voice intervenes and says, "Act on the second choice!" will we do it. Think of firefighters facing the WTC towers. Somehow they overcame the instinct of self-preservation and ran into the buildings to help others. That voice-- call it conscience, a sense of duty, whatever-- leads us straight to the heart of God. It is that voice that makes people inherently good and not evil, despite our inclination to sin.

It now appears that the pastor's publicity stunt of burning the holy book of a billion people worldwide has been canceled, but we won't know until tomorrow. Others will gather out of love in many places for solemn reflection, to express thanksgiving for freedom, to honor those lost in New York, Washington D.C., and over Pennsylvania. And many of us will devote some time individually to remember that day nine years ago and pray for a better future: one without war, suffering, hatred, and evil.

Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way of peace. Come into the brokenness of our lives and our land with your healing love. Help us to be willing to bow before you in true repentance, and to bow to one another in real forgiveness. By the fire of your Holy Spirit, melt our hard hearts and consume the pride and prejudice which separate us. Fill us, O Lord, with your perfect love, which casts out fear, and bind us together in that unity which you share with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

United Methodist Book of Worship, #482