Sermon for Ten Years Later
September 11. 2011
Martha M. Shiverick
Fairmount Presbyterian Church
2 Corinthians 4:1, 5-10

We remember…… Even if we could forget, these past few weeks we have been bombarded with media reminding us of the events that took place 10 years ago today. And we remember because it hit each of us personally, shook us to the very core of our being, and changed our world in so many ways. Everyone over 15 years old remembers exactly what they were doing when they heard the news about the world trade center. Were you at school? Were you at home watching morning television? Were you at work or commuting to your job? What was your initial reaction after realizing what was happening in our country in New York, in DC, and in a field in Pennsylvania? I am sure you have been sharing these thoughts and experiences with others all week long. In a moment we went from security, to insecurity; and from entitlement, to vulnerability. It’s odd, but one thing that continues to stand out in my mind was how beautiful the weather was that morning. As I remember, that is just what I was thinking the moment before I learned about the crash of the first plane. Just how absolutely crisp and clear the sky was and how much I loved days like that. I was thinking what a blessing it was. And, then, in an instant everything changed. Our hearts were broken, they were broken wide open. Many commentators have said that as a nation we lost our innocence that day.

And for a moment we came together as a nation. We showed the human collective capacity to come together. We were able to respond in God like ways. Many lives were cut short, but many others were saved through the acts of extraordinary courage and bravery. Immediately, throughout our country and the world, more people tried to donate money and blood for the disaster than was needed and for which we had the capacity to receive. It was an incredible thing to witness.

And the Sunday after 9/11 people went to church. I remember that first Sunday as a deeply painful day when churches everywhere were filled to capacity. People came searching for answers, for spirituality, for reassurance, and for a sense of God’s presence. If Augustine’s quote that ‘the soul was made for God and will never find rest until it rests in God’ was ever to make sense, it did that day. Brokenhearted people came asking ‘where was God in this disaster’? And where was God in all the evil they had experienced?

And now it is ten years later. We have changed a lot in these ten years and in other ways are still the same. We have had to wrestle with issues we never thought we would have. We needed to redefine what power and security are for our country. How can we be the most powerful military force in the world and still vulnerable to the attack of a few terrorist extremists? How can we rage a war on terror and still a decade later be no more secure? How can we be no closer to a peace in the Middle East now than we have been for decades before?

And unfortunately that good side we showed those first few days after 9/11 changed also. We soon became vengeful. We wanted a face to the evil we experienced. We wanted inihilate it. The world became divided between us and them. During the years since 9/11, we have grown to distrust immigrants and people of Muslim faith. We have lost an ability to care for and welcome the stranger in our midst. We began ethnic profiling. We began aggressive expressions of Christian nationalism. These negative traits of the war on terrorism have defined this decade as much as the economic turmoil of the past few years. We are still in a time of bleak uncertainty. We witnessed the powerful existence of evil on 9/11 and then in many ways have lived it ourselves in the decade since.

And this is where our faith and our church become relevant. You see, the church has the same role it did ten years ago. The church’s capacity to respond to an event like 9/11 was formed long before. Just as our role was to show God’s love and compassion and power over evil after the events of 9/11, we are to show them now as well. We are a people of faith who have learned to practice patience, love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. We are relevant to this world and its issues now more than ever. We are called by God and needed by God’s people now more than ever. Listen now to Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth in his second epistle, chapter 4, verses 1 and 5-10.

“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

The images Paul creates here in his letter to the Corinthians are just beautiful and bring not just comfort but hope and a vision for our future as well. In the first part of the passage we are described as slaves. We are not just God’s slaves but we are the world’s slaves as well. Our purpose is to serve God and to serve others. In our service we do for others in God’s name, and through our service, the Glory of god is reflected. In this way, God is seen in the world in unexpected dark places where comfort and love are shown. And we, who are followers of Christ, know Paul’s words to be so true! We know that in the moments where someone has reached out to you in a time of need or when you have experienced great joy over being of assistance to someone, that God is present. Paul talks about being overwhelmed with God’s greatness, and we who have experienced it in the love and caring of others, know this as well.

We are also a treasure in a clay pot. We might look like ordinary clay pots, but within the pot a treasure is kept. Our ministry to others makes us a treasure. This image allows us to celebrate the awesome blessing of life and find joy in tribulation, limitations and difficulties. When daily life is given up for the ministry of others, we know we are treasures. We need to live our lives each day in ways that love and honor one another to show that we are treasures. In doing this, God promises not that our problems will go away with time, or that they will only appear to be troubles, or that a way out of them will eventually be found. Our troubles are real, yet the power of God is there to bring us through them. We might be afflicted, perplexed, and feel struck down, but God’s power and God’s presence will be with us always.

In early August I read an editorial in the Wall Street Journal written by John Murray, the headmaster of 4th Presbyterian School in Potomac MD. He was discussing The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis and Lewis’ belief in evil as a very real force. For those of you who have never read the book or who have not read it since your early adolescence, the book is a collection of letters which follows the correspondence of Uncle Screwtape, the undersecretary for the Infernal Lowerarchy to his nephew Wormwood, an inexperienced devil who has been assigned a “patient” to tempt on earth. The story is set at the start of World War 11 where a young Englishman serves as Wormwood’s “patient”. It is the story of a simple life of faith concerned with commonplace difficulties and decisions of good and evil. CS Lewis believed in sin and Satan. He believed that evil existed. However, the Screwtape Letters conclude with Lewis’s strong belief that good conquers evil. The book concludes by the “patient” dying in a bombing raid and going to heaven and seeing not only angels but Jesus Christ. The editorial concluded with Lewis’s beliefs that although there is evil, God is all powerful. That God did create free will and some will use free will for evil, the good news is that God has no equivalent. There is no ‘uncreated being’ but God. God’s power is great and God will conquer evil.

I cut out the editorial and kept in thinking I might want to read it again as we approached 9/11. I knew it would be a time when we wrestled with the power of good and evil again. Ten years ago we experienced evil. We experienced evil in a way we had never imagined. But we overcame it. God reigned over evil and conquered it as people came to the rescue, as tears were shed, as people were comforted, as bravery reached new heights, and as care came from all corners of the world. God, not evil won that day and God’s power and strength was shown to me in what are still the most powerful images of the day. These were not the burning of the twin towers or the smoke and fire that engulfed the sights were the other planes went down. The most powerful image to me was the one of the people jumping to death from the towers before the collapse. Do you remember? Well, what I remember was in their last moments which must have been horrific, terrible, and terrifying, the people were not filled with hate. If you remember, they chose to reach out and hold on to one another. They jumped as pairs holding each other as they went down. In those moments of love, of compassion for the other, and of care: good, not evil won. In their last moments, they were not alone. In their last moments they were not abandoned by God as there was a shared love that could only come from God. God was with them as they held each other. God’s love, not a power of hate, had won.

And, God’s love will conquer evil now as well. And we, who are followers of God, have been called to show Go’s love to others. Using Christ Jesus as our model we follow a man who chose love over fear. Jesus ate with his enemies. Jesus went to the houses of his enemies and Jesus chose engagement over isolation and separation. When he did this, he did not change his beliefs or values, but loved them as God’s children. We are in the difficult position ten years after 9/11 in still trying to find a solution on how to live with differences. We as Christians also must ask how we pursue justice and love those who wish to harm us? With Christ as the example, we know that we need to build relationships across our perceived divisions. We need to get to know those who see the world differently than we do and with whom we fear the most. We need for those who call us the enemy to get to know us so that they will not fear us as well. And we can do that because we have been promised just as we heard in Paul’s epistle to the people of Corinth, that God’s power and presence will be with us always. In the end God and good, not evil, will win. It is because of that we can move forward and live in hope. Amen.