September 11, 2016

Pentecost – Proper 19

Exodus 32: 7-14; Psalm 51: 1-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15: 1-10


In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  AMEN.

Theologian and author Diana Butler Bass shares this story of a conversation she had with her young daughter Emma, a few days following September 11.  She writes: " A couple of days after September 11 I was watching the evening news while setting the dining room table. The top story that night was a tape released by Osama bin Laden praising the attacks on New York and Washington.

We had tried to guard Emma from the pictures on television, but she had seen enough to know that some planes had crashed into tall buildings and that people had been killed. Emma came into the room as the Osama bin Laden video was being replayed.

She looked at the bearded face on the screen and asked 'is that the bad man? The bad man who killed people?' 'Yes that is the man who did these bad things. But you know what?  God still loves him and wants him to do good.  But he disobeyed God and did terrible things.'   'Why?' Emma asked.

Diana was silent for a moment, and then offered the best answer she could: 'Because his heart was full of hate, but God wants it to be a heart of love.'

Emma asked her mother: 'Will God change his heart? Can God change it to a heart of love?' 'We can pray for that sweetheart,' Diana said.  'We can pray that God changes his heart.'"

When Diana Butler Bass shared this story later in a sermon, afterward a parishioner grabbed her arm and said, "I don't want to forgive. I'm angry. I want to kill Osama bin Laden." While this parishioner's honesty was refreshing, her theology was deeply disturbing.

Praying for our enemies is central to our Christian life. Osama bin Laden, whatever horrible things he did, was a human being. The Bible tells us that all people are created in God's image and loved by God. Above all else, as Christians we forgive and we trust God to handle the rest.

To mark the fifteenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, St. Andrew's in a spirit of solidarity and humility, is hosting a blood drive.  The decision to hold a blood drive at church on this day was not coincidental, it was deliberate. On a day we associate with death, grief, and loss - at this church we acknowledge all of those things.

But the Christian story reminds us that death and alienation are never the end. Death is only a prerequisite for a resurrection. So today this church, is practicing resurrection - we are offering a biological part of ourselves - our blood, our life - that will help someone else live.

Our response to 9/11 is not judgment, it is not political, it is courageous - because our response is resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus Christ which casts aside all death. If you want to join us in this courageous proclamation, the blood van is just outside the church door.

I conclude with an image this morning of what now is in place where the North Tower of the World Trade Center once stood. It is a memorial fountain, where 26,000 gallons of water are pumped every minute, as water falls over forty feet of recessed granite into darkness below. The image of the water continually falling into that dark vacancy is evocative. The water to me is an image of God's mercy, always flowing continually, no matter how dark the surface it lands upon.  God's mercy is like that flowing water, rushing into the darkness, transforming it and redeeming it, always. AMEN.