Most adults can remember exactly where we were 15 years ago today. It was a beautiful Tuesday morning here in PA and I was a new pastor in Lewisburg. That morning I was sitting in the choir loft talking with our organist and I will always remember the irony of that moment because we were talking about a very petty issue in the choir when the church secretary came in and told us that something terrible had happened in NYC. For many of us, the events and emotions of that day can come back easily when we see a picture or hear a story because the images are so powerful. I remember sitting at home and for the first time in my life being afraid to turn the TV on because up until the early afternoon I had not seen any video footage of what happened. I knew once I saw the video of planes crashing and buildings falling there would be no turning back.
I did turn the TV on and then after a few hours I remember telling myself I had to stop watching TV because the images were so intense. I took a long walk that afternoon and will always remember looking up into the sky and for the first time in my life realizing that there was absolutely nothing up there. There were no vapor trails of planes anywhere and I realized that this was the first and probably only time in my life that when I looked up into the sky that there was nothing up there but what God created. I actually spent a lot of time both during the day and night looking up at the sky because I found that thought so compelling.
We can all remember the events of that day and what we did in response to them, but I also hope we can remember the lessons learned on that day. One of the great things about being a pastor is that even if we don’t keep a journal, we do preach every week and if you want to know what most pastors are thinking about, you can read our sermons. So I went back and pulled out my sermons from September 16, 23 and 30 of 2001 and looked at what lessons we were learning after September 11th and I was struck by how those lessons are still need to guide our hearts and lives and decisions today.
Perhaps the most important lesson we learned on September 11th is that in the midst of the evil, horror and the chaos that we often see in our world, love prevails and love will always prevail. We live in a fallen world where evil is at work all around us. We often see chaos and confusion and yet right in the midst of our present darkness we also see the light and the power of God’s kingdom. The message Jesus preached at the beginning of his ministry was to repent, or turn to God, because the kingdom of God was near and in Jesus it was near.
Every where Jesus went, the power of God, the love of God, the grace of God and the truth of God was clearly seen and experienced. Jesus ruined every funeral he attended because he raised the dead. Everywhere he went, Jesus healed the sick. He restored sight to the blind and made the lame to walk. Jesus gave dignity to prostitutes and invited tax collects to follow him. Everywhere Jesus went he brought a little bit of the kingdom of God into this world and every time we make the choice to follow Jesus and live the way Jesus taught us to live we bring the kingdom of God into our world.
On September 11th, in the midst of the darkness we witnessed that day, the kingdom of God was near.
When rescue workers ran into buildings as other people were running out, the kingdom of God was breaking through.
When people carried those injured and handicapped down dozens of flights of stairs to safety and cared for one another on the streets, the kingdom of God was breaking through.
When shoe stores gave away shoes to people who had to walk miles to get out of the city, the kingdom of God was breaking through. When restaurants and grocery stores gave away food and water to those passing by and those who were helping at ground zero, the kingdom of God was breaking through.
And the there was the amazing story of the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland, population 10,000. (click onGander to watch the video of this wonderful town)
This is the kingdom of God breaking through. When communities came together to help and donate blood and give money and offer prays for one another, the kingdom of God was breaking through.
The lesson learned from September 11th that we need to remember is that the darkness of evil will never overcome the light of God. The hatred and division we see in our world cannot overcome the love of God and the love of God’s people. This is the foundation of our faith. This is our hope. The message of the cross and the empty tomb is that nothing can overcome the power and the love of God. The challenge for us is to make the choice moment by moment and day by day to follow Jesus so that the kingdom of God and the love and power of Jesus can continue to break into the world through us.
How does God want to bring the kingdom of God into the world through our lives? How can God use us to bring His power and light into our places of employment, into our school and community? How can we bring God’s kingdom into the issues we face as a state, and nation and world? Each one of us has the power to make a difference if we will follow Jesus and allow the light and love of God to flow through us.
Looking back on September 11th , there were three things that people needed: family, community and God. In talking about her experiences on that day, first lady Laura Bush said that the first thing she did was call her daughters to make sure they were ok. She called them to offer words of support and encouragement and then she called her mother to get words of support and encouragement. Everyone wanted to talk to their family that day. People from the airplanes and trapped inside the WTC didn’t call their bosses to talk about business they called their families to say I love you.
For weeks after September 11th we both heard and read those final phone calls and many of them have been included in books and at memorials, like this one.
“Hey Jules, this is Brian. Ah, listen… I’m on an airplane that has been hijacked… If things don’t go well, and they’re not looking good, I want you to know that I absolutely love you. I want you to do good, have good times, same with my parents. I’ll see you when you get here. I want you to know that I totally love you. Bye babe, hope I will call you.”
Brian Sweeny from United Airlines Flight 175.
Brian and hundreds of people like him who were able to call and leave messages for their families all said the same thing – I love you. The lesson from September 11th is that we need to remember and live out every day is to tell the people we love that we love them. Every day we need to say this to our parents and children. Every day we need to remind people how important they are to us and how much their love means to us. Communicating our love for people needs to be a priority every day and not just when we are facing a crisis. Perhaps a September 11th tradition should be to contact everyone in our family and say, I absolutely love you.
After contacting our families, people needed to come together as part of a larger community. Prayer vigils sprung up around the nation, joint churches services were held and people seemed to want to talk to their neighbors. Some of it was that we needed to talk and share our thoughts and feelings, some of it was finding ways to express our grief and pain and some of it was just the God given need we have to be together. God didn’t just create us to be part of a family, he also called us to be part of a larger community. God called Abraham to be the father of a nation. Jesus called together a team of followers and the Holy Spirit helped form the church so we see that the work of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, was to bring people together. September 11th awoke that need in us and we learned the importance of putting aside our difference and truly joining together as a community – large and small.
I wish we could awaken that need and respond to it without having to suffer through a national crisis. What a blessing it would be for a community to come together to simply acknowledge our need for each other. For me, that is one of the blessings of the Christmas Dinner we host each year. It is an opportunity for the community to come together to serve and celebrate. Last year part of my job was to welcome volunteers and it was wonderful to see families come to serve and people from beyond the church come and serve and to see everyone come together to help our neighbors. God created us to be part of larger communities and we are blessed when we come together for a common cause and to serve the common good.
We also needed God. People of all faiths turned to prayer on September 11th. Communities came together to pray. Our own government even came together and believe it or not they turned to God. After a moment of silence on Capitol Hill, over 150 members of congress broke into an impromptu singing of God Bless America. In times of distress, turning to God is often what people want and need to do, but the lesson to remember is that we need to turn to God every day and when we do – God is there. Psalm 46:1- was often used in the days around September 11th but it needs to be used every day.
A lot of people thought that the events of September 11th would wake people up when it comes to their faith and that church attendance would increase, but the reality was that it didn’t. People may have come together for a while but we soon forgot. We forgot that we needed God every day. We forgot that God wanted to bless us and help us and care for us every day and that he was willing and wanting to if we would just turn to Him. The lesson to remember is that we need God and the people of God everyday and we need to make our faith a priority in life. We will not drift into deeper faith, it only happens through intentional choices we make to put God first and be an active part of God’s work and mission and church in the world.
On September 11th, all flights were grounded and the day needs to remind us that we need to keep ourselves grounded and focused on what truly matters in life and those things are God, our family and the community in which we live. The greatest commandment given to us is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves and we need to make that kind of love a priority.
The last lesson to remember today and everyday is this, life is short and life is precious, so use your life to make a difference. About 3,000 had their lives cut short which means that tens of thousands of people had their lives forever changed. We learned that day that life is short and that life is very precious and we not only need to love one another and care for another and make sure we say those things and do those things every day, but we also need to use our lives to make a difference. People around the world wanted to make a difference in the days after September 11th. First responders from around the nation went to NY to be part of the rescue efforts. Rescue dogs from around the world went to help in the efforts. People sent food to the rescue workers and donated all kinds of goods to those in need. Money was donated to help people rebuild their lives and foundations were set up to care for the children of September 11th victims. Everyone wanted to make a difference.
A lesson to remember is that every day we should think about how we can give and work to make a difference. Blood is still needed so help at a blood drive. Food is still needed so walk in the Crop Walk. People all over are rebuilding after natural disasters so go on a mission trip. Youth in our community need support and encouragement so get involved with the Heidi Lingle Ride to raise money. It’s not just times of disaster and crisis that we need to think about making a difference, we need to think about it every day and find ways to make a difference right where we are. Again, this is part of what Jesus told us we needed to do with our lives. Jesus said, You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. What Jesus means by this is that we need to live our lives in such a way that we are making a difference. Salt enhances and preserves. Light brings hope and direction. Our lives need to make a difference.
There are many lessons to remember from 15 years ago today but what we really need to do is put these lessons into practice every day. Every day we can live out our faith in ways that bring in the kingdom of God. Every day we can work to connect with our family, our community and our God. Every day we can live our lives grounded in the commandment to love. Every day we can make a difference and every day we need to make a difference because life is precious and life is short. These are all lessons to remember today and they are lessons to live in every tomorrow God gives us.
Lessons to Remember
1. What lessons did you learn from the events of September 11th? Share those lessons with others. How successful are you in putting those lessons into practice every day?
2. In what ways can your actions help bring in the kingdom of God:
• At work
• At home
• In our schools
• In our community
• In the world
3. Take time this week to tell everyone in your family that you absolutely love them. Reach out to friends and neighbors to express your love, appreciation and care.
4. Turn to God every morning for strength and love. Read a Psalm each day to keep your focus on God. Suggested Psalms – Psalm 25, 27, 42, 46, 57, 63, 67.
5. What changes do you need to make because life is short and life is precious? Is there someone you need to forgive or ask someone to forgive you? Is there a step of faith you have been putting off?
6. Be salt and light this week and make a difference.
• Write a note of thanks and appreciation to first responders in our community.
• Donate Blood through the Red Cross.
• Give to the food bank.
• Volunteer with the schools or a community agency.
• Do a random act of kindness for a neighbor.