given on September 11,2016–15 year anniversary of 9-11
Fifteen years ago, would you have expected to be living in the cultural setting in which we now live? Our safe world crumbled before our very own eyes through the camera lens. We stood fixed and awed by the horrific sights flashing into our own view through the screens at home or at work. Or maybe the news came by word of mouth shared the news that you could not fathom, yet the speaker was someone you trusted.
At that very moment, did you know what you believed? Did you believe we were always safe and protected from the horrors of war within our country’s boundaries? Did you believe that nothing bad could ever destroy your sense of safety in your own home? Did you ever think you would question God when bad things happen?
In times like we live now, when violence is part of our daily life whether through a personal experience or whether through the various screens in front of us witnessing the world’s activity, do we know what we believe? These are the very times when we need to know, with confidence, that God is real and is present in all that happens on this earth. Do we believe that God is real? Do we believe that God is present now as much as he ever has been or will be? Do we know what we believe?
The media blitz today will cause us to relive the horrors of 9-11-2001. We will remember where we were, what we were doing, and we will review the memories that wrap around that morning. For some, the process is simply a historical review; for others it is a painful realization of the innocence that was lost; some will have a personal connection to victims of that tragedy while others will have a personal connection to the heroes of that day, and all of us will still go to bed tonight and get up in the morning to the new day despite all the tragedy of that day.
Through all of this reliving the experience, it is important for us to know what we believe. Certainly we have political beliefs and that is part of who we are, but politics change every couple of years and after 15 years our political beliefs may reflect the cultural changes that we are now experiencing. But what about your faith or theology? Do you know what you believe?
Do you believe in God?
Do you believe in Jesus?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?
Easily we answer that question with a ‘yes,’ but do we fully understand what it means to believe in a triune God? Yet, what we say may not be what we really understand and believe. God is such an extreme abstract concept that defining God is impossible. There are no limits as there is no physical body. God is as real as the air we breathe. God is as visible as the sun that rises in the morning and sets in the evening. Yet, we all struggle to grasp the full meaning of God.
In casual conversation, we say we believe there is God, yet when pressed for an explanation of how we know, we become shaky in our theology. We try to explain, but somehow we end up struggling to make sense of it. Our 21st century minds want concrete evidence and logical explanations, but we are human and our capability to understand does have limits.
One printed resource is available, the Bible. Do you know what you believe about the Bible? Even if you struggle to share the arguments that there is an omnipotent God who created heaven and earth, the documentation can be vague especially if you do not know what you believe about the authority of the Bible.
Some argue that the Bible is the God-given words that man has recorded. The words are literally God’s words. Yet, consider the arguments against such a belief. If these were just God’s words, why are the different books attributed to different writers? Why do the words of the Old Testament read so differently than the New Testament? How come the Bible changed over the millenniums?
The Word is The Church’s designated literature that has recorded, preserved, translated, interpreted, and shared the story of God and his creation. Human decisions have created the book we use to share the history, the literature, the music, and the stories that The Faithful have saved to explain, to preserve and to share God’s story. Humans have tested the Word and they have joined with others to discuss, to argue, to preserve the understanding of God and his relationship with all humans wherever they are around the globe.
The Word is the best effort of human scholars to provide an instrument that details the story of God and his faithful people. Do you believe that The Word and these scholars have accurately and appropriately preserved God’s story so that it is considered holy and the ultimate book of reference for all time so that even us today can turn to the pages and know that God is real. God is good. And God knows how difficult it is to live in a world filled with evil.
During these past 15 years, our lives have changed. We still live where we have lived. We still have family that we love. We still get up and go to work when we need to. We still follow the same basic life patterns we did prior to 9-11, but life changed on that fateful day. For some, faith was shaken and some turned away from God. Others found God in the midst of the disaster and chose to build up their faith serving their neighbors in new and different ways. These are the ones who know what they believe and they step out in faith to serve.
For 15 years, we continue to live the same lives that our ancestors lived. They took comfort in the words of the 23rd Psalm, and so do we. Listen to the words:
The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
4 Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
The words do sound different than those we may first have learned, but these are the words that remind us that God is with us always and will provide for our needs as long as we remain faithful. And these six verses are just a tiny selection of the words God shares with us to strengthen us. Do you believe that?
Yet God’s story continues. There is more to God than the creator and the figure we meet in the Old Testament. There is a second phase to believing in God and that is the incarnation. Seldom do we use the term incarnation in casual conversation or in explaining who Jesus is, but incarnation is close to defining God in concrete terms. The Old Testament figure of God steps into a human form as the real person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ was born and had to grow up through the developmental process just like every single human has since God created man and woman. The organic body was born an infant and had to physically grow up, be taught, and develop into an adult before he could begin ministry that transformed the world—at that time. Do you know what you believe about Jesus, too? Or do you question the reality of God’s immaculate conception and birth as the son of Mary and Joseph?
Knowing what you believe about Jesus as a real, historical figure helps make understanding the literature of the New Testament more logical. The written records can document the reality of the figure much like the 20th century’s history records the reality of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King II, Nelson Mandela and Sister Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa. Still these historical figures do not exemplify the one difference that separates Jesus the Son of God from Jesus the son of Man—the resurrection.
Jesus, the man, was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The concrete body was destroyed in the most inhumane manner known during that time period. Hang the person on a wooden cross and let them die slowly in the elements. The body could not withstand the physical stress of gravity and nature’s elements. Man destroyed the body so marvelously created by God; but Jesus, as the son of God, could not be destroyed.
Jesus was God so the body used was not a permanent vessel for God. Jesus arose from the grave and God continued the story. Do you know what you believe? Do you know that Jesus is the same as God? Do you know that the human body was just a vessel that no longer was needed to continue God’s work? Do you know that God is with you always?
Fifteen years have passed since we witnessed the destruction of the Twin Towers. We watched in horror as the explosions happened, as the second plane targeted the second tower. We saw the flames. We saw the people fleeing. We saw the walls come tumbling down. We believe because we trusted what was shown to us and what we were told. But, do we believe God’s story?
We have the ability to trust what is carried across the audio and visual air waves even though we do not see the waves. We also know that at times we “hear” something in our minds that we accept as a truth even though we do not have concrete evidence that a message was sent. God talks to us by one other form of himself—the Holy Spirit.
When we accept the reality of God as our father/creator and his son Jesus Christ, we join the faithful. God acknowledges us as one of his faithful and gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence with us. The Holy Spirit becomes our system of operating as God’s presence on this earth. The Holy Spirit provides us understanding of God and the Word. The Holy Spirit shows us God in the midst of tragedy.
As we witnessed the events of 9-11 unfold, we also witnessed the Holy Spirit. The horror was countered with prayers of the faithful. The tragedy was answered by the actions of first responders and even of strangers reaching into the nightmare and helping one another in love. In the midst of terror, God is present. As the stories are shared on this anniversary, do you know what you believe?
You believe in God, the father, the son and the Holy Spirit. You believe because you witness God in action day in and day out. You believe because you manage life’s challenges with all the strength God gives you when you cannot even imagine taking one more step. And, when all is done, God is there, too. God sees that your every need is met one way or another. God lets you lie down to rest. God sits beside you while you cry. God jumps for joy when you heal or when you achieve a new goal.
You do know what you believe. Today and every day, celebrate the life God gives you. Today, celebrate that God was there at the Twin Towers 15 years ago. Today celebrate that you are part of God’s faithful; and that when life ends here, you will continue living within the presence of God forever.
We all too often live in the depths of a valley,
yet we believe that the mountaintop reveals your glory.
There is sorrow in so many lives today
because they remain trapped in disbelief.
We pray that you remain beside those struggling
to discover the glory of living in the light of your Son.
We offer ourselves to you to do as you call us to do
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
May we demonstrate the power of grace
to lift one another up to the mountaintop.
May we know that because we believe,
we can be agents of change in this world
challenged by evil in so many ways.
Thank you for loving us so much
that you sent your Son to show us the Way.
Thank you for believing in us, too,
granting us the Holy Spirit to do your will. –Amen