Try as I might I have not been able to focus on the Biblical texts for this morning because of the day and what happened 15 years ago. At a luncheon at the Senior Center on Friday, Nick DiLeo, Fire Marshall for Glen Cove, spoke for 15-20 minutes about his remembrances of that day and about how first responders are trained to do what none of us would consider good common sense, namely to run into a burning building. Obviously there are numerous ceremonies being held this weekend and especially this evening to honor and remember all those who lost their lives in that tragedy and those who heroically responded, but many of whom continue to struggle with major health issues.
Nick said that 9/11 is something we both want to always remember, but also don’t like to think about. We don’t want to talk about those who were lost, the horror of watching those two magnificent and symbolic towers fall, the added pain of seeing the Pentagon damaged significantly and then hearing of the valor of those men on the flight that ended abruptly in the fields of Shanksville, PA.
I imagine it also reminds people of a certain age of the tragedy and shock of Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941. These days that “live in infamy” haunt our history and stir our sense of determination to rise up, go on and overcome our sorrows and fears by building a better future.
There have been many different responses to 9/11. First people from around the country came to help in any way they could. Our nation became closer and compassion, patience, courage and generosity were the order of the day. It was heartwarming to be part of this wonderful national family. Also we heard from friends around the world who offered condolences, support, resources and encouragement in our darkest hours. Globally we got closer to being a family.
Next we responded by sending military troops to Iraq where it was believed the terrorists were hiding. Saddam Hussein became the number one target, but I remember a numbered ‘wanted list’ and the group called Al Quaida, was quickly identified as our enemy. Then Afghanistan was seen as part of the enemy territory and it became a battleground. Arabic people in general became suspect, even US citizens of Arabic descent were looked on with suspicion. Again reminiscent of the internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. Fear and distrust became prevalent.
There were voices calling for calm, for a more peaceful, thoughtful, considered response. Some of the victims families even spoke words of forgiveness, wanting to avoid the rush to war and prejudice, but they were too few and too easily cast aside. As days, weeks, and months passed, the plans to rebuild at Ground Zero started to take shape. Of course there were debates about how to maintain the place as hallowed ground, while still moving forward to show that we were not going to be defeated by terrorism. Yet when a group of Muslims asked to create a mosque near the site, harsh words of anger and distrust rose quickly. Not down here where so many died at the hands of Islamic terrorists.
Muslims, Sikhs and others who ‘looked’ Arabic or who practiced Islam or dressed ‘different’ became targets of insults, harassment and even physical attacks. The Department of Homeland Security was formed and police presence was increased at all kinds of venues where large numbers of people could be found. “If you see something, say something” has become a most familiar phrase, even our children know it. Other places in the world have been attacked and travel has become complicated by security measures of all kinds.
Fifteen years. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but boy has life changed. On the one hand we have elected our first African American President, twice, and on the other, we find ourselves back in the days of heightened racial tensions. Guns have become as prevalent as wallets and purses. Violence has seemingly become the response of choice for far too many people, especially young people. Despite a serious economic recession, most likely brought on by the instability of the market following 9/11, nevertheless we have rebounded considerably with an ever lowering unemployment rate and a stock market that has gone higher than ever before.
Technology has expanded at a breath-taking rate, even to the point of soon having driverless cars, (and that, I must admit, scares me to death) yet we have daily internet scams, identity theft, hacks into healthcare systems, banking and credit card systems and so forth, making life evermore fragile and frightening. Privacy has been set aside in favor of security in almost every arena. And with the current campaign season, one wonders what, if any, of our founding ideals remain intact. One would think, with the rhetoric being thrown around, that we are all well-versed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Does our faith provide any answers? Any comfort? Any direction? Even our own Christian faith seems to have been hijacked by some to grant authority to those who want to build walls and divide humanity into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Who’s in and who’s out. Jesus, responding to the sneers and criticisms of Pharisees and other religious leaders of his day, because he spent time and even ate with tax collectors and sinners, the ‘out’ group, the ones who no one was to associate with because they posed a threat to their purity, offered two similar parables about things lost and then found.
There was the lost sheep, for whom the shepherd left the 99 others, who was the object of a diligent, even treacherous search through the wilderness, and when found was the object of celebration and rejoicing. Not to make any judgment about the searcher, whom we can probably identify as God, there was the parallel parable about the lost coin. The woman spent all her energy sweeping and looking high and low for the one lost coin. I’m sure we can all identify with efforts to find something we’ve lost. And when it was found she called friends and neighbors to celebrate and rejoice at the positive result of her search.
And Jesus’ point in these stories? There is no ‘in group’ with God and no ‘out group’. All people are important to God and worthy of being found, drawn in, welcomed and loved. It isn’t fear or judgment that is the foundation of our faith, but love and hope and forgiveness. When we gather around the Lord’s Table we gather as one human family. That is our strength, our hope, our guidance. We face our fears by embracing our faith and being imitators of our Lord. Even when our security is threatened, as Jesus’ security was threatened, even then, our faith leads us to our future, to life for all of creation.