11 September 2007

In Memoriam +

The homily delivered at St. Paul's, the Sunday after the terrorist attacks six years ago:

People loved by God, as I have listened to the discussion of Tuesday's events on TV this week, I've noticed a tension and a discrepancy. The President has said that not only the terrorists who did this heinous act must be held accountable for the devastation, but also any who gave them aid or support; anyone who knew it was going to happen and did not speak out to stop it will be held equally and fully responsible. And we all understand and agree with that. We remember last Sunday's Gospel - that the fifth commandment can be broken not only by actively hurting and harming our neighbor in his body, but also by not preventing harm and not protecting him.

But then the Media has to turn in anguish to God. He cannot be ignored in all of this. For decades they've all but pretended that he wasn't there and that normal life in America is life without God. Now suddenly God is back in fashion and even more is in the dock, as it were, and people are asking in anguish: "How could you, a God of love, allow this to happen?" And the answers that have arisen from the religious leaders of America I have found profoundly disturbing. Because there is a concerted effort to "get God off the hook." I have been cheered somewhat that the press hasn't allowed that. I watched Larry King Live the other night and he pressed home the point: but you say He's almighty. Then why?

The only answer that I have heard given was to skirt the question. To take dodges in the doctrine of man's free will. Well, of course, we believe that in matters like this people have free will. God did not force the terrorists to drive those planes into the Trade Center or the Pentagon. But if he did not force them to do that, if they did that of their own perverse and evil wills, is it not equally true that he could have thwarted their desire and that without violation to their free will he could have brought to nothing their action? Of course it is. And there's the rub, people loved by God. There's the rub.

We cannot and we dare not take the out offered by Rabbi Kushmann, that our God is indeed all loving, but - what a shame - not all powerful. We bow the knee before Him who said without equivocation: "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me." We bow the knee before Him who not only created all things, but who sustains them. We will not "let God off the hook." We need not. We know in our hearts the truth that our God did abandon the throne of the universe on Tuesday morning. We know in our hearts that He was then as ever governing all things. And we add in faith, governing them for the well-being of His people, of His Church, and of His world. And we know that our God knows how to use suffering to bring blessing, to take evil and turn it to good.

But we know this only by faith, which is always the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. There will never be a time when the way God governs the world appears to be wise to our eyes. It will always appear weak and foolish. That was true Tuesday as it was true two thousand years ago, when another act of terror was perpetrated - when the Lord of creation freely chose to let himself be crucified for the sins of the world. It will always appear foolish and weak to us that when God would choose to save the world, he would do so by utterly and completely entering into its pain and its sorrow and its anguish. That when God would rescue us from the horrors of hell, he would do so by sending His only Son into hell for us. That when God would lift up the fallen, he would do so by letting the load of sin fall upon himself so that he might bear a burden that none of us could bear.

Another thing that I find disturbing in the public discourse is the absence of that all important "r" word - repentance. That God in His wisdom and omnipotence would permit such a tragedy to come to our nation and to our people, surely ought to invite some self-examination on our part. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon - money and might. Have these been the gods we have been trusting in in this country? If so, we've been shown once and for all what frail and fragile gods we have taken for ourselves. How utterly incapable of helping in time of need. How did the Psalmist put it: "No king is saved by the multitude of an army; A mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy, To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, Because we have trusted in His holy name. Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, Just as we hope in You. (Ps 33:16-22)."

Today the Church of Jesus Christ gathers and speaks those awesome and unbelievable words. We will stand today before the altar and we will assert once again - with tears in our eyes if need be - that it is indeed meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The world wants to ask: "Are you nuts? What is there to give thanks for in all of this?" We are free to answer: in all of this we give thanks to God through Jesus Christ. Because He gave His life to free us from the consequences of our sin, from eternal death - so that death isn't the end. We give thanks to God for all those who were taken home to himself, who were delivered in an instant from this valley of sorrow. We give thanks to God for the wonderful image of His own goodness when men and women rescued others only to sacrifice their own lives. We give thanks to God for the fact that He has not and will not abandon us, but that in every sorrow He constant will remain. We give thanks to God for those who were rescued and for the incredible outpouring of love and service and courage. We give thanks to God that we can come before His throne and pour out our sorrows and confess our sins and idolatries and receive His forgiveness and strength to go on. We give thanks to God above all for the Body and Blood of our Lord which goes into us as the defeat of death and the promise of everlasting life - even as it went regularly and often into many who died on Tuesday.

In today's Gospel Jesus said: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Our treasure is nothing else than Jesus himself, our Living Lord who holds the universe in His hands - hands are marked forever with the scars of suffering. He does not owe to us nor has he promised to give to us an explanation of the ways He governs His world, but He has promised us that all things, all things, work together for the good of those who love him, whom he has called according to His purpose. Amen.


Randy Asburry said...

Great words of wisdom and comfort! I wish I could have heard them six years ago too.

William Weedon said...

Thanks, my friend. It was a horrible time, but the Word of God never fails to sustain us - and most especially IN the horrible times, eh?

Anonymous said...

The good Rabbi is opining much of our culture's view that God is indeed loving but is essentially powerless to intervene.

I have always found 1 Corinthians 15:23-25 to be compelling:

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. (ESV version)

All those powers and principalities who think they are "getting away with it" are in for a big surprise, as are those who think God has abdicated His reign.

J.G.F. said...

I reminded my people on September 16, 2001 that the terror attacks on our nation are not a sign of God's abandonment nor a denial of His omnipotence, but a reminder that Jesus is coming soon.