17th Sunday after Pentecost; 15th Anniversary of 9/11/01 Attacks
September 11, 2016
“Healing the Wounds”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today, as we commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the attacks of September 11th, is the Gospel lesson from John 20.
My dear friends,
We are here today because we are still wounded. All of us. What happened on Tuesday, September 11th, will forever define a generation and a nation. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard the news? If you’re old enough, I know you do. And even after 15 Septembers, it still hurts. It hurts when we remember the images…the horror…the pain…the people lost…the people responsible. And, like any good doctor, don’t we first need to be triaged? What exactly are our wounds?
Grief is the most obvious. It is a deep, abiding wound that will be with us for many years, even after 15 years. Grief is the tide in the Gulf or on the Ocean: always there, cannot be stopped, and sends waves of emotion that crash down in the wake of death or loss. It will never again be possible for any in this room to see the New York skyline or watch15-year-old video without having that wound opened and its pain felt. You may not be grieving the events of 9-11, but maybe today your grieving over the loss of a spouse or certain abilities. Maybe you’ve lost hope. Grief is a wound that does not always heal itself. Grief requires a physician’s care.
Fear is a wound that will not go away easily either. After the 9/11 attacks, people were afraid to fly and afraid to be away from loved ones. Over time that fear went away…or did it? When you travel, aren’t you always looking out of the corner of your eye at fellow passengers ready to identify possible terrorists? Across America we’ve adopted a “see something, say something” practice because we fear another bomb…another gun…another attack. That’s how TERRORism works. It’s been 15 years…and we’re still afraid, aren’t we? Maybe you’re not afraid of a terrorist, but maybe you’re afraid for your health or well-being or your financial future. Fear requires a physician’s care.
Then there’s Anger. This wound was as predictable as the sunrise or sunset. As a nation we have never gotten over our anger at the ethnicity and religion of people who carried out the 9/11 attacks. Before September 11th, most people had virtually no clue about Islam and couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map. 9/11 happened when I was a Vicar in Iowa and we ended up studying Islam for 16 weeks after the attack. We were angry at Islam and Muslims, angry at Osama-bin-Laden, angry at the hijackers, angry at those who allowed this attack to happen. Maybe you’re not angry with Islam, but you may be angry at our own government, certain candidates, your family’s substance abuse that is getting out of control, or maybe angry with a neighbor/friend. Anger requires a physician’s care.
Then there is the wound of Doubt. I don’t mean, “Gee, I don’t think the Bucs will be playoff contenders this year.” I mean faith-shaking, belief-busting doubt. Doubt undermines all the rest of the wounds. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, people wanted to know the answer to the unanswerable question: “Where was God? Why, God, would you allow something like this to happen?” And since that awful day 15 years ago we have had school shootings and night club shootings and bombings, and police/civilians shooting each other. The question never goes away…why? When you’re wrestling in a comfortable living room or college classroom with the classical arguments about the existence of God or at least whether God really gives a rip about what’s happening down here, that’s one thing. But when planes start flying into skyscrapers atomizing hundreds of people instantly and causing 2,996 deaths, then the argument takes on a very serious tone. Doubt has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it, and if that is a wound you still bear, please know you are not alone. And also please know that there is a Physician who wishes to care for you and for this wound as well.
The Physician in this case is the one whose victory over death we remember and celebrate every week before and after the 9/11 attacks. The Great Physician – Jesus – desires that each of us, his disciples, his patients, bring our wounds to him all of the time in the expectation that he will heal, he will restore, and he will give life—and that more abundantly.
Hijackers and extremists who are so dedicated to death take their own lives when they decide the time is right for others to die. They take their lives for death and find it a noble, glorious way to do but, truth be told, it is not. “Jihad” (holy war) may as well be Arabic for “fancy lie.” In a way that didn’t seem too glorious to the world, Jesus gave up his life for life, and the last word was life restored. It is a word of restoration, not revenge; love, not hate. Not “allahu akbar” but “tetelastai,” “it is finished.” Because of that life restored, we come today to the Great Physician, who comes to us. We sinners come grieving, fearful, angry, and doubting. And he invites us to touch his wounds. In Word and Sacrament, He comes with his wounds. Through his hands, his feet, and his side – spiked and speared – He brings his wounds to say that it’s all right to be wounded. Because of your sin you will ALWAYS be wounded and never perfect. But Jesus is perfect FOR you; you may not be perfect but you are forgiven and loved by God, our Great Physician.
He knows the wounds: our grief, our anger, our fear, our doubt. And so he extends to us, as he did to Thomas, his wounded hands. He invites us to touch his wounded side. He calls us to remember the cross on which he died. He died for us—even for those in and around the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93 that Tuesday 15 years ago. Where was God? He was right there: loving, serving, strengthening, forgiving, and saving.
His invitation is the same as it was to Thomas, a truly wounded man as well. First: “Peace be with you.” In your grief, and anger, your fear and your doubt. Peace. And then, “Reach out and know that I am near. Do not doubt, but believe.”
Wounded as we are, we, too, will whisper with Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”
“My Lord and my God,” Thomas said. It was a fine confession. Today, that can be said by those who bring their wounds to the cross. The Great Physician bids us come unto him—weary, heavy-laden, and wounded. Come…and he will give us forgiveness, salvation, and life amid the grief, the fear, the anger, and even the doubt.
Happy Patriot’s Day everyone. Amen.