It was early Tuesday morning; I had just finished exercising at the Y. As I left a desk clerk told me a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Trade Towers. They did not know how large the plane was or how many were injured. We both hoped the deaths would be few.
From there I went to the sermon group that has been meeting on Tuesdays for over 20 years. That day we were meeting at Christ Lutheran, on the north side of Greensboro. We had just started studying the lessons appointed for the next Sunday when a police officer came into the room to ask Pastor Shellaway if he could go into the church and pray. Dwight said,” Sure, but tell me what is happening.” “Two large 747’s have crashed into the Twin Towers in New York on purpose. Another plane has purposely crashed into the Pentagon building, and a third was brought down by the passengers in Pennsylvania.”
As a group we were filled with shock and dismay and asked the officer if we could go to the altar and pray with him, and we did.
Afterwards we decided each of our churches would separately meet and conduct a service for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer.
The appointed prayer that evening asked us to reflect on sin and ask for God’s forgiveness. The Gospel gave a far more hopeful tone. “Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you…”
After the worship we gathered to talk and pray together. I will never forget one man who said, “I had no idea anyone in the world hated us that much.”
Where you that day 21 years ago?
(After some conversation and sharing I raised the next question). “Where was God that day?”
I have asked that question several times in my adult life, the days when JFK, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King were assassinated. All three of these deaths happened while I was in seminary. Just a few years in the parish less than a hundred miles from Kent State I was devastated by the students who were killed.
Where was God?
The gospel lesson for the day of humiliation and prayer has given me the courage to ask such questions. My God has shoulders big enough to handle my upset and pain.
How do you deal with the question?
How might the scripture passage, “I am convinced God works for good through all things for those how love him”, speak to such a day?
Or where was God when Jesus was dying on the Cross?
Could it be that some tragedies are our own fault? Could some tragedies be the result of human sin, and often our response is to even greater sin, such as was done to the Japanese community in America after Pearl Harbor?
What role might forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation have a role is dealing with such moments?
The one thing of which we can be certain is, God is with us no matter what. Whatever happens, if we allow God to take us on our journey through grief and humiliation and learn from it, we will experience the resurrection of a new life that did not exist for us before.
(If you are reading this sermon that is intended to be a dialogue, I hope you will let me know some of the questions and answers that emerged for you. My email is: email@example.com. Or, if you need to talk on the phone, my number is: 336-501-2841.
Shalom: Pastor Bernie Hess