What follows are remarks I shared this morning during worship with the congregation I pastor with my wife:
Today marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. It was a moment that remains etched in our memories as a time of deep uncertainty. It is a moment that few will ever forget where they were and how they felt when it happened. It was a moment in which no one knew quite what to say, much less what to do. Still, it seems, no one is quite sure what to do or say in the wake of such tragedy. So this morning, I come not knowing exactly what to do or say other than to acknowledge the darkness that came ten years ago and the darkness that continues to come. That a decade of war followed the attack is a fact of history, and, regardless of one’s personal views on the subject, it is clear that many terrible consequences have resulted from the 2001 attacks and subsequent responses—lives lost, property destroyed, fears spread, anger increased, divides expanded, suspicions aroused, hostility amplified, debts incurred. It was a terrible day and it is a terrible day, still, for a nation and a world that continues to be torn apart by the wake of the attacks.
Every tragic manifestation of evil offers a choice and demands a decision. The greater the evil, the greater the difficulty, but the question is the same—how do you respond? For us, the question is, how do you respond in a way faithful to the life and teachings of Jesus, the Christ? The only words of wisdom I can offer, the only words of guidance I can give are not mine. They are the words of the one who, even while suffering and dying at the hands of humanity’s injustice, prayed for forgiveness for those responsible for his death, which is us all.
- “You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ but I say to you, ‘if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”
- “You have heard it said, ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
If we’re truly honest, it’s a ridiculous and appalling thing to suggest in the wake of events like those of September 11th. And yet, it is the path set before us without qualification, without loopholes. It is the way, the truth and the life by which Jesus lived, toward which Jesus pointed and of which Jesus somehow is for us, in us, amongst us and, by some mysterious grace, through us in our better moments. It’s a terrifyingly difficult and agonizingly foolish response, but the alternative seems to be the triumph of evil, of darkness, of hatred, of death, of separation, which is more terrifying and agonizing still.
Every moment of tragedy in which evil is made manifest offers us this same choice—to follow the way of the Christ about whom we sing, to whom we offer allegiance and through whom we seek to become more human; or to follow the way of someone or something else. The wise folly of God. The foolish wisdom of the world. These are the options that face us, and which one we choose seems to be of utmost important in the most horrific moments that life brings.
It is my hope and my faith that the way of Jesus, which seems utter rubbish, complete lunacy and inexplicable folly on days like September 11th, is the way to the truth and life of God too often cast aside as naivety, is the path offered by the powerful wisdom of God too often condemned as weakness, and is the hope of new creation found in the folly of using one’s final breath to voice a prayer of forgiveness for those who know not the evil they do.
As difficult and painful as it is, this is the only response I know that remains faithful to the way of Jesus when we are faced with the “9/11s” of our existence. “God, forgive, because they, because I, because we, because none of us know what we are doing.” I believe this is the truest statement, the most honest prayer and the most Christ-like response on such occasions, even when, especially when, it is hardest to make our lips form the words.