Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Remembering 9/11: "Give Us Tomorrow"

Note: I shared these words on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks when our community gathered for a service of remembrance.

"Looking back, I realize it was the beautiful day that killed us."

These are the words of Richard Picciotto, a grizzled and grieving New York City fire battalion commander. His book, Last Man Down, tells the story of Picciotto's four hours trapped in the rubble of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Picciotto believes that if it had been gray or foggy or overcast on Septembr 11, there's no way the terrorists could have flown those planes. Not on that day, anyway. All up and down the East Coast it was the same; still winds, blue skies, not a cloud in sight. Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C., all enjoying an absolutely gorgeous, late-summer day.

How well we remember, the beauty of the day and the horror of the events.

We gather together today, on the first anniversary of September 11, to remember, to think back, to recollect, to memorialize, to analyze and to pledge to one another that we will never forget. But as Christians, we do not gather to  remember in the sense of simply recollecting an important event from the past.

No, our approach is different, and it is deeply and distinctly rooted in the biblical idea of remembrance - the approach that Jesus took when he said, "Do this in remembrance of me." In the Christian faith, remembrance brings an event from the past into the present - it recalls an event in such a way that it has a powerful effect on the here and now.

Think of communion, the meal that reminds us of the gruesome, gory death of the Son of God, the tragic breaking of his body and the spilling of his blood, not in a metal tower but on a wooden cross. When we remember Jesus at his table, we believe that he is present with us, present in a powerful way, transforming our todays and our tomorrows.

Something similar should be happening right now. As we remember September 11, we should be focusing on how the events of last year can shape this year, and how our memory of the past can transform our vision of the future.

No doubt we have been changed, each one of us. The world is not the same place as before. Our world is more breakable. Life is more fragile. Time is more precious. And hopefully, our faith is more real.

On this first anniversary of September 11, we are a wiser people, no longer naive about our peace and security and no longer pretending to be immune from the pain and suffering that plagues so much of our world. Now we recognize the lethal threat of unbridled hatred, fanaticism and bigotry. You and I are wiser about life and death, and perhaps wiser about the reason we are on this earth in the first place, wiser about the purpose of our lives.

Some antique words nearly lost to us entirely, have been rediscovered and dusted off, and now they take on a new luster and shine for us. Words like life and liberty. Old words like courage and sacrifice. Almost forgotten words like duty and honor and citizen. Precious words like family and faith. Words like these have been redefined for us, unforgettably portrayed for us in the dust and debris, in the twisted steel and the smoldering holes, in the folded flags and the fatherless children.

Our boys and girls have seen with their own eyes that heroes and patriots are not just found on the pages of their history books. Many are walking among us today. Some are here with us this evening.

Americans are a peace-loving people, not easily or often provoked. We do not take lightly the prospect of war and the loss of American lives. Yet, from the smoky shadows of September 11, countless voices cry out for justice and our hearts long for a safe, secure world. War must be waged that such wars might no longer be necessary. We wage war to win the blessings of peace.

Our first Commander-in-Chief, George Washington, once spoke these words to his army of patriots, words that ring true for our country today. General Washington said:

"You took the good things for granted - now you must earn them again. For every right that you cherish, you have a duty which you must fulfill. For every hope that you entertain, you have a task that you must perform. For every good that you wish to preserve, you will have to sacrifice your comfort and your ease. There is nothing for nothing any longer."

Such is the lesson we have learned again in this past year. There is nothing for nothing any longer. There is no peace without perseverance. There is no security without diligence. There is no courage without a cost. There is no service without sacrifice. And, there is no faith without following, no faith in God without following Christ.

Our highest calling in life is not the call of citizenship. It is the call to discipleship. It is the call of a humble carpenter who went about doing good. It is the call of the Christ who said:

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for me will find it. . . . Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Our greatest need in this hour is not force, but faith. Not power, but prayer. Not revenge, but repentance. Not patriotic fervor, but humble submission to God.

Margaret Higgins was a war correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner during the Korean Conflict. She recounted an episode of the Fifth Marines who made up part of an eighteen-thousand-man force in combat with one hundred thousand enemy troops.

Higgins described an early morning incident on a very cold morning. The temperature was well below zero, and weary, half-frozen marines stood beside their muddy vehicle eating their breakfasts from tin cans. She spied one huge marine eating cold beans with a trench knife. His uniform was frozen stiff, and his face covered with a scruffy beard and crusts of mud.

Higgins posed a question to the marine. "If I were God and could grant you anything you wished, what would you most like?" The marine peered down into his can of beans for a long moment. Then he raised his head and replied, "Give me tomorrow."

Give me tomorrow. It is a noble thought and a worthy prayer for only God holds tomorrow.

Only the Most High, only the Holy One sees and searches the hearts of all people.

Only the Almighty weighs in the scales of His immutable justice the actions of all nations and men.

Only the Lord God presides over the rise and fall of tyrants and terrorists.

Only the Eternal One, the Ancient of Days, holds the destiny of every land and every leader in His omnipotent hand.

King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Only God holds tomorrow.

And so, let this be our prayer for those who survived, for those who have suffered grievous loss, for those who lay down their lives for others, for the love of country and the cause of freedom, and for all who are struggling to find faith for this day, we pray, "God, give us tomorrow."

One year ago we woke up to a beautiful day, and it nearly killed us. Tonight, as we remember those horrors, we can embrace the hard lessons of that day, we can renew our commitment to the cause of freedom, and can rekindle our faith in the God who holds tomorrow.

With God's help, the beautiful days to come will be full of life, not death.

"Our Father God, grant to us comfort for our grief, faith for our fears, hope for our despair, mercy for our failures, courage for our struggle, strength for our task, and one day, peace for our world. In the name of Jesus. Amen."

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