A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

What Should Pastors Say on the Tenth Anniversary of 9/11

As a pastor, I am pondering what to say this Sunday on the tenth anniversary of a "day that will live in infamy" (to turn a phrase from another event). It would probably be quite irresponsible for a pastor to preach this Sunday and not refer to 9/11. Those of us who have been entrusted with the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ need to say something because 9/11 will concern everyone's attention this weekend, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ should have something decisive to offer in our deliberations. So what should we pastors say?
First, let me reflect on what I think we should not say:
1) The sermon is not the time to simply echo what the talking heads and pundits are saying. If all I do is echo the thoughts of Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity, I have undermined the calling the church has affirmed for me as a preacher of the gospel.
2) I must not "politicize" 9/11 as an argument in support of the Democratic or Republican parties and their policies. Politicians on both sides of the political aisle are already posturing themselves. The church does not need pastors to do the same. If we want the Good News of Jesus to be irrelevant with nothing decisive to offer this Sunday, just sound like John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi.
3) We must not lose sight of the fact that the worship of God on Sunday is about God and not the nation state. Yes, the nation needs to mourn and reflect. We recognize that. But worship is about what God has done in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church in the world. If we make worship primarily about nation state and not God, we are guilty of idolatry.
4) On the other hand, we must not use this Sunday as an occasion to bash America and somehow blame the country for 9/11. Yes, like all nations, America has been less than perfect. We know that. But if we use this tenth anniversary to point out all of America's issues, no one will listen to us and rightly so. Not only would such words on Sunday be bad timing but to venture in that direction is simply stupid.
Now, what should I say:
1) First, I want to remind folks that there is indeed radical evil in the world, and because of that people commit heinous acts against other people. Moreover, when we reflect upon a day when such evil was committed, we need to do a "gut check" ourselves as to where and when we have been complicit in committing evil ourselves. The Bible portrays sin as a very seductive thing in which human beings become willing to participate even in the name of a moral cause. No one is immune from "Satan's snare,"--including Christians in America.
2) The Old Testament prophets used the occasion of Israel's national tragedies to remind God's people of their calling and raise the question of whether they were being faithful to the divine mandate. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 provides an opportunity for preachers to raise the question as to whether or not the people of God, the Church, is fulfilling its mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We do this not because we think the church is somehow responsible for 9/11, but because such evil and tragedy remind us that God calls us to be present in the midst of such times and that we must never forget the mission to which we have been called.
3) That leads me to my next concern. This Sunday Christians need to remember that the church has been called to be a suffering presence in this world. The suffering of others is not to be kept at bay. Christians are to enter into that suffering, just as Christ entered into our suffering on the cross. We are to enter the suffering of those who still mourn the death of loved ones these ten years later, and we are to enter into the suffering of all who who have suffered in some form because of that terrible day.
4) This Sunday is a day to honor the courageous-- firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and others who put their lives at risk (many losing their own lives) for the sake of others. C.S. Lewis said that courage was not one of the virtues, but the quality necessary to inhabit the virtues in our lives. Such examples of courage remind us that Christian faithfulness too requires courage-- the courage to live rightly, to act justly, and to reflect the image of Jesus Christ in this world, and to give our lives if necessary for the cause of the gospel.
5) Finally, this Sunday is an appropriate time to remind God's people that in Jesus Christ God plans to put this world to rights, and that evil will, in God's own time, be defeated-- the evil that impinges upon us and the evil we perpetrate. Despite what happens in life, in the end, God will get God's way.
I'm sure there are other things that can be said as well and certain words that should be avoided. I'm interested in what other preachers are pondering when it comes to this Sunday's sermon and the tenth anniversary of 9/11. You are welcome to comment.


John Partridge said...

I'm thinking along the lines of questions that we still ask in the aftermath.

Why do bad things happen?

Does God care? (of course he does).

Where do we find strength when the world seems to be falling apart?

How should we respond to our enemies (people who hate us)?

This also ties into this week's lectionary passage from Matthew 18:21-35

Gary Lyn said...

Thank you for your thoughts. At First Christian of Norman, the themes will revolve around forgiveness and reconciliation, especially what is uniquely Christian about those. Our local ministerial fellowship has put together a community event. It is an interfaith dialogue and worship. We will have a time to recognize first responders. We have a local Baptist minister, the president of the Islamic Society of Oklahoma City, and Brad Hirschfield, a Jewish rabbi, coming in for a forum moderated by a professor of religious studies from OU. We will end with prayer by children from all three of the faiths. All of these feel like ways to commemorate the events of 9-11 in a way that is Christian, honors the memory of those events, and yet recognizes that it has been ten years since then.
I know that it is much on the mind of people. The media is filled with so much about it that it can feel overwhelming. I think that's why doing something that is expression of Christian identity is important. God's blessing on you on that day.,

David said...

In March 2002 Friends Journal published a brief essay of mine, "The Silence of Holy Saturday." It will be included as a chapter in my next book. As I read through it again, it still reflects my thoughts concerning September 11 and the importance of silence in face of a lot of chatter.


Clay Knick said...

On 9-11-01 I committed myself to exploring the depths of scripture and tradition for a better way, a better narrative or story than what we saw that day. I've come to believe the only way that makes any real sense is the Jesus way. That's what I'm preaching Sun. It is not the way of violence that overcomes evil, but the way of suffering love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Matt Judkins said...

Allan, I've been wanting to read someone's thoughts on this, and yours were really helpful. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I think it is important to touch on tragedy, not only in 911, but everyday tragedy..suicide, death from cancer or a tragic accident, death of a child..all these tragedies are in need of consoling out hearts which is only found in the character of God and His promises in His word. If we dont' cling to these things, we have no hope. The Lord's teaching me to not be wise in my own eyes (Isaiah), but TRUST in the all-wise, all-knowing God who does care, does comfort us, is with us, etc.