FORGING AHEAD - - MY COUSIN TIM"S SERMON-
SUNDAY AFTER THE WTC TRAGEDY IN NEW YORK
September 16, 2001
Anytime the phone rings early in the morning at my home, I'm a little bit apprehensive and hesitate to answer it -- it might be bad news! It rang Tuesday morning a little after six. It was a member of my family telling me to turn on the TV, because something terrible had happened. It was bad news.
Indeed, something terrible was happening. Like many of you, I sat with my eyes glued to the TV screen, mesmerized by what was unfolding before my eyes. For a moment I wondered if it was real, or if it was just a special effects scene out of a movie. But even as the enormity and significance of what I was seeing was just beginning to register, it got even worse. It wasn't just one airplane, it was two airplanes ... and they were loaded with passengers. Then there was news of a third and fourth aircraft. And finally, as we sat watching a live picture on our TV screens, the World Trade Center's two towers came crashing down. Moments before there were real, live people waving towels from windows in the upper floors on live TV, signaling for help.
In desperation, some were even jumping from the burning building. Then, in a cloud of dust, twisted steel, and shattered glass thousands of lives were snuffed out in a matter of seconds.
The words "terrible" and "bad" really don't describe it. Somehow, those words just don't seem strong enough to express it. It was worse than terrible and worse than bad. Perhaps it isn't too strong to use words like "evil", "diabolical", or even "satanic".
If the events last Tuesday do nothing else, they remind us all of the very real presence of evil in this world. As much as the world wants to believe that all people are basically good, and human nature is basically good, and that stories about Satan and evil are just medieval myths, this week has shown the contrary. Sin is real.... Evil is real.... Satan is real. And there are people in this world deceived by Satan's lies who yield control to evil power in their lives. It's hard to describe the actions of those diabolical.
Someone might say that anyone who would do such a thing isn't in their right mind. Some might speculate, "It must have been a form of insanity or mental illness". But its not just a mental illness that causes teams of hijackers to simultaneously fly loaded passenger jets into buildings in such a cool and calculated manner...... with an utter disregard for the value of human life. It was sinful people who had been lied to by the father of all lies and deceived byte greatest deceiver of all - Satan.
Our human nature has a need to try to make sense out of it all. We look around for an explanation. We wonder why it happened. We watch TV or listen to the radio, waiting to hear some news of the investigation or new developments that might help us understand. Everywhere I went this week people were talking about it. We look around for people and things to blame.
And somewhere along the line, people sometimes get around to wondering how God fits into all this. We might be tempted to question God's sense of fairness and justice in allowing such a terrible thing to happen.
After all, isn't He in control? We wouldn't be the first people in history to wonder if God abandoned His people, or question God's profession of love for this world. God has heard all that frustration from His people before.
Ultimately, there is not an explanation as to why God allowed such an evil thing to happen that would satisfy us. As the risk of trivializing the suffering, we could talk about Paul's thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12)... Or, we could talk about how a loving father disciplines the children he really loves (Hebrews 12). Some people say that tragedy is God's way of calling people or even a nation to repentance and faith. (Joel 2, today's Old Testament lesson). But the truth is, we just don't have a nice, tidy answer to all our questions.
But even if we still have questions about why God would allow such things to happen, there is NO QUESTION about God's love for us. One message that comes through loud and clear in God's Word is the message of God's enduring love for this world. (That is certain!) It was a love he demonstrated dramatically and clearly in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, who offered His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Even though steel and concrete buildings crumble and turn to dust, God's love in Christ is a solid foundation on which to base your hope and in which you can trust. Financial institutions and political structures may fail, but God's kingdom endures forever. Christ's ongoing care and love for this world are certain. The events of last Tuesday remind us how desperately the world still needs to hear this Good News of God's love in Christ! Because,
Christ alone can free sinful human hearts from bondage to sin.
Christ alone can destroy the power of evil in this world..
Christ alone can defeat the enemy death.
In a world held hostage by sin, Christ comes as our rescuer and redeemer to set us free. He heals all our scars and wounds. His Light shines into the darkness and hopelessness caused by events such as this. He answers the hatred of mankind with a gentle word of forgiveness. And Christ brings a peace that this world doesn't understand or comprehend.
The World still desperately needs to hear this Good News!
One of the most beautiful images of Christ in the Bible is that of Christ as our Good Shepherd! I was impressed by the fact that when President Bush addressed the American people last Tuesday night, he quoted from the 23rd Psalm which describes the LORD as our Shepherd. Walls in many churches and the homes of many Christian homes are decorated with this familiar image of the Lord as our Shepherd ... surrounded by his flock ... holding the lost sheep in his arms. One of the most soothing and comforting implications of having the LORD as our Good Shepherd, is that we know we are safe and secure when he wraps his loving arms around us. In John 10 Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (vs. 10) "... My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand...." (vs.27-28)
The sense of safety and security was shattered for many people last Tuesday, even though those events happened thousands of miles away from here: Airports closed .... borders were tightened ... military bases went to their highest level of alert .... and new security measures were put in place at airports. But in the back of all our minds we still know that there are no guarantees. We still feel vulnerable. Human life is so fragile. And no matter how hard we try to eradicate violence and terrorism in this world, history proves that it will still come back. Like a weed in the garden, you just cannot seem to root it out. And after the dust has settled from recent events, there will still be terrorism and hateful men in this world.
Christ -- the Good Shepherd -- offers this world security and protection that this world desperately needs and can never provide for itself. We have a Good Shepherd who wraps his loving arms around us to shield and protect us from all our enemies. He says, "no one can snatch them out of my hand" (John 10:28) He is more powerful than any enemy that comes before Him, threatening his sheep. He was even ready to lay down his life for the sheep on His cross. And promised His sheep LIFE .... eternal life!
Martin Luther wrote, in what is probably his most well-known hymn, that God is "A Mighty Fortress". Luther himself once retreated behind the walls of a castle called the Wartburg for safety and security. There were men who wanted to arrest and kill him, and Luther lived for a time disguised and under the protection of the lord of that castle. But in Luther's heart and mind, he knew that is only REAL security was not in man-made walls of stone and wood, but rather in God, who was a "mighty fortress".
We sang the words of his hymn a moment ago:
Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threat'ning to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand;
They cannot over - pow'r us.
Let this world's tyrant rage;
In battle we'll engage.
His might is doomed to fail;
God's judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him. (stanza 3)
"...Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child, or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
The kingdom's ours forever." (st. 4)
Those 19 hijackers who did those terrible things last Tuesday are dead. In a sense, that enemy has already been destroyed. Yet, in another sense, there is still another even fiercer enemy alive and well in our world today. Don't misunderstand me... I'm not talking about mere flesh and blood terrorists. These hijackers were themselves just notable victims of this enemy. I'm referring to the enemy that we describe as sin, death, and the power of Satan.
Christ alone has the power to defeat that enemy. Military strength can help reign-in terrorists and help control evil in our world. But in the end, it only makes a dent in the enemy. It can never defeat it completely -- only Christ can do that!
In a way, the events in New York last Tuesday only serve to underscore this world's helplessness in the face of such an enemy... AND this world's need for a new champion to fight an unseen enemy: It underscores this world's need for Christ. For a Mighty Fortress who is our God. For a Good Shepherd who wraps us in His protecting arms. And who gives us the hope of eternal life ... and a heavenly home where no evil can harm us and death cannot defeat or destroy us.