Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Have Options

The Lord be with you/ and also with you
No matter what happens, even when shadows gather, we can trust our God.
Come, let us worship!

Please pray with me: Dearest Lord, by the might of your Spirit lift us to your presence, where we may be still and hear your word and your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From today’s Gospel: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”

These have been sobering weeks for us—as a congregation, a town, and a region. We have said our earthly goodbyes to two women loved in this town, Mabel Myers and Ruth Van Leuven. Kingston paid its final respect to Doug Cordo, the young soldier killed in Afghanistan. And then our region was ravaged by winds and floods, with many still in desperate need of help.

Now we are observing a national day of mourning, the tenth anniversary of the attack upon our country by terrorists. If any of you had personal losses on that day, I invite you to lift them up during our time of concerns. But even those of us who were removed from the carnage and grief, remember the disbelief and then the horror and despair of that first 9/11. The unthinkable had happened. I was in New Haven at seminary. I remember the vigils all over campus. There were a few angry signs painted on plywood as I drove home. But mainly people stood in speechless sorrow with their flickering candles, looking for some way of being with others when words were impossible.

How is such a wound healed? How is such a nightmare quieted? How do we live with such memories? Where is God in all this? As I read through the special issue of New York Magazine this week, I was haunted by a photograph of two men who jumped from the towers. Many such photographs have been suppressed, considered an insult to the dead and too shocking for the living. These photographs make us realize in one more way just how vulnerable the victims were. Probably 7 percent of those murdered on 9/11 died by jumping. “Those trapped in the towers had only two choices--, “ wrote the reporter Susie Linfield (p. 82), “to jump to their deaths or to be incinerated—which is to say they had no choice at all….What the 9/11 victims faced was the absence of options.” It is essential that we honor all those faced with the absence of options.

We must also honor those who, God knows how, made options for themselves. Those directly affected have been telling their stories this week. There was the firefighter father who went to ground zero looking for his son. He didn’t find him, but as he looked he found others. Here is someone’s son, he realized, here is someone that needs to be found. I heard an interview with a young woman who must have been barely twenty when she lost her mother. She has spent the last ten years making documentaries of terrorist action in the Muslim world to show the many caring and reasonable members of Islam the horrors that are being enacted in the name of their faith. And there was David Bouley, owner of a 4-star restaurant near Ground Zero, who for weeks afterwards fed any worker who came in.

These people, in the midst of grief, either their own or that of others, found options. In some way, they were beginning the process of healing by reaching out to others, known and unknown. They were proving that peace and community are stronger than hate and violence. Think of the concentrated emergency-service response—the largest in American history (New York, 62). Despite all the horror, the outpouring of energy and courage and selflessness of the next days and weeks cannot be forgotten. It was as though the only possible response was to give all one had, without thought for the consequences, even though, for many of the rescuers and workers, those consequences were fatal. They were and must remain amazing role-models.

God had to have been moving the hearts of many in that tragedy. God had to be at the side of those struggling to respond and then struggling with the toxic after effects, either physical or spiritual. As Christians, we can honor “the circles of fellowship” that formed and that continue to strengthen those changed by that day. Without in any way minimizing the tragedy, we must realize the gift that those responders and those survivors have left us. I see in them a gift of healing and a gift for our future together as a nation and beyond. I see in them a reminder that as Christians, we have options.

In looking for Scripture that would comfort and guide, I was drawn to Isaiah’s God-given vision of a world in which there is neither weeping nor cries of distress. In which there is neither murder nor destruction. These are powerful words. They are not fantasy or poetry. They are words of prophesy, even though, in their own way, they are as hard to believe as news reports of sudden tragedy. They are the words of a God who gives us options.

The first Christians believed that such a world was possible if they worked towards it together under the guidance of Christ. In the passage from Acts, we are told of the choices they made, the options they forged for themselves. They ”devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They gave to any in need. They were inspired to do so “because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles.” We read of conversions, even of public officials, and of countless physical healings.
Such productive fellowship may well seem unrealistic, beyond our reach. And yet, at times, we approach it. I have seen it in this church, among us here, over and over again. All Christ asks is that we fall in love with the possibility and that we see it as an option. Christ asks that we work our hardest to listen and follow his parting words: I leave you my peace, but my peace is not what the world gives. As your pastor, I cannot presume to say what each person’s individual choices might be, but I am convinced that, as a start, we must seek and nurture God’s peace within ourselves, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation in any part of our lives where they are needed.

Each one of us can begin with basic questions: Am I willing to be forgiven by God? By myself? By someone else? Am I willing to forgive someone else? Am I willing to be the one to act? Am I praying for any group toward whom I feel fear, anger, resentment, or indignation? Am I also praying for myself?

For me, it is good to remember the prayer of St. Francis: Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant they we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

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