Vol. 77 - No. 09
SEPTEMBER 2006

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

 

September 11 Five Years Later

      There is a memorable scene in the powerful film United 93 that really captures the spiritual lessons of September 11. The Muslim terrorists, realizing they can’t withstand the onslaught of passengers who are trying to overpower them and retake the cockpit, struggle to aim the plane toward the ground. As they do so, they cry out prayers to God in Arabic. At the very same moment, the rest of the passengers in the back of the plane are joining their voices in the Lord’s Prayer. So as the aircraft plunges into its dizzying descent to the Pennsylvania field, both murderers and victims are simultaneously calling out to God.

      That scene, of terrorist and victim both praying, shows us the two very different kinds of religious faith that were exposed on September 11.

      Religious faith can be bad. It can be evil, even demonic. It can drive people to separate themselves from others, hold themselves above others. It can lead to an insatiable lust to control the behavior and the thoughts of others. This is the kind of twisted faith that piloted the planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Islam has no copyright on such twisted faith; the savage wars in Europe between Lutherans and Protestants and Catholics in the years after the Reformation show that Christianity, too, can be twisted in this direction. Our experience of this kind of twisting of faith in America has been limited–but every now and then, a Jim Jones (900 dead in Guyana) or a David Koresh (80 dead in Waco) emerges to remind us how chillingly evil religious faith can be. In a much milder form, this distortion of faith has cropped up in the national Prohibition of alcohol enacted from 1920 to 1933 (an example of twisted faith’s deep desire to control the behavior of others–which in this case had the unintended consequence of raising the job prospects of a former Amityville resident named Alphonse Capone). I believe the same sort of distorted faith was seen in the members of our denomination who sought President David Benke’s ouster for his participation in the Yankee Stadium prayer service. And whenever one of your friends joins a strange religious group or gets "saved" and stops talking to you because you’re not "holy" enough, you can be sure a twisted faith is in action.

      The most extreme example of such twisted faith is the attacks of September 11. The attackers convinced themselves that American culture was so corrupt, Americans so evil, that God wanted us dead. The most extreme way of separating one’s self from unbelievers is to kill the unbelievers. And the most extreme way of controlling other people’s behavior is to kill other people. The attackers took twisted faith to its ultimate outcome.

      If that kind of religion were the only kind there is, then any decent person would completely, utterly renounce all religion. (This is how atheists are made–the only faith they really see is the twisted kind). But twisted faith isn’t the only _expression of religious faith. The terrorists may have prayed as they brought the plane down–but the passengers prayed, too. They prayed to a God who truly is compassionate and merciful, a God who promises to hear us when we call to Him.

      As the firefighters entered the buildings, they were blessed by their chaplains. An incredible grace is seen in that moment, as the firefighters entered that building with God going with them–the grace of faith in action, faith seeking to save, faith seeking to help. It was a self-sacrificing faith–not the twisted sacrifice of the suicide bomber, but a sacrifice resembling that of Jesus, who came "to seek and save the lost" (Matthew 18:11) The firefighters and other emergency personnel were willing to put their lives on the line simply to help people. That is how faith should be lived out.

      A wonderful _expression of the positive kind of faith can be seen in the Ground Zero cross–pieces of ravaged girders that happened to break apart in the shape of a cross. It made an incredibly moving memorial, and spoke about so many things–about the sacrifices that had been made in that place...about the love that Jesus poured out for us on Calvary...about how God Himself has shared the pain of the world...about our confidence that sin, death and evil were defeated when God Himself endured death, then rose again. 

      Nothing brings forth positive faith like the cross. When your eyes are on the cross, it’s hard to hate someone. When your eyes are on the cross, it’s hard to want to control other people. When your eyes are on the cross, your great desire is to become a channel for that love, the wondrous and overflowing love of the crucified Christ. 

      In the other recent 9/11 film, World Trade Center, a former Marine staff sergeant sits in church on September 11...and looks up at the cross. The sight of the cross gives him a sense of mission–to go and help, to go and save people. So he dons his uniform, goes down to Ground Zero, bluffs his way into the site, and helps rescue two trapped Port Authority police officers. Again–the power of genuine faith, and the power of the cross, in action.

      The _expression of evil faith in the 9/11 attacks was overwhelming–such hatred, such fanaticism, concentrated into such an incredibly evil attack. But the outpouring of genuine faith was also overpowering–the volunteer efforts, the prayer vigils, the donations. 

      Five years later, things have gotten "back to normal"–which, alas, means that the great outpouring of genuine faith has been reduced. But let’s pray that God’s Spirit would keep that faith strong in our hearts and lives–a faith that projects love, not hate; a faith that seeks to embrace others, not to push them away; a faith that seeks not to control others, but to be controlled by the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit; a faith that is, above all, anchored in the holy cross where Jesus poured out His love and compassion upon the world.     

      May the memory of fallen firefighters, police officers, emergency workers, court officers,

airline passengers, soldiers, and all others who lost their lives because of the events of September 11, be eternal.

      God loves you and so do I!

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