We Are One Flock

A sermon delivered September 16, 2001,
based on Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33 and John 10:11-16

BY: the Rev. William McD. Tully


What I would really like to do now is simply to call for a profound silence. No televisions with their necessary but compulsively talking heads. No horrifying images. No sounds of explosions. No cries of the dying, the frightened, the bereft and grieving. It might be holier just now simply to light a candle and say a prayer.

In fact, hold now in your hearts the departed, their friends, families, and colleagues. Do ask for the healing of the physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually injured. And do pray for yourself, for all of us, that our compassion and understanding will exceed our fear, our anger, and our desire for revenge.

Silence would also loudly tell the truth that there is so much more we need to know. Silence before the great mysteries is an act of spiritual honesty.

But I know that I can't remain silent, because that could add to the dangers of the hour. The President called Friday a day of remembrance, and we ourselves have called our liturgy today a Service of Remembrance and Hope. There is a risk in that name, a risk well known to our tradition, because while memory can be a sign of respect and love, it can also be the fuel for terror. Religious people do well to confess that risk before they say or do anything truly religious.

A man they called St. John of Sinai, who lived in the Egyptian desert in the 7th century, warned his friends in these words:

"Remembrance of wrongs is the consummation of anger, the keeper of sin, the hatred of righteousness, the ruin of virtues, the poison of the soul . . . You will know that you have completely freed yourself of this rot, not when you pray for the person who has offended you, not when you exchange presents with him, not when you invite him to your table, but when, on hearing that he has fallen into bodily or spiritual misfortune, you suffer and weep for him as for yourself."

This weekend, on their respective holy days and in their own holy ways the great faith families of this land have gone to their places of worship, as we have come here. How powerful that is, how beautiful in God's eyes is our prayer and this praise, our vulnerability, our willing admission that we are not our own creators and sources of our own power. But God so respects what he has made, so loves us children, that he has made us to live in a sacred and wonderful freedom. And there, too, comes the danger. Since we are free, we are free to pervert the faith, free to remember and to feel only on the pain, and, yes, free even to strike out and do evil to God's children.

Even now, with oceans of tears yet to be shed, we want to know, What next? What shall we, what can we, do? If remembrance is not enough or is dangerous; love of country, even as welcome and wonderfully and widely shared in these days, is not enough; if all the force of the richest and most powerful nation on earth is not enough, then what?

A wise person once said that Christianity is good news, not good advice. So I presume to give you no advice, but to suggest that out of the goodness of this news, there are at least three places where we can begin the next steps in our lives.

We can go back to the very sources of our faith.

Religion defiled and perverted need not and must not rule our hearts. If there is anything like a religious claim in suicidal terror, it is a departure from God and God's truth. You know and I know that that can happen on all sides, including ours. The determined destroyer has constructed his own dark reality, decided that there is only one, and one self-justified way, to relieve his pain. The determined religious fanatic can also look like us. The President rightly corrected one American preacher who presumed to put the blame for this disaster on the vulnerability of this country caused, he claimed, by those with whom he happens to disagree. Our own kind can hijack the truth. Let us admit that.

I am sick at heart to those who tell me what my Bible says, and who tell the world that their reading is the only reading. The very thought that God would allow this or order pain and death must be not be allowed to stand. Against that, consider today's reading from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, a book of beauty and honest pathos from the 6th century BC.:

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, [God's] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.... For the Lord will not reject forever.... God will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;"--and you can underline this, or as the prophet said, Write it on your hearts--

"for God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone."

(Lamentations 3:22 ff.)

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