We Are One Flock

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

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.

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