Beliefnet

September 16, 2001

I want to begin by clearing up any misunderstand some of you may have. I placed the information about Islam in the bulletin and spoke of Islam at the beginning of the service without any subtle political agenda. I am called to be your pastor and your teacher. I don't care what your political opinions are. I love you people, and it is only out of concern for your spiritual well-being that I put the inserts in the bulletin.

The events of Tuesday are beyond words. We've tried: horrific, despicable, terrible, evil, etc. But all words seem to fail. And so the media has simply, and perhaps too often, shown the pictures and broadcast the sounds as we have tried to take in the magnitude and profundity of what has happened.

The word I have found for me and I think for all of us that describes Tuesday is "painful". I'm usually one of those persons who can decide whether something is going to 'get to me' or not. And I really tried this week to keep these events 'outside'. To keep it away; to keep it 'a news event'. To pray for people in a detached sort of way; to protect my heart. But I have found that as the stories have come out--of last words of love shared over cell phone calls; of firefighters and police who died trying to save others, of persons who have lost office colleagues and sisters and brothers and parents and friends; as I have heard their names read and the tear-filled voices of the persons who love them, the pain has settled in.

You know, we live with many more deaths than these from auto accidents, from various diseases, from gunshots. But these deaths were different. These were no accidents of human error or fate. These persons were murdered. It is almost inconceivable that anyone would hate enough, would fear enough, would choose to be evil enough to do something like this. And that has added to the pain. It hurts enough to consider the tremendous loss to friends and families and all the various groups and communities to which these people belonged. But it is pain upon pain to realize that there is such evil in the world. We will not be the same again. Not because so many have died; but because we now know in a visceral way what we knew only in theory-that we share the world with evil.

I said Tuesday evening that this beautiful sanctuary on this green hill is a place apart. It is apart from the urban turmoil of Milwaukee; it is apart from the hectic pace of east and west coast; often it is a place apart from the tumult of our lives. But it is, certainly today, not a place apart. It is not an emotional or spiritual bunker. It is a place where we come because we are not apart, not separate. Though for our my avoidance of pain, and perhaps for your own, we may have wished to distance myself from what happened Tuesday, in the end we cannot. These were fellow citizens that died and that bond has given rise to a fervent patriotism. But more importantly these were fellow human beings who died, to whom we are bound by faith in the One who says we are all neighbors and who calls us to love all neighbors.

Our hearts ache in this place because it is in this place that we have learned and heard Christ's call to identify with, to care for, to love our neighbor. Our patriotism finds fervor and righteous anger because we are Americans. And our hearts ache because we are followers of Christ.

So now what? How shall we respond? As citizens or a nation, I don't know. It's not my decision and no one is asking my advice. I am not optimistic; we seem to have become sadder but not wiser. As people of faith whose world has changed and who don't know what is going to happen next and whose hearts ache for neighbors, we have some guidance.

Though as a nation we will seek justice, as Christians we are called not to hate. We are even called to love and pray for our enemies. During the time and at the place that Jesus walked the earth his fellow citizens were meanly oppressed by the Romans. We may imagine his listeners gathering on a pleasant green hill for the Sermon on the Mount, but they were not. These were persons who knew suffering well. Yet, he asks them love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. Does this mean we abandon justice? No. But our first priority is our relationship with God and our neighbor. These are the first two commandments we have from Christ. Justice is secondary and revenge is not ours to consider. Our first, all consuming concern is our relationship with God and neighbor.

So now what? How shall we respond? As citizens or a nation, I don't know. It's not my decision and no one is asking my advice. I am not optimistic; we seem to have become sadder but not wiser. As people of faith whose world has changed and who don't know what is going to happen next and whose hearts ache for neighbors, we have some guidance.

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