September 16, 2001

Proper 19: Ex. 32: 1,7-14; Lk.15:1-10

As the ashes are slowly moved away from the city of New York, as the remains of buildings, cars and bodies are slowly cleared, there is left behind very little. In the pain of it all, it is a time for us to ask again as a nation and as individuals, just what is the core of our life? When all the rubble in our lives is removed, what is it that will remain steadfast?

This morning I simply want to share a few thoughts with you following our experience as a nation this week:

1) We discover again that there is a part of humanity that really is fallen. There is within the human person the ability to uphold a principle which has absolutely no regard for human life. Men and women have suffered the most painful deaths, whether that was on one of the airplanes which was hijacked and forcefully crashed, whether it was one of thousands of people in the World Trade Center in New York or the Pentagon in Washington DC, or whether it was one of the faithful people seeking to offer support when all of a sudden another building collapsed and they were trapped for the rest of their life. The stories and the tragedies go on and on and on& five thousand times over and over again.

For the Islamic sect of Osama bin Laden, whom at this point we assume are responsible, their principle overrides the significance of human life. Their basic belief is that the Muslim world is being poisoned and desecrated by infidels, people who do not believe and support them. These include outsiders such as the United States and Israel, and governments of Muslim states --such as Egypt and Jordan-- that have committed apostasy, in their terms. But what is clear, is that Bin Laden and his followers don't want anything from us. They don't want our sympathy. There is no material thing we can offer them. They don't want to participate in the community of nations. (They don't really believe in the nation-state.) They are motivated by religion, not politics. They answer to no one but their god, so they certainly won't answer to us. This is what we are confronting.

The issue goes beyond just good vs. bad people. There is a fundamental religious split. I do not in any way believe that God is such that he supports this kind of violence. There is within the human person whom God has made, the ability to turn away and to distort and deny the heart of who he is and what this life is about, sometimes they are even couched in the terms of religion.

Yet, inasmuch as we believe that the decisions that were made were fundamentally wrong and evil, so too this is a time when we need to look back at our own lives and acknowledge how easy it is to actually slip away from our calling. How finally any one of us can move in the same direction, be it Bin Laden, Timothy McVeigh, students at Columbine High School, and on throughout our history. The essence of turning away from God is present within every one of us and we need to ensure that we both acknowledge that and be willing to do something about it, as minor as it might seem right now, both in our own lives and the people close to us. Every one of us is a sinful person able to move more and more in the wrong direction. We need to come back.

2) There is also a hope. In the midst of the incredible loss and pain which has impacted our country there is also a hope. As we have watched the support and the strength of people to not give up but to continue to look and search and try to find those who are lost, we just give thanks. Instead of being crushed by the experience the people of this country have rallied together and said: "We will not give up at all. We will not give up. We will stand together and we will walk forward." There has been such an incredibly strong unity among our people and it is in these moments that God is able to work and direct and unite us. The people have just rallied together in such a powerful way. Political parties are totally irrelevant, the people in New York City and throughout our country have just come together in a statement that through all of the pain and struggle which we have been through, this is not the end. We will walk forward in hope.

3) There is a rediscovery of faith. Through days of prayer, through moments and experiences of feeling hopeless, people have realized again that without faith in a living God, life is incredibly futile. There can be so much searching for simply getting bigger and better in the comfort of all the things' that are around us. We so often want what we want when we want it, and God does not work like that at all. In our scripture reading this morning from Exodus, what has taken place is that Moses and Aaron went up the mountain to spend time with God. Aaron has come done but Moses is still up there. The people below are getting incredibly impatient and are just wanting to head off to the promised land. For them, Moses is simply delaying them and they want to move. And so while waiting they begin to explore other alternatives. This waiting has gone on too long. Let us look for something else.