So, I was thinking yesterday about September 11th, 2001, like many of you. I rose early that day to lead the chapel service at Luther Academy, a K-6 Lutheran school in Rockford. When I left the church the night before, I had forgotten my Bible on my desk and so, dropped by to retrieve the essential book and the little note that summed up my theme for the day. As I flipped on the local NPR station to see what was happening in the world I heard the initial reports of the disaster that had befallen New York. I don’t remember what I had planned to tell the kids about that morning. The announcer had rendered my little post-it note useless. What was I going to tell first, a group of K-3 grade kids, and then right after tell their older siblings, the 4-6th graders? Should I just proceed and allow teachers and parents to deal with the situation later? Or, should I find a way to speak to them, the staff, and vicariously, their parents about tragedy, fear, loss, anger and so much more? Wise or not, I chose the latter.
I do remember what I said to the kids, adjusted slightly each time for the age of the crowd. I shared what I knew as gently and understandably as I could. I then used the stories of scripture they knew to emphasize three things:
Do not be afraid, God is with you! – From the story of David and Goliath, to the disciples in the storm; from the Israelites at the sea to the disciples at the empty tomb, from the horror of the cross to the redemption of the resurrection our fear is driven away by the presence of God – no matter what happens.
Love others, including enemies – For all the people hurt and afraid, love them, care for them, remember them. And love our enemies. Jesus did not meet the hatred of others with his own hate, he loved his enemies. We can’t give in to anger and hate. Only love can win the day.
Pray – Pray for the people hurt and who lost their lives; pray for our leaders and country; pray for our enemies.
As I looked over the news this morning and saw that our Ambassador to Libya and two others were killed in a violent protest. These three words about fear, love and prayer came alive again. They are hard words. It is hard to allow God’s presence and promise to pry the fear from my heart. It is hard to love when every thing around me tells me to save myself. It is hard to pray for others when my life seems threatened. It is most hard to pray for enemies, placing them under God’s lordship instead of my need for vengeance.
Now, you may completely disagree with my analysis. You may find the words of that morning too hard or impossible. That September morning, however, the kids understood somehow. One little boy told me later he was going to pray that “those people never did anything like this again.” A teacher told me that her class came back and simply refused to be afraid as the news unfolded. Somehow, I think through the Spirit they knew that the alternative words were frightening. Fear, allowed to fester produces the rage and hatred that lead to terror and its adherents. Whether it is an extremist who hates or a politician who desires success or a marketing campaign that plays on our phobia, pandering fear is an enemy of faith. It is evil itself.
Loving myself alone makes for a world of people unable to live together, unable to meet the most basic human need for closeness, unable to be anything but alone.
Hating my enemies allows hurts to snuff hope and rage to foil resurrection. We can cart our hate around with us until it eats away our humanity or we can choose the way of the cross and be redeemed.
Indeed, each September 11th, I remember the sacrifice of brave responders who died trying to serve others; I remember the loss, the tears, the destruction. I remember the Lutheran Bishop in New York sending pastors out into the streets, into the danger, in collars so people could see a presence of God’s people in the mess. But, most of all, I remember the words that the Holy Spirit sent to tell the children about the world that day: Don’t be afraid, love one another, pray.