Thursday, September 11, 2008

SEPTEMBER 11

In the introduction to my first blog, I wrote that sometimes I’d feature sermons I had given in “A Word’s Worth.” I’ve refrained from publishing them because I think that sermons are better delivered than read, but felt compelled to repeat one today that I gave seven years ago following Sept. 11:

“In the Gospel according to Peanuts, I came across a strip in which Lucy, accompanied by Linus, is pointing to an outline of a heart imprinted on a fence. She says, ‘This, Linus, is a picture of the human heart.’ And in the next frame, she explains to vulnerable Linus, ‘One side is filled with hate and the other side is filled with love. These are the two forces constantly at war with each other.’ Linus looks away from Lucy who is, of course, staring intently at him, and says: ‘I think I know what you mean. I can feel them fighting now.’

Most of us are probably experiencing that same kind of battle going on within, for how else could we feel in the faces of the killing fields in NYC and Washington, D.C. that flashed endlessly on our television screens during this anguished week? I don’t think that any of us can truly say that anger didn’t well up in us as an initial reaction when we watched the towers collapse, people fleeing in the streets, and the flames and smoke of the Pentagon fire.

A day later, most of us, like Linus, felt great torrents of love for the New York City and Washington, D.C. fire fighters, policemen, the everyday people in two great cities who almost immediately began to search the rubble for those trapped within. At the same time, we entertained a lively hostility toward the unknown perpetrators who dared to invade our home of freedom that hadn’t been violated since WWII and the siege of Pearl Harbor. I think that we struggle each morning with this dichotomy Linus pointed out as residents of our hearts -- love and hate. But we do go on. We go on mostly because we’re a faithful people. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a part of many prayer services, have stood in the sun waving a flag in the City Hall square, donated to the Episcopal Relief Fund, and wept through the service at the National Cathedral service televised last week.

The words that resonated with me during that service were those presented by our President: ‘adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of our nation as well.’ And what we’re introduced to, whether we like it or not, is that we Americans who are Christians are models -- for the immediate world around us –and for those in the world who are farthest from us. We’re observed with great scrutiny under circumstances of acute distress and horror, to see how we’ll react. And what those who look at us are seeing is that with grace and the Spirit working in our hearts, evil and death are broken down and destroyed each morning. There are so many stories of generosity and goodness being lived out that some scribe should surely write them down so that other generations can read them and be inspired.

The grace that God gives us works like salt, one writer has said. It preserves every grain of goodness it can find and heightens its flavor. We have that salt because we have something called the theology of hope. And although we groan inwardly, we wait and work in hope. This wonderful theology of hope stands against twisted steel, broken concrete, conflagrations, and the madness of terrorism. The theology of hope is the Christian movement toward a promised future – the inheritance of the eternal kingdom.

Through our faith, our theology of hope, and God’s grace, you and I are always being given Christ’s transforming gift – something called the gift of love. During this time, I believe we should recall our Anglican heritage and theology, remembering our three-legged stool that Richard Hooker divined for us – Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. In the best of our tradition, we should be praying daily for faith, peace, unity, and charity. We should pray for this even in a hostile environment. We should be reading what Scripture tells us about hatred and violence, and we should be using our good Anglican reason to discern the message from our individual and collective consciences.

In Stephen Holmgren’s ETHICS AFTER EASTER, he tells us that we Anglicans don’t have a rule book, a compendium of moral teachings, other than Holy Scripture, that will answer every question or tell us the right thing to do in every situation. But we can still have faithful confidence. In the tradition of Anglican thought, we have two convictions that are always in dialogue: those who believe that violence is never justified…and those who believe that violence might serve justice and the pursuit of peace on particular occasions and according to well-defined principles. The author of ETHICS AFTER EASTER relates that perhaps if those two convictions would dialogue, they’d be able to see more points of convergence and create greater consensus among Christian community. We have the gift of God’s creation, the divinely-inspired Scriptures, and a long tradition of theological reflection to help us. And it is possible, Holmgren reminds us for the ‘God-enabled, Christ-indwelled, and Spirit-led community to grow further and further into the fullness of the Risen Lord and his Truth.’

Anger is a human and normal emotion and we have it, sometimes, I think, to arouse us from deadly lethargy. Psychologists remind us we have anger to protect ourselves, and, yet, we’re called as Christians, to move through that anger and arrive at that transforming love I mentioned. We’re to stay focused on loving God, each other, our country, our world. As a verse in Proverbs reminds us: ‘Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.’ Here today, in this small parish church, let us remember the words of the great theologian Teilhard de Chardin who wrote in a haiku: ‘At the heart of matter/a world heart/the heart of a God.’”
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