Church Stuff-More or less

Does the church make sense or do we make it too hard for people to come in? I think yes and yes and the task then is to make it easier. Maybe for someone out there, this will be the case. I write as a Lutheran (or, perhaps a Lutherpalian) although I might seem out of the mainstream from time to time. That's okay, isn't it? Let's blog on.

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Location: Northport, Long Island, United States

Contrary to what Google will tell you, I have been blogging for several year, right here. Look for Churchstuff-moreorless. life was a hell of a lot easier when you could talk to someone to get help. Now, you can't do it on the telephone, you can't do it on the internet. Life was easier and made more sense because people actually cared. Now they will screw you as quickly as they will help you. Unfuck the world.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My sermon for 09/11/11

It was a Tuesday morning much like so many before it. 8:30 on the second Tuesday and I was getting in my car to drive down to Washington, to the National cathedral for my monthly tour as chaplain of the day. I slipped a cd into the player and headed off. My routine was to listen to music for a half hour and then turn on a DC Sports talk show as I got in range, usually around 495. As I drove, I noticed smoke in the distance, an unusual sight to be sure. A column of smoke billowing up and flowing to the south towards Virginia. There would be no sports talk that morning as I realized the smoke that I was seeing was coming from the Pentagon and the radio station alerted to me to the events that were unfolding. Back in NY, the quiet of the morning had been shattered by a passenger airline that had crashed into the World Trade Center, then another, then the Pentagon. The streets of DC were eerily empty as though time was standing still. The sidewalks were devoid of the usual traffic, outdoor cafes vacant, people were nowhere to be seen. The grounds of the Cathedral likewise as I pulled in. The only people that I would see were outside the Diocesan office-my verger, a surgeon, Dr. Judith Greene, and my Episcopal bishop, Jane Holmes Dixon, talking. I pulled into the nearest parking spot and got out of my car. What should we do, in light of the events which were still unfolding? Close the cathedral or keep it open. My thoughts were that it needed to be open, that people would come, people would come to find solace and offer their prayers. A Christian-Muslim dialog was scheduled for that day and there was some thought that the building might be yet another target and it would be best to shut it down. So, I turned the car around and headed home, listening to the news reports. A fourth plane had gone down in a rural field in western Pennsylvania, a field that I had driven past each Sunday for four or five months on my way to church. I dialed a colleague there on my mobile and we talked for a while. When I arrived back at the parsonage, my then wife and nine year old daughter were sitting, staring at the television as the scenes were played over and over again as though on an endless, continuous tape. The horrific scenes of the planes, the crashes, the fires, people choosing to leap to their deaths rather than be burned alive. Commentators speculating as to the cause. I didn’t need to watch for very long for the pictures to be burned indelibly into my memory. The reasons behind the catastrophes were insignificant, or so I thought. It was a tragedy of proportions that I had never experienced. I went to the church.

When people of faith experience such events, many begin to ask “where was God that such could happen on God’s watch?” as though God is some kind of cosmic puppeteer who controls all of the events of our world and lives. It doesn’t, God doesn’t, work that way. Creator though God be, Creation was left to our caretaking. Truth be told, we’ve never quite lived up to expectations. Nonetheless, it is a question that has been asked for as long as there has been speech. It is asked by people of faith who have suffered loss, sometimes a tremendous loss, sometimes a less significant loss. It is asked by them because they see God as some sort of Divine Protector and they are directing their words to that God. It is also a question asked by people of little or no faith.

"Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing...
And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes.
And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.
Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
"For God's sake, where is God?"
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
"Where He is? This is where--hanging here from this gallows..."
That night, the soup tasted of corpses."

So writes Eli Wiesel of his concentration camp experiences in his epic “Night.” For those who question God’s presence (or absence) in times of trouble, Wiesel reminds us that God IS there in the midst of suffering. God, though unseen, is present. Always and in all ways. Truly, there is no place where God is not. God is with us in our joys and gladness, God is with us in our sorrows and sadness. God rejoices with us and God weeps with us. God walks with us into the following days that may not be as joyous or sad. God leads us into our futures, ever confident that the best is yet to come and that the joy or sorrow that we feel today will be just a memory. Memories, happy or sad, which make us who we are today. Do we remember to thank those responsible for our happiness and do we remember to forgive those who caused us sadness?

Since that first 9/11, we have been placed in the position of never being able to forget. The initial pictures, the continual reminding, all these are indelibly burned into our memory as surely as those buildings and airplanes burned on that day. Another question for us to ponder is “what do we do with those memories?” Happy memories enable us to enjoy present and future happiness’. They give us strength for the day, strength for the days ahead regardless of how we might be feeling. They remind us of good times and enable us to face the future with optimism. Sad, tragic memories often have the opposite effect. They may immobile us. They may lead us to view others with suspicion. They may cause us to withdraw. Left on their own, we see only a dark, dismal future. Yet, when coupled with the happy memories, we see that life is worth living, that the future is one of promise and that even in the worst of times, there will be another better day.

So, we will never, we can never forget that day. There are, however, those who will also say that we can never forgive. Surely, that must sadden God as much as those events we remember today.

When a friend asks us to join them on an endeavor, if we know and trust that friend, we look forward to the opportunity. After all, they’ve rarely let us down in the past. For those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus, those of us who claim to know and trust Jesus, this isn’t always the case. We forget that Jesus never told us it would be fun, it would never be easy. One of the hardest things that Jesus asks of us is to forgive. And, oh, does he tell us to forgive. He tells us to forgive our friends when they slight us, he tells us to forgive our enemies when they hurt us, he tells us to forgive all of the people in between. Yet, each of us harbor those hurts inside of which we have failed to forgive. It is often oh so hard to forgive. The hardest part of remembering the events of this day ten years ago is to forgive but forgive we must. If we are to remember, if we are to survive, we must forgive. In our remembrance, let us be about the business of not building more walls, but of building more bridges. Let us forgive our past hurts, let us look at strangers not as enemies but as friends who we’ve not yet met. Let us look to the future with hope and not fear, knowing that God has been with us in all of our joys and sorrows, and will be there in those yet to come. Amen