11 September 2001
The American Tragedy

Sermon delivered on 13th Septepmber at a special service of prayer at Christ Church

When I was explaining to my young son what had happened on Tuesday and I showed him the pictures in the newspapers the next morning, he asked me what I thought was a rather unusual question. He asked whether any churches were destroyed as well? I said, I don't think so but possibly, why do you ask? He said - Because I wondered whether they can come to our church on Sunday? It dawned on me that although his geography was a little confused his heart was not. As adults we sometimes push away other peoples suffering and feel safe because we are distanced from it. In his heart it was as if they were next door. And that is how it should be.

As we had heard from our second reading, Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." And that is why we are here - to pray for God's strength and to show solidarity with those bereaved, widowed, orphaned, injured and traumatised. Now is not necessarily the right time to ask why or to seek explanations but as I was trying to make sense of these awful events, I remembered the sermon I preached last Sunday morning about the reason Jesus came. I said this -

"Across God's creation there is a war between good and evil. There is a war raging in the universe and it has been going on for a very long time. There is a force of evil in our universe that corrupts all who are tempted by it, or who seek to control it. The godless forces of that rebellion have dominated our world for most of human existence. Cut off from our Maker, we have as a consequence lost our destiny, lost our purpose, forgotten the way home. Like a virus, evil has infected every human being. Those same forces of evil are at work in our world today, sometimes blatantly as in Bosnia or Rwanda. Sometimes in more subtle ways."

I actually thought twice about saying it but that is what Paul warns in Ephesians,
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:12-13).

Today, four days later, those words take on new meaning when President George W Bush has declared that America and by extension, Nato, by virtue of Article 5, is at war. The frustration is we don't yet know the personification of that enemy. The enemy has retreated back into his shadow. But the truth is, behind those who perpetrated this barbaric act is the one whom Jesus described as "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full
.." (John 10:10). Unless we understand about the origin of evil, we will never make sense of such barbaric acts as occurred this week or be equipped to withstand it.
The truth is that God remains in control. He knew this day was coming during the 15 months or more the terrorists planned their evil deeds. He knew this tragedy would shake our very foundations and now he invites us to make sure those foundations are placed on his word. He promises to us this,

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
" (Romans 8:28). We may not discover what that purpose is in this tragedy, this side of eternity but we can trust a God of justice and mercy that he can and will bring good from this.

But where was God in this tragedy? God was not in the cockpit of those four planes. He did not cause this to happen. God was there in the last moments as loved ones called on cell phones to say "I love you." "I am trapped on a plane or trapped on the top floor with no way of escape, I just wanted you to know I love you." He was there in the fireman's suit. He was there behind police badges. He was in the hearts of those who may have brought down the fourth plane to save other lives. He was behind the scalpel and the syringe. He is near the heart of all who in the face of this tragedy love their neighbour, including the Muslim and the Afghan, and turn to God in repentance--who in the ashes of this last month look to him because in the end tragedies teach us that we are mortal and fully dependent upon God.

And to those whose grief and shock has turned to anger, which in itself is not wrong, God advises,
"In your anger do not sin" : Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry." (Ephesians 4:26). Why? Because it will simply consume us and make us less human and more like those who have done these things.

And to those who are quick to call for vengeance, God reminds us "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord." (Romans 12:19). Of this we can be sure, he most surely will. Whether with or without NATO and the international rule of law. God has done so repeatedly in our past and we would do well to remember our shared history and how God has sustained us in the past.

On Christmas Day 1939, King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II made a speech on the radio. The world had just begun the most terrible war in history. People were scared and anxious. This is what the king said,

"I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put you hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light and safer than a known way.'"

The world has changed as a result of what happened on the 11th September. What ever the future holds in the next few weeks, months or years, I invite you to put your hands in the hand of God. For it is better than a light and safer than a known way. Jesus said "I am the light of the World, who ever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)