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9/11 Sermon

Jesus Weeps!

 

Luke 19: 41-44

 

On hearing of the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade in October 1854, a French General said: “An event has happened upon which it is difficult to comment and impossible to remain silent.”

 

That is how I feel today – in the light of the terrifying tragedy of the past week.

 

A terrifying tragedy of monumental proportions in the senseless loss of life – about which it is difficult to comment – for the trauma and grief stretch past the length of our vocabulary – but an event nevertheless, that makes it impossible not be speak.

 

And so what I am about to share is offered with humility, aware of the depth of pain and the difficulty of the situation before us all, as fellow citizens of the great planet, as we try to make sense of what has happened and what should happen in response.

 

This past week we have watched a horrendous crime unfold before our very eyes.

 

A horrendous crime in which people – real people were killed – each a sacred story – each a precious child of God – each carrying dreams and hopes and desires – each with their own little quirks and peculiarities that made them extra special to those who knew them – each loved and treasured in some way by family and friends

 

Real people died this week.

 

I stress the fact that real people died this week, because I don’t know about you, but I have struggled to believe it all – even though I have seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears.

 

I have been struck by how many eye-witnesses said that they felt like they were watching a movie. This is exactly how I have felt this past week.

 

One would be inclined to think that live TV coverage would bring home the reality of the tragedy, but in a way it has contributed to just the opposite – a greater sense of disbelief.

 

There was something unreal about watching death happen live on TV. It was just like watching a movie.

 

Crazy to be making oneself a cup of tea while watching it all happen – to be able to switch back and forth between channels – without even missing the latest cricket score – and watching repeat after repeat of an aeroplane crashing into the World Trade Centre from different angles.

 

I found myself sitting numbed and in a state of sickened wonderment – barely having the time to contemplate the horror that real people were dying.

 

Real people died this week!

They were secretaries; managers; cleaners; maintenance workers; tourists and travellers; emergency workers; passers-by; young people and old people; people of different nationalities with different countries of birth.

 

Real people died this week and our common humanity calls us to mourn and weep for the loss, just as Jesus looking over Jerusalem wept.

 

And that is exactly what Jesus is doing with us today – he is weeping with us – for even though those who have died were not known to us they were known to Jesus and they remain known to him.

 

Even though we do not know the exact number of the dead – Jesus knows – for he is the good shepherd who notices when even one is missing.

 

Even though there are those who are lost to us – there are none lost to him – for he searches and he finds and he takes them home to be with him.

 

Even though there are those who are still held fixed beneath huge boulders and rubble. Ours is the God who rolled the stone away – the God who is not defeated by death, but who has defeated death by dying and rising again.

 

This is the God we have come to worship today. A God who shares our pain – a God who shares our tears – a God who weeps over the cities that lie in ruin – A God who cries in the homes that have family members still missing and with those who’s hearts have been ripped open by grief.

 

This is not a God who in any way causes suffering – this is not a God who in anyway spares some and not others, for ours is a God who has no favourites and who longs for all to be saved.

 

So we give thanks to those who have seemingly miraculously escaped death or injury – but that is not to suggest that they were in anyway more blessed by God than others who were not as fortunate.

 

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus forbids us to come to that conclusion – for Jesus lived and died for all the world and not for a select chosen few.

 

Friends, God does not will suffering on any person or people and this is why Jesus weeps with us today.

 

But Jesus does not only weep with us and the world today – he weeps for us.

 

We read: “Jesus wept over the city saying: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem – if you, even you, had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace!”

 

Jesus weeps for us and for all the world today, because we still have failed to recognise the things that make for peace.

 

This is a hard thing to have to hear when we are still counting the dead, but it is impossible to remain silent.

Because a failure to address this probing and disturbing assertion of Jesus is to surrender these events to those who will exploit these tragic days of horror in such a way that will lead to further tragedy and war. Taking advantage of a frightened public and in the name of ‘defence’ extend and expand the myth that Bigger Better Arms is all what we need to make for peace, and that decisive and hard hitting action is what is needed to prevent this from ever happening again.

 

In the face of this way of thinking it is impossible for me to remain silent!

 

So in response to Jesus’ accusation, “that we do not know the things that make for peace,” I want us this morning to try and unearth some of the things that have led to this terrifying tragedy – to try to begin to discover and name some of the ingredients that have contributed to the horror that has threatened to overwhelm us this past week.

 

To do so we will have to go deeper than the popular rhetoric that fills our airwaves.

 

To do so we will have to prod and prier in sensitive places – maybe places quite dear and close to our own hearts – it is guaranteed to be painful – but the hope is that after we have named at least some of the ingredients that have gone into making the events of the past week – we can at least begin to try to eradicate them from ever being used again – and this I believe will go along way to enabling peace to grow.

 

I must be honest and say that even though I was terribly shocked by the acts of terror I was not surprised. I was not surprised because of the following three ingredients that have been mixing in the world pot for a long time now.

 

I want to draw your attention to three things (there are others) that I believe have contributed to the acts of terror this past week.

 

1. Religious Fundamentalism.

 

2. Political self-righteousness.

 

3. Our Addiction to Trusting in Force.

 

 

1. Religious Fundamentalism

 

Religious fundamentalism is an affliction that all 4 of the major religions in the world carry. Yes you get Christian fundamentalists; Jewish fundamentalists; Muslim fundamentalists and Hindu fundamentalists. All of them as equally deadly as the next.

 

We mustn’t forget that the last attack of insurmountable terror to be committed in the USA also involved a religious fundamentalist – a Christian fundamentalist – by the name of Timothy McVeigh.

 

And just as we hoped others wouldn’t cast every Christian in his light so we must resist casting every Muslim in the light of Islamic militants who only take up a minority fringe of that great religion.

 

Now what do I mean by religious fundamentalists?

 

I am not referring to those who call themselves fundamentalists because they enjoy a literal reading of their holy scriptures. This is the narrowest of understandings of the term and I am not referring to this.

 

By religious fundamentalist I am referring to those who are so dogmatic in their belief, that there understanding of the truth and of God, are for them beyond question – that they have come to believe their beliefs to be infallible.

 

It has been said that religious fundamentalists are so sure about what they know about God, that they even “tell God what God thinks.”

 

Religious fundamentalists are people who cannot live with the nuances – the subtleties and the paradoxes of their faith. For them there is no grey, only black and white.

 

For the religious fundamentalist, people are neatly divided into those who are good and those who are evil – those who are saved and those who are damned – and linked to this over simplistic division comes the ease with which violence can be used to destroy those who in anyway oppose them.

 

Violence against opposition is regarded by the religious fundamentalist as not only enhancing their cause but also doing God a favour in dealing with the so-called damned of the world.

 

All in all religious fundamentalists attempt to privatise God for themselves and their cause at the expense of everyone else.

 

Religious fundamentalism, no matter whether it is practised within a church or synagogue or mosque, it always gives rise to the same gospel: one of fear and hate that leads to death and not life.

 

The religious fundamentalist fails to accept that life is complex and it cannot be neatly divided into good and bad, oppressed and oppressor.

 

As has been said by others, we are all at one and the same time both good and evil – the dividing line between good and evil is not found between people but rather it is found within people – within each of us – within each of our hearts.

 

The religious fundamentalist fails to acknowledge and accept this complex truth of humanity.

 

Jesus spoke of this complexity when he warned us to leave the weeds to grow amidst the wheat lest we pull them both out together.

 

Religious fundamentalism is one of the deadly ingredients of last week’s acts of terror.

 

It is the challenge of all the great religions in the world, and it is the challenge to everyone of us, because we can start by rooting it out in ourselves.

 

To do this we must ask ourselves how close we are to being a religious fundamentalist – because to the extent that we are a religious fundamentalist is to the same extent we may be a terror in other people’s lives.

 

We must examine our faith, by asking ourselves: “Does our faith build bridges rather than barriers especially between ourselves and persons with differing values and faith systems? (Clinebell pl18 in Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counselling)

 

Does our faith stimulate growth and freedom within others especially others who are different from us?

 

Does our faith make us more aware of other people’s pain and move us to act in healing and restoring ways towards them?

 

Does our faith help us to listen more – does it prod us to seek to understand before seeking to be understood?

 

May Jesus help us to answer each of these questions with a resounding “Yes”.

 

 

2. Political Self-righteousness

 

The second deadly ingredient of last week’s horror is political self-righteousness.

 

Make no mistake it is difficult to be the biggest person on the block. It is difficult to be the only remaining super-power in the world.

 

It is difficult because of the temptation that is attached to being in such a powerful position.

 

We know this temptation ourselves – for all of us at some point or another in our life, be it only even within the family, has been in a position of power over others

 

Like being asked by mom and dad to look after your younger brothers or sisters while they go out for a while – it takes amazing restraint not to abuse the position – either by force or by the threat of force.

 

With so much power at one’s disposal, one is inclined to be impatient in regard to getting one’s own way. After all why do you have to waist time negotiating for something you can just as easily help yourself to?

 

I stress! All of us have fallen to this temptation personally and not only us as individuals but our communities as well as our own nation.

 

The USA is not exempt from this abuse of power either, yet the real sadness is the lack of self-consciousness it has in doing so.

 

The most recent example: the USA walking out of the United Nations Anti-Racism Conference in Durban – unable to dominate the conference they walked out -leaving those left behind steaming with growing anger.

 

How much more resentment from nations and people who have experienced the full fury of their military might?

 

A journalist by the name of Seumas Milne has written:

 

Shock, rage and grief there has been aplenty. But any glimmer of recognition of why people might have been driven to carry out such atrocities, sacrificing their own lives in the process – or why the United States is hated with such bitterness, not only in Arab and Muslim countries, but across the developing world – seems almost entirely absent.

 

Perhaps it is too much to hope that as rescue workers struggle to pull people from the rubble, any but a small minority might make the connection between what has been visited upon them and what their government has visited upon large parts of the world

 

But make that connection they must if such tragedies are not to be repeated, potentially with even more devastating consequences. (page10 Mail and Guardian 14-20 Sep 2001)

 

And so, “While it is right to ask in horror: “What kind of people can perform such hateful, deranged deeds?” The USA and the world as a whole must also ask: “What have we done that there can be anybody who hates us so much?” (Peter Storey)

 

This is hard to ask at a time like this, because of all the pain, but ask it we must.

 

As journalist Robert Fisk, whose direct knowledge and insight into affairs of the Middle East region is unmatched after many years of distinguished reporting says:

 

This is not a war of democracy verse terror which the world will be asked to believe in the coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes; US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996; American shells crashing into a village call Qana a few days later; and about a Lebanese militia – paid and uniformed by America’s Israeli ally – hacking and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.

 

Lest we forget that a few Palestinians were not the only ones to rejoice over another nations horror – it wasn’t long ago, while the people of Iraqi were still trying to find their dead in the desert sands that a ticket parade was held in the streets of New York and Washington for Generals Storming Norman and Powell.

 

The USA needs to be helped to see that there foreign policy has been less than moral and far from benign.

 

As another journalist Nicholas Guyatt has written:

 

As long as the US remains insulated from the effects of its actions it will have little sense of the true desperation they produce in others, and of the terrible predicament of those – who [finally] can [only] find meaning and promise in an act of recklessness and destruction.

 

Now I have already said that God does not will suffering on any person or people or nation. But in the Old Testament when Israel had been dealt a smashing blow from one of their surrounding enemies – the prophets would do a risky thing – they would urge the people whom they loved and knew so well – to see it as a sign (they even went further to state that their loss and defeat was caused by God – but Jesus has helped us to know that that is not true – for it runs contrary to God’s character) but nevertheless the prophets of old called their people to see their calamity as a sign of God calling them to pause and reflect upon the state of their nation and finally to repent – in other words to turn away from their sin and turn toward God and Covenant living again.

 

I believe this tragedy is one such moment where the only remaining super power in the world must stop and pause and reflect upon the state of its nation and how it conducts itself across the globe.

 

To suggest this – is to risk being horribly misunderstood – I know – but I do nevertheless believe that for the USA to take this opportunity to repent would be another thing that would make for peace and set them free from a political self-righteousness that threatens us all.

 

 

3. Our Addiction to Trusting in Force

 

The third ingredient of last week’s horror is the continued myth that peace comes through winning a war. That all you need is superior force and your safety is guaranteed.

 

This myth is so widely held throughout the world, that those who dare to question it are derided as if they came from another planet.

 

But in the last week we have witnessed the greatest failure of military force to protect itself – as we have seen the most powerful nation in the world terrorised by 4 of its own commercial airliners taken over by a handful of people armed with pocket knives and cardboard cutters.

 

And over the last few years there have been many occasions when the most powerful of nations have been left powerless against tiny rogue states. Vietnam and Afghanistan come to mind – did you know that no foreign power has ever won a war in Afghanistan – and now there are calls to declare war in that region again.

 

And yet the myth is continued to be believed, that safety and security rest in having superior force.  When will we realise that force is a false saviour – promising things it is unable to deliver?  It promises peace but it only sows seeds for further war.

 

It promises a stable environment but only in return for massive ‘defence’ spending in the future. Devious in the extreme because this invariably contributes to the next war (Irony: Osama Bin Laden was armed and trained by the CIA during the cold war in Afghanistan) when the next war comes, extra force is called upon again to come to our rescue, making us more and more dependent on it to do something it never does – namely, to bring peace.

 

It is a false saviour – making us believe that peace is something left over when the war has finished, but peace never happens that way. Peace has to be worked for with love.

 

But we shouldn’t be surprised that it cannot deliver on its promises, because if Satan cannot cast out Satan then how do we expect violence to cast out violence?

 

MLKjr was right when he said: “War is a poor chisel to carve out a peaceable future.”

 

And yet it is all too often the first tool that is requested, as we have already heard in the past few days – just as soon as someone can construct a credible account of who was actually responsible the bullets will fly and the bombs will drop.

 

And the cycle of violence will intensify.

 

It is absolutely naive to think that the capturing and killing of Osama Bin Laden will secure a lasting peace. “For every terror network that is rooted out, another will emerge until the injustices that produce them are addressed.” (Seumas Milne)

 

The violence myth continues because it gives one the illusion of power and of being able to respond swiftly to tragedy – it prevents one from feeling helpless – but all the while it gives us this illusion of power it dis-empowers us to be able to truly heal the conflict.

 

As Diana Francis says: “Military solutions are an addiction. There will never be a good time to give them up. There will always be the voice that whispers that just a little bit of armed force will do the trick. But as long as we are caught up in the logic and structures of military options, we can never free our minds and imaginations for other, constructive forms of action.” (Diana Francis – article entitled: If we want to stop the killing.)

 

Furthermore, the use of violence relies upon the dehumanisation of the enemy – first they must be made to seem less than human – and thereby unable to respond to reason – and thus beyond being able to change – which only leave one option that makes sense.

 

Violence also denies the redemptive action of God – God is always wanting to save. Here is a trustworthy saying written by a one time murderer himself – Paul: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners! (1 Tim I: 12-17). The trust in force is a denial of God! It denies the true saving power which is suffering love revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In short the trust in force is a denial of Jesus saving work on the Cross.

 

Jesus calls us to abandon our trust in force and to trust in his love to save. It is here in the cross – yes embedded somewhere in this great and terrifying mystery that we will discover the things that make for peace.

 

We must deal with our religious fundamentalism – our political self righteousness and our trust in force if we are to begin to walk slowly towards peace.

 

Therefore …

 

We are called to take our bearings from the Gospels and not from Nato rule 5.

 

Just because they may make an action legal within the courts of law – does not mean they can make it right.

 

One of the hard truths of the Gospel is that grief and tragedy – even to the extent of what we have witnessed in the week, does not carry with it immunity from responsibility for the way we respond.

 

Again as Diana Francis says: “Peacemaking takes time – we must bear the frustration and pain of moving forward one day at a time, remembering that the suffering has been going on for a very long time, that two thousand years ago, Jesus wept at his own powerlessness to prevent the destruction that was to come – as he cried: “If only you had known the things that make for peace.” If we really believe that the power of suffering love is the most powerful and saving power in the world then we must break from our addiction to violence.”  [I am aware that] ”talking from a long-term perspective seems inadequate and callous in the light of the current violence and injustice, but it is my belief that there is no short cut to human understanding, tolerance, forgiveness and co-operation. Violence cannot achieve these things, but it can make them very much harder to obtain.” (Diana Francis)

 

Peace takes time and extracts a heavy cost, which includes patience, understanding, listening, mercy, justice and humility.

 

There is no victory in vengeance – no matter what Congress votes or famous evangelists ordain

 

The USA is in a unique position to demonstrate to the world a new way of dealing with our enemies. God help them – God help us all in the name of Jesus not to strike back against this terror with more terror (ending in the death of more people – real people – and more tears – tears from other children of God – other sisters and brothers of ours – who may never be seen by the cameras – but whom Jesus knows and for whom Jesus will weep.

 

Amen.

 

14/09/2001

Alan Storey

Email   aslowwalk@gmail.com

Web     www.aslowwalk.org

Twitter            @aslowwalk

 

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