Thursday, September 11, 2003

Septeber 11 Remembrance
On this sober anniversary of the most deadly attack ever on American soil, we will be remembering September 11, 2001 in different ways.

It's certainly appropriate for us to remember the many who lost their lives and to work and pray to insure that such horrors don't happen again.

It's appropriate also that we remember 9/11 by devoting ourselves and praying for those who are working to bring terrorists to justice.

A healthy patriotism, a deep appreciation for the uniqueness of America, where most of our citizens enjoy freedom and opportunity and where the constant theme of our history has been the struggle to expand freedom and opportunity to all people, is another way to memorialize this day, I think.

But I want to suggest two other ways in which we can remember 9/11.

America and Americans were never so compelling to other people in the world as we were on that horrible September day two years ago. Accustomed to seeing America as a colossus bestriding the world, enjoying untold material benefits, the heart of the world was pulled to America when it saw us attacked, saw a President who was strong enough to cry while speaking with reporters in the Oval Office, and witnessed the care and compassion we displayed toward one another and the appreciation with which we accepted the prayers and the help of other peoples. Seeing that we too were vulnerable human beings capable of suffering, the rest of the world wanted to help.

In the time since 9/11 however, old resentments against America and Americans have reappeared. Some of them may be unjustified. But some may be understandable. I fear that we have allowed our patriotism to harden into arrogance, into an angry striving for vengeance.

America is a miracle and a sacred trust. Each generation of Americans, with our different racial and national backgrounds, must take care to pass it on.

But we must be clear about what we mean when speak of passing America on to the next generation. America is more than a swath of geography spread across the Western Hemisphere and it is more than the sum of all our material possessions, technological achievements, or military power. America is an idea and an ideal. Both the idea and the ideal can be summed up in one word: freedom.

I believe that freedom came to America not because we were or are smarter, or better, or stronger, or richer than other peoples. When the thirteen colonies originally declared their independence from Mother England in 1776, there was little reason to think that they could win that independence from the world's greatest power. Nor, with the institution of slavery and our mistreatment of Native Americans, along with all the other sins common to the human race which existed in the fledgling country, could one argue that America was more virtuous or worthy than other nations or peoples. But God blessed and has blessed America for His own mysterious reasons.

In ancient Biblical times, God chose a group of people descended from an imperfect, sinful, and sometimes scheming group of patriarchs--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--to create a nation that would act as a light to other nations and to give birth to the Light and Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Over and over again, God's Word, the Bible, affirms that God chose Israel not because of any special qualities or virtues its people possessed. God chose them simply because God chose them. That should have evoked humility and a commitment to living life God's way--loving God and loving neighbor--from ancient Israel. Israel experienced God's grace, His undeserved favor, after all. But often, God's blessings caused Israel to be arrogant and forgetful of God, always to their detriment or destruction.

I don't equate America with ancient Israel. I don't even equate modern Israel with ancient Israel. The Bible's New Testament in fact, describes the Church as the new Israel.

But what I do say is this. For His own inscrutable reasons God chooses to bless people and nations--the just and the unjust alike, according to Jesus. In fact, each nation of the world has received blessings of all kinds.

God's call on the lives of those He blesses and His call on us as Americans, I believe, is twofold:

First: We need to humbly acknowledge all of our blessings.

Second: We need to humbly share our blessings with others.

The New Testament book of James says that every good and perfect gift comes from God. The gifts of America and our freedom come from God. I believe that on this September 11, we need to tell God we know that He has blessed us and thank God for it.

We also need to look for ways in our every day lives to be blessings to others, which is just another of way of saying, "Be a good neighbor."

My wife commented last night about driving home from work on 9/11. She noted something that many observed in the days following that horrible time. Drivers were incredibly courteous to one another.

It seemed to me that people were solicitous of each other in supermarket check-out lines and in the mall. People seemed to call and check up on each other with greater frequency. Volunteerism increased dramatically (only to shrink even more dramatically). Donations to food banks and blood banks went up. We got more interested in the world around us. I think that out of gratitude, we became good neighbors.

Jesus once told a story we've come to call The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). You know it well. A man was robbed and beaten badly and left for dead. Two different men, each blessed by God, each with special responsibilities in the spiritual life of ancient Israel, saw the man in his need and even though they could have been blessings to him, went on their ways. A third man came along, a member of the ethnic group most hated by Jesus' fellow Judeans--he was a Samaritan. The Samaritan approached the dying man, poured oil on his wounds, bandaged him, put the man on his animal, carried the man to a nearby inn, paid for his accommodations and care, and said that he would be back to check on things later. Jesus said that the person who cares for others like that Samaritan is a neighbor.

Of course, the ultimate Good Samaritan is Jesus. God saw us alienated from Him, facing the certainty of death and being separated from Him for all time, and went into action. He sent His Son Jesus into our world. When Jesus came to us, He went even further than the Good Samaritan. Jesus didn't just bind up the wounds caused by our sin, selfishness, and death. He was wounded Himself, taking the punishment we deserve for our sins, dying on a cross. He then rose from the dead as a sign that all who dare to turn away from sin and who humbly surrender their lives to Him, will live forever with God.

If we who are Americans follow Jesus Christ, however imperfectly (and I know that I am a most imperfect follower of Jesus), we have two reasons to humbly acknowledge our blessings and to humbly share our blessings with others. For one thing, we're blessed to live in America. Second and more importantly, we're blessed to belong to the God Who will never let us go.

Humility before the blessings of God may be the best way for us to commemorate September 11.

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