Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memories and Dreams - A Sermon Ten Years After 9-11

Memories and Dreams
A Sermon by the Reverend John Edward Harris, D. Min.
Preached at the Whitestone Community Service of Prayer
In Remembrance of the Events of September 11, 2001
St. Luke Roman Catholic Church, Whitestone, NY
September 10, 2011

When the topic of the terrorist attacks of ten years ago comes up in conversation, as it has so often of late, what is one of the first questions we are likely to ask or to be asked? “Where were you when you first learned of the attacks?”

I was living in West Virginia, having started a new pastorate just the week before. As I was driving to the hospital to visit a member, I was listening to NPR, when an announcer broke in to regular programming to say that a plane had reportedly crashed into one of World Trade Towers, but that details were sketchy. A little later, as I was visiting the member and his wife in his hospital room, we were watching the coverage of the events on the television in his room when the second plane hit the tower. At least that is the way I remember it now ten years later.

Nearly two weeks later, I wrote in my journal for the first time after the attacks. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote. Please keep in mind that the chronology might be a little off because I was writing from memory.

“Tuesday, September 11, is a day that will live long in my memory and in the memory of all Americans. Around 9:00 AM, a 747 or 757, hijacked out of Boston, flew into one of the Twin World Trade Towers. Less than 15 minutes later, another hijacked airliner crashed into the second tower, a crash watched my millions, if not during the live coverage of the first crash, then on taped replay. Within the hour, a third hijacked airliner, out of Dulles, crashed into the Pentagon. And a fourth jetliner, hijacked out of Newark, crashed into a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, after passengers and crew tried to retake the plane from the hijackers. Its intended target may have been Camp David, or the White House or Capitol.

Within an hour or two after being crashed into by the two planes, both Twin Towers collapsed in upon themselves to the ground. Two weeks later, debris is still being removed and any hope of finding survivors is nil. In total, over 5,000 people were killed or are missing from the result of the terrorist attacks.

The attacks are being linked to Saudi Arabian Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorist Osama Bin Laden, believed to be hiding out somewhere in Afghanistan.

President Bush has declared war on Terrorism and American Forces are being deployed to the Persian Gulf and Middle East for an expected retaliatory strike against terrorist camps and bases, an assault that will undoubtedly involve US ground troops and some US causalities.”

Ten years ago, we began a new chapter in America’s history. We are still looking back, still remembering, still asking questions, still wandering what it all means. The end of this chapter in America’s history has yet to be written, however. American troops are still in Afghanistan and still in Iraq in what is now the longest war in American history. As we live and breathe, and remember those who died on September 11, 2001, you and I, along with Government workers from the President of the United States to the Army Private serving in Afghanistan, along with Captains of Industry to the construction worker laboring to rebuild the World Trade Center, along with Bishops and Moderators and Church leaders to the average worshiper in the Synagogue, Church and Mosque, are still living in aftermath of 9-11 and wondering how to move forward, how to bring this chapter to an end.

This evening, in a small part of the great city of New York known as Whitestone, Protestants and Roman Catholics have broken down historical barriers that have divided us centuries and have come together to remember and pray for peace. We have gathered not just to look back and remember, but also to look forward and dream as we pray.

Yes, as Christians we do look back; back to God’s good creation broken by sin, back to God’s promises to Noah and to Abraham and Sarah, and back to the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. We also look forward, however. Along with Isaiah, Joel, and Micah, we look forward to beating swords in plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Along with John on the Island of Patmos we dream of a new heaven and a new earth. We dream of the holy city, not New York but the new Jerusalem, and in that city God will wipe away every tear. Death will be no more. Mourning, crying, and pain will have ended. In the midst of the city will be the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. On either side of the river will be the tree of life. The leaves of the tree will for the healing of the nations.

As disciples of the Prince of Peace, we must not only dream of peace, and pray for peace, but be peacemakers, asking for and offering forgiveness, seeking and working for reconciliation not only between Roman Catholics and Protestants, but also among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, indeed, among peace loving people of all faiths, and even no faith.

We who lived through the events of September 11, 2001 can never forget the events of ten years ago tomorrow, nor fail to remember the people who lost their lives that day and the days soon after. However, let us dwell not on what once was but on what shall be, looking not to the past but to the future, a future that for Christians is filled with hope and the promise of peace. Let us not ask one another “Where were you and what where you doing ten years ago tomorrow?” Rather, let us ask one another “Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing ten years from tomorrow?”