Here’s my first draft of my sermon for this Sunday at Zion “Goshert’s” UCC, which is of course the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It’s still feeling kind of drafty and could be sharpened a bit, so I would welcome your feeback. Thanks… The lections I am using are the Hebrew Bible lectionary text, the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:19-31) and the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). UPDATED 9/8/11.
It’s been ten years since September 11th, 2001, as you’ve surely been hearing from radio, television, and every other media outlet for the past two weeks. September 11th also holds significance to me because it was the day I was baptized as an infant in 1977, before I was quite nine months old. I was obviously too young to remember my own baptism but it was on this date, September 11, 1977, that I began my formal life in the church, baptized in a country church outside of the town of Columbia, Pennsylvania.
On the 24th anniversary of my baptism, in 2001, I was working as a campus minister at DePaul University, and since it was a Tuesday morning, my ministry team members always had a very early-morning breakfast meeting. While the meeting was going on, we usually had The Today Show on the television, and as a result we happened to watch the events of the day progress on live television, while most of the campus of DePaul University was still asleep. Around the city of Chicago, rumors began about plans to take down the skyscrapers in Chicago. The city’s public transportation system was shut down. More rumors began about someone assaulting a Muslim not too far off of campus in retaliation. We moved the Muslim students into a safe location on campus where their parents could come and get them , to take them out of the city to somewhere deemed to be more safe.
So much was going on that day, trying to keep freshman students, who had just moved to the city for their first weeks of college, from moving into a state of hysteria, that, I wouldn’t realize until days later, I had actually planned on going to the Chicago Cubs vs. Saint Louis Cardinals game on that afternoon—everything inessential seemed to stop and change. That evening, my supervisor and friend, Javier, and I had a bite to at together and we began to decompress everything that had happened for the day. We concluded that September 11 was going to begin a new era of the ugliness of religion to emerge in new forms.
And I think we were right. Before the fires of Ground Zero were even extinguished, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson began to preach that the events of September 11 indicated that God was punishing our country for doing something wrong. In an interview just days after September 11, Jerry Falwell said that the reason why God allowed us to be attacked was because the feminists, the gays, pro-choice politicians, and the ACLU were being given too much voice, and Robertson agreed. After a public outcry, both of them apologized. But we know that they really meant what they said.
What is interesting to me is that if one is to believe such thinking, that God punished us on September 11th by commanding Muslims to conspire against us, one must then assume that this supposedly Christian God is using very specific forms of Islam to do ‘His’ work. And furthermore, we should not forget that this is exactly the theological position of the Westboro Baptist Church, who protests soldiers’ funerals with pickets that say “Thank God for September 11.”
When the towers fell, when we realized that the Pentagon had been attacked, and when the rumors were confirmed that another airplane had crashed in Pennsylvania, we were quick to assume that the Pillar of Cloud that had been protecting America from collapse for 200 years had suddenly been lifted, and that the judgment of our nation was about to emerge. Our mistake was to assume that the Pillar of Cloud was protecting us in the first place simply because we are Americans. And instead of really thinking through what had just happened, we as a nation were quick to point fingers and use the events as an excuse to go to war. Instead of rising above the war on terror, we declared a war on terror and defined it as a roundabout way of seeking revenge, almost believing that if we sought out vengeance our God would bring his smile back upon our nation.
On Septmeber 11, ten years ago today, 3,000 Americans were killed in a horrible act of terror. Beginning September 12, we have seen just under 6,000 American servicemen killed, 42,700 American military wounded. If we count American civilians, since September 12, 2001, we have seen just under 52,000 American casualties. In Iraq, over a million more have died, mostly civilians. In Afghanistan, between 4,000 and 5,000 more people have died, in Pakistan we have killed around 2,000 more, in Somalia we only have data for one year, 2007, and the death toll was around 7,000. And we continue to pay to continue this war on terror, by the end of this year the estimated spending to fund all of this killing is about $1.283 trillion, or about 11% of our total national debt.
For me, September 11 has become a day of the tragedy of religion; what religions cause us to do and what fuels us to continue the cycle of violence. Some of the national rhetoric today is to glorify September 12, the day after September 11th, as a day we came together as a nation. The error or mistake of September 12 was believing that we needed to act in such a way to gain back the pillar of cloud that we had lost, and that if we could only gain back the favor of God we would once again be the great nation we once were or were once meant to be by throwing the rest of the world into the Red Sea. Our pretentiousness is instead to rebuild the tower of Babel in the world by enacting war wherever air is breathed.
The error of September 12 was to trust in ourselves and to once again declare that America is the Hope of the World when we know it is not. If we are a Baptized People and we pledge absolute authority to our nation, to the point of slaughtering over a million people in Iraq in the last ten years, we are not only lying to ourselves about our Baptism but we have betrayed the very essence of Christianity that our parents, and our grandparents, and their grandparents have handed down to us in the font of our faith. If we are to continue the cycle of violence and if we remain silent about the reality of violence which we are both apathetic to, and participating in by our silence, we worship the very Satan which we point to the rest of the world as having worshiped and demanded violence upon us.
It is now time for us, now that ten years have passed, to begin to be honest about the horror that we have brought to this world as a nation beginning September 12, 2001. We have multiplied the deaths of those who died on September 11 many times over. We have proven to the world our obsession for revenge. We have proven to ourselves that the monster of terrorism is more often among ourselves than everywhere else. This cycle of violence, this ongoing crucifixion of the world, can only finally find an end with the peace which comes from Christ, yet instead of preaching hope and courage we have given the world Hell.
As we memorialize with nostalgia those who have died on this day, we must remember the millions more whose deaths were prefigured by our refusal to seek answers and seek reconciliation. Jesus, and the healing of genuine forgiveness, is not the answer to our question, but rather the question which lingers while we so easily remember the dead without asking the big questions which this date now symbolizes.
For me, September 11 is a day of tragedy, not in spite of the coincidence that it is the day of my baptism. It is a tragedy because the past ten years are witness to the failure of our supposedly Christian nation to remember our baptisms, which have either been drown out in our need to perpetuate violence or seem to be an excuse for us to continue the cycle of violence.
We now must ask: Before we take this date seriously, how many more millions have to die? Do we continue to support and look the other way to all of the violence because of our baptism, and why has our shared baptism not caused us to question our violent response to violence? Will undo the error of September 12 on this September 11?