Girdwood Chapel Sermon, 11 September 2016
1 Corinthians 12: 4-11
1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, 13
Sometimes, as a pastor, you have those moments and the persistence of Spirit that make you change your whole approach to the week’s message. Today’s service is a result of those moments and persistence. We will return to our story of Moses next week, but for now, let’s concentrate on the significance of the day and the story of love that endured from acts of hate.
This morning, fifteen years ago, I lived in base housing on Kirtland AFB in Albuquerque, NM. I had just finished my breakfast and was gulping down my last few drops of coffee before heading out the door. The local news channel stopped and flashed to a breaking news story from New York. I watched as they replayed video from the plane that had struck the World Trade Center tower. Alicia and I watched the television and discussed the pilot error that would have had to occur for such an incident. Then, as we watched, the second plane crashed into the second tower. This was no pilot error. Moments later my phone rang and the recall began. I held Alicia for what seemed like much too short a time and walked out the door, uncertain if and when I would be back home.
It was a moment of uncertainty. It was fueled by the fear of not knowing what was happening and the nature of my job to respond and to protect. By the time I arrived at the Center where I worked, the briefing rooms were full of people watching the news. The live broadcast was the intelligence channel at this point. We all gasped when the Pentagon was hit, for we all knew someone or several people that worked in the building. Anger boiled in the room. Feelings of helplessness overcame us as we watched the pain and destruction that was occurring on the soil and to the people of the country we had sworn to protect. Anxiously we waited for orders to do something, to act in some way, to begin a retaliation...but against who and how, we did not know.
I remember returning home, happy to be welcomed by Alicia. I remember trying to call our family back east on that evening and not being able to get through because the circuits were all busy. No one wanted to be alone and all of the young families in base housing mingled outside. I cannot recall a single conversation, but what I can recall, is that in that moment, I knew the terrorist attack had failed, because I felt something that was the exact opposite of what was intended by those hijackers. I felt love for those I was with. I felt gratitude for their selflessness. I felt afraid, but I did not feel alone. To this day, those people whom I sat with for meals and conversation and whom we prayed with are some of the closest people to my heart. Even though I have not spoken with many of them in maybe ten years. But, in tragedy we were born in new life and a realization of those things most important. We were vulnerable and raw, and as a result, we saw one another in the truest and purest of our created form.
The Common Good
I am convinced that what was happening on that Air Force Base 15 years ago was happening in most neighborhoods, in most homes, and in most hearts across the nation. Tragedy had given all of the American people a common ground, a shared heartache, a place of vulnerability and an understanding that, previously, was difficult to find. Unknowingly, differences were set aside and strengths were depended on as people from all over the country rose up to show support for one another. Differences were set aside and the hope for healing; even more, the hope for love, prevailed. This was possible because during this time, during this period in our history, as a nation that had become obsessed with individuality, we collectively stopped and considered the other. In doing so, the spark that was in our hearts ignited and our strengths shined in a triumphant blaze of love and solitude against all that represented decisiveness and darkness in our world.
Is this not what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians as he illustrates the body of Christ? So often we use the differences of one another as points for disagreements or areas of separation. No! These are cherished differences placed there by the Spirit to collectively do the work of God. To come together as a people to work for the common good. To show that Christ’s body is alive and well in the world and operating like a well oiled machine.
In these videos we have watched and in our recollection of the events of 9-11, do you recognize any discernment or prejudice in the victims of the events? Contrarily, to you recognize the diversity of the responders and those helping? Evil works in our world without prejudice, but you know what? So does good and so does God!
I was searching for the right story to bring my illustration together and just couldn’t seem to find the right one. Then out of the blue a very good friend of mine send me the following story with the message, “this may not fit into your sermon, but I thought it was awesome.” I love those God moments!
Often we do not consider how the world was affected by the events which were occurring in America on that day in September. But, as the planes were grounded in the continental United States, hundreds of planes from other countries in route to the US were turned back, unable to enter our airspace. One of these particular planes was enroute from Frankfurt, Germany. The pilots and air traffic control determined that the best option for the flight was to turn around and land at the airport in the small city of Gander, Newfoundland. The population of the town surrounding this airport was only around 10,400 people and over the course of several hours, it doubled as 52 planes with over 10,500 people landed at the small airport.
After many hours on the plane it was determined that continued travel into the United States would not be allowed for an unknown amount of time. The passengers were notified that buses would pick them up and take them to quarters at a specified time. The passengers on the Frankfurt flight were picked up and taken to various locations. You see, while they were awaiting instructions on the plane the townspeople were busy preparing for their arrival and meeting the needs. The local schools were closed and transformed into shelters, outfitted with cots and laundry facilities. The high school students were drafted to care for the passengers at these locations as a hotel staff cares for their guests. The elderly were taken to homes where they were given beds and more individualized care. Families were kept together and medical assistance was provided. The town organized daily excursions to the sites around the area much like a disembarkment of a cruise would provide. Meals were provided and comfort assured. This went on for two days.
As the passengers boarded the plane 48 hours later, they boarded as friends. They knew one another’s name and they shared wonderful experiences during their stay in Gander. The tragedy occurring a country away had worked to forge unity and friendships in complete strangers. The town of Gander, well that is, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story”.
Soon after boarding the plane, a passenger asked to speak over the cabin microphone. Given permission, he stated that he was going to set up a trust fund for college scholarships for the high school children who had taken such good care of them on their stay. The unselfishness of a town and the hospitality and love demonstrated to 52 plane loads of complete strangers has resulted in a trust fund for Gander’s children that is now worth over $1.5million and has assisted over 130 students with their college education.
The story of Gander, the story we watched of the cross in the rubble, the story I shared with you about our community coming together on the base, they demonstrate for us that love cannot be overcome by hate and that love will prevail.
We have strengths. We have God given, Spirit-filled, Jesus-wielding, strengths! All of us do. God beckons at our heart to release them. To act without restraint when it comes to love and set it free. The cross in the rubble...that is what it is all about. In the center of pain, darkness, despair, and anguish there is hope because Jesus got there before us. He took the most difficult road there was to take, so that our hearts would be free to release the joy and the gifts given by God to perpetuate the story of love in our world today.
“Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things! Love never fails!” (1 Cor 13:7-8)
My friends, 9-11 is happening every day someplace in this world. Just because we do not turn on our television and see the crumbling towers does not mean that evil has taken a break from its dastardly ways. We hear about Paris, about Brussels, and about other areas suffering from similar attacks and we breath a sigh of relief that it was not us. We hear about Orlando and consider it to be an isolated incident, accomplished by an imbalanced and/or zealot person. We are offended that gunmen kill innocent students and we shake our heads as we see the headlines of civil unrest and racism creep back into our view and take space in our reality.
We try to turn our heads and focus on our own needs and on our family. We want the security of our own community and the comfort of familiarity. We do not want to encroach on the space or the lives of others. We hold our faith close to us and can sometimes feel that sharing it’s power and it’s hope with someone else may be offensive or off putting. To do such a thing could be uncomfortable for us and anger someone else. So, we remain quiet. Hopeful that the world will heal and hate will fade away.
I say this. In the center of every tragedy. In the center of every dark story of prejudice, violence, and loss. In the center of every act of hate...THERE IS A CROSS! Before the act was conceived, much less born, the cross was there. There is a cross that has taken all of that sin and bared it on very human arms and in a human heart as a witness to all of us as to what we are to be. The story is not about darkness and loss and hate. The story is about faith, hope, and love! The story is about standing up for the lessons and the word of the one who stood up and stands up for you! Find in yourself the selflessness that we all saw in ourselves following 9-11 and bring it to your life everyday. Read your Bible. Pray with others in public and don’t feel self conscious or ashamed. Do things that invite others to ask questions about your faith, so you become convicted in the grace of God. Find in yourself hope renewed in the Gospel. Find in yourself faith in the salvation of Christ. Find in yourself the love of God. For in the end...it will be faith, hope, and love that remain. The greatest of these is love.