A Call To...
You've seen the headlines: "Doomsday," "War Comes to America." "America Under Siege." "We Saw Evil." Every headline, every news report, every talk show host, every time the subject comes up we are being beckoned, summoned, called, but to what? To what is this devastating destruction of property, this destruction of our American sense of invulnerability, this senseless, appalling loss of life calling us?
We are being called to outrage, are we not? Outrage against people who have no regard for life even their own. Outrage against countries that aid and finance these acts of terror. Outrage against a foe who purposely targets civilians and will not show himself in combat. Outrage even against our own government for not seeing this thing coming.
We are being called to terror by these terrorists. All of a sudden the magic umbrella that spread out over America is gone. The blood and bombs that we see raining down in the Middle East has begun to fall on us. We all thought of where our kids and loved ones were when it happened. We all debated whether to run and get our kids, but what are we going to do? Keep them locked up forever? The terrorists are here among us. We use to hear that Americans traveling aborad were warned to be careful; we have now been warned to be on guard in our own cities, schools, and homes. Yes, the call to fear is loud.
We are being called to arms. What happened Tuesday was indeed an act of war. It cannot be ignored. To do so, would be a dishonor to those who have fallen and would insure that many more would fall. Luther said that the small lack of peace called war is necessary to set a limit to the worldwide lack of peace which would destroy everyone. As fearful as the prospect of America at war is, we must remember there are some things worse than war. John Stuart Mill said, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest thing: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war is worse...A man who has nothing which he cares about more than his personal safety is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." Yes, we are being called to arms: to arm ourselves with the will and the determination to defend our country.
We are being called to prayer. The events of Tuesday call the people of God to prayer. We who know Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior have been called to intercede for those who don't. As Abraham prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah, Jeremiah prayed for Judah, and Christ prayed for Jerusalem, so we are called on to pray for New York, America, and the world. And pray Christians did. Did you watch the religious station? There was praying going on all day. There have been prayer services going on all week here in town. But God's people are not just being called to prayer but to repentance, to down right humiliation.
The Collect we used today comes from the liturgy appointed for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer. That's what is called in the red Lutheran Hymnal. You know what is called in the blue, newer, Lutheran Worship? A Day of Supplication and Prayer. You see humiliation is an outdated concept; it is too degrading, too negative to speak of people gathering together in humiliation. But dear friends, that is exactly what we need, and most if not every single one of you know it. As the tragic events of Tuesday unfolded how many of you had a sense of fear and unworthiness creep up inside of you? How many of you thought, "But for the grace of God I could have been on those planes or in those buildings?" But for the grace of God it could have been the UT tower rather than he World Trade Center towers. It could have been our local kindergarten rather than the Pentagon. We are like Daniel who though Scripture portrays him as a faithful man, nevertheless when he confesses the sins of his people he says 'we' not 'they.'
Yes, dear friends, this is a day of humiliation: Forgive us dear Lord for believing that our country's might defended us rather than yours. Forgive us for thinking that people in other countries must have done something to deserve the terror and bloodshed happening in their streets. Forgive us for trusting in the arm and arms of men to save us. Forgive us for thinking that since You had not judged our open sinning against Your commandments, You would never do it. Forgive us for asking You in song to shed Your grace on us never believing that You really had. We are humbled O Lord. We see how our much vaunted technology was defeated by box cutting knives. We see how easily our buildings that scrape the sky can be returned to dust. We see O Lord, as You first told us, that if the Lord doesn't keep the city the watchmen stays awake in vain.
Yes, dear friends, this is a day fitting for deep humiliation. It is a day fitting for prayer and outrage and even war, but if this is all we are called to, we have not really heard the voice of God amid all the ruin. The first time the world came face to face with 20th century war was in World War I. Many heard the machine guns, the heavier artillery, and the air planes as a call to Christ. "We need Thee O Jesus of the scars," lamented a poet from the trenches of France. The Secretary of Defense said on Wednesday, "We have seen the face of the 21st century battlefield." Yes we have. It's in our own streets, using our own technology against us, where no one wears a uniform, yet everyone is at war. "We need Thee O Jesus of the scars!"
We need a Savior who has tasted the dust that billowed from those downed buildings. We need a Savior whose own heart and soul were troubled by approaching death as those on the hijacked planes were. We need a Savior who has sweated like those rescue workers digging for hours on end. We need a Savior who was tempted to fear and despair like we were this week. We need a Savior who not only has cried to heaven, "My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?"like we did this week, we need a Savior who really was forsaken. Indeed, our Savior, Jesus of the scars, is the only One who has been forsaken. Jesus is the One who has been through the sin, death, and hell that we face, and who arose victorious. Jesus is the One who has been where we've been this week, and where we will be going next week and beyond. Jesus is the One who not only has gone with us and will go with us, but One who went in our place.
There is judgement, wrath, and retribution in the events we saw this week, but none of it was aimed at the people in Christ. "There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." In Christ as we most certainly are through our Holy Baptism, by the Holy Absolution, in the Holy Communion, we are never under God's wrath, but always under His grace, under His mercy, and under His peace. No matter if planes fall out of the sky all around us, no matter if buildings are shaken into the very heart of the sea, God in Christ remains our refuge, a very present help in time of trouble.
Don't look at the events this week to find out what God thinks about His people or is doing with His people. You will only frighten yourself and make wrong conclusions. Don't watch TV or read newspapers to find out what God is doing. Read children's Bible Stories. There you will find out about Jesus, and through Jesus, God the Father. You will find out that this battle we've been thrust into cannot be about defeating God's enemies, for all of God's enemies: sin, death and the devil have already been defeated 2,000 years ago on a cross on a hill called Calvary. In Bible stories about Jesus, you will find that God is your Father who no more wants you to be made afraid by the events of this week than you want your own children to be. In Bible stories about Jesus, you will find that God welcomes weak, fearful sinners.
But that's not all you will find in Jesus. In Jesus, you will find someone who can do what Mayor Giulliani said it was impossible for any of us to do. He said on Tuesday when asked about the number of causalities, "They will be more than any of us can bare." He, of course, is right. To lose not 1 airliner but 4, to lose not hundreds but thousands is more than any of us can bare. But it is not too much for the One who bore the sins of the world to bear. It is not too heavy for the One who has the whole world in His hands. It is too much for us who are mere dust to bear, but it is not too much for the One who made the dust. Such death, such destruction quickly gets us to the end of our ropes, but not the One who has been to the end and back.
Jesus and only Jesus is the One who can get His heart and head around the loss of life, the brutality, the destructiveness of the past week. You can't, so stop trying. One of our older members pointed this out to me this week. He said that the TV gives people the false impression that all the information, all the reports, all the graphics ought to enable them to understand, to get a handle on this. Friends, this is not only a false impression it is a dangerous one. People have always been confronted by utterly horrific things in war: large numbers of bodies, dismembered bodies, disfigured people, tragic cases. There has been no solace for those who have tired to get their head or heart around such things. Our minds are not big enough our feelings are not reliable enough.
Job tried to get his head and heart around his own extreme suffering, the loss of his children, the destruction of his property. He couldn't, and all He ended up with was God in a whirlwind. Finally, he was led to repentance, to humiliation, before God and said, "I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." The workings of God in this fallen world are beyond our understanding. St. Paul says the ways of the Lord are unsearchable and past finding out. All the special news bulletins in the world, all the in depth reports you can watch are not going to give you peace. Your head is still going to swim and your heart is still going to hurt. All I can offer you is the lap of God.
Listen to Psalm 131, "O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me. Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests upon his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever."
You know what or who is the lap of God? Jesus. John 1:18 declares the only begotten Son of God is in the lap of the Father. Commend the dead, the suffering, the destruction, the battle to your Jesus. You are the child; He is the Father. There are certain things that children have no business trying to figure out; certain burdens that children have no business bearing. The events of this past week are such things. We are weak; He is strong. We are foolish; He is wise. He is the Savior; we are the saved.
The call that comes to you today is to climb up into the lap of the Father. You won't be turned away. Jesus purchased you this place with His own Body and Blood. What of tomorrow? What if we are called to suffer, to sacrifice, to fight? Leave tomorrow in your Father's hands too, knowing that while you don't know what the future holds, you do know Whom holds it. The Jesus that got you this far will carry you all the way home. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Day of Humiliation and Prayer (9-16-01)