Across the Internet today are nearly endless stories and accounts of the events of 9/11/2001. That makes sense. Each American alive at the time has a different take on the events of that dreadful day.
Here in the Midwest, the first jet slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 7:45 a.m. Across the fruited plains, many were on their way to work, most school children had yet to leave home or were finishing breakfast, and some parents were pulling out of the drop off line when the radio broadcasters or morning television shows broke in with what appeared to be a freak accident.
A commercial airliner hit a skyscraper. Weird, but o.k. we supposed it could happen. Really tall building, mechanical failure with the plane, something wrong in the cockpit. Tragic, but it made sense.
Then it happened again, and that made no sense. This could not be mere coincidence. Eighteen minutes following the first attack a second airliner fully loaded with jet fuel penetrated the South Tower.
At 8:45 a.m. a third jet tilted nose down ramming into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Twenty-five minutes later a fourth jet would crash in a Pennsylvania field when its passengers mutinied against their terrorist captors not allowing their flight to be the next attack on the American people and the American way of life. Their sacrifice cannot be measured.
By 9:30 a.m. both towers at the World Trade Center were reduced to mere rubble after collapsing. The fire at the Pentagon was out of control. Every airborne plane flying in U.S. airspace was ordered to land immediately. The combined air power of the U.S. military took to the skies with orders to shoot down any and every aircraft non-responsive to the order to land. The mainland of the United States was under attack from an enemy we could not identify, and, therefore, could not defend ourselves against. Everyone was a potential threat, and all of us were potential targets. It was a terrifying day.
In less time than it takes to drive from St. Paul to St. Cloud, the United States of America changed.
I remember the morning with clarity. It was a blue sky, crisp autumn day here in Minnesota. Driving to my office at the church building, the radio broadcaster reported the first bits and pieces out of New York City. By the time I sat down in my office chair, the second tower had been hit. I quickly grabbed an old television and worked to get reception from any broadcast channel. When the third jet bored into the pentagon, I told my administrative assistant I was heading home. There I found my 10, 7, 4, and 2-year-olds and their mom watching the live feed. It wouldn’t be many days after that our little boy reenacted with his toy cars and planes, building blocks and miniature people what he saw on the screen.
I struggled with how to minister to the people of our church in the days immediately following. The worship on the following Sunday morning was somber. I didn’t know what to say to the people in front of me. In my study on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, I pondered what the Lord would have me convey to the confused, emotional, angry, and fearful who would gather on Sunday.
Nothing in my seminary training nor anything in my thirteen years as an assistant pastor had prepared me for how to be a pastor under this circumstance. I’m somewhat embarrassed to say I preached a sermon borrowed from an online presence. It wasn’t a particularly good sermon. In my defense, I was 36-years-old and had been in the pulpit for less than ten months. I had no idea what to do or say.
In retrospect here are eight ideas I wish I would have conveyed.
Evil is real, and sin is its source. We struggled with how this could happen. “Why did they do this?” was the question we pondered over and again. Before the geopolitical answers, we must align with God that the heart of every human being is desperately wicked. Right and wrong are absolute ideas. They are not subjective, nor arbitrary, nor left to one’s personal beliefs. 9/11 happened because man is evil and did evil acts. Among their other acts of iniquity, they murdered thousands. Driven by our sin natures and influenced by The Deceiver any of us can commit any sin if given the opportunity.
Our world is broken beyond repair to the point that image bearers hate and kill other image bearers. 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Auschwitz, the Gulag, African slave ships, the Cambodian Killing Fields, John Wayne Gacy, Gary Ridgway, Herod the Great, Cain and so many more have demonstrated the depth of our depravity. All of us retain the same stamp – we bear the image of our creator. Yet, we hate each other to the point of killing each other. For the millennia of our existence, we have not been able to identify a solution. We need a remedy not attributable to us. Maybe our creator would be merciful and step in.
There is no security system that can safeguard you or those you love against all expressions of evil. In place on 9/11 was the most lethal military force on the plant. For centuries our oceans have served as gigantic moats against would be threats. New York City’s finest patrolled its streets and airports. American intelligence agencies, despite its flaws, worked 24/7 anticipating, identifying, and thwarting would be assaults. From China to India to Israel to Scotland Yard, the world watched and intercepted before tragedy could strike. On 9/11 none of it mattered. Evil on this scale like sin on the individual level cannot be managed, contained, easily recognized or ignored. Evil and sin must be eradicated. But how?
Do not lay up for yourself treasure in this broken world because in moments you can be robbed of all of it. 9/11 took our money. In 2017, “the total (annual) expenditure on anti-terrorism reached $174 billion in the U.S.” Estimates blow past ten trillion dollars (that’s twelve zeros) when considering the immediate and subsequent worldwide cost of the attacks on 9/11. That’s a lot of money that could have been used to better the lives of earth’s billions of inhabitants. In addition 9/11 took our people, thousands in New York City, Washington, D.C., and the field in Pennsylvania; thousands more in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. I suspect there are many more treasures 9/11 took from us.
Wealth is worthless on the day of wrath; therefore, possess something better when wrath comes. Solomon, who knew a thing or two about wealth, said this (Proverbs 11:4). The list of high power, large financial holdings companies occupying the towers on 9/11 is beyond impressive. Yet, the collective wealth meant nothing. Wealthy people and employees of lucrative firms made decisions to jump to their deaths from hundreds of feet above the city streets thus abandoning all of their accumulated assests. There wasn’t enough money in the world to stop the fury of the terrorists. We need something we can possess that will prove invaluable on a day of wrath.
Death is a thief but death is not a victor. Death robbed spouses of their soulmates, children of their parents, parents of their sons and daughters, and friends of those they love. Death stole health, identify, joy, security, lifestyle, and freedoms. Death was, is, and always will be humanity’s greatest enemy. Yet, death need not be the victor for any human being in any circumstance. Because Jesus Christ died like we do and for us, and then because he rose again to life, we who are now aligned with him through his cross share in his victory over death. Between now and the end of our lives, death will steal from us over and again. It is a wretched villain, but it is not a victorious villain. Christ’s resurrection assures your victory over death. In the not too distant future, you will not have any consequences because of death.
Christians should be the first to sacrifice this life to save the lives of others. Because death holds no victory over us, we hold the physical lives we live loosely. Like the opposition on Flight 93 that crashed in the Pennsylvania field or the hundreds of firefighters, EMTs, and police offers that stormed the two towers, our temporal lives can be offered in sacrifice to rescue others. We take this approach not only in life and death scenarios but in lifestyle too. We hold our money loosely, the proximity to our children and grandchildren loosely, our personal comforts loosely, and our dreams loosely. We sacrifice all matters related to self to serve and save the lives of others. The sacrifice of the passengers on Flight 93 and the first responders was no small matter nor will the sacrifices you make as a Christian. But we can and must as we saw them do.
Love now, later may never come. I can only imagine the regrets of many of the victims and their survivors, “I wish I would have (fill in the blank).” I’d be surprised if any of them said, “I only wish I would have bought that car before today.” Likely, their regrets focused on people close to them. Remorse centered on words unsaid, love withheld, forgiveness not attained or not granted, or touch not conveyed or not received. We have been loved immensely by our Father, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the Spirit who dwells within us. Ours is to love in kind. You will never regret loving should a day of wrath come. In fact, it was on a day of wrath that you were loved supremely when Jesus bore the wrath that was due to us. He has never regretted loving you and me. We will never regret loving either.
I hope and pray that I never again will face the task of preaching to people who experience an event like 9/11. I hope and pray we will never sit under preaching after such an event. Still, I know as sparks fly upward from a fire pit, man is given to trouble. When that happens, I trust these truths will guide us.
As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.