Preaching Resources for Commemorating the Anniversary of the September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks
"The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?"
It has been said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear. The writer of Psalm 27 reminded himself that there was no reason to fear because God was there. He reminded himself (and God) again and again. Evil people want to destroy me (verse 2). Mighty armies surround me (verse 3); but even if they attack, I will remain steadfast and confident — because God will shelter me. Then, without warning, the psalmist shifts his attention from evil people and armies to the most important thing in his life — his relationship with God and his life of worship, contemplation, and prayer. After consoling himself with the recognition that God would never abandon him (verse 10), he resolves to wait patiently for the Lord.
We, like that psalmist, realize that just repeating words of encouragement will not cure all our worries. Current events indicate that we will be chasing one enemy or another for quite some time. Thousands of families are dealing with the economic shockwaves that continue to reverberate across the nation. How can anyone wait patiently in such an environment? The psalmist was able to find resolve to wait on the Lord by examining his priorities and remembering his relationship with God. Without diminishing or trivializing the tremendous losses that so many have been forced to endure or the potential threats that lie ahead, we, like the psalmist, are presented with an opportunity to re-examine priorities: What is the most important thing in each of our lives today? The anniversary of 9/11 provides an excellent opportunity to remember lost loved ones and to gain strength from a deeper relationship with God.
"But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness." (NRSV)
Tradition ascribes the book of Lamentations to the prophet Jeremiah. The book is composed of five poems lamenting the fall of Jerusalem. The selected reading is part of a section filled with hope. In the midst of all the gloom and doom, misery and madness, the writer's reminder is this: things could have been worse! The King James Version renders verse 22: "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not." Another translation echoes: "By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction." (Lamentations 3:22, New Living Translation) When we look at the events of September 11, 2001, we all pause and marvel that because of God's mercies, things were no worse. We were hurt, but not annihilated. This may be a time to remind your congregation of the many grace-filled stories reported in the media in the weeks that followed the attack. Perhaps members of your congregation would consent to tell their 9/11 stories. There are also newer miracles of grace being reported in the media, such as the recent report of the Pennsylvania miners who were saved after days in a water-filled mine, serving to remind us of the endless compassion of God — even in the midst of terrible challenges. Great indeed is God's faithfulness! (Lamentations 3:23)
Rabbinic tradition says that Habakkuk was the son of the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4. The date of the book is shortly before the fall of the Southern Kingdom of Israel. The shadowy question floating through much of the book is an ancient one. Why do the righteous suffer? Why doesn't God do something about it? When Habakkuk penned these words, which were really intended for a choir, the country was in the midst of an international crisis; and the prophets had predicted that Judah would be overcome by its enemies. No one knew what the future held, and people were afraid.
A dear friend once helped me through a major crisis by asking me to list the worst things that could happen. To my surprise, the completed list was not nearly as long as I thought it would be. What had been bigger than life while roaming around in my mind as a fear seemed much more manageable listed on paper. And, as I examined my list, I suddenly realized that God had already given me the necessary skills to cope with each feared consequence. Alhough any event listed could be unpleasant or even painful, the unresolved crisis ceased to be a major cause of worry and fear.
The people of Israel had their own list of fears. They were agricultural people who needed their crops and their flocks to survive. The country was on the brink of the kind of war that usually meant the destruction of people and cattle and fields. Yet it would seem that Habakkuk had already decided what to do if the worst should happen. Listen to his words:
"Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation." (Habakkuk 3:17-18, NRSV)
His resolution is one that we can borrow. Even if the worst thing that could happen does happen, God will guide us through it. That alone is cause for rejoicing.
"Visions of God: Ezekiel 1:1-3"
(My personal sermonic reflections on the 9/11 tragedy, preached at The Upper Room Chapel on July 24, 2002)
"God Bless, More or Less," Christian History
A short historical reflection about Irvin Berlin's "God Bless America"
Portraits 9/11/01 The Collected "Portraits of Grief" from The New York Times by Howell Raines, et al.
9/11: What a Difference a Day Makes: Ten Years later by James Moore
9.11.01: African American Leaders Respond to an American Tragedy edited by Martha Simmons and Frank A. Thomas