Posted on Thu, Sep 22, 2011
Dr. Merritt's Sermon for September 11, 2011
Ten Years Later: Lessons on Forgiveness
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
September 11, 2011
Jim East remembers, “I was well into my morning managing cases and working with students and staff at the Florida School for the Deaf and the blind in St Augustine. I worked for the Florida Division of Blind Services and we had an office on the campus of FSDB. I had my radio on listening to music while I was doing work on the computer along with my reader, a retired woman named Mareen, an MCC member. She and I were surprised when the music became silent, then there was a short emergency broadcast signal and then news about NYC. I will have to say that I became angry. I am sorry to say that I was angry that God did not stop them. My office staff and I had a short prayer. I prayed constantly all day. I also began to fear for my safety. There were warnings sent to everyone who worked at any state or federal government facility. I remembered seeing on the news that terrorists had attacked schools and some might think FSDB an easy target. We were anxious for quite some time after the attack. I have asked god for forgiveness for my anger that day. I am usually disappointed or sad as a primary emotion when I face negative conflict, That day I believe we were all caught off guard.
Linda Powell remembers, too. I remember clearly the morning. I had just moved back up to Michigan after spending 10 years in St. Petersburg, Florida. A neighbor called us and invited us down to her house because she knew we didn't have cable TV at the time. She told us that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in NYC. And we might want to watch it. We went down the street to her house. My first reaction was simply stunned and wary. . .was this an accident or was something more sinister happening? We watched as the second plane flew into the other tower. I knew that this was no accident. I was paralyzed with fear. Who was the enemy? Where are they going to strike next? Are foreign armies coming onto our shores and going to attack us, and how? I immediately went into "making a safe nest for my family" mode. Half of them were in Florida and half in Michigan. My granddaughter was in school. Should I go pick her up? Should we pack up and drive up to the upper peninsula of Michigan, and hide in the woods somewhere? I became aware of the plane crashing into the Pentagon and another plane lost in Pennsylvania. I wondered why we weren't hearing fighter jets overhead or hearing that they had been launched to fight the invaders. It was on my top 5 list of times I felt totally vulnerable, fearful. I did not trust my country to save me.
And I remember my own experience. I called Al and we agreed that I needed to go on to my office. Who would handle all of this with the staff, children, phone callers the media and others? We had a lot of military children at The Academy during those years. I went on. Suddenly I remembered my friend who was the wife of a high ranking officer at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. I texted her. She responded, “Stay put.” I did. George Bush was out of Sarasota in a flash. Some reports had him flying around the country in Air Force One so he could not be targeted. I remembered the morning scene at the airport with Air Force One already on the runway for some unknown reason, and I wondered. I still do. I continued answering calls from moms and dads and family members all day. I told them all the ways we were taking care of their kids, gently letting the kids know, on a limited basis, what was happening. I went on the units and hugged staff members and patients and assured them that we had our eyes and ears on the situation and that we would do our best to keep them safe.
Late that afternoon I received a second text from my friend at MacDill. It simply said, “Go home now.” I followed her direction and went home. I was scheduled to fly to Texas for a conference on that Friday. I cancelled. I knew I couldn’t stop for long, and in that moment I knew my place was at home with my family and with my community and at The Academy doing my best to make sure those kids felt safe. Nothing would EVER be the same again. I knew that and I still do. Much has happened in 10 years. We were right that day; nothing has ever been the same. What do we do with that? How do we address the 10 year mark since such a horrific day? How do we forgive and how do we ask for forgiveness? How do we live in ways that, to the best of our ability, ensure that nothing like that can ever happen again?
We know that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were precisely planned so that four hijacked planes would crash into the symbols of the economic, political and military power of the United States. The time between each attack would guarantee the presence of the media. The terrorists controlled modern means of mass transport and mass communication. And at the same time, in what seems like an archaic manner, they were willing to give up their own lives to do so.
Professor Volker Küster writes, “The relationships between Islamic countries and the West are traumatized by one and a half centuries of colonization. In this respect, the foundation of the state of Israel – and its continuous support by the US and its Western allies – is interpreted as a continuation of colonization with different means. In Bin Laden’s view Americans had besmirched (damaged the reputation of) the land of his home country Saudi Arabia, where the holy places of Islam are located. (Against this background we can see the) simplistically woven fundamentalist theology of liberation that perverts Islam to a totalitarian ideology. Bin Laden’s God became a God of terror who blesses the spearheads of his religion in their struggle to keep their, “HOLY” places.” I must ask at this point, if I am the only one who hears a similarity between the thinking of Mr. Bin Laden and that of our own governmental leaders who quickly turned to perverted faith-based language to justify their Holy war to protect our Holy places against the very carefully named “Axis of Evil”?
What I am illustrating here, is this sense that we must experience as SHARED RESPONSIBILITY. The acts of September 11, 2001 were horrible acts, they were ungodly acts, and they were evil acts. And taking away what belongs to a people is can always be described with those words. It is horrible when other countries do it, it is horrible when our own allies do it, and it is still just as horrible when we the people do it, too.
So what response can we have on this Sunday 10 years later? I’m suggesting that we have a lot of forgiving to do. Remember the words of the Gospel; How many times must we forgive, Peter asked. And Jesus responded, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Don’t get caught up in the math; that phrase has been interpreted all kinds of ways. It does not mean any specific number of times. What Jesus is saying to the disciples and to us it that we are to forgive and to keep on forgiving. We are never to stop forgiving. 77 times, 490 times, and every time we need to. We must forgive ourselves, both individually and as a people. That is the first step because it really is true that we cannot offer what we have not experienced. We must forgive ourselves and experience that before we can honestly forgive other. From that point we practice forgiveness all over the place. We forgive others who hurt us. We forgive terrorists who try to blow up our country. We forgive outsiders and insiders who have interpreted evil voices in the name of God. We dedicate ourselves to the concept that ALL people are created equal; red or yellow, black or what, purple or blue or even rainbow colored people. We practice justice for all in the way we want to receive justice for ourselves. We listen to and obey the words of Jesus who simply says, FORGIVE.
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Forgive and keep on forgiving.
Finally, I love the words of Mark Twain, “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.” Let us be the fragrance of the violet, a forgiving people. Forgiving ourselves, forgiving those who do violence against us, forgiving because that is the Jesus way.
God bless America and Saudi Arabia and Israel, and Iran and Iraq. God bless our world with peace…and let it begin in me.
*Gospel Reading Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”