Ten Years After

I know it’s not Monday, so I guess this can’t “officially” be called “Monday Morning Musings,” but you’ll get the point.  Sunday was truly an awesome and memorable day.  Knowing that the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks would fall on Sunday, we wanted a way to commemorate this from an historical, a national, and a Biblical perspective.  There should be no question in people’s minds that this was a day that changed America in so many ways.

It will be a day forever etched in people’s minds and memories.  Many of us can remember exactly what we were doing, and where we were on that momentous day.  I personally remember it distinctly because of the overall surreal quality it carried.  My wife and I (Mona) were celebrating our 29th wedding anniversary which was 9-10-01 (you can do the math - last Sunday was our 39th)!   We were at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, CA.  Generally, a high-end and expensive resort like this would be beyond our budget, but because of my friendship with their executive chef, David Reardon, he had arranged an affordable rate for our 10-day “anniversary vacation.”  After a beautiful dining experience on Monday, our anniversary night, September 10th, we awoke to the shocking and horrifying coverage, pictures, and images on the early morning of 9/11 (PST).  The surreal part was being surrounded by extremely comfortable surroundings, and trying to “enjoy” a vacation, knowing that your nation had just been attacked by enemies.  I was riveted to the news coverage not only on 9/11, but on the days that followed, and as the events unfolded.  At the hotel, they knew that I was a pastor, so I became the “unofficial” chaplain of the resort in a Prayer/Remembrance service held on the following Friday for the hotel guests and others.  I thank God for that very meaningful opportunity to present the Gospel in that situation, to be a truth-teller in times of tragedy.

Our challenge for a 9/11 tribute was what kind of approach should we take.  What resonated in my mind were two things.  First, the iconic images from that day; strong and graphic, yes, but ones we should always remember.  Secondly, were the words by Pastor Jim Cymbala, “God’s Grace From Ground Zero.”  I did know that what we should commemorate was not just the actions and consequences of a group of terrorists, but rather we needed to concentrate on God’s actions throughout this debacle.

It was clear who we would be honoring: it was a time to remember the victims of that day, and their family members.  It was certainly a time to remember and pray for our nation and its needs.  The 1st Responders (who are often taken for granted) came to the forefront on that day.  It was also a time to remember our military, who since 9/11 have been thrust into action and taken up the charge of fighting two wars.  Also, along with the “who” of 9/11 we were also remembering the “what.”  In particular, the courage, the bravery, the selfless service, the duty and determination of our first responders.  All in all, there were 343 NYC firefighters, 23 NYC police officers, 37 Port Authority officers, and 3000 innocent civilians who had lost their lives on 9/11.  Trust me, 9/11 produced a plethora of stories and heroes who exemplified the behavior we’ve talked about.  The video montage we showed concluded and “froze” with the words and sentiment, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.” 

What really topped off the tribute was the decision to also “go local.”  We wanted to find a way to honor some of Tucson’s first responders as well.  I was made aware of some specific needs that our police and firefighters have.  Specifically, policemen were doing their shift without adequate bullet proof vests, which cost about $800 each.  Our prayer was “Lord, what can we do?”

As a result we able to present the Executive Director of the Tucson Police Foundation (Rob LeMaster) a check for $1600 to buy two vests for our officers.  We also had 4 of Tucson’s fire fighters present in the tribute, and were able to present them a check for equipment and injured fire fighters.  I was impressed by the congregation’s response as they gave these men (and who they represented) a standing ovation!  It was easily the “icing on the cake” of that day! 

The challenge for me after all this was transitioning into the preaching ministry.  The difficulty was that the intensity level of the Tribute was so high; it was hard to switch gears into preaching.  My Title, “TEN YEARS AFTER” wasn’t about the guitarist Alvin Lee, and the rock group of the name (!!).  It was a sermon on where we are spiritually as a nation 10 years after 9/11.  Knowing we might have “peaked” too soon because of our Tribute, I told the assembly my goal was to do all this in 20 minutes!  After the congregational chuckle (they know me!?)  I read from (Lk.12:54 - 13:1-5).  I won’t go over all the details, but one of the original inspirations was NYC’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg’s decision that the 9/11 memorial would be without pastors or prayers?!  Of course, there was room for Presidents and politicians, but not room for prayer, or even firefighters?  To remember 9/11, but exclude any kind of faith narrative is, first, extremely arrogant (not healthy for any nation to leave God out); but it also presents to the world and to our children an inaccurate and incomplete account of history related to this momentous event.  The penetrating question Jesus asked from our text is “why do you not know how to interpret the present time.”  I was trying Biblically to interpret things ten years after.

The heart of my message dealt with the contradictory climate we see today.  From prayers and packed churches on the weekend following 9/11 to 10 years after at our present time, Christianity has been largely dismissed from much of the public discourse.  The mentality is that it’s almost best to leave religion out of the agenda, specifically Christianity.  At the 9/11 prayer vigil at Washington’s National Cathedral they had a Rabbi, a Buddhist nun, an incarnate Lama, a Hindu priest, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, and a Muslim musician...but they DID NOT INCLUDE ANY REPRESENTATIVE OF EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY!  This is symptomatic of a wider dismissal today.  Those who hate Christmas, we’ve called Grinches.  Well, we need to discuss those who are vehemently opposed to God today, they are theophobes.!  We look at the tragedy of how far we’ve pushed Jesus out of our government, schools, and the public discourse and...our personal lives.  So, tolerance is considered the supreme virtue today, unless you happen to be an Evangelical Christian.  In this climate, they are fair game.  We’ve bent over backwards not to offend any Muslims, but Christians are an easy and acceptable target.  You can be sure as the 2012 Presidential race heats up that this will increase.  Today, one of the greatest vices that a candidate can have seems to be having a Christian world view that actually matters to their thinking.  Governor Rick Perry was accused by a Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank of being a theocrat because he holds to traditional Christian beliefs and values.  Mr. Milbank needs to do his research: there’s a big difference between theology and a theocrat.  The danger is that in our politically correct system gone amok, it can affect and produce beleaguered Christians.  Others who water-down their theology and their message to make sure no one leaves offended.

Finally, ten years after, one thing that is clear is that people are looking for The Hope Package: who has and can deliver one of our deepest longings for HOPE.  I believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers the best “HOPE PACKAGE” for people’s hearts and minds, wherever and whenever.  In the end, the only way to save America is by saving Americans!  One of the common threads in many of the grace stories that I read was the references to having an unprecedented opportunity to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to others!  It is not a coincidence that after Jesus warned His followers (Jn. 15:18-20) of the world’s hostility, the focus He left us in (Jn.15:26, 27) was of a loving, steadfast, Spirit-filled witness.  This is the hope and passion that is needed ten years after!  If a handful of terrorists could cause such incredible devastation, what could we see God do through an army of devoted Christ-followers in these last days?!

Oh, by the way, 20 minutes.  Well, not quite.  This is what someone texted me after the service.
As I've said earlier, Sunday was truly an awesome and memorable day. Here are some other pictures.