15 Years Later. . .

Good morning, Friends. I’ve got a question for everyone.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing about this time, fifteen years ago today?

One of the things about watershed events is that people often remember exactly what was going on at the time the world changed.

I remember I was up in Vermont at our family cottage, doing some reading that morning. My wife called me up on the phone, and she said, “Josh, I think you’d better get down here right away, and come and see what’s happening. An airplane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

Most of us have similar stories that we could tell. We remember what was happening that day, that very hour.

I’d like us to take the opportunity this morning, to remember that terrible morning15 years ago; to pray for the people who lost their lives, or who lost loved ones; and to pray for all the people throughout the world whose lives have been affected by war.

Our scripture this morning is a familiar one, from the prophet Micah in the Old Testament.

He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

– Micah 4:3-4

I remember back when the numbers “9-1-1” were first introduced. There was a big campaign about it. Instead of dialing “O” for “Operator” in an emergency, we were supposed to dial “9-1-1”. Those numbers meant that someone was coming to help – someone strong, someone brave, someone competent would come to help you right away.

Those numbers still mean that. But in one of those weird twists of reality, “9-1-1”, meaning “help is on the way,” got changed into “9/11”, meaning, “disaster has struck, and we are clueless about how to handle it”.

September 11, 2001, was the day it happened. And part of what made that day so terrible, was the way it kept on happening.

Most of the country knew about it just moments after the first airplane hit the World Trade Center. I drove down the mountain and I was watching the news with my family when we saw the second airplane hit, in live time.

I remember thinking that it couldn’t be a coincidence. Somehow, as crazy and impossible as it seemed, that had to be deliberate.

A few moments later came the news from Washington – I remember how the TV news anchor people looked as if they couldn’t believe what they were saying – that a third plane had struck the Pentagon. A little later on, there were unconfirmed reports that a fourth plane had gone down, somewhere in Pennsylvania.

One of my cousins worked in Manhattan, not far from Ground Zero. We kept calling all day, till we finally heard that he had walked for miles, through choking smoke and dust, till at last he reached some place where trains were still working.

Just this summer, my wife and I learned that one of her close friends who had lived at her house for several years, was late for a meeting at the World Trade Center that morning, and missed being in the building by minutes.

I don’t want to spend the whole morning talking about the terrible tragedy of that day. Most of us remember it, and most of us were affected by it.

And there are other people, who will never recover from what happened that morning. The people who died, and their families. The victims, and those who died trying to save them. The people who were on the ground, at the scene, may never be able to forget, in a much deeper way, than the rest of us.

But I think the important question for us to ask, is “Where are we now?” What are the scars? What are the pieces which are still broken? What are the changes we all have to live with? And maybe most important, where do we go from here? Where is God in all this? What does God want?

One of the purposes of the attack was that the terrorists wanted to send a message, that the world isn’t a safe place for us here in the United States. The echoes of that message are still with us today.

Another purpose of the perpetrators, was to try to provoke a violent, unthinking response from our government. They were hoping that the U.S. would strike out against all Muslims, who would then rise up and counter-attack. They wanted to start a world war.

And in that world-wide blood bath which they hoped to inspire, the terrorists hoped that the governments of many Muslim countries would be overthrown, and the people who started 9/11 would come to power. It’s a classic example of the old technique of using violence to create more violence, in the interests of power.

And it nearly succeeded. It nearly succeeded. I think that if the fourth plane had struck the White House, as they intended, we might have been thrown into a full-scale world war – maybe one involving nuclear arms. I think that’s what they wanted.

And in spite of all the things we might say, and have said, about how things have been handled since 9/11, we can be grateful that that part of their plan failed.

But even if our leaders were not provoked into a military response which might have destroyed everything, the results of that morning have been terrible enough. The defining emotions of the past fifteen years, throughout the world, have been fear, anger, and uncertainty.

And part of the problem has been, that it never let up. You may remember that 9/11 was followed by another plane crash in New York, just a few weeks later, and it was months before we were sure that it was just an ordinary accident, and not “Act 2” of 9/11.
There was an anthrax scare, which paralyzed the nation. We still don’t know who did it.

A month after 9/11, our government launched a war in Afghanistan. A year and a half after that, we invaded Iraq. Neither of those wars is over yet.

An “elevated” threat level is now considered normal. Travelers have become much more security-conscious. If you haven’t tried to get a driver’s license recently, it takes a bewildering number of kinds of identification.

The best estimates I was able to find this week are that the wars since 9/11 have cost the United States roughly 6 TRILLION dollars. We keep writing big checks, and we hope the problems will go away, but the wars keep going on, and on.

The wars since 9/11 have lasted longer than either the Second World War or the war in Vietnam. In our own country, there are tens of thousands of people who deal every day with family problems, with financial problems, with physical and psychological scars.

I wonder if you noticed that I haven’t said a word yet this morning, about our Scripture reading. Does anybody even remember what it said?

He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.

They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the Lord Almighty has spoken.

We’ve spent most of the morning asking ourselves, “Where are we now?” in response to the events of 9/11 and what’s happened since then.

We haven’t really asked ourselves, “Where is God in the midst of all this? Where is God in this strange and scary new world that we live in? Is God just one more player, alongside the terrorists, the victims of terror, the governments, the soldiers, the big companies and so on? Or is God something different? What does God say?

I think that most people here, and most people around the world, would say that the terrorist attack was not the will of God. That’s important, and it can never be said too often. God doesn’t will terror.

I wonder if we can also say, that the violent responses to the terrorist attack, are also not the will of God. It says in the Bible that God is the God of love. It says that Christ is the Prince of Peace. It says that the Holy Spirit is the great bridge-builder between people.

What is the word of God to us, fifteen years and two wars after 9/11? What does God have to say?

How do we stop the suffering and the killing?

How do we live the Peaceable Kingdom now, in our own generation?

These questions are important. Because the longer we put them off, the more people will die. The deeper the hatred will grow. And the harder it will be to bring peace.

The question is not, “How do we win the war?” The question is, “How do we make peace?” If we only ask the first question – “How do we win the war?” – then we’re going to be fighting forever. But if we ask the second question – “How do we make peace?” – then maybe we’ve got a chance.

War is not the answer. It isn’t always clear to us what the answer is. But as Christians, we know that war is not the will of God.

I don’t question the courage of the people who are fighting. I don’t question the intelligence of people who disagree. I don’t begrudge a penny of the support that we owe to the people who are in harm’s way, or those who have been wounded, or their families.

I’m only asking, “How do we change what’s going on? How do we get off the endless cycle of war and violence? What do we really want? What does God want?

This morning’s scripture says, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. . .”

If we really want peace, I think we’re going to have to do something different.

A little later on, just after this morning’s scripture reading, it says, “In that day, says the Lord, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away, and all into whose lives I have brought sorrow. Then the lame and the outcasts will belong to my people and become a strong nation; and I, the Lord will reign over them. . .now and forevermore. . .” (Micah 4:6-7)

Peace is not going to happen, and neither terrorists nor terror will go away, as long as there are people on this earth who are poor, who feel humiliated, or disrespected, or oppressed. Injustice feeds anger, and unresolved anger leads to violence, and a permanent state of violence is another name for terror. That’s the bottom line.

We will not have peace, unless there is peace and justice for everyone. Today’s scripture doesn’t say that the only lucky people will be safe and secure. It says, “. . .they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. . .

I don’t have any quick answers for how we get to that place. Back where I come from, we’ve got a joke about a guy who asks a farmer for directions. The farmer says, “Well, there’s the old south road – but no, the bridge is out. Or you could take the way through North Danville – but that doesn’t connect.” Finally the farmer winds up saying, “Mister, you can’t get there from here!”

That’s the way the search for peace feels sometimes. We can’t get there from here.

I think there are some things that are wrong. I think that using torture was a stain on our national character and everything we stand for. It produced almost no useful information, and it didn’t make us any friends. It just made us more enemies.

I think that selling or giving away more and more weapons isn’t a good idea. It’s an unstable region anyway. A lot of our own weapons are being turned and used against us.

There are groups out there who have been fighting and hating each other for centuries. The idea that we can just walk in and get them them kiss and make up is delusional. If we want peace and security, we need to do a lot more than make a deal with this leader or that leader. Those deals only last about 15 minutes.

Like I said, I don’t have any easy answers. There are some things I think we’ve tried, that were morally wrong from day one. There are things that we’ve tried, that didn’t work.

Friends of mine who go to 12-step meetings are always telling me, “If you do the same thing over and over again, and it doesn’t work, and you keep doing it, that’s the definition of insanity.” I think that much of what our country does, and what the world does, is insane.

And I say that with out any disrespect for the men and women who are in the service. They do what they’re told to do. They follow orders, and they do it bravely and courageously. We need to support them. But the mission they’re often given isn’t going to work.

Our goal cannot simply be to strike back. Our goal can’t be simply to hit anyone who hurts us. That’s not peace. It won’t create a peaceful world, a world where people aren’t afraid.

To do that, I think we’re going to have to try some different things. I don’t know what all we have to do, but I think we need some different techniques, and maybe a different direction.

I’m not talking about political parties or elections here. I’m saying that as a nation, we need to listen again to God’s dream.

It’s a dream where people don’t do terrible things in the name of God. It’s a dream where people everywhere can listen to God, together, and acknowledge that we can’t stay enemies forever. We’re fighting now, but God says that we’re brothers and sisters. Start from there, and see if we can live differently.

Today’s scripture says that God will be the judge of right and wrong. People on all sides need to admit our mistakes, and hold onto our rights, and agree to protect the rights of everyone we hope to make peace with. It says that God “will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. . .”

It also famously says, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. . .”

I think that means we need to have fewer weapons, and fewer weapons deals in the world. But I also think it means that we need to turn our best minds, and our best creative leaders, to being peacemakers.

I have often said that there are at least as many ways to make peace, as there are ways to make war. Peacemakers need to be our heroes. People who build need to be recognized and encouraged. People who save lives need to be our role models. Our games and movies, which are incredibly violent, need to be focused on building up, not killing and blowing up.

Quakers have a long history of living peacefully and being peacemakers – over 350 years. If we want to serve God here and now, in our generation, we need to reclaim our heritage, and learn the ways of peace again.

As we head back into open worship, I’m going to say again that I don’t have all the answers. I’m going to ask the same questions that I asked at the beginning.

Fifteen years to the very day after 9/11, where are we now? What is God saying to us? Where are we going? How can we get there?

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One Response to 15 Years Later. . .

  1. great website and on topic

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