“The Power of Love”
Fifteenth Anniversary of 9/11, September 11, 2016
The Power of Love
1 John 4:16, 18
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. . . . There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 Jn 4:16, 18)
Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the night of July 20, 1969? That was when astronaut Neil Armstrong took man’s first steps on the moon. I fell asleep on the living room floor and my mom put me to bed. What about the morning of January 28, 1986? That was the day the Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. I was asleep, I was working midnight to six at a radio station in Midland, TX. And April 19, 1995? That was the day of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I found out about that one calling on a member of my church in Pryor.
As careful listeners, you may know what’s coming next: Where were you and what were you doing when you first heard the news that terrorists had hijacked two passenger planes and crashed them into the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center? (That event ended up causing 2700 deaths.) I was doing dishes when the first bulletin came out. I was brushing my teeth for the second. And there would be more. Within moments, another airliner crashed into the Pentagon, causing the death of 125 people. And, finally, there would be the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93 and the brave response by passengers and crew that prevented those terrorists from doing, even more, damage in Washington. That plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field, killing all 64 persons on board.
Nearly 3,000 men, women, and children murdered by men who thought themselves religious. I suspect the images of that day, September 11, 2001, have dimmed a bit but they certainly have not been lost fifteen years later. (Even if most news channels refuse to re–air the footage for fear of offending somebody.) That day, if you recall, those images broke our hearts and brought tears to our eyes. That day, we had a common enemy. That day, there was a sense of patriotism not seen for many years. The country came together; we hurt together; we clung together; we cried together, as one “nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.” (No football players were sitting down during the National Anthem, then.) We had a renewed sense of gratitude for those fire, police, and military men and women who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect us and defend us. And we have so many in our country today who are continuing to respond to that need.
Not long after 9/11/01, in November 2001, our nation went to war, in Afghanistan first, later in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was captured and executed. Osama bin Laden, the most wanted of our named enemies, was killed five years ago. I guess it is a sign of the times I learned about the death of Osama Bin Laden on Facebook.
Fifteen years later, the war goes on, and the country is not so united. The focus has turned to illegal immigrants, whose lives matter, the ongoing lack of an economic recovery, the tax returns and coughing of presidential candidates, and who’s dating Taylor Swift. The populace of this great nation has become more divided than it has ever been in my lifetime, and more distrusting of government and politics.
Fifteen years later, studies show that September 11 has not changed the patterns of worship in churches and synagogues. Despite the fact that many churches were filled on Sept. 16, 2001, (we had a record attendance at St. John, Pryor that day), it didn’t take long for worship in America to be back where it was before. In fact, it took one week.
Fourteen years ago, on the first anniversary of 9/11, there was a presentation aired by PBS titled “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.” It asked the question “Where was God on September 11?” The question itself has been asked for a very long time, and has been asked many, many times in moments of crisis. In the Old Testament, men of faith from Jacob to Joseph and from Job to Jonah asked it. In the New Testament, we can see times where Peter and the 12, John the Baptist, and Paul asked it, too. We have heard it asked in just the last year: in San Bernadino, Orlando, Philadelphia, Dallas and Baton Rouge, Istanbul, Paris, Brussels, Nice. (And as long as this list is, I know I am forgetting some.) When stuff like this happens, people ask, “Where is God?”
And God always and forever responds the same way: “I am where, and who, I have always been, and always will be. I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In the meantime, because this world is filled with sinful people, there will be wars and bloodshed and terrorists and hurt and grief and pain. But never, ever think that God has lost control of the world He has created and judged and redeemed through His Son, Jesus Christ. If you think, even for a second, that He has left you or forsaken you, then take another, closer look at the cross and the open tomb. The Scriptures clearly give this as God’s answer. He is in control. He is here.
This is the Christian’s perspective of faith, the power of love. If we are to reclaim, or rediscover, or be renewed in our faith, it is by looking to the cross. For the truth of it is, we Christians see all events through the cross of Calvary and the empty tomb, where Jesus Christ died and rose again for our sins and for the sins of all people. I repeat, all people. How awesome is the power of God’s love for us all!
God’s perfect love for us, says the apostle John, “casts out fear” (v 18). The fine folks who have put on the uniforms of the United States military and who have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan need to hear that and to know that the Lord is with them. Likewise, the fine folks men who enter a burning building or enter a home as a police officer, need to know always that God’s perfect love surrounds them and embraces them.
God’s perfect love defeats fear—fear of more terrorist attacks, fear of flying, fear of known and unknown enemies of our country, fear of nuclear buildups, fear of our next presidential election, and fear of the twisted minds of men like Osama bin Laden and those who fight for ISIS. God’s perfect love defeats fear of our own certain mortality, of sickness and disease, and—closer to the context of 1 John 4—fear of the righteous and eternal judgment of God. For we live in forgiveness; we live in grace; we live in love. And “whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (v 16).
Going back where we started, when and where were you…when you received faith, forgiveness and eternal life? I was in the chapel at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in West Bend, WI on January 14, 1962, around noon. That’s when I got baptized. Wherever you were, whenever it was, The Power of God’s Love Sustains Us, Strengthens Us, Supports Us. That was true for us in the weeks and months following 9/11. That is true for us now. It will be true forever, whatever the future holds. That’s His promise to you.