I preached this sermon, from Esther 4:5-17 and Romans 12: 9-21, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks...
Ten years ago this morning, my husband Jim and I
woke up in the slightly down-at-the-heels Bridal Suite of the slightly
down-at-the-heels Holiday Inn in International Falls, Minnesota, just about 300
yards short of the Canadian border. No—no
special occasion or anything. The Bridal
Suite was the only first floor room left at the Holiday Inn, which, being
slightly down-at-the-heels did not, of course, have a working elevator.
I was in the bathroom, which I remember as being
awfully small and utilitarian for a putative bridal suite, getting ready for
the annual trip north to our cabin. Jim
switched on the TV while he waited, the Today Show as I recall, Matt Lauer and
Katie Couric talking about a reported small plane crash at the World Trade
Center, down the road from where they sat in the NBC studio. Sad, we thought, but no big deal.
As we came out of the dining room a little later,
and saw the bar TV across the way, we realized how wrong we had been. Something awful, really awful, was happening
and no one was quite sure what. Jim and
I decided in that moment that if we were going to go to the lake, we’d better
go right then. We made a run for the
border crossing. A young man, a kid
really, met us at the gate wearing body armor, something I’d never seen before,
and carrying a machine gun like he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do
with it. He waved us through without a
word. And the border closed behind us. We were the last ones through for nearly a
That’s what Jim and I were doing ten years ago
this morning. I’m sure that you remember
what you were doing, too. September 11,
2001, was that kind of a day, a day to remember.
And remembering is, I think, part of what we are
called to do as Christians. Our
remembering honors the sacrifice of those who died in the attacks, and those
who died that day trying to save them.
Our remembering honors those who have given so much since then to
protect the freedoms that you and I enjoy every day. Our remembering honors the grief and the loss
of the families who lost so much on September 11 and on all the days that have
followed. That’s a big part of who we
are as Christians. We remember.
Which I’d like to suggest, by the way, as we, each
one of us in our own way, observe this solemn day, may not be exactly the same
thing as never forgetting, at least not for Christians anyway, for those who
claim to follow Jesus. In a real sense, the idea of never forgetting holds in itself an unspoken imperative to never
let go of what we felt that day, the anger, the fear, the hatred, to never let
oneself move past the hurt and betrayal, never, ever forgive, no matter what. Remembering is a positive action; it does
something. It enters into the other’s
pain; never forgetting holds on tight to that pain and uses it against the
other like a shield. As Christians we
work hard to forget and forgive, even while we remember.
Our faith knows the power of remembrance.
That’s what Mordecai wanted his kinswoman Esther,
the Jewish queen in our Old Testament story this morning, to do.
He wanted her to remember.
There he stood in the courtyard of the
palace, dressed down in sackcloth and ashes, a living, breathing, shouting,
lamenting reminder to Esther of who she was and what she alone could do.
Remember who you are, Esther.
Remember from whence you have come.
Remember all those who aren’t as fortunate as
you, who don’t live in places of power, who don’t have a voice with which to
speak the truth in love.
can and will happen to them.
Esther, Mordecai insists, that you are one of them, one of us. In the face of
terrible persecution, of the threat of total annihilation, remember.
Remember—for just such a time as this.
Paul understands this too, the power of
remembrance. He spends eleven of the sixteen
chapters of his extraordinary letter to the church at Rome reminding his
Christian brothers and sisters who they are in order to push them to do what they
alone can do, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Remember who I once was, he
writes, the worst sinner of all, a persecutor of the Lord and his
followers. Remember who you once were
too, sinners every one. Remember what the
Lord did for you anyway, that while you were yet sinners, Christ died for
you. Remember that you have been
justified by the faith of Jesus Christ, a free gift that you have done nothing
to deserve. Remember that there is now
no condemnation for you, that in the power of the Holy Spirit, you have been set
free. Remember that nothing, not your
sin or someone else’s, not any power on earth or in heaven can separate you
from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord.
Remember that, despite who you are and where you’ve been and what you’ve
done, God has shown mercy to you every step of the way. Remember who you are, who God has made you to
be. In the face of great persecution by
the Roman power machine, of the threat of total destruction, remember.
Remember—for just such a time as this.
There’s something about the act of remembering who
we are and whose we are that gives us the strength to live into that
reality. When we remember, we once again
enter respectfully, even humbly, into the story, whether it’s our story or
primarily someone else’s. Our
remembering brings great tragedy down to a human scale; it can and does call us
into relationship with the other, with the neighbor and the stranger. Somehow remembering aligns us with the
grief-stricken; it places us shoulder to shoulder with the widow and the
orphan, the poor and the helpless, the lost, the least, and the last. We remember hunger and we share our
food. We remember thirst and we pour
another cup of water. We remember
loneliness and we welcome the stranger.
We remember grief and we hold on tight to the ones who mourn. We remember the sweet, sweet taste of
forgiveness and maybe, just maybe, find in that memory the grace to forgive
those who name themselves enemy, even those who have injured us so deeply and
grievously. At its best, our remembering
tears down the walls that divide us, the walls that refusing to forget so
easily build up. It’s resurrection work,
this kind of remembering; in the power of the Holy Spirit, the promise of our
Christian faith is that even the dead will be raised.
Ten years ago, Jim and I rode out the first days
after September 11 alone on an island in Canada, cut off from what was going on
here at home. These were the days before
everybody and their brother had a cell phone surgically attached to their ear
and communication with our family and friends was mostly by payphone—you
remember those relics of another time, right?
We got what news we could get from the TV at the local bar and
grill. It was so quiet, eerily so, and
we felt so very, very alone in our sorrow and our fear.
One day shortly after we arrived, we headed into
town once again to try and connect with the folks at home. As our boat came around the point into the
marina, there on the flagpole hung the Stars and Stripes where the Maple Leaf
had always flown before. The grouchy,
crabby couple who had always taken our American money as if they were doing us
a huge favor (my interpretation and I will absolutely own that) had somehow
scrounged up an American flag from somewhere and hung it where we would see it
first thing. They wanted us to know we
were among friends. They remembered
us—and for us, that day, it made all the difference in the world.
I don’t think very many of us would contend that
the world is a better place since that Tuesday ten years ago. Maybe it’s just me, but the phrase “going to
hell in a hand basket” seems to fit the bill pretty nicely. But the witness of Esther and Mordecai and
Paul and the claim of our faith is that you and I have been given what it takes
to make a difference, to change that world, one prayer, one holy hug, one cup
of water a time. We can, if we only
will, participate in what God has been doing since the beginning, what God was
doing in Jesus Christ, and what God continues to do even in times such as ours
in and through the Holy Spirit.
Remember—we are the body of Christ in the world, and as our Lord and
Savior healed and fed and forgave and raised the dead, so we too are called and
gifted and sent out into the world to do the same.
Remember that on this day of remembrance and every
day. Remember who you are and speak the
truth to power like Esther did. Remember
what God has done for you, who God has made you to be and, like Paul and his
Roman Christians, as far as it depends upon you, live at peace with those around
you. Remember, and give your enemies
bread to eat; share the cup with those who stand against you. Remember that you are loved beyond
comprehension and love with everything you’ve got. Remember the One who gave his body, his very
life for you and present your time, your treasure, your talents, your body, and
your life to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable before the Lord. Remember and heal the sick, feed the hungry,
forgive and forgive and forgive once again.
Remember—for just such a time as this.