"Is Ours a 'Christian' Response?"

Ezekiel 18:1-4, John 14:25-27, Romans 12:9-21

Rev. Doug Van Doren (9/11/11)


Whatever is said here this morning in relation to 9/11 is not very important compared to what we are doing here. What we are doing here is of the utmost importance.


What we are doing is gathering in community for worship, as we have every Sunday since 9/11/2001 and for 2000 years before. What we are doing is celebrating the service of the Lord's Table. These two things are our affirmation. As we remember the victims of 9/11 and its aftermath, we remember Christ who is with us, who feeds and sustains us in life and in our call to be disciples.


Think first of the horrors, the wars, and the rise and fall of governments that has taken place over the last 2,000 years. Through all that, the church has been the church. It has gathered to mourn, to lament, to lean on God and one another. And, at its best, it has gathered to learn and relearn how, in each age, to live and to respond as Christians.


My guess is that you may be a little weary of the playing and replaying images of 9/11 for over a week, culminating today.  But remembering is important, especially for those who lost loved ones in the various attacks. All of us who have lost loved ones know that our healing is helped by people remembering and acknowledging our loss. That is important. I certainly join in that remembering. But I don't join in some of the other things that the "remembering" has done. Granted, I have not seen a lot of it, but what I have seen is short on analysis and reflection, especially about how we have responded.


In addition to remembering the victims and their families, not just of the 9/11 attacks but its aftermath as well, our remembering also needs to be a personal and national self-reflection. What I have seen, however, is incredibly self-centered. That was clearly evident in the article in the G.R. Press the other night which featured some soldiers and former Representative Vern Ehlers questioning the decision to invade and occupy Iraq. They questioned it solely on the basis of U.S. casualties - over 6,000 U. S. soldiers killed, 40,000 injured. But not a single mention was made of the hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis killed and maimed and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives completely uprooted. Not to mention the fact that the war moved us from a federal budget surplus to massive federal debt.


I will try not to be long on rhetoric or anger this morning, though I acknowledge that I am deeply angry, as I guess many of you are, at our nation's response as well as the response of many individuals and segments of the church. I am, however, encouraged as well.


All of us have images of what we were doing when we first heard about the attacks - where we were. Those first images of what was going on are seared into our minds. Not only do we have clear images of the horror, but we saw, as the suffering of this horrible event became clearer, the best of America's people.



We saw and heard about heroic responses of first responders to the twin towers, about the takeover of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, and of people taking care of each other. And spontaneously, all over the nation and the world people came together to pray and hold each other up.


As Jim Wallis, author and CEO of Sojourners, stated, "For a moment the world's last remaining superpower was vulnerable, and we all felt it. In our sudden sense of vulnerability we were now - and perhaps for the first time - like most of the world, where vulnerability is an accepted part of being human. And in those first days following 9/11, America, not the terrorists, had the high ground. The world did not identify with those who cruelly and murderously decided to take innocent lives in response to their grievances - both real and imagined. Instead, the world identified with a suffering America - even the front cover of the French newspaper Le Monde ran the headline, "We are all Americans now." One of the first things that came to mind for me after 9/11 was something that Eli Mapanao, a missionary to us here in Grand Rapids in the early 1980s from the Philippines said, "The problem with the U.S. is that it has not been humbled."


Much of the remembering of 9/11 has been mourning our national loss of invulnerability; that sense that the world could not touch us especially on these shores. It also was mourning the loss of the illusion that we are seen as beneficent and are universally loved. I do not mourn the loss of those illusions. I do not mourn our loss of the sense of invulnerability. I do mourn Washington's response to that sense of vulnerability.


Wallace goes on, "It was Washington's response that I was most worried about. Within a short period of time, the official reaction to terrorism would simply be defined as war - a decade of it - resulting in many more innocent casualties than on September 11, 2001. In response to America's own suffering, many others in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world would now suffer - all in the name of our 'war on terrorism.' The opportunity for deeper understanding, reflection, and redirection would elude us as we sought to erase our vulnerability with the need to demonstrate our superior force and power...But it just made it worse. The world expected and would have supported a focused and sustained effort to pursue and bring this small band of criminals to justice. But these last 10 years of manipulated and corrupted intelligence, endless war, practices and policies of torture, countless civilian casualties, and trillions of dollars of debt, caused America to lose the high ground long ago. The arrogance of American power was our only response to both the brutality and complexity of terrorism."


I asked these questions in my sermon on September 16, 2001, the Sunday after 9/11, "Will there be acts of love, government to government, or government to people - food, money, and personnel? Will we finally move past our Manifest Destiny that assumes God is on our side? Or will we so arm against an external threat, that we will forget the needs of the poor, the oppressed in our land, as well as in other lands?" Another question I asked that day is still, I think, the correct question: "Not is God on our side, but are we on God's side?"


Though I may be angry at Washington's response and the hateful response of many toward Islam; that has been far from the only response. Really, this is not just about what others have done. We need to look at what we have and what we will do, and with whom we will align.