The Spring of 2001 I was so excited to receive my first appointment as a full fledge pastor, or almost! I was a young seminarian in the process of ordination; I was graduating from Emory University that May. I had just been appointed to the first church I would serve, First United Methodist Church, Fort Smith, as an associate pastor. I was ready to serve and lead or at least I thought I was!:)
I started that appointment in July. Two months later my life along with everyone in our nation would and did change drastically, 9/11 happened. It has been thirteen years since 9/11 and thirteen years of ministry for me! I have been reflecting on this thirteenth anniversary of the attack on the United States and my ministry in said country.
In Fort Smith, just like many or even most faith communities on September 11, 2001, we had worship together. The Senior Pastor, Rev. David Orr, preached a hopeful sermon. The scripture was Romans 8:37-39, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
On that day, with collapsing towers in New York City, a burning Pentagon, and a plane going down in ruin in PA, heroes on a plane preventing another attack on the U.S., that scripture made sense to me maybe for the first time.
No matter what happens to us. No matter if the institutions we put our trust and hopes in collapse and cease to be no more; we have the love and promise of Christ with us. Our hopes are fleeting if they are primarily in governments or even the leadership of the church.
I have been serving and leading churches in an era of fear that is unmatched, especially in this country. The words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “all we have to fear is fear itself”, are a faint memory. We have been in war since 2001, and we will broaden that war with the rise to power of another terror group, ISIS. We are gripped by fear both in this country and in the church.
Since that day of fire and pillar of smoke took over a major U.S. city, I started relating it to the ancient Israelite people in Exodus. I Pose these questions: Where have we seen the power of God at work, as the Israelites did in a very different pillar of fire and cloud by the sea (Exodus 14:19-31)? What are the signs that we are learning to do the work of forgiveness and reconciliation (Matthew 18:21-35)? How has 9-11 changed us, for better or for worse?
I can't answer that for everyone. The tension that we all hold is living in a country waging war and a faith that teaches war no more. How do we respond faithfully in the face of another war? No matter what our country does; we can be people who are doing and living out the work of forgiveness and reconciliation. We can be a people embodying the presence of God in the midst of fear.
Phillip Yancy, author of Where Is God When It Hurts? , was asked after the terrorist attacks, "Where is God at a time like this?" He answered with a question of his own, "Where is the church when it hurts? If the church is doing its job -- binding wounds, comforting the grieving, offering food to the hungry -- I don't think people will wonder