This was for many in our country, a somber week. It was the seventeenth anniversary of 9/11. I knew two people who died when the towers collapsed. I grew up with one them. His name was Evan Gillette. We were in Boys Scouts together. The other one was Yolanda Dowling. She was a classmate at Westminster Choir College.
It was also a week filled with stories courage and selflessness of people who put their lives on the line helping people they didn’t know. One of the documentaries I saw about 9/11 showed a man covered with dust from the fallen buildings talking about how he carried on his back from the 67th floor all the way down to the bottom, a woman who was in a wheel chair, because the elevators were not working. There was the dedication of the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and the passengers who made the fateful decision to rush the cockpit and keep the terrorist from flying into the Capital Building. And, there were the stories of the many policemen and fireman who gave their lives making sure people got out of the Word Trade Towers safely.
Hearing those stories about 9/11 confronts us with the question of “Could we do the same as those who risked their lives on 9/11 helping others, particularly people who were strangers?”
And so, when I saw what the lectionary scripture was for this week, I said to myself. Is this a coincidence or accident? On the one hand we have 9/11 confronting jus with question of whether or not we could do what those brave people did and then we have Jesus telling his Disciples, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for m
I believe it’s not an accident that God is using 9/11 and this morning scripture passage co close together. One reason is the climate of division that is growing each day in our communities and nation. Remember how 9/11 united us as a nation. Today it’s becoming harder to have a civil conversation about politics or religion. What’s more, we seem less willing to do for those who are strangers. The gap between the have and have nots is growing. God is using 9/11 and Jesus words to remind us how we ought to treat one another. To think of the other instead of ourselves. So that’s the first reason.
The second reason is to remind us who it is we are following and the risk involved. Somehow in all the problems of the world we forget that we are following Jesus. We forget that we should be doing things the way Jesus would want them to be done and treating people the way Jesus would treat them.
At the same time, we forget that following Jesus involves some risk. That is apparent in Jesus asking his Disciples about what they have heard people say about him. Some of the Disciples said they heard people say that he was John the Baptist. It’s a good answer except that John had been killed by Herod. Others said He was Elijah. Another good answer except that people, like Jezebel and others wanted to kill Elijah. Those left, said “He was a prophet”, But which one? Prophets were either persecuted or killed. Then Peter spoke out. “You are the Messiah!” Did Peter hear people say that or did he come up with that himself? Even if Peter, as scholars believe, misunderstood what Jesus was doing, being a Messiah was still a dangerous proposition. People who called themselves Messiah were killed.
The people who the Disciples were talking about were either dead or persecuted. You can begin to see a pattern developing here and how following Jesus was not without risk. The text tells us that Jesus still had to explain what that risk was.
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Thoswho are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
The third reason why God uses this scripture and 9/11 so close together is to remind us why following Jesus involves risk. That because Jesus was building the Kingdom of God. From the very beginning of n That is he was building a different kind of world at is because Jesus is building the Kingdom of God. From the very beginning of his ministry Jesus told everyone who would listen that Building a different world from the world they living in was what he was doing. A world that did away with the old walls that separated people from another. A different world where everyone was treated the same by God. A world where the rich didn’t have all the power but shared the power with those who were poor.
And that risk that Jesus took then continues with us today as we are called to build the Kingdom of God. To build a different world, a different community. A world where everyone is important. A community that is open to all where the religious, cultural, political and economic walls which separate people from each are torn down. A world where people are treated with justice and mercy. A world where people stand up for one another whether they are rich or poor, black or white, straight or gay, male or female. A world where truth is spoken to power. A world where swords are turned into plowshares. Where everyone has enough to live on.
This Kingdom building is part of who we are as United Methodists. That is why we have in our Book of Discipline the Social Principles and a Social Creed, which says:
We believe in God, Creator of the world; and in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of creation. We believe in the Holy Spirit, through whom we acknowledge God’s gifts, and we repent of our sin in misusing these gifts to idolatrous ends.
We affirm the natural world as God’s handiwork and dedicate ourselves to its preservation, enhancement, and faithful use by humankind.
We joyfully receive for ourselves and others the blessings of community, sexuality, marriage, and the family.
We commit ourselves to the rights of men, women, children, youth, young adults, the aging, and people with disabilities; to improvement of the quality of life; and to the rights and dignity of all persons.
We believe in the right and duty of persons to work for the glory of God and the good of themselves and others and in the protection of their welfare in so doing; in the rights to property as a trust from God, collective bargaining, and responsible consumption; and in the elimination of economic and social distress.
We dedicate ourselves to peace throughout the world, to the rule of justice and law among nations, and to individual freedom for all people of the world.
We believe in the present and final triumph of God’s Word in human affairs and gladly accept our commission to manifest the life of the gospel in the world. Amen.
It should be obvious to all of us that some of those things we say we believe in are risky and controversial. We are about the risky building the Kingdom of God just as Jesus was doing.
The whole point of Jesus building the Kingdom of God was to show people that God loves them. The whole point for us as the Church today is showing people that God loves them. And you can’t do that kind of thing without understanding that there are risks involved.
That is what we did we decided to follow Jesus. That step of faith to follow Christ could very well be described as taking a step of risk. We risked giving up our old lives and turn in a new direction with a new purpose when we repented our sins and made our confession of faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and savior. We took a risk to be patient in trusting God to provide and the risk that God would be there for us whenever we needed help. And in taking that risk to follow Jesus we also take the risk that comes with answering the question. Could I do the same thing and risk my life to build the Kingdom of God as Jesus did for me?”
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 17 years since 9/11. Much has happened since then. Good and Bad. One of the good things is the Flight 93 Memorial. It’s a tower and in the tower are chimes which are meant to give voice to the persons who lost their lives and can no longer speak. The bad is that it seems we have become more and divided than we are united. We have become in many ways more fearful when we should be stronger in our faith. And so, the question of whether we could do what those persons did on 9/11 and the question of whether we could do what Jesus did, become more important. Because what we need more than ever are people and churches who are taking risks like Jesus did in building the Kingdom of God and making this world a better world, less fearful world for all.
I hope that we never ever are faced with an event like 9/11. But each day I hope that we will take the risk to build the kingdom of God as Jesus did and make the world a better place not just for us but for everyone so that tragic events like 9/11 or mass shootings, or demonstration that promote racism and persecution of other can’t take place.
Whatever circumstance we will face, my prayer is that we will answer the question “Can I do the same”, by acting out our faith in a God who love us and is always there for us even when we might fail and stumble.