Watch Video September 11, 2001 at 8:46 am, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into floors 93-99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Where were you that day? Even after fifteen years, many of us try and bury the memories, only to have them resurface when another attack occurs somewhere around the world. That day may SEEM like a distant memory, or a mere shadow of the fear, panic, and terror that we all experienced that day, but I believe under the surface of our often busy lives, a wound remains, and a call to respond waits to be answered.
The attacks on September 11th have shaken us to the core. In some ways we may not yet even understand, our lives are not the same. If you doubt that assertion, please become aware of what is going on in the world, listen to the news or read the headlines of the violence emerging in our society, recognize the emergence of new world power struggles, consider how things have changed around us, or just watch the political drama unfolding every day.
The ugliness and darkness of how we often treat one another when fear, panic, and terror heaps its power upon us is more apparent today than ever. Even so, in the midst of that tragic day so long ago, something overshadowed the calamity because of the tireless, courageous, and life-risking work of the rescuers who changed tragedy into hope that day. First responders, firefighters, police officers, and others entered into that immense darkness and enacted bravery, compassion, and love. Their stories stand as just one more chapter in the long story of salvation, enacted by God’s incarnate love brought to bear in an often tragic and broken world.
In Luke’s gospel reading today, the writer tells about one of the days Jesus was hanging out with so called sinners and tax collectors. I imagine if this story took place today, Jesus would be having dinner not with the elites of society or even good church folk, he would be sitting around eating and chatting with folks on the margins of society: the impoverished, the homeless, the mentally ill; with victims of the evils of inequality, racism and injustice.
Luke tells us that, “the Pharisees and scribes, folks on the inside or the in crowd were grumbling saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The elites and so-called “good folk” were appalled that Jesus would so openly and lovingly accept people on the margins. Jesus responded to their grumbling with a parable about lost sheep and lost coins. Both objects in these parables were things of immense value, and the hearers of the parable back then, readily understood what Jesus was trying to say. Jesus revealed a profound truth in those stories; “God seeks us out and reaches out in love toward those of us who are marginalized, those who are suffering, those who are lost, and those who need the rescue of the heart and soul.”
In the first parable, the shepherd left the flock and went after one solitary sheep in order to bring her back, then celebrated when she was found. In the second parable, even though the woman had nine other coins, she searched the whole house for one solitary lost coin until she found it, and then she threw a big party to celebrate.
In God’s eyes, those who have strayed away, those who have lost their way, those who are marginalized, those who are wrestling in tragedy are like sheep and coins, and yes, they are of immense value to God. God wants his people to be in right relationship with God and each other, and when we have strayed from grace, when we are lost, when society turns its eyes away from those God loves, God like the woman and shepherd in the parable, frantically goes out searching for us.
Please don’t miss this very important point. Jesus was not merely eating a meal with people in society who were outcasts and folks on the margins (tax collectors and sinners), Jesus brought them his presence, compassion, and acceptance when society and the “insiders” had turned their back on them. Jesus was being a first responder of the heart and soul to those needing spiritual rescue.
Here is the part of the story we often miss, Jesus was not only seeking to rescue the lost outcasts of society, but he was also trying to rescue the “insiders,” the Pharisees and scribes. Jesus wanted to bring all to spiritual rescue including the insiders, and he did this by challenging their thinking and showing them what reconciliation and grace really looks like. Jesus was the original first responder of the heart and soul.
Jesus challenged the Pharisees and Scribes to consider that their actions toward the least, lost, and lonely, separated them from a right relationship with God and with their neighbor. Jesus is the great rescuer of the soul, the healer and restorer when we are outside the realm of grace, and my friends, Jesus calls each one of us to join in this mission. We are a people commissioned by God, by virtue of our baptism, to go out into the world, boldly into those dark and ugly places of human injustice, tragedy, and fear and we, like him must become first responders of the heart and soul.
Can you imagine being one of those brave women and men, firefighters, first responders, and police officers 15 years ago? Maybe some folks present here today were there in the ashes of the New York City or the flames of the Pentagon. From where did bravery and courage like that come, which compelled folks to go and rescue the injured, the maimed, and the lost? I can only believe that those brave souls were driven by a compassion and love for their sisters and brothers so great that it was powered by the grace that comes only from God. My friends, we are called to be as brave as they, and be willing to serve our suffering neighbors.
In America today, there are so many whose lives are like crumbling walls, fiery heat, and devastation: the loss of a loved ones, the news of a terrible illness, the brokenness of a relationships, or some other tragedy. Likewise, there are people suffering under the hand of injustice, racism, homophobia, and blatant hatred. Maybe some of us are in need of rescue but sometimes, we try and deal with these circumstances under a false bravado believing “I am self-reliant, I am a pull-myself-up-from-my bootstraps person, or I am a face anything by myself survivor.” We cannot traverse the difficult parts of life alone, because when we rely on ourselves alone, we find ourselves lost in deep sadness, fear and loneliness.
I imagine most of us have found ourselves at some point in life, lost in the deserted and dark places, covered in the heap and ashes of our own tragic choices. Hopefully at other times in our lives, we also have been brave, courageous, and willing to step up and be present with others, in their times of need. God, whom we claim as Master of our lives, does just that, shows up when things seem so bleak, and assures us of the promises of compassion, mercy, love, and grace. God, whom we claim as Master of our lives, trudges through the dark places of our loneliness, brokenness, tragedies, and sin, and relentlessly seeks us out. Jesus came into this world for this world, so his church must ask herself constantly, “Where are we when God’s people, both those who know him, and those who do not, both who need to be rescued from the darkness, fear, and terror of their lives?”
In the past year, Paris, Brussells, Normandy, and Orlando have all experienced the terror of unimaginable violence hoistd upon on the innocent. God’s heart breaks for what his children do to one another, both victims and assailants. We must follow our Lord’s lead, strap on our equipment filled with the provisions of compassion, love, restoration, and kindness, and go out into the darkness of the world, and seek out the lost. It is time for each of us to remember our own rescue story with God’s saving power. It is time for us to dust off our rescuer backpacks, fill them with the basic provisions for the heart and head out into the dark places of our neighbors broken relationships, loneliness, fear, doubt, and tragedy. Where were you on that fateful day fifteen years ago? Where will we be when someone who is of great value to God really needs to see clearly in our lives, the abundant grace of God? I pray we will be ready.