Sermon on the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 11, 2011, at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Matthew 18: 21-35:
The Gospel of Ground Zero – Gospel of Reconciliation
Today we as a nation commemorate the tenth year since we saw hate in action as devastation and destruction came to our own borders as never before. The blood of the innocent and the dust and debris of steel, cement and ashes from the sacrifice of burnt human bodies in the inferno of fanatical terror ultimately engulfed all humanity. It was a sad day in human history when misguided zealots in the name of religion attacked innocent lives. The name God of Abraham, Moses, Muhammad and Father of Jesus Christ was desecrated and taken in vain by these persons. It was a day of many horrors; as we watched on television, it took just ten seconds for the collapse of the South tower. In the wink of an eye, precious lives were lost destroying the personal lives of friends and families; the attackers portrayed God as a God of hatred and destruction. These heinous and dastardly acts do no service to Islam or any other religion.
Even now after all this time we are still attempting to gain some perspective on that day’s terrorist attacks. Before 9/11 we had largely taken for granted United States’ primacy and security; after 9/11, Washington was called to make clear that it could protect the homeland, defend its allies, oversee an open world economy, and propagate its institutions. U.S. has been confronting agonizing challenges and choices on our war on terrorism by vigorously pursuing new policies to deter and preempt further attacks on America. Several decades ago President Franklin Roosevelt said these words to defend the liberties of our country: “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.” The rattle snake we have been pursuing is an elusive band of religious Islamic fanatics who care nothing for human life, who are trying to destroy everything we hold dear.
Our war against terrorism has led us to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan which continues to have a devastating impact on our nation. As we still mourn the loss of those who died on 9/11, we also mourn several thousand young men and women in our military who have lost their lives. This number is still rising along with thousands who have been wounded and whose lives and the lives of their loved ones have been changed forever. Defense spending has sky rocked with no end in sight. Our federal budget has gone from a surplus to a severe deficit. U.S. indebtedness to China has risen to over $1.1 trillion.
On this anniversary of ten years it is time for us to consider the cost of our response. Do we want to continue on this path as a nation of retaliation? Is this truly the only way to defend our liberty? A nation known for her large heartedness and compassion to aid the poor of the world has been on a chase to hunt terrorists in Tora Bora caves of Afghanistan and all around the globe. It is time for us to pause as a nation and ask if waging war on foreign soils is the only way to defend our liberties.
The criminal networks in faraway countries, rogue nations with deadly weapons and terrifying concrete threats to our sovereignty, have sustained real fear, anger, bitterness, and resentment in us, but at large we have missed opportunities to promote the American values of decency and democracy.
Fanatical forces use propaganda in the Islamic world to show Americans as the clash of civilizations and a new form of crusades. I am a follower of Jesus Christ who believes that religion does not just deal with a certain compartment of life. Religion has relevance for the whole of life and we have to say whether a particular policy is consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ or not. I decline to be involved in party politics. My politics is of Jesus through whom God defeated powers of evil, terror, fear and death and showed victory of Jesus that goodness is stronger than evil, that light is stronger than darkness, that life is stronger than death, that love is stronger than hate.
It is not only we who live in America who have suffered at the hands of those who have hijacked religion. Persecution of the small minority of Christians has increased in the Middle East. Let me share with you an example how a small group of Christians in the Northwest Frontiers of Pakistan adjacent to the Afghan border have responded to threats by Bin Laden’s and the Taliban’s followers. Their demands are, “Convert to Islam or leave the area.” In this area there are also hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees living in camps outside Peshawar. Many refugee children have no shoes and must run around barefoot in intense heat and cold. A Christian organization brought in hundreds of sandals. The group decided it would not just distribute the sandals but wash the children’s feet first. To do this they enlisted as many Christians as possible, who carefully washed the children’s filthy feet, put medication on their sores, and prayed silently for them before giving them the sandals. Some months later, a primary-school teacher in the area asked her children who the best Muslims were. A girl put up her hand and said, “The Kafirs” (“disbelievers”). After the teacher recovered from cardiac arrest, she asked, “Why?” The girl replied, “The Mujahedeen killed my father, but the kafirs washed my feet.”
The message of the Christian gospel is about forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus was asked how many times we should forgive those who offend us repeatedly. His reply was to forgive without counting. Just moments before Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, a passenger on that flight was talking on the phone to a 911 operator. He asked her to say the Lord’s Prayer with him. As they said together, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” she realized he was forgiving the hijackers. Recently researchers have studied the importance of forgiveness for health and well-being and found that holding on to past hurts and resentments deeply affects our emotional and physical health. Our enemies want us to hate and fear them because then they have succeeded. Let us ask ourselves today: Are we going to hunker down in fear, resentment and hatred? Or, as a nation, shall we shine the torch of liberty as a guiding light? To his followers Jesus told: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
May the light and ideal of liberty at the core of America’s greatness shine through our lives with acts of charity. Values like tolerance and compassion, justice and mercy are at the heart of our Christian faith and, also, of other faiths. Let us keep them before us now—like a torch, like a beacon—even as we mourn and grieve. For if we are steadfast we know that, by the grace of God we will heal, and no darkness, no evil can ever extinguish that beacon of hope. And we dare to sing:
O God our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Be thou our guide while life shall last
And our eternal home.
May God bless America
 Desmond Tutu, The Rainbow People of God, Doubleday, 1994, Pp. 204, 253.
 J. Dudley Woodbury-Christianity Today,