"An Enemy Has Done This" - A September 11th Sermon
Most of us remember vividly where we were on that Tuesday morning ten years ago.
There's something about the tragedy of that day that was---I don't know---more tragic than anything most of us had ever experienced before.
It haunts us, and we live with the reality of the new world it created each and every day.
On Tuesday, September 11th I was working at my desk in the church where I served as the Director of Christian Education. For some reason, there was no one else in the office with me that day. I think the secretary had a doctor's appointment and our very part time interim pastor wasn't there either. We shared office space with the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes branch, and the secretary who worked there came to office with an ashen look on her face to tell me the news that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. We didn't have a television in the office and our internet was slow enough that we couldn't really get an video to play. So we were listening to the radio when another plane hit the second tower. My wife called me from the law office where she worked. She had been watching TV in their conference room when the second crash occurred. We all knew that it was an attack at that point. I listened to the reports of the crashes at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania on my way home. My wife and I took my son, who was in kindergarten, out of school and brought him home. For some reason, we just wanted him close. I remember sitting in front of the television alternately crying and just sitting, open-mouthed in disbelief.
What words do we use when there are none? There weren't a lot of words that really did justice to what we felt that day. Is disbelief good enough? What about horror, or sadness?
Or maybe anger...
For me it didn't take long for my shock and grief to turn into anger.
As it became apparent that the perpetrators of the attack were radical Muslims, I became even angrier.
When I watched video of Palestinians cheering in the streets and handing out candy to their children as they celebrated the destruction, my anger turned into blind fury.
I need to be real about that anger. It was and sometimes still is pretty raw.
It took ten years, two wars, countless lives and trillions of dollars before the mastermind behind September 11th received justice. When Osama Bin Laden was executed this year during a raid on his compound in Pakistan, there was a part of me that was relieved. But there was also a part of me that felt like it wasn't enough---that it would never be enough.
Sometimes the anger that still lives with me from that Tuesday morning burns fairly hot and makes me wish things that I am shocked I would even imagine.
Maybe some of you feel the same way.
In Matthew 13:24-30 we have the following parable of Jesus:
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.This is one of those very strange stories that Jesus tells that we read, and find ourselves wondering what they really meant. So let's dig a bit deeper and see if we can find ourselves in this story, and maybe even discover it's meaning.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
In verse 24 we see that there is a Householder who sows good see in his field, but then an Enemy comes and sows weeds. There is a particular kind of weed called a darnel that actually looks like wheat when it's in a juvenile state. When the wheat begins to sprout, the weeds begin to show. The servants show up and want to know how this happened. "An enemy has done this," the Householder replies.
"An enemy has done this."
The servants are ticked. They want to go out and get rid of the weeds, but the Householder tells them to be patient. "You don't want want to pull up the good with the bad in your haste."
But then the Householder makes an ominous pronouncement. "At the harvest, the weeds will be collected, tied in bundles and burned... the wheat will be gathered into my barn."
There are some questions that need answering here...
First, who is the Enemy in the story? It's clear that Jesus wanted his hearers to realize that the weeds were not the Enemy, but that the Enemy was someone/thing else. I think we can safely assume that Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that the Enemy here was Satan--the accuser and deceiver. The Enemy planted the seed
Second, why does the Householder restrain the workers? I mean if it's clear that the weeds are weeds, and the wheat is wheat, then why wait? Wouldn't it be better for the wheat to live in a weed-free environment? The Householder shows restraint because there is a chance that an over-eager servant might just pull up some wheat by mistake. By waiting for the harvest, the Householder ensures that the differences between the wheat and the weeds are clearly defined.
Third, do the weeds escape judgement? They do not. I realize that there are lots of well-meaning Christians who would like for Jesus to always be full of sweetness and light, but here he sounds pretty hard. In the end, there's a difference between the wheat and the weeds, and that difference results in either life or death.
There are some truths that just stand out to me in this passage:
1. Evil exists and is at work to destroy what is good. If we believe otherwise, we do so at our peril. On September 10th, 2001 I don't think any of us really understood the magnitude of Evil in the world.
2. It's hard to determine who is good or bad at times. During my moments of blind fury after September 11th, I lose sight of this, and I start to not care a whole lot whether the wheat gets uprooted with the weeds.
3. We are too quick to label people, including ourselves. We believe that Americans are good and Middle Easterners are bad. We label ourselves accordingly. I hold on to my anger and the shocking things that I think or say as a result of it, and then call myself patriotic. I refuse to see any virtue in someone who embraces the Muslim faith and deem them to be radical, ignorant and hate-filled.
4. It's not our job to take vengeance. The Householder shows restraint for a reason: The servants are too emotional to show it. In their anger over the affront they have experienced, they may very well destroy what is good in their efforts to judge what is evil.
5. Judgment comes even though it may be slow. In the end, at the appropriate time, justice is served---by God, not by us.
Psalm 94:1 reads, "The Lord is a God who avenges." Another way of saying this, is "God is watching."
There are countless stories of heroism from that Tuesday ten years ago. We've heard how heroes rushed into the burning Towers without a thought to their own lives---and never emerged. I watched the story of two Port Authority employees who climbed the stairs of one of the towers, reaching the point of impact. They were responsible for leading over 90 people to safety, and were still in the tower when it collapsed. We've heard the stories of the heroes of Flight 93, who saved thousands of lives by rushing the hijackers and crashing their plane into an empty field.
And then there is the story of Capt. Jay Jonas and five of his guys from Ladder Six. These firefighters were making their way down the stairs of one of the towers before it collapsed. The encountered a woman named Josephine Harris who had climbed down 50 flights on a bad leg. The firefighters found a chair and began carrying her down. Other firefighters passed them, urged on by a Captain who was telling his guys to hurry. One of this group, stayed behind to help. When the tower fell, the entire group fell over 20 stories and none of them died. Everyone who had gone ahead was crushed to death.
There isn't any pattern to these stories. Some heroes died because they tried to save others. Some were spared because of their heroism.
What makes us look for stories of hope in the face of countless stories of tragedy? What makes us honor sacrifice in service to others?
It's because that's who we really are. We are not the angry, frightened people who want to tear up the ground pulling both weeds and wheat in order to avenge the acts of the Enemy. We are created in the image of God, and it his image that is at the heart of our restraint, our goodness, our moments of heroism.
We must live into the hope of God's image within us, and rest in the knowledge that Evil will be avenged, and justice will come to both the Enemy, and those who willingly choose the ways of the Enemy. And it will come in God's time and in God's ways.
It's time for us to let go of our anger. It's time for us to honor the memory of the fallen with our goodness and restraint. It's time for us to move forward without fear, knowing that Evil has not triumphed and it will be avenged because God was watching on that Tuesday ten years ago, and God is watching today.