Why We Come

What an incredible morning!  I saw so many faces in church that I haven’t seen in awhile – it was great to hear the choir back, to be with the kids during children’s time and to see a sanctuary full of people.  My heart is full and my cup overflows.

Here’s today’s sermon – and subsequently my reflections on the anniversary of September 11th.  Unfortunately, I got so caught up on Rally Sunday that I forgot to record it!  Eek!  Oh, well …

***

Romans 14:1-12

Why We Come

Several months ago I looked at my calendar and realized that the ten-year anniversary of September 11th would likely fall on Rally Sunday. And to be quite honest, I have had mixed feelings about the timing of things ever since.

Rally Day is supposed to be a time of great celebration; a time of laughter and joy, of eager expectations of new possibilities and of hope for all good things to come. It seems appropriate for me to preach a sermon full of life, jokes, wisdom and passion. And yet – yet – should we be joking and laughing on a day like today?

Now I know there are differing opinions about how to honor an anniversary such as the ten-year anniversary of September 11th. There are people that think we should be somber and mournful, there are people that think we should rejoice in the opportunity to move forward with hope and there are people who are not quite sure what to think. And I think that everybody is right – there is no right or wrong way to respond to a day like today.

So I will start with a story.

Over the past couple of weeks I have spoken with several clergy in the area about what their churches are doing to honor and commemorate the ten-year anniversary of September 11th. And in their descriptions, many of them described the sermons that they preached on Sunday, September 16, 2001, the Sunday that immediately followed the attacks on the United States. And that got me thinking …

I was 16-years-old on September 11, 2001. I was a junior in high school, actually looking for something in my locker in between classes when I overheard someone say that a plane had crashed into one of the twin towers. As I hustled to my next class, I heard snippets of conversations that made me realize that this was not just an unfortunate accident.

Yet despite what all of this meant for our country, I was worried about something much more personal.

At the time, a good friend of our family was a pilot; he flew for American Airlines and flew the New York to Los Angeles route. When I heard that two planes, headed for Los Angeles, had struck the twin towers, I immediately started to panic that Lou was piloting one of the jets because I knew he was scheduled to be out of town. I made it through my next class, but as soon as the bell rang I shot up, forgot about where I was supposed to go and ran to my father’s office in the music department in a state of hysteria.

My dad, at that point, knew more than I did and was able to tell me that the planes had flown out of Logan and that Lou was safely in California. I think I stayed in the music wing of my school for the rest of the school day. There was something about being near to my father that made me feel safe in the midst of all of the confusion that was happening.

Heather Armstrong, who has authored several books and writes the blog, dooce.com, said the following as she recollected that day, living in Los Angeles at the time:
I immediately got in the car and headed back home because I desperately needed to be with Jon [her husband]. I thought of my family a bit, mostly my mother, but I wanted Jon. If Los Angeles was next on the list, and they thought it would be for the weeks that followed, then I wanted to be with Jon when it happened.

Like Heather and despite my adolescent age of 16, in that moment I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to feel protected, to know that I was safe and I wanted desperately to find something good in the tragedy that was unfolding that day.

And when those memories started to come back to me, I realized that I could not think of a more perfect place to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 than right here, with my church family.

It is Rally Sunday; and what a perfect scripture we just heard as we come back from a summer away and we continue to reignite the spirit of our church community: “Welcome those who are weak in faith … for God has welcomed them,” Paul writes.

This scripture is the perfect example of why we need to understand what is written in the bible within the context that it was written in. In this letter, Paul urged the church in Rome not to despise and/or pass judgment on one another for what they were eating or abstaining from eating. And if we took that literally, it wouldn’t really be that relevant to us. But in Rome, at that time, food was more than just something people put into their bodies; it was a divisive theological point of contention between the Jews and the Gentiles. But Paul was saying, “That’s not what really matters”.

We have those types of issues here. We do not necessarily argue about food, but we do not all agree on everything all the time, we do not always get along and there are divisive issues that are difficult to work through. And I have said it before and I will say it again: It’s normal – and it’s okay. But Paul said, “That’s not what really matters”.

I have a question for you: Why do you come to church? Why do you come to this church?

It is not a trick question, but it is one that I always ponder. And it is one that I would like to attempt to answer today – today, on the ten-year anniversary of September 11th and today, on Rally Sunday.

We come to church because, for many of us, our families live far away and this is our family. We come to church because we want to feel comforted and protected in a world that is fast moving, that is unpredictable and that is oftentimes scary.
We come to church because we are tired and we want to be renewed. We come to church because we crave spiritual nourishment. We come to church because we have questions and are not sure how to seek out the answers. We come to church because we do not want to take this journey through life alone. We come to church because we know that the problems that exist in the world are much to great for us to face as individuals. We come to church because we are inspired by the life and ministry that Jesus had and we want to walk in his steps. We come to church because we feel connected to those who have come before us; those who now watch over us. We come to church because we know – despite the differences that threaten to divide us from our neighbors – we are one; we are united through the grace showered upon us all by God. We come to church because when scary things happen in the world – and they will – we want to be with our family.

Paul urged the church in Rome not to judge one another and I do think that is an important lesson to take out of this text. But I also think it is important to look at why Paul is telling us not to judge each other. Paul says, “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.”

I cannot think of a better way to honor the lives lost, to represent a beacon of hope for the future and to take a step towards peace on earth than to rally our church back for another year and worship together in harmony.
Peace on earth does not have to be some unattainable, outlandish vision that we can never really achieve. It can come from individuals choosing to come together, to put aside differences and to live as one, united by God’s grace.

We are so lucky to be a part of this community; to love one another, to support one another and to be in ministry with one another. It isn’t always easy. But God is always, always with us on our journey.

I think it is going to be a great year. Praise be to God!

Amen.

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