The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
It was fifteen years ago today, almost to the exact hour, that nineteen terrorists, in the name of their false god and demonic religion, crashed their hijacked planes into the very icon and symbol of American power and greatness and exceptionalism, murdering over 3,000 innocent souls in the process and bringing an entire nation of people to our knees in fear and horror and uncertainty. I think back to how everyone became VERY “religious” in the immediate wake of that heinous barbarism. Everyone was seeking for and clamoring for some sort of comfort and assurance and peace in the midst of all that death, destruction, and tumult; comfort, assurance, and peace that could only come from some kind of higher power; from something or somewhere outside of humanity. I say this because even the Atheists and godless intellectuals in our society, folks who’ve always looked to the greatness of human reason and intellect for comfort and assurance, were now coming together and looking for answers to the great crosses of terror and uncertainty that were crushing down upon them. They couldn’t look to humanity for the answers. They couldn’t look to their almost-deified human reason or intellect, because human reason and intellect couldn’t adequately explain such terror and carnage. They couldn’t look to humanity because humanity was also the perpetrator of the horror and carnage. Human reason and intellect was also at the controls of those airplanes.
But…I digress. I think back to those hours and days immediately following that horrific act of terror, and I remember how “religious” everyone suddenly became. Within hours churches were filled. People were blowing the dust off their Bibles and actually opening them up for something other than keeping obituaries or special cards and correspondence. More people than ever were on their knees and praying to God, many of whom had not been in such a humble, faithful position in a l—o—n—g time.
Of course, what I’m describing here is certainly not restricted to the horrific events of one single day fifteen years ago. Tragedy happens all the time, only it often happens on a much smaller, sometimes individual scale. It’s not just nations of people that get knocked to their knees. Individuals get knocked to their knees all the time. There’s nothing new under the sun. Terrible things happen all the time; things that rock our world, shake our sensibilities, and cause us to look around in fear and terror and grief and bewilderment. It’s so routine; so a part of everyday life that it often goes unnoticed. We’re too busy with our own problems to see the tragic horror someone else is experiencing.
You want to talk about nothing new under the sun? Just look at the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel lesson appointed for today. Here are two separate accounts of two very different women living roughly eight-hundred years apart from one another. And yet…their stories read like a tragic carbon-copy to one another. Both are widows. Both lose their only sons, which is basically a death sentence for a widow at that time. Both know the terror and grief and sorrow of losing their baby boy to the cruel injustice of death; terror and grief and sorrow that some of you here today can also relate to, you yourself sharing a terrible bond with these moms that is not restricted by the limits of time or place or circumstance.
And even for those of us who can never know the immense heartache and grief that only a mother can know when burying her child, we can still relate. We all know the sting of separation and disunity. We all know the pain and sorrow and anxiety and grief and depression that the separation of death thrusts into our lives when a loved one is taken from us. I know that I can never fully understand or comprehend the pain and grief and sorrow that anyone else feels. We’re all very different from one another, and nobody grieves the same exact grief or feels the exact same pain as anyone else. But…this isn’t a contest. I’m not competing with you or anyone else over who has the worst or biggest kind of grief. “You can’t understand my pain! You haven’t been in my position!” You’re right. I’m simply saying that I can relate, just like everyone else here can. I’ve been knocked to my knees a time or two in life, just like all of you. I know the pain and sorrow and uncertainty and fear that takes you captive when someone close to you is taken from you in death. We’ve all been there before.
And this is speaking only in terms of death. Just think about all the other sorrows and pains and griefs that we have to endure while living out our lives in this fallen and sinful world we call home. Just think about all the other things and uncertainties in this life that cause us faith-sapping fear and terror and anxiety. Just think about all those things in life that knock us to our knees in defeat and cause us to look up at heaven and cry out, “Why me?! Why, God?! What’s your problem?! What did I do to deserve this?!” We can all relate to this, can’t we? We may not want to admit it about ourselves, but we’ve been there before, to one degree or another. We’ve all questioned the wisdom and will of God.
And this is where I want to draw your attention to the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. I think we all know that St. Paul suffered a great deal of pain and sorrow in his ministry. How many times was he shipwrecked? How many times was he beaten and stoned and left for dead? How many times did he get to call the inside of a Roman dungeon “home”? And yet…St. Paul refers to all these wretched cross-bearing experiences as opportunities to serve God and make Him known. “Do not lose heart over what I am suffering for you.” Don’t lose heart. Don’t get down. Don’t see this as defeat or as the devil winning. Don’t see this as something to be avoided or shunned. “I bow my knees before the Father, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Now, did you catch all that? Did you catch the part where St. Paul talks about willingly bending his knee to his God and Father? Let that sink in for a moment. Paul talks about willingly bending his knee to God as he bears these various pains and sorrows and crosses. All the terror and tumult and pain and suffering this guy had to endure as an apostle to the Gentiles, and yet he was never knocked to his knees, forced to do any of it. Instead, he willingly lowered his knee to God, humbly and faithfully bearing his crosses, making the love of God known through these respective crosses, knowing and trusting that God was working great, good, and glorious things through Paul and the crosses he bore.
And that’s just it: The love and mercy and grace of almighty God in the work and person of Jesus Christ was made known in and through the sufferings of St. Paul. Actually, when you think about it, St. Paul was really only making Christ’s cross known. Christ’s cross was being made manifest through the crosses that Paul bore in his own personal life. Look to this cross! This is what it’s all about. We all know the pain and sorrow and persecution and tumult that Jesus endured in the hours leading up to this wretched display of barbarity and death and destruction. While perspiring blood Jesus willingly bent His knee to His Father and His will, fully trusting and believing that His Father was working true good for all those who love Him. “Father, if it be Your will, take this cup of suffering from Me. But…not My will be done, but Your will be done.” And it was.
Jesus Christ willingly bent His knee to His Father’s will; divine Fatherly will that necessarily included a hellish torment that NO ONE on this side of eternity has ever or will ever experience—forsakenness. Christ’s bitter suffering, forsakenness and death was absolutely necessary for our salvation. This was the only way the wage of sin—our sin—could ever be paid, and paid in full it was. This is the only currency that pays that wretched wage, once and for all time and all people. This is it!
Think about that for a moment. Christ Jesus willingly humbled Himself, making Himself the lowest of the low and the most despised and hated of all men, all of the Father’s wrath against sin poured out in full upon Him. Christ endured it all…for us. Jesus didn’t have to endure the slightest discomfort for any of us. He’s almighty and all-holy. He’s the sinless One of God; the One who willingly became sin for us and our sake. He certainly didn’t have to endure any of this. He could have wiped us all out and said, “Forget it. Let the sinners get what they deserve.” He didn’t have to do any of this. He wanted to. This is how great your Lord’s love is for you, for me, and for all people…even those who hate Him and the lambs who bear His name.
And it is this Good News that I want to leave you with today. I know that may not be what some of you are looking for. The sad fact of the matter is that it’s not what a lot of people are looking for nowadays. Fifteen years later, and we’re worse off now as a people of humility and faith than we were on September 10th, 2001. So many people have walked away or given up on the faith because they had struggles and questions and crosses and burdens, and they didn’t find the answers they were looking for; answers that potlucks and bake sales and grocery giveaways and free therapy and budgeting seminars and video game night simply can’t give. Folks: I don’t have all the answers. Why did God permit the atrocities of September 11th to happen? Why do “bad” things still happen to us…especially us? After all, we’re Christians! “Why did God take my loved one and not me? I would’ve traded places in a heart beat! Why me and not them? Why them and not me? Why, God?!” I don’t know.
Here’s a question: Why not you? What makes you so special and undeserving of any type of grief or sorrow or discomfort in this life? Are you not a sinner? Is not the wage of sin death? Do you not believe what you say you do, that you deserve nothing but present and eternal punishment? Here’s a better question; a question that you, by God’s grace, already know the answer to; the answer which can and does give a peace that surpasses all human understanding, no matter how bad things may seem: Did Jesus Christ—God Himself in the flesh—love you so much that He willingly took on all your sin and paid for each and every one of your sins on His cross? Did Jesus Christ rise victoriously from the dead, proving once and for all that it truly is finished, and your heavenly Father is at peace with you and all mankind? Are you not baptized into this victorious, all-atoning life, death, and resurrection of Christ? Does He not come to you this very day to personally feed you and nourish you with His life-giving Word and His life-saving Body and Blood?
Folks: Here is Christ! Here is the Lord of Life; the very same God and Lord who made Himself victoriously known in the midst of death; in the resurrection of a pair of widow’s sons; the very same God and Lord who made the forgiveness, mercy, love, and life of almighty God Himself known in His own death and resurrection, and who will do so again in your resurrection. Here He is, freely and unconditionally holding out to you the gift of life and peace that is Himself; the gift of life and peace that is found only in Christ the Lord.
May this blessed Christ-centered reality—your blessed baptismal reality—keep your knees ever bent in joyous humility and peace to Him who freely gives you the peace that surpasses all understanding, in good times and in bad, for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. AMEN
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