September 11, 2001 title

By Rev. David Veale

Sermon for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
September 16, 2001
Based on Matthew 5:1-12

I chose to change the gospel reading for today to the beatitudes because I wanted to make sure that we all remember the nature of our God.  That we worship a God who is most present in times of crisis, and seems to bestow the most blessings to those who seem to be at their lowest point.

It certainly seemed like America has gotten that message already.  Last Friday over 6,000 people attempted to pack into Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, which only holds 2,500.  Suddenly that church seemed so small.  Across the country countless millions packed into churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.  Around the world it seemed like the whole population of the planet stopped moving for a moment to bow their heads and pray in unison.  It was an extraordinary day of blessing and grace.

Truly this crisis has brought Americans together.  But we've come together in a way that's not been seen for a long time.  In past national crises, at least the ones since World War II, we've rallied around the President and the flag and been more or less united in a course of action.  I remember when the Persian Gulf War broke out in 1991.  Once hostilities started, most Americans supported President Bush, supported the troops, and wanted to whip Saddam Hussein.  The public was united behind the effort and the goal.  But this is different.

This time we're not so much seeing millions of individual Americans all simply seeing an issue the same way.  This time we're seeing millions of Americans seeing each other.  We're seeing it in the lines that go on for blocks of people waiting to donate blood.  In the millions of dollars pouring into not only relief efforts, but charities in general, and in the precipitous drop in the crime rate for the last week.

Let's face it, for the last couple of decades it's been getting hard to define what it means to be an American.  Other than living within the borders of the United States, there was less and less that all of us living anywhere in the USA could say was a common spirit that bound us together.  We were becoming a country of 280 million individuals sharing only a geography, whose existence was being defined for the most part by an endless pursuit of wealth and goods.

Now that has changed.  Now we see ourselves as a people.  Each of us was attacked on Tuesday--I was, you were, the person sitting across from you was, the person across the street from you was.  It's something we have in common.  Our grief is something we have in common.  Our fear is something we have in common.  And our anger is something we have in common.  It's something that binds us together.

But in our talking about it with each other--and rarely has there been a time when we all so needed to talk to each other--we're discovering that we have much more than this attack in common.  Whether we are a high-tech worker living in Ben Lomond, a stockbroker living on the upper east side of Manhattan, a recent immigrant living in Los Angeles, or a street person living in a park in Chicago, we share a long list of common traits.  We all love our children and want what's best for them, we all look for genuine happiness, we all have a need to love and be loved, and we all in our own way are looking for God.  After a long period where it seems that most people were focusing on our differences in a desperate desire to assert our individuality at any cost, suddenly we've been forced to focus on our common humanity--and people seem genuinely surprised to find out that most of us are basically the same.

Even more amazing is that this recognition seems to be worldwide.  The terrorists crossed a line that suddenly made the whole world--even in some cases among peoples and nations that had long tolerated or even encouraged terrorism--to say "Enough, this needs to end now."  Even in Iran, there was a moment of silence for the dead and condemnation for the perpetrators.  All of sudden we all see each other; all of a sudden we all recognize each other as neighbors.  Even after this crisis passes and life returns to something approaching normal, we cannot undo the fact that humanity has had its eyes opened, and people who a week ago seemed to have nothing in common seem to have realized that they have everything that truly matters in common.
This is an opportunity for humankind that must not be squandered.  In the coming campaign to seek justice for the victims of this tragedy and to attempt to rid the world of the evil of terrorism, we must remember that violence will not actually solve anything.  Sending our military running around the world killing people and blowing stuff up may make us feel better, but it will not solve anything.  World War I was called the "war to end all wars" because the level of carnage was so high that many figured humanity would never have the stomach to fight another war.  They were wrong.
What actually has a chance of solving some of our problems is for our leaders to latch onto the unity of purpose and values that this attack has fostered and to use that energy to solve the underlying issues that cause wars and terror and suffering and violence.  While I strongly support the need to hold those responsible for our suffering accountable, I will not pretend that peace can ever be achieved at the point of a sword.  Peace comes with justice, peace comes with equality, peace comes with freedom, peace comes when we recognize that we are all created in the image of God and therefore we see each other as sacred.

Out of the rubble, God has given us an incredible gift.  Those who were blind can now see--we now see each other.  May we use this blessing to bring God's peace to our world.  Amen.

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