Progressive Christian Channel
Texts of Terror and Transformation: A 9/11 Sermon
Amos 9:11: "In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old;"
Zechariah 9:11: "As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit."
There is a lot of hope in the words of the prophets, too, as the rubble is cleared in New York and Afghanistan, and hope emerges from the dust and ashes.
Matthew 9:11: "And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?""
Mark 9:11: "And they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that first Eli'jah must come?""
The disciples were trying to figure out what Jesus meant when he said that the Son of Man must die and rise from the dead. There was a tradition that the prophet Elijah, who had not exactly died but had been swept up into the sky by a whirlwind, would someday return. That's why to this day there is the Elijah cup at the Passover table, ready for him should he return for the sacred meal.
The Christian religion has preserved this wonderful expectation that any time now Jesus, like Elijah, will return once more. That we need to keep a place open for him at the communion table, in case he shows up in the form we least expect. We are asked to be ready for resurrection—for the return of the long-lost guest. This deep hospitality was one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Jesus during his life: his willingness to sit at table with anybody, rich or poor, clean or unclean, Jew or Gentile. It's a hospitality we need to practice more religiously than ever, in this time when it is so tempting to practice racial and religious profiling.
John 9:11: "He answered, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to Silo'am and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight.""
And may we receive the vision we need to rebuild our nation, and our foreign policy, and the global economic system, so that the roots of the terrible violence of 9/11 will be pulled up. May our eyes be anointed so that they aren't blinded by prejudice and rage and thirst for revenge and shortsighted solutions to long-term problems.
Hebrews 9:11: "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),"
This passage is part of the book of Hebrews that describes the Christian culmination of the rituals described in Leviticus 9:11. Jesus acts as a high priest, atoning for the sins of all the people. Our hope is that the deaths of all the innocent people who died will not be in vain, in the end—that they will one day be seen as the tragic beginning of a positive process of peacemaking that will prevent further acts of violence.
Revelation 9:11: "They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abad'don, and in Greek he is called Apol'lyon."
This passage from the Apocalypse tells of the seven plagues that follow the blowing of the seven trumpets in the final drama of the cosmic story. They are reminiscent of the plagues sent on the Egyptians when they refused to set Israel free. This demonic king, Abaddon, is the ruler of an army of locusts with scorpion's tails. It is a reminder that fears of plagues, like anthrax and smallpox that might be used by terrorists, are as vivid in the human imagination today as they were in the first century.
And in that, and in so many of the other passages marked 9:11 in the Bible, I find a certain contradictory comfort. Among its very many other messages, the Bible reminds us, after all these millennia, that while there really is progress in human history, a whole lot of we call news is really very old indeed. 9/11 looks pretty tame in comparison to many of the stories recorded in the scripture. 9/11 looks like just another chapter and verse in a very long story—a story of which you and I are a part.
Excerpted from a sermon by Rev. Jim Burklo at College Heights Church, UCC, San Mateo, California, on March 3, 2002.
Jim Burklo is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor who serves as the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. He is the author of "Birdlike and Barnless: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians" (2008) and "Open Christianity: Home by Another Road" (2000). Jim regularly blogs at ProgressiveChristianity.org.