In the days ahead, a lot of us will be struggling to put into words something that is really beyond words. Religions News Service looks at the challenge of preaching on 9/11:
Standing in the pulpit on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, what do you say?
For clergy called upon to preach that day, which falls on a Sunday, the challenge can be connecting with a congregation that might have already moved beyond the tragedy.
But in many congregations other realities will dominate: people in the pews who lost family on 9/11; Muslims who have suffered a backlash since the attacks; soldiers who are still fighting wars set off by the events of that crisp September day.
At the Islamic Society of Orange County (Calif.), the traditional Friday services two days before the anniversary will include a family that lost a son at Ground Zero. Imam Muzammil Siddiqi said he plans to acknowledge that family’s suffering, and then all who grieve a relative or friend who died in the attacks.
“And of course I will acknowledge terrorism as a crime, a sin,” he said, “something that has no place in Islam.”
The Rev. Joy Moore, a United Methodist minister who teaches the art of preaching at Duke University Divinity School, will focus on forgiveness when she delivers her sermon at the divinity school’s chapel.
Moore said she was struck that in some churches, the scriptures assigned to Sept. 11 address forgiveness, including the story of Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his brothers.
“I find that amazing. It’s a powerful story of forgiveness,” said Moore, especially when contrasted against the varied reactions — some thoughtful, some raucous — to the death of Osama Bin Laden earlier this year.
“The church is a place that encourages us to say, ‘I will not celebrate in the death of my enemy.’ It seeks to be a community that practices such radical forgiveness that we have no enemies,”‘ said Moore.
Then there are pastors who want to recapture the raw emotions of the day 10 years before, and harness them for a spiritual purpose.
“I was here on the Sunday after 9/11 and the building was packed with people who were emotionally shocked. I saw people who hadn’t been to church in years,” said Rev. Darrell Worley, pastor of the Christian Life Assembly of God in Picayune, Miss.
At the time, President George W. Bush advised everyone to “get back to normal.” Spiritually, Worley said, the call from the pulpits should have been something different: to “get back to God.”
But “we are still unhealed,” Worley said. “We need to pray for God’s forgiveness of our sins, for God to fill us with spiritual renewal.”
Worley hopes that his 9/11 sermon will also inspire prayers for the nation, and for those “unconverted to come to Christ.”
Speaking for myself: I’m reading a lot about forgiveness and remembrance, as I prepare to preach at an interfaith memorial service out on Long Island that afternoon. I’m sure I’ll talk about my own memories of that day, too. It’s a vast subject, with a lot of complicated emotions. But I hope, in the end, to offer some glimmer of light. We’ll see. I’m praying about it, and trusting that the Holy Spirit will put the words before me…