Finding the words to preach on 9/11

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.”

Read more.

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…

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10 responses to “Finding the words to preach on 9/11”

  1. It would be a good day for muslims around the world to unite in a call to end violence and to denouce jihad forever.

    I think what is holding back any forgiveness or resolution of the issue with Islam and the rest of the world is that Islam continues to support jihad. First step in gaining equality and to stop the ill will is for all who believe in Islam to not only totally condemn jihad, but to vow to turn in anyone they see involved in planning violent attacks.

  2. Greg:

    The Spirit for sure helped inspire much of the inspirational work and words of the documentary “9/11”.

    I know he will again bless your preaching in two weeks with words of comfort for so many in your area who are still healing from the wounds of that tragic day.


  3. Somebody, sometime, somewhere has to point out that Islam is the most fractured religious movement that there is in existence today. It is far more decentralized and diverse than Christianity or Judaism.

    It has no central authority — no “pope” if you will — no genuinely accepted “Council of Elders” which discipline backsliders or heretics. Even in Iran, where the Ayatollahs (is my spelling correct here) rule a theocracy, there often is sharp disagreement about almost everything.

    MANY MANY years ago, I had the opportunity of visiting a major mosque here in the Midwest and the Iman who was the presiding religious leader of that congregation indicated that his congregation has members from 24 separate countries — he was an Egyptian — and only four of those 24 were Arabic. His mosque, while the largest, is not the only one.

    Members of all of the mosques in that Midwestern city are proud of their community involvement. They readily welcome visitors and gladly offer the services of a Speakers’ Bureau if churches would like more information.

    Several prominent Roman Catholic priests in our area are part of the Midwest Islamic-Catholic Dialogue group and that group meet 3-4 times a year.

    What I have found is that once Islamic folks migrate to the US — they are like any other incoming sub-culture. It takes maybe two-three generations to assimilate but they do and they are become a welcomed addition to our American culture.

  4. I’m sure some of you have looked ahead to the Scriptures assigned to that day in the Lectionary? Coincidence or Holy Spirit?

    It should provide much food for thought and personal challenge and reflection– for each one of us, not just those charged with preaching that day.

    And I heard that the pastors in a neighboring community had already agreed to set that weekend aside to preach on stewardship. Hugely blown opportunity, IMO.

    Work on our hearts, Lord.

  5. Deacon Greg,

    One form of forgiveness can be a unilateral exercise of letting someone off the hook, such as letting go of past hurts when someone dies.

    I’m not sure the unilateral approach is one that many are either comfortable with, or feel is appropriate.

    If we are talking about healing a fractured relationship with those among us, then we’re talking about a process involving us and Islam. From that perspective, there needs to be an overture from Islam in line with Greta’s comments in #1 above, no?

    How can we reconcile with those who have taken the step of denouncing the mass murder committed in their name, nor having expressed any affinity for us?

    How does one forgive those one isn’t entirely certain abhor what was done on 9/11? Are those still rightly suspicious to be made to feel that they are failing in their Christian duty?

    There is a dynamic tension between the imperative to forgive 70 x 7 times a day, and the instruction to treat the recalcitrant as outcasts. In that tension, forgiveness for 9/11 does not necessarily come with a filial embrace when there has been no real denunciation of Jihad in Islam.

    I must confess that having lost friends in the towers, and having watched a dear friend lose his mind because he was late for work and not incinerated with the rest of his office when the plane struck the south tower, I haven’t really tried at all to forgive. I really don’t want to, and I’m not certain I would even know where to begin.

  6. It seems to me that the time to preach is this weekend, as the memory of the event is already in our consciousness and the run-up next week is surely to intensify this. The readings this week give us pause on the need for civility in our discourse. I think this is a message that is sorely needed in all areas of our life together. I still encounter a good deal of bigotry when it comes to other faiths. I suspect we will see and hear a great deal this week; some consistent with the challenge of the gospel and some quite inconsistent.

  7. Excuse me, but we receive forgiveness when we confess our sins with a contrite heart and become willing to make amends for our wrongdoing. I have not seen any of the perpetrators or anyone in the Muslim community step forward in this manner.

    The onus is on us to forgive those who have harmed not only the actual victims of the 9/11 attacks but also deeply scarred our country even though there has not been any attempts at reconciliation on the part of the perpetrators. Our country has not been the same since this dreadful event occurred. We all were wounded.

    Forgive them? Yes, I pray to do so. Forget? No. Like a child who touches a hot stove, I know the stove is hot and I protect myself from getting burned.

  8. It’s that “we” and “them” references that always turn up in discussions with political overtones that are such a turn off. I find it inappropriate to forgive someone that harms others; it’s up to the harmed person to forgive or not forgive. Thankfully I was not directly harmed as a result of the terror attacks on 911. But I will say and I do know that the evil doers will have to face God someday. Every last one of them. I’m tired of the politicians constantly patronizing Islam; it’s really revolting.

  9. Greta and Gerard Nadal, where I disagree with you is that I do not think that “Islam” attacked our country. Therefore, I see no reason to treat the issue as one between us and Islam, much less one in which a (non-existent) centrally organized Islam needs to make some sort of resolution with us.

    The ones we are called as Christians to forgive are those who had a hand in the attack.

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