Remembrance of September 11

The Rev. Scott Trotter
St Stephen’s, Blytheville and Calvary, Osceola
September 11, 2011
Proper 19A
Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

Today is the 1oth anniversary of September 11, 2001. I expect all of you have at least heard of the terrible events of that day. Although yesterday I heard of an elementary school teacher with close personal ties to those events teaching children about them, because they do not know of them. It’s hard to remember that Murrin and Belle were 1, maybe; that Will wasn’t yet conceived; Chris was 1, Sam and David were 3 or 4.

Using East Coast time the events unfold:
8:46 Flight 11 flies into the N Tower of the World Trade Center
9:03 Flight 175 flies into the S Tower
9:38 Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon
9:57 Todd Beamer utters, “Let’s roll,” leading a passenger revolt on Flight 93
9:59 S Tower collapses
10:10 flight 93 crashes into a remote Pennsylvania field
10:28 N Tower collapses
In less than two hours, some 3,000 people perish, and life in the US, in the world, changes, dramatically.

Do you remember where you where when you first heard the news? I was getting ready for the day, given the time line I must have been at home, though I think I was in the office. My brother in law, who was in Washington DC, his company has a restaurant in the Pentagon area, saw the smoke and fire. A colleague from W.Va. was in the Trinity Church Wall Street Campus. He speaks of feeling their way out of the building, along with all the kids in pre-school. Do you remember what you did in the moment? As events unfolded, I did not want to be alone, so I went to my Sr. Warden’s office. There we witnessed the towers collapse, live, I think. That evening I joined with many across West Memphis in a community prayer service.

I recall some disruption of travel plans. I know crop dusters could not spray in the West Memphis area, too close to the Air Port and Memphis. I also remember teams from Memphis’ renowned Rescue Team going to NY. I also recall members of West Memphis and Marion Fire Departments going to help, as they could. There were all sorts of volunteers. There were millions and millions of dollars raised. I am especially proud of Trinity Church, who left St. Paul’s chapel open for responders 24 hours a day, for years. When it was time to clean up the mess, the scars from boots in the pews were left as a memorial. Sometimes help was accidental. I was with my W.Va. colleague when he boarded an airplane for the first time after 9/11. There was a tremendous, though temporary, spike in Church attendance. The day was tragic. Our response, in particular of first responders fire, police and others to the needs of people, in dire risk was, and still is, exemplary. Many are the heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!

In many ways we are still living through the changes 9/11 provoked. We are fighting 2 wars with roots in the terrorist attack. We have experienced changes in travel, especially air travel, longer lines and time consuming processes at security check points in airports. We have experienced the Federal Government re-organize those agencies responsible for domestic security into the Department of Homeland Security. FEMA shifted its focus from preparation for natural disasters, to preparation for terrorist attack. Some of these changes are necessary some are well thought out some bear good fruit. Yet I am concerned.

My concern, my fear, if you will, emerges from the Song of Moses:

The chariots of Pharaoh
and his army
has he hurled into the sea;
the finest of those who bear armor
have been drowned in the Red Sea.

We are used to hearing this as God’s mighty hand saving Israel, and it is true. However, when one reads it from the perspective of the Egyptians, an entirely experience emerges. The Egyptians depended on their prowess and might as an Empire. They did not, could not rely on God. And remember the previous Pharaoh did. He entrusted Egypt’s plan for famine in Joseph, because of his interpretation of dreams openly credited to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Trust in God, or the lack of trust, is a major theme in the Old Testament. Consequences of failing to trust are frightening. Read 1st and 2nd Kings and you’ll see what I mean.

The Song of Moses continues:

Your right hand, O Lord,
is glorious in might;
your right hand, O Lord,
has overthrown the enemy. …

With your constant love
you led the people you redeemed;
with your might you brought them
in safety to your holy dwelling.

These verses make it clear, the salvation of the Hebrews from Pharaoh’s mighty army, the best in the world, is God’s work, not Moses’, not Aaron’s, not Mariam’s, but God’s. More importantly it is God’s love which inspires divine action.

There is no question that the morning of September 11, 2001 was, in Charles Wesley’s words, “Dark and cheerless.” Wesley powerful reminds us Christ is the one true light who can, who has, who will triumph over the darkness of a often harsh and terrifying world. The hymn’s last verse is a prayer we might ponder offering everyday;

Visit then this soul of mine!
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief!
Fill me, Radiancy Divine;
scatter all my unbelief;
more and more thyself display,
shining to the perfect day.

We will go forth from this service to the hymn Faith of our fathers! living still. The second verse is:

Faith of our fathers! faith and prayer
shall win all nations unto thee;
and through the truth
that comes from God,
mankind shall then indeed be free.

I pray we sing them as we believe them. More importantly, I pray we live them and by our lives lead others to live by that same faith. That is the true remembrance of the victims and heroes of 9/11.