It was our first day of school and we were so excited and nervous we didn’t even turn the radio on during that two hour ride from our home in Western Massachusetts to Boston. It was one of those clear cool crisp early fall New England days---sky a perfect blue, still warm but you needed a sweater
We were both anxious. I was worried I was too old to study again. I hadn’t written a paper in over 20 years; not to mention maybe God had made mistake and called the wrong person.
When we arrived on Andover Newton Theological School we went toward one of the big old stone buildings and found a group of students watching a horror film about airplanes crashing into the Twin Towers in New York City. We thought how bizarre. Shouldn’t we be in some kind of auditorium being welcomed or oriented? It was only when the second tower was hit that I realized this was not a movie but real and we were watching it before our very eyes.
One of the young women fainted in front of me. I dropped to the floor and applied emergency Reiki. I met my Old Testament teacher there providing therapeutic touch. Above me others were weeping or madly dialing their loved ones to see if they were safe.
Later that morning we were broken into small groups for pastoral support---what we could give or receive. Our convocation was canceled and replaced by a worship service of mourning and lament. I will never forget the image of the rubble and dirt on the wooden floor of the Meeting House illuminated by tea lights in the shape of an anchor. Were these the fires engulfing my country or lights of hope?
Before we were sent home, we were told, those of us who were just starting our ministry, that we were marked, anointed by fire to serve a world literally exploding and imploding with violence.
This was my 9/11. Later I went down to Ground Zero and offered energy healing for the first responders as they dragged people from the rubble, day after day. Needless to say this attack that killed over 3,000 people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania changed America and we have lived on emergency alert in code Orange ever since.
This “disorienting shock” was new for Americans who had never really experienced terrorism of this magnitude before from people outside our country. We were raw and vulnerable. We had lost our sense of super power invincibility. It was a ripe moment.
What I and others observed in those first few days in New York however was not chaos but an incredible outpouring of generosity and kindness---people reaching out to people they didn’t know to help them escape, get rescued, find loved ones.
This disaster, like others says essayist Rebecca Solint revealed that “mutual aid is a default operating principle” and that civil society does know how to act and do the right thing. She also reminds us that it was an unarmed passenger on that flight that crashed which succeeded in stopping the terrorist act not the military.
And for a brief moment there was a window opened for a new kind of America and then it closed. The media and government took advantage and a war on terror was declared beginning with attacks in Afghanistan and later Iraq.
Across America and the world this Sunday in churches and in multi-faith gatherings people are remembering what happened and how to move forward in a code orange world.
And because we are close to Al Adha Eid, the Feast of the Sacrifice, and because there is still so much fear of Muslims and Islam, many will celebrate together in both sorrow and joy. The sorrow that so many have died in terrorist attacks in our Post 9/11 world and in joy that one who was supposed to be sacrificed was let free.
I find it interesting that the same lectionary texts for this Sunday are the same ones for that first Sunday after 9/11. I also find it important to remember this day was already marked for people in Latin America because it was the day the Chilean president Allende was overthrown and murdered in a US backed coup. No one was held accountable and no war launched.
On this 15th anniversary of that fateful day, I invite you to reflect about where we are now and how our sacred texts, especially our Exodus Text and our Gospel story about being lost and found can assist us, guide us through this time of globalized terror attacks and endless war.
Our first reading from Exodus 32 is sometimes known as The Golden Calf story because it tells us about how the Israelites lost faith in their God and Moses and decided to melt their gold jewelry and make themselves a god who they could sacrifice to and later feast with. They broke the very first commandment: “Thou shall worship the Lord thy god and have no other gods but me.” Instead they worship a god of their own making. They even brought peace-offerings to this god they had made.
This is an important story because idol worship was treason against the sovereignty of God. Idolatry is more than worshipping other gods or making images of the one who is beyond our imaginings, it is literally allowing someone or something else to have primacy in our lives. It is putting our faith and trust there and not with God.
But let’s be honest, are we not all a bit guilty of idolatry? Don’t we all worship from time to time other gods? For some it might mean making money or becoming wealthy as the most important thing in our lives. For others it might be seeking power or our own need to be number one.
For nation states,like my own, it might mean bowing down to the god of security, allowing this god to control our lives or steal our liberty, or suppress the rights of others. All is sacrificed to this god in the name of security. If we look around us here in Israel and Palestine, I think we can recount the many ways we all have lost sight of who we are and to whom we belong as we clutch our guns tighter, build bigger or deeper walls, steal other people’s land, or take their lives in the name of the god security. Are we not as lost and as idolatrous as our ancestoral sisters and brothers?
In our sacred story Moses intervenes. He reminds God, who wants to be alone with his anger, not to smite his people but to remember that they are his children. And the amazing part of the story is that God listens to Moses. God repents and decides not to do the evil he had threatened against his people.
Moses intervened and God listened. In my church we talk a lot about God speaking but God also listens. God hears us when we call out from the rubble heaps we have made of our lives and cities, or when we are lost like lambs who have become separated from our flock. God even looks for us when we are lost in our own homes. God values each and every one of us.
Now many pastors preach our gospel story as a call for repentance but I would like to offer you another way to see this parable. I start by reminding you that the lost coin or sheep doesn’t ask for forgiveness or even to be found. And I remind us that the parable is told to the Pharisees, who like those Israelites in the wilderness, are grumbling. While the Israelites complained about the provisions and clearly had trust issues, the Pharisees were complaining about who they had to share their provisions with, who was on the guest list. They object to Jesus’ eating with sinners and tax collectors. They object to his inclusive hospitality. It threatens their understanding of their role and status.
Jesus comes to gather us all in as our opening hymn says,” the meek and the poor, the rich and the haughty.” He invites all to the banquet of life, the Pharisees, the sheep, the son who has returned, even those who from time are stiff necked and have worshipped other gods. All are welcome.
And so like the woman searching for her lost coin, let us sweep our own houses clean, turn on the lights, and find what we have lost.
And for those remembering September 11, I ask you to invite into your households all those whose response was different from your own--- those who called for revenge instead of justice, those who called for war instead of peacemaking, those who made profits; all those who you call other, or who worship ideas or political views you consider idols, even these, invite them.
We all have bowed down to the wrong gods; we are all lost and in need of being found and treasured. And like Moses even when we are carrying the right commandments, playing by the right rules, we need to come down from our mountaintops and stand on the side of love not anger. And finally like that woman who found her lost coin, we are called to celebrate and rejoice by inviting everyone to the party. Everyone.
Find What You Have Lost
Exodus 32: 7-14; Luke 15:1-10
Rev. Loren McGrail
Saint Andrews Church of Scotland
September 11, 2016