At 8:46 am EST American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston hits the north tower of the World Trade Center, 92 people were killed on the plane. Let us take a moment and silently pray for 92 seconds. (1:32 minutes)
At 9:03 am EST United Airlines Flight 175, also out of Boston explodes against the south tower of the World Trade Center. 56 people were on board; let us silently pray for 56 seconds.
At 9:39 am EST American Airlines Flight 77 hits the Pentagon and all 64 people on board are killed. Let us pray in silence for 64 seconds (1:04 minutes)
I think most of us remember where we were when we heard of these horrific events. For those who were alive ten years ago, it was one of those days that will be embedded in our memory forever. I was in my Black Church Studies class at Duke Divinity School. It was a 9:00am class and so I was already on my way to school when the planes hit. I was unaware of what was happening. I looked back at my notes of that day and the lecture topic was the Social Contexts of the Black Church. We got the break in this two and half hour class and as we walked down the hall to get something to drink or to stretch our legs a person came walking down saying, “two planes have hit the World Trade Center.” I walked to the lounge where someone had wheeled in TV and students were everywhere watching. I sat on the floor and saw the burning wreckage of the towers. Then at 10:05, only minutes after I was trying to wrap my head around what was happening, the south tower fell.
I remember panic setting in. I didn’t know how many people I had just witnessed die. This wasn’t a scene out of a movie. It was live TV, no special effects. It was reality. My mouth gapped open, my heart was stunned, my pulse picked up. I headed back to class because I didn’t know what else to do. The rest of the class was canceled along with every other class for the rest of the day. People were clued to the TV in the lounge.
At 10:03am United Airlines Flight 93 crashes southeast of Pittsburgh and all 45 people on board are killed. Let us silently pray for 45 seconds.
At 10:10am we learned that part of the burning Pentagon building collapses killing 125 people. Let us pray silently for 125 seconds. (2:05 minutes)
It seemed like tons of planes were dropping out of the sky. My finance’s step-mother was a flight attendant and my mind went directly to her. “I wonder if Judy is flying today?” (she wasn’t) At this point no one knew if other planes were high jacked or what was really happening. With class canceled I felt this urge to just get back to the place I called home, the house two other seminary students and I rented.
Joel, my roommate had come to class on his bike and I had parked my truck between East and West Campus and rode the bus in the rest of the way. The bus was jam packed with students getting off campus as the University canceled everything. I decided to start to walk as Joel went to get my truck. When he pulled into a driveway and waited me to get there I broke out in a run. I remember I felt the need to hurry.
By the time we got home we heard that the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 10:28am had collapsed as well. The total number of people who died on this day in the buildings and in the planes was 2,975. Let us pause and pray silently for three mintues.
I was one of those people who were stuck in front of the TV. That is how I attempted to deal with the events of that day, by consuming as much information as possible. One of my roommates buried his head in the books. The other bobbed in and out of his room attempting to study and keep up with what was happening. I blended into the couch, flipping back and forth between news channels. That night we went to a local church which was open for prayer, Mt Sylvan UMC. There we knelt down and prayed. I prayed for peace, peace of mind, and to feel God’s presence in the midst of the pain and suffering. As I prayed this scripture came to my mind, (read Psalm 46).
I know I could go around this sanctuary today and you all can tell similar stories. We remember the days when our world changes and our lives are altered forever. In 2 Kings 25 we get the story of the destruction of the First Temple, Solomon’s Temple. The Babylonians took over the Holy Land in 587 BC. Hear what they had to witness, (read 2 Kings 25:8-11)
Imagine what the Israelites had to experience. Walking away, being exiled from their holy land. Looking over their shoulders at the burning city they once called home. I think they would sympathize with us on 9/11. A part of the largest city in the US burned down and a major stronghold of American power, the Pentagon, was attacked. A group of Americans fought back and did so at the ultimate price when they crashed in Pennsylvania. Our world, our culture, our nation still existed on September 12th yet that wasn’t the case for Israel. However our world, along with theirs, felt incredibly different.
It was unique to be in the third year of Divinity School when this happened. There I was surrounded by great theologians, professors, and a very faithful and spiritual group of men and women. We gathered the next day, as a school, for prayer and worship. We tried to make sense of what had happened. Professors spoke out about our need to heed Jesus’ command to love our enemies. They quoted Luke 6:27-36, (read Luke 6:27-36). We must never forget who we are. We are followers of the Risen Christ who came to save the world. We must do what he commands. As we look back are we truly ready to do what he says? Let us pray for those who mistreated us, who did evil against us on this day ten years ago. Because of Jesus’ command, let us pray for 30 seconds for the terrorists who committed these appalling attacks.
What does our God tell us to do in circumstances like this? A question many people asked that day was where was God? The truth is we should never forget that God was in the World Trade Center that day, helping people walk down the countless flights of stairs. God was there giving people strength as they carrying people in wheelchairs down over fifty flights. He held their hands as people jumped out of the burning buildings. He was there pumping the hearts of the firefighters climbing up the towers to put out the fires who only thought of others and not of themselves. He was there when Fire Fighter Chaplain Father Mychal Judge was praying, “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!” and then he was hit in the head and killed by flying debris from the South Tower collapsing.
God was with those on the planes and on the ground at the Pentagon, and all those watching around the world. God wept that day with all of us and shook his head once again at the evil his creation is capable of. God never forgets his creation. He knew the name of everyone of the almost 3,000 who died that day. But where do we go from here?
We must never forget who we are and whose we are. We are Christians who stand up and show the world the way to live. We stand up and say that we will never forget what our Lord and Savior did upon the cross and that can never be erased by any evil of this world. We never forget the words of Jesus who said in the sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are called the children of God.” We must never forget what Jesus says in the lectionary passage for today, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'"
We must never forget that we are a people of grace. We are a people of love. We are a people of grace. We must never forget because God doesn't forget us. As we enter moments of suffering nothing makes sense but we are called by God to enter them. We go not to make everything right or to wash away emotions. We go into suffering, into chaos because we know that God is with us. We remember to 'be still and know that God is God,' adn we are always loved by him. no matter what happens int his world, we are loved.
John Mark McMillan lost his best friend in a a car accident. He was extremely hurt and angry with God. As a musician he connected and worked through is emotions in music. He kept feeling this frustration inside of him building up and the need to have a conversation with God. As he wrote the song, "How He Loves" he had that conversation. He found that love is messy and doesn't always make sense. God can and does love us through all our pain and suffering. He loves us despite our evils and our failures to do what he desires.
Never forget that God was everywhere on 9/11. He was in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC. God was there beside me as my eyes filled up with tears as I watched the news that day and he greeted me with a sense of peace as I knelt down to pray. Where ever you were that day, never forget that God was with you. God is always with you because he loves us. He loves us all.
[end by singing He Loves Us]
and all God’s children said…Amen.