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Where were you?

The following sermon was preached by Jennifer Renema, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, September 11, 2008.


Romans 13:8-14

Where were you??

Where were you on September 11, 2001?  It's a timeless question applicable to many historical events.  Where were you when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated? Or when the Berlin Wall fell?  Where were you when Christ was crucified?

Where were you the day of September 11th? What were you doing when the planes crashed into the pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania and the twin towers? What thoughts were you having as desperate people jumped from windows while firemen clamored up the stairs to rescue those who were trapped? Where were you when the world as we knew it was flipped upside down as the towers collapsed? Where were you as women and men cried out for their lost spouses, children and parents? Where were you when God's still small voice was crying out in agony from Ground Zero for God's children?

I was asleep in the basement bedroom of my parent's house that Monday morning. Trying to get in every ounce of shut eye that I could before I had to go out and run those final pre-college errands that had been piling up.  I wouldn't have had the slightest inkling that anything catastrophic, let alone anything at all, was going on until my mom came home looking for our spare 14 inch TV to take to her office. "Get upstairs and turn the TV on, we're under attack!" she said.  In my sleepy daze I wondered who in their right minds would want to attack my home town of Grosse Pointe but I dragged myself up the stairs and watched in terror and extreme nausea as I turned on the Today Show just in time to watch the first tower fall.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Where were you when this country stopped being the Land of the Free and once again became a land of us versus them? Where were you when hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan sat in terror as they watched the towers fall and suddenly began to fear for their lives?  Where were you as talks of retaliation began to spread throughout out the US, not just at a national level but on a local level as well?

Where were you as our Middle Eastern and western Asian brothers and sisters began to get spit at in disdain as they walked down the streets of towns and cities throughout the country?  Where were you as Sikhs began to be gunned down in their places of business because of the turban they wore as a sign of their devotion to God?

Paybacks, retaliation...these became our primary vocabulary in the days after September 11th.  We cannot let the Islamic Terrorists win, they said and some still say the same today.  And the innocent blood of Muslims and Sikhs, folks from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Palestine and other Middle Eastern and Western Asian countries was spilt on American soil.

Paybacks, retaliation...

It would have been interesting, I think if the words we hear Paul write to the Romans were words heard in the lectionary seven years ago.  Hear what he says again, this time from the New International Version. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet." And whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."  Let no debt remain except to love.  If only Paul had written this passage right along side what he wrote in chapter 12 "do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath."

In this broken and sinful world that we live in it is all to often tempting to repay evil for evil, to figure that if someone does us wrong, we owe them something just as bad in return. But Paul says that as much as it depends on us, we are to live in peace with all people, to do what it right in the eyes of everyone...to leave room for God's wrath instead of taking revenge ourselves.  Unfortunately, as much as we try to live peaceably with everyone and not repay evil for evil, we have a tendency to do that opposite.  Our sinful nature leaves us unable, as much as it depends on us to live peaceably with all people at all times.  Our sinful nature leaves us unable to fulfill the law.

There was only one person capable of fulfilling the law...and he was crucified for it.  Yet in the crucifixion of Jesus, the ultimate fulfillment of the law was accomplished. For it was in Jesus' death and resurrection that God gave us the ultimate in paybacks.  In the incarnation of the Word, God showed God's love for the world in experiencing it from our point of view. 

Jesus lived among us, eating among us, crying among us, singing among us and in doing so, Jesus saw the broken state of our existence and in his love for us, he didn't pay us back with hatred.  And when he was arrested Jesus didn't order his disciples to fight, which he very well could have and received an incredible response.  Instead, he ordered them to put down their weapons, he stood trial, and he was flogged and made to carry his own cross.  And he died for the sinful likes of you and me.  And I bet that if we were asked the question "where were you when Jesus was crucified?" our response would be no better than that of the disciples.  We have abandoned Jesus time and time again, be it in our words or that we do that do not do the work of fulfilling the law...and yet, because of God's grace, Jesus' death still saves us from our sins. We have been washed clean in the waters of baptism, his blood no longer on our hands but now apart of our bodies as we go out in to the world to respond to cries of injustice, sealed with the cross of Christ on our foreheads.

We come here today to remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001.  It was a day that turned the entire world upside down in a matter of hours.  But we also come here today because of an event that occurred just less than 2000 years ago.  It was a day that turned the world upside down in a matter of hours.  In fact, it was an event that turned existence upside down and inside out, for the death of Jesus and his resurrection wiped our slates clean and gave us hope that even in the midst of tragedy, God is there.  God was there on September 11th, giving courage to those who fulfilled the law by working to rescue others, treat those who were injured and comfort those who lost loved ones. And God is still there today. God's still small voice calls out from ground zero crying in agony at the injustices that have plagued our world as a result of that day.  We lost much of our freedom that day, but in Christ and the ultimate fulfillment of the law, the ultimate payback of love, we still have the freedom to go out into the world and do what is right in the eyes of God, responding in love to cries of injustice.  Where were you...or...where will you be when the cries reach your ears??

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