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This is the ten year anniversary of September 11, 2011. Besides my usual commentary and resources based on the Revised Common Lectionary, I have offered a worship resource for commemorating 9/11/01, and also, in the aftermath of Irene, a call to action to help those in need. Feel free to use all or part of the resources below.
Here is a list of websites and other resources available:
Disciples.org has a number of links to resources here.
Associated Baptist Press has a number of links to baptist sources that you can find here.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America also has great free resources for your congregation.
A huge list of 9/11 worship resources can be found at The Text This Week.
Revised Common Lectionary Readings:
There are three choices for the Hebrew Scripture this week: Genesis 50:15-21; Exodus 14:19-31; Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21
Psalm 103:1-13; Psalm 114; Matthew 18:21-35; Romans 14:1-12
The Hebrew Scripture passages are difficult to read on this Sunday. The Genesis passage is the story of Joseph forgiving his brothers. The Exodus passages are both the story and song of triumph by Moses, Miriam and the Hebrew people as they escaped Egypt and as the armies of Pharaoh were drowned in the sea.
In light of it being September 11th, ten years after the destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers, the damage to the Pentagon and the four planes brought down that day, over two thousand people dead, can we honestly hear the words of forgiveness that Joseph offers his brothers who betrayed him? Can we offer forgiveness to those who have wronged us, to the terrorists that caused these horrific events? Are we in a place where we can seek forgiveness yet? It was many years, a generation had passed by, before Joseph was reunited and was able to forgive his brothers. I would hope that we could begin the process of forgiveness, remembering Jesus’ call to us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. It was Joseph’s father Jacob that reminded him that those who wronged him were his brothers and were in need of forgiveness; may we be reminded that in that same great family, we are all brothers and sisters of each other. Personally I think it will be hard to preach on forgiveness today; but may we all begin the process by remembering how Joseph forgave his brothers, and now that ten years have passed, may we begin the process of forgiveness, even if we aren’t ready to yet.
The Exodus passages prove more troubling to preach on, as they are the celebration of the destruction of Pharaoh’s army. They are also the celebration of the escape from slavery into freedom, the celebration of God guiding the people out of that dark time and place of oppression. In light of the revolutions in the Arab world this year, we have seen many celebrations as dictators have been forced out (currently the situation in Tripoli comes to mind). Some have seen less bloodshed than others. But there were images of celebration shown after September 11 2001 of people supposedly celebrating the bloodshed by terrorism in America (most of those images were proven later to be old footage and not related to September 11th at all). I am also reminded of the celebrating college students outside of the White House after Osama bin Laden was killed earlier this spring. It is easy for us to celebrate triumph over an enemy as divinely guided, to the point that we believe God approves and requires and desires our violence, when Jesus clearly states this is not the way of God, going as far as not to lead his own people in an uprising against the oppressive Roman rule, but dying on a cross instead.
Psalm 103 is a prayer of blessing to God, thanking God for God’s faithfulness, love and mercy. “The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed” (vs. 6). God is one who forgives and brings healing and restoration. This psalm is a prayer that reminds us that it is God who judges, God who heals, God who forgives and restores. Psalm 114 is a song of remembrance of the escape from Egypt, and a reminder in a time after the divided kingdom that it is the Lord who brings justice and restoration to God’s people.
Matthew 18:21-35 is a parable about forgiveness after Peter asks Jesus how often they needed to forgive. Again, forgiveness may be a difficult subject to preach on September 11th. But it is clear in this parable by Jesus that we need to show mercy and offer forgiveness as God has shown us mercy and offered us forgiveness. No act of terror is ever justified, but we as a country have sins we need to seek forgiveness for. How many years did we know about the Taliban’s subjection of women, the public humiliation and executions, the prohibition against educating girls, and we did nothing? I remember Amnesty International protesting the Taliban’s treatment of women in Afghanistan in 1996. And we did nothing. In our silence we sinned. In our silence as the genocide took place in Rwanda and Burundi, we sinned. In our silence as the genocide continues in Darfur and starvation in Somalia, we sin. When we fail to seek justice for the poor and the hungry, for the war widows and orphans, we sin. We need to seek forgiveness and be willing to offer forgiveness, for as the parable shows us, none of us are innocent. All of us at some point have held the same anger or judgment against someone that someone has against us. All of us have been silent on issues of justice, and at other times have felt the silence of others who have failed to speak out for us. Christ calls us to forgive our brothers and sisters, and these are not only our church family but our world family, as the story in Genesis reminds us–we are all children of the living God, descendants of the family of Joseph and Jacob, of Rebekah and Isaac, of Sarah and Abraham. As we remember September 11th, may we remember Muslims and Jews in the greater traditions of Abraham and Sarah, and may we remember all religious people are our brothers and sisters, all people who cried out to God on that day. May we seek to offer forgiveness and seek forgiveness where we have judged and wronged others.
Of all the lectionary passages this Sunday, Romans 14:1-12 is probably the most appropriate, in my personal view, for preaching as we are reminded that we do not live for ourselves, but we live for Christ, and we are called not to judge one another, but that it is God who will judge. How easy is it for us to judge someone by how they look or what religion they practice or what language they speak? In the United States, misconceptions and misunderstandings of Muslims has risen dramatically since 9/11. We are quick to fear those who look different than us. For the few terrorist attempts that have been foiled on airplanes since 9/11, there have been many more times where people of the faith of Islam were interrogated, judged and even abused for their looks, for their religion and for their language. Have we been too quick to judge? I believe so. In the aftermath of the bombing and shootings in Oslo, we need to remember that people of any ethnicity, culture, language and religion can hate. Any can organize into terrorist groups and any can break away from the teachings of their tradition and follow a fanatic. We need to remember the call not to judge others. In the early church, Jewish Christians judged Gentile Christians for their cultural practices, for the ways they ate and for what they ate. Romans judged Jews and later Christians as barbaric and a threat to the empire. Christians judged Jews and Muslims over the years as barbaric and pagans and slaughtered thousands. Protestants judged Catholics and vice versa. We are quick to judge groups of people based on certain religious practices that are different than ours, and we need to remember that from the beginning Paul, and Jesus, called us not to judge, but to welcome, even if we think our way is the right way.
****A Service Commemorating 9/11/01****
Worship Preparation: I suggest offering stations in the worship space for people to pray, light candles of remembrance, write down names of loved ones and other rituals of remembrance.
Words of Welcome
Call to Remembrance and Worship (adapted from Psalm 137):
Leader: The psalmist tells us, by the rivers of Babylon–
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
How could we sing the Lord’s song?
People: We remember Zion, we remember
the tearing down of the city of Jerusalem.
Leader: We are a people who remember,
who sing the songs of old and tell the stories
so we may never forget, past and present.
People: We remember the falling of the Twin Towers in New York City,
the crashing of the plane into the Pentagon,
the falling in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Leader: The psalmist sings, If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
People: so we, too, do not forget, but we remember
the blue sky of the morning of September 11th, 2001
over two thousand people who woke up that morning
and would not go to sleep that night.
Leader: Let us not forget, but let us not cling to anger,
hatred, violence, and vengeance
People: God calls us to remember
to be a path in the wilderness
to follow the one who leads the sheep
to walk in the ways of justice and peace.
Leader: Come, gather to remember those lost, gather to worship.
People: Let us worship God and to carry our memories together.
Song: By the Waters of Babylon
Prayer of Invocation:
God of Creation, You created all of us in Your image. On this day we remember that throughout history there are those who have distorted Your image, seeking power for themselves instead of submitting to Your power, destroying relationships through violence, fear and oppression rather than seeking to build up relationships through love, peace and mercy. In this time of worship, as we have gathered to remember, we call on You, Creator of the Earth, to guide us into using the power You have given us to create, not to destroy; to love, not to hate; to build instead of tearing down; to reconcile instead of breaking apart; to seek restorative justice instead of revenge. Guide our hearts and minds to remember that we are created in Your image to be creative beings in this world. In the name of Jesus the Christ, who went to the cross instead of revenge, who walked this earth in peace instead of carrying weapons, and who in the resurrection comes and says “Peace be with you,” we pray that we might walk in His name. Amen.
Scripture: Psalm 103
Taize Song: I am sure I shall see the goodness of the Lord
Prayer of Remembrance:
Loving God, on this day we remember the people who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. We remember those who were traveling on airplanes, people who were in office buildings ready to work for the day. We remember firefighters and police officers who put on their uniform that morning and never took them off again. But we also remember all people around the world who have lost their lives to acts of terrorism, before and after September 11th. We remember the thousands of soldiers, and the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have died in the wars on terror since September 11th. We remember all who have lost their lives in acts of violence due to prejudice, hatred, religious intolerance, sexism, homophobia, racism, and all other destructive ideologies that place power above life. God, You are the source of Life and Love, the ultimate power in our lives; call us to submit to Your commandments to love You and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Help us to never forget, as our ancestors in the faith refused to forget by the rivers of Babylon, may we never forget along the Hudson and Potomac rivers, but may we also remember that there are many lives lost every day who are forgotten by the world. May we be called to remember them, to speak out for them, to seek Your restorative justice for them, so that we might walk in the ways of Jesus, who sought to reconcile the world to You. In the name of Jesus the living Christ, who remembers all of us, we pray. Amen.
Scripture: Matthew 18:21-35 OR Romans 14:1-12
Hymn: Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound
Rituals of Remembrance
(in this time, invite people to come to the various stations in the sanctuary–a place where people can write names of loved ones lost in the terrorist attacks or in the wars since 9/11 and place the names in a basket; a station where people can light candles such as tea-lights; a place where people can come forward and pray with one or two others; and offer a place of quiet reflection and prayer in their seats. Music can be playing in the background softly).
Prayer of Compassion and Healing
Holy Spirit, we call upon You to move in us, to stir in us the gifts of Your healing and compassion, Your mercy and Your forgiveness. We call upon You today not only as we remember and grieve the lives lost on September 11, 2001, but we also call upon You to move us in the wake of the destruction of Hurricane Irene two weeks ago. May we seek ways of helping our brothers and sisters caught in the path of the storm. May we share out of all of our gifts to work towards healing and rebuilding. May we give space for Your Spirit to be at work in our lives in all matters of healing, reconciliation and restoration.
In the time to come, O Lord, move us to seek reconciliation with our enemies. Remind us of Your call to pray for our enemies, and may we grow to allow Your spirit in us to seek forgiveness and healing and to offer forgiveness and healing. In the name of Christ, our risen Lord, we pray. Amen.
Offering (perhaps to go to Irene relief efforts)
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We thank You, Lord, for all the ways You have called us to be Your hands and feet in this world. We thank You for the gifts You have give us and for the ability and privilege to do Your work in our world. May You multiply these gifts that You have given us so that Your love may be known all throughout this community and beyond. [As we remember the loss of life on 9/11, may we be called to the helping and hope of restored life in the wake of Hurricane Irene.] In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Hymn: A Song of Peace (This is my Song, O Lord of All the Nations)
(During this hymn, pass out candles to the congregation and light them; or you can pass out flowers)
Go forth into this community, carrying the light [or peace] of Christ with you as you leave this space. Bring your candle [or flower] to someone who is not here today and share with them how Christ has called us into the work of love, peace and reconciliation. May we always remember that it is God who is our Creator; God who has the first and final say on our lives; God who knows us and God who gives us the power of life. God calls us into the light of life; let us live in remembrance of those who lost their lives and renew the call of Christ to live in love, compassion, mercy and peace in this world as reconcilers of the family of God. Amen, and amen.
Closing song (as you leave): This Little Light of Mine
Release Date: October 8th, 2019