I happened to be rostered to preach in the Parkin Wesley College chapel service on Wednesday the 12th of September 2001. My notes for the sermon include a little list of things that were important to the community. One student was grieving the death of her baby sister a few days earlier. Another student was giving thanks for his child’s release from hospital after a frightening case of whooping cough. A faculty member was remembering the tenth anniversary of the death of his son.
It was the 12th of September in Adelaide, but it was still the 11th of September in the United States – “nine eleven”. We were all in shock at what we’d been seeing on TV that morning. The staff and students of the Catholic Theological College and St Barnabas College, the library and ACD staff all joined us for chapel that Wednesday. It was back in the days when we shared a common campus. We needed to be be together to pray and hear the Gospel.
The sermon I’d prepared earlier in the week was suddenly useless, but I had to say something. My notes were thrown together in haste, and are impressionistic rather than a considered statement. But I thought I would share them just as they are, twenty years on, in the week that we are reflecting on “nine eleven” and its aftermath.
Take the greatest care in interpreting these events in theological terms. Sure, there are resonances with the passages from Jeremiah 4 for this week. In fact the events are probably receiving that kind of interpretation in some places by now. Some Palestinian people, for example, are already celebrating. Perhaps even some Christian groups will try to interpret the events as some kind of doomsday scenario.
Christian fundamentalism is no less dangerous than Islamic or Jewish fundamentalism – reducing people, men and women and children, and the earth itself, to pawns in some kind of cosmic end game. [I happened to have been reading Karen Armstrong’s The Battle For God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and referred briefly to her analysis.]
It is the responsibility of people like you, who have the opportunity to develop a more reflective and critical faith, to provide leadership on these matters in your own networks, neighbourhoods and congregations.
The New Testament passages for this week [I Timothy 1:12-17 and Luke 15:1-10] witness to the kind of God in whose hands we are. A God who is endlessly patient and persistent in seeking the lost. A God who is endlessly gracious in restoring the sinner to communion and life.
These appalling acts were human actions. Certainly they reflect the terrible effects of sin in our lives and world, but it is not a simple matter of the assault of sinners on the righteous and innocent. They reflect how connected we are to each other. We are constantly placing ourselves in one another’s hands. Travelling, going to work, eating, drinking, communicating, and in these mundane ways constantly placing ourselves in one another’s hands. We have to do that. It’s how human life and society works. The damage we do to the connections between us by betrayal and violence, petty or great, spirals toward ever deeper wounds in the communion that alone makes human life possible. We have been watching it play out today.
God doesn’t defend us like a “star wars” missile defence shield. Rather, we can only protect one another by earning and conferring trust and understanding, in the power and presence of the God who was in Christ reconciling…