This Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the events that changed the world forever on September 11, 2001. Like many of you, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I first heard news of the airplanes crashing into buildings in the eastern United States.
Without a doubt, 9/11 made an indelible impression on the world. I remember wondering aloud in my message the following Sunday why Palestinian children would cheer at the incredible loss of life halfway around the world, in a country they had never visited, populated by people they had never met. Clearly, something was wrong with the world.
Indeed, there was. And is.
Though there are artificial and political lines that divide east from west, north from south, we are one “global village”. We were in 2001, and if anything, the world is even more so described as such today. People around the world felt America’s pain then, and perhaps to a lesser degree, we feel it now.
The politics that ensued brought about life-changing, and life-taking, events: the war on terror, the conflict in Afghanistan, the relentless pursuit of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, among others. Whether those undertakings were/are right or wrong is not for me to discern. But I was struck by the comments of William Willimon this past week.
Willimon is one of the greatest preachers I’ve ever had the privilege to hear. He was, at the time of the attacks, the Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, where he ministered to students and to a wider congregation in the area around Durham, North Carolina. Today, he is the Bishop of Alabama in the United Methodist Church in the United States. When asked to comment on 9/11, ten years later, he said (in part) this: “September 11 has changed me. I’m going to preach as never before about Christ crucified as the answer to the question of what’s wrong with the world. I have also resolved to relentlessly reiterate from the pulpit that the worst day in history was not a Tuesday in New York, but a Friday in Jerusalem when a consortium of clergy and politicians colluded to run the world on our own terms by crucifying God’s own Son.”
The worst day in history, when Jesus was nailed to a cross, was also the most life-changing day in history. It made all the difference in the world. Jesus came to save us from our sins and to give us eternal life, yes, and he also came to model for us what kingdom living can and should be like.
None of us in this world has lived up to what Jesus modelled for us in those thirty-three brief years. Indeed, if we had, neither 9/11 nor the ensuing conflicts would have happened.
But it’s not too late. September 11, 2001 changed the world, yes, but you and I can change the world still. And we can change it for the better. Will we? Will we vow to live as Jesus called us to live, and make the world a different – and better – place, today? Tomorrow? All who name Jesus as Lord have the Holy Spirit living within us, to empower us to be different people, to be kingdom people. That same Holy Spirit living within us empowers us to call others to be people of the kingdom, people of the Way.
“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God” (Jesus, Matthew 5.9, NLT).