May Your Love Give Us Love: A Homily on the 10th Anniversary of the September 11th Terrorist Attacks

It’s great to be back. It’s great to be back in this pulpit, back in this spiritual community on our Homecoming Sunday. I enjoy my summer vacation and study leave but I certainly miss all of you during that time.

I’ve had a good summer. I won’t say it’s been a totally relaxing summer, but it’s been a good summer. In mid-July we visited my mother’s family in Hanover, PA and included side-trips to the Gettysburg Battlefield and Hershey Park. We spent a week on Cape Cod in early August with my parents and both my brother’s families. Later in August I attended Crossroads Antiracism advanced organizers training in Boston—a great opportunity to connect with old friends and renew my commitment to antiracist, multicultural ministry. We visited Stephany’s family in Pittsfield, MA a few times. We picked blueberries and raspberries and, more recently, apples, peaches and pears. I’ve done virtually none of the around-the-house jobs I had hoped to do, but I’ve read some compelling books, about which you’ll likely be hearing. I’ve been running a lot. Just last Monday Stephany and I ran the Labor Day road race in New Haven—12.4 miles! I’m in pretty good shape—at least I think I am. I’ve been grilling a lot. It’s been a good summer and now it’s great to be back.

I hope you’ve had good summers too.

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Anyone who is ten years old or younger wasn’t yet born when those attacks happened. Those of you who are 11 to 13 years old likely have no direct memory of the attacks. Those of you who are 14 to 15 likely have only the vaguest memory of what happened on that day that—I think it’s fair to say—changed our nation dramatically and changed the course of history such that we often speak of living in the post 9/11 world. And it’s true. We live today with the complicated legacy of those attacks—a legacy that is as much spiritual and emotional as it is political and social. As I said in my September newsletter column, those attacks haunt us and they inspire us. I want to say a few words about both.

They haunt us as a reminder of the way fear and hatred can grow in human hearts. And when fear and hatred remain invisible; that is, if we don’t pay attention to them; if they grow essentially unseen and unheard; if they are not redirected in some way, not addressed in some way, not healed in some way, they can—and often do—erupt in violence. This is, for me, one of the preeminent lessons of September 11th: fear and hatred, unchecked, often result in some form of violence.

I look out at our nation today and I see so many people still out of work with no new job opportunities on the horizon; and so many people still facing foreclosure on their homes as our national economy—and parts of the global economy—continue to sputter along. I look out and I don’t see a reasonable, gracious, humble yet concerted effort to solve our most pressing national problems. Instead I see an increasing incivility in our politics and an increasing inability of our political leaders to work effectively with each other to solve those problems that are keeping so many out of work and causing so many to lose their homes. I see a divided nation. I see unnecessary brinkmanship. I see fear mongering. I see some national leaders irresponsibly invoking that all-too-familiar angry, spiteful, punitive, frightening God to explain earthquakes and hurricanes.[1] I look out at our nation and I see fundamentalist bigots standing with presidential hopefuls, organizing their prayer rallies, lamenting the fact that our nation—as they see it—has become too tolerant, and thus seeking what they call dominion over American politics, calling for an end to civil rights for gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender people, calling for an end to reproductive rights for women, calling for Jews to convert to Christianity to hasten the end times, even calling for Christian martyrs to advance a holy war against Muslims right here in the United States of America.[2] And then I look out at the world over this summer and see riots in London and a tragic mass murder in Norway, and government troops firing on pro-democracy activists in Syria and Yemen and Bahrain. When I look out and see all this, in so many instances it looks to me like fear growing in human hearts. In so many instances it looks to me like hatred growing in human hearts. And I see that the lesson of September 11th that fear and hatred do not protect us from violence but lead us into violence—that lesson is not being heeded—not by everyone. That lesson has not been learned—not by everyone. And I confess I feel no small amount of anxiety when I contemplate how desperately we still need to learn this lesson in a society that claims to be civilized.

But there is certainly more to the legacy of September 11th than the failure to learn this lesson. The story of those attacks also inspires us. Especially when we contemplate the first responders—the firemen in particular—who went into the doomed buildings, seeking only to save lives, that moment ten years ago this morning reminds us of the greatness to which human beings can rise in times of crisis. It reminds us that human beings can overcome fear and act heroically under extraordinarily dangerous conditions.

And when we contemplate the people who lost their lives that day and reflect on what kinds of communities and what kind of world would best honor them and would assure us most that a tragedy like this will never happen again—we are reminded that we human beings can overcome hatred and act with compassion, especially towards those who are different from us. We are reminded that we human beings can and must bring love to bear in the world; not hatred, not violence, but love.

In a few moments we’re going to hear a song—and sing along with the chorus—called “Into the Fire.”[3] Bruce Springsteen wrote this song about the first responders on September 11th. It’s a story, but it’s also a prayer; and it captures for me the other preeminent lesson of September 11th, that humanity is capable of so much more than fear, hatred and violence. The prayer is this: “May your strength give us strength. May your faith give us faith. May your hope give us hope. May your love give us love.”

When we say or sing a simple prayer like this, I hope we are reminded of how much our connections to each other matter. I hope we are reminded of how much our connections to all people and to all life matter. I hope we are reminded, as we said in our opening words this morning, of “the bonds that bind each to all.”[4]Becoming aware of those connections, those bonds, is also a legacy of the September 11th attacks. It’s the legacy I hope we can continue to hold up and honor and celebrate.

After we sing, Vicki will guide is unto the water communion. As we’ve said, in honor of this ten-year anniversary, we’ll conduct the communion in silence. For those of you who choose to pour your water into the bowl and for all of you who bear witness to this ritual, let it also remind you of the ways in which we are connected, of the bonds that bind each to all. Let it be a simple, embodied prayer on our homecoming Sunday: “May your strength give us strength. May your faith give us faith. May your hope give us hope. May your love give us love.”

Amen and blessed be.

Rev. Josh Pawelek
Parish Minister
Unitarian Universalist Society: East
09/11/11

[1] For a highly publicized example, see:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/29/michele-bachmann-hurricane-irene_n_940209.html.

[2] This statement is drawn primarily from an 8/24/11 interview with Rachel Tabachnick on the National Public Radio show “Fresh Air.” Tabachnick is an independent researcher and writer who observes radical movements within Christianity such as the New Apostolic Reformation. For a synopsis of the interview or to listen to the show, see: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/24/139781021/the-evangelicals-engaged-in-spiritual-warfare. See more on the New Apostolic Reformation and associated national politicians athttp://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/8/12/1713/01915. Also see:http://www.rightwingwatch.org/category/individuals/lou-engle.

[3] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKuRGt7LnzU.

[4] Morrison-Reed, Mark, “The Task of the Religious Community,” Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Beacon Press and the UUA, 1993) #580.

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