(In this 29th installment of the UPI sermon series, the Rev. Henry V. Gerike, a professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, reflects on Sept. 11 in the light of the City that is yet to come.)
This sermon is based on Hebrews 13:1-17.
Why? What Now?
The television sets have yet to cool down -- so long have they been on, eyes and ears glued to the screen, just the news story to justify the existence of 24-hour news channels.
They show our bombers taking off to attack terrorist bases in a faraway land and also of villages struck by mistake. They show us at war a little over one month after other images had dominated on our TV sets:
These were images of steel beams that once supported 110 stories and then were melted have cooled into gnarled, contorted fingers usually reserved only for hands crippled by severe arthritis.
There were bodies that were cold, stored in make-shift morgues scattered throughout the island city or buried still under the rubble of crumbled concrete, mangled steel, crushed ideals and shattered dreams.
Survivors and onlookers alike shiver in fear and pure amazement at the destruction, the devastation, the debris, reminding us that "here we do not have an enduring city."
Behind newspaper headlines, behind banners scrolling across the bottom of TV screens, behind helping hands, lies the question: Why? And not far from that question is the one: What now?
A month ago a news bulletin about unbelievable destruction tapped us on the shoulder, interrupted routines, economies, industries and got our attention.
The announcement protruded into lives already crowded with misery: two high school kids in a rural auto accident -- both survive but not without serious injury that will have a sobering effect.
Their pastor, already stressed by conflict and frustration, spending a sleepless night or two at the hospital with the families of those teenagers; an aging mother deep in the sleep of Alzheimer's; a colleague with advancing disease that steals time and abilities; a parent taken by stark and hurting death.
If there is anything connecting these events with those of Sept. 11, it is the question: Why?
Why? The bottom-line answer is sin. The Letter to the Hebrews, as does the rest of Scripture, spends a good amount of time unmasking our sin of arrogance, callousness, greed, unfaithfulness, forgetfulness, self-centeredness, isolation -- each a building block in towering skyscrapers of our own ego.
When our walls of reasons and excuses crumble under their own weight, when we are left with nothing of our own making to which we can cling, when destruction reminds us that "here we do not have an enduring city," the why question is answered outside another city.
Outside the city gate of Jerusalem "Jesus ... suffered ... to make the people holy through His own blood." Outside that city Jesus on the cross took the burden of our sin and the burden of the sin of those who planned and executed the evil of last week.
Such is the love of God the Father that even "when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son" (Romans 5:10).
With sin forgiven by faith in the crucified and risen Lord Christ, we are ready to face the next question: What now? Does life get back to normal? Are we forever changed?
Are we marked by the agony of last week? Yes, life will get back to "normal" in some fashion. And yes, we will bear those marks for years to come, if not for a lifetime.
But greater is the mark of the cross placed on us in Baptism and renewed every day because Jesus has made us, his "people holy through his own blood."
Because of Christ our lives are marked by the promise of our heavenly Father: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."
Our lives are marked with the confidence: "The Lord is my helper; I will no be afraid. What can man do to me?"
Our lives are marked with contentment in the gifts God gives us, our lives are marked with love and hospitality for others (the same hospitality shown us by a loving God).
Our lives are marked with faithfulness to spouse and friend, faithfulness to God's Word of Life, our lives are marked with remembrance of the persecuted, remembrance of leaders, remembrance of those who have gone before us in the faith.
Our lives, marked by the cross of Christ, "continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise -- the fruit of lips that confess" the holy name of our Savior Jesus.
Scrolling through the minutes and days of our lives -- at times of peace as at times of war -- is the banner: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
He is the same yesterday -- for Jesus Christ was with that little band of disciples as they were scattered throughout the world.
His grace was sufficient for countless apostles who struggled along in weakness. His presence comforted unnumbered saints on a December Sunday morning 60 years ago as well as on a Tuesday morning in the year 2000.
He is the same today and forever -- for his mission of forgiveness continues in New York, Washington, St. Louis, San Antonio, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the world, now and for all the time he gives.
The fact that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" enables us to look "for the city that is to come," the city where we shall see him face to face.