Tumbling in the Sand
This Sunday, we had a picnic, jointly held, between Immanuel, Salem, and Zion Lutheran. Pastor Joshua Rinas (the pastor at Zion) and I planned a service called: “Rising up: Remembering, Healing, and Celebrating Life” for the remembrance of the 10th anniversary of September 11th. The sermon, after a great deal of thought and concern about the idea of preaching using only one voice on this date, became a joint-preaching event. So, Joshua and myself co-wrote the sermon. More than that, we decided that a dialogue around questions would be productive. So, we posed three questions and after Joshua and I gave responses to the questions using the lens of the texts for the day, we asked the question to the congregation who were given the opportunity to talk briefly with their neighbors about their thoughts. My primary text as I thought about the questions was Jonah. Joshua’s primary text was Luke’s Good Samaritan. Below is my part of the sermon (sort of), including the introduction about the value of questions. Perhaps I can have Joshua guest-blog his part at some point in the near future. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the posed questions as well….
“Today, if you managed to miss all the media attention, is the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. As we thought about what to do for this day, we realized that even though an event like 9/11 is such a communal, global event, there are so many more personal varied experiences of that day and the 10 years following than could possibly be addressed fairly in a single voice. Also, each of us have so many different experiences of suffering, sickness, hurt, loss, grief.
While we all seek answers to these things that destroy meaning, or at least complicate things beyond simple answers, answers are often far outnumbered by questions.
But, I don’t know that that is not in fact a good place to be. Because in questions there is a space that answers do not give: a space for creativity, a space for healing.
And so, we wanted to structure this sermon differently—we’ve structured it taking Maria Rainer Rilke’s words to a young poet in mind:
“…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
We’d like to live into the questions a bit this morning and we’d like to invite you to do so as well.
So, to explain the structure of the sermon, a question will be posed and then Pastor Joshua and I will speak about the question using the texts for this day as a lens and then we will pose the question again and ask you to turn to the person sitting next to you and share your insights.
Because while we have many, many experiences it is only in community that we grow into meaning.
So let us begin.
I suppose there are all sorts of ways that 9/11 caused brokenness: loss of loved ones, strange diseases for ground zero rescuers, distrust of everyone and everything, a heightened sense of fear …
but looking at Jonah this morning, I find myself hearing his voice of annoyance at God’s grace echoing loudly in our context too.
I think we all have this visceral tendency toward retributive justice, vengeance. Jonah sure did…
Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire.
Assyrians regularly tromped through Israel
leaving behind beheaded kings, impaled leaders, and humiliated peoples
they, if any, deserved some sort of punishment—retribution, pay back.
And, you know that’s kind of how we’ve acted in the last while.
9/11 has lead us into 10 years of war
And I don’t care what side of the political spectrum you’re on—war is awful: It kills people. It kills our soldiers. It kills other soldiers. It kills civilians and children. It also splits communities. Communities that need each other to heal.
Our repaying violence with violence seems to just cause more violence—not healing
As Ghandi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
I think that we are broken in our need to cause more violence, and I think that God calls us to something different.
I think this text from Jonah is actually all about healing: and the many important things that are part of healing.
Jonah is given charge to speak the truth, The Ninevites are given space for repentance, for confession and turning away from the way they were, God gave forgiveness and mercy. All of those things: truth telling, repentance, confession, forgiveness and mercy are all necessary for our healing—individually and as a whole community, a whole world.
There is though, one other thing that I think is healing that we kind of miss—when Jonah goes out to sulk … when he goes out to sit in silence and mourns the retributive justice that didn’t happen, the evils that did, his role in all of that—I think that that silence gave space for healing, for God to speak to him. I think sometimes we think that in the busy we can escape our brokenness, but the only way that I know that really works is to take that time and space and silence and tears and listen to the quiet whispers of God and others to slowly scar over and heal.
Well, you know I’m going to answer God, right? But more than that, I find hope in Jonah’s story because God left him with a question—a question of deep concern and love for those who are different. I believe that God’s grace to me, to people not like me, to people I can’t give grace to is so vast and amazing and hopeful.
But you know what I find hopeful too? In Nineveh is one of the oldest Christian communities in the world … and they fast three days of the year to commemorate God’s grace to them through Jonah by remembering his three days in the belly of the giant fish. (Three Day Fast of Nineveh)
And I think of so many ways that we as a community get caught off guard by God’s amazing forgiveness and it changes us deeply—it reminds us of what really is important—it gives us space for our brokenness to be used to make us more whole, richer human beings than we ever were alone. Because, well, in our brokenness we need each other and God to be whole.