Preached after 9/11
Dr. Randy L. Hyde
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Those words seem as strange to us today as they must have been to Jesus’ disciples when he spoke them. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
If there was ever a time for fear, it was then. There may have been a great deal of love and support—if not a certain amount of confusion—among Jesus and his disciples as they gathered in the upper room. But outside those closed doors they were disliked and despised by many if not most. At best they were looked upon with suspicion, and at worst with intense hatred. Jesus the Nazarene had dishonored their Sabbath, dined with sinners, absolved an adulteress, claimed he was alive even before Abraham, and said he was the Son of God greater than all their patriarchs and prophets. And don’t think it was lost on them that his very own family thought he was out of his mind, religious scribes from Jerusalem charged him with being possessed by demons, and his own townsfolk tried to throw him off a cliff (Walter J. Burghardt, S. J., Christ in Ten Thousand Places (Paulist Press: New York, 1999), p. 48).
They have committed their lives to this man, he has told them he is about to die on a Roman cross, and now he is telling them not to be afraid.
He also said he is about to leave them… alone. Alone to fend for themselves. Alone to face the maddening, murderous crowd. Oh, he talks about sending what he calls an Advocate, the Holy Spirit. But they’re not listening. It would be awhile before they remembered his words. Right now, all they understand is what they can see, and as far as they are concerned, they can see it quite clearly. All they have to do is close their eyes and visualize it with their minds. Silhouetted against the darkening Jerusalem sky… cross after cross after cross. The nails through the hands and feet. The pain of having bone and flesh tear under the weight of one’s own body. They had seen others die in this manner, and now Jesus seems so willing to take such a terrible death upon himself. How could he do so without taking them down with him?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” If ever there was a time for fear, it was then.
If there was ever a time for fear, it is now. Tuesday morning’s vicious attack on thousands of innocent civilians will forever be remembered as the day we were forced to proclaim war against a virtually unseen enemy. In addition to the yet unnumbered who lost their lives, and the crumbling to the ground of the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, along with the massive damage to the Pentagon, gone are many of our civil liberties. From now on we will have to be overly concerned about security. Gone are the days when you can fly in a commercial airliner and not be nervous about the person sitting in the seat next to you. Gone are the days of innocence. It will be human nature for all of us to look upon those with darker skin and hair—those who have an eastern look about them—without having at least a bit of suspicion in our hearts.
If people are not safe flying across our nation without having fear of being hijacked and being flown into the side of a skyscraper, what are we left with but fear? If people cannot go to work without the anxiety of having their workplace fall on them as the result of terrorism, what are we left with but fear? If we are not safe from crazed, suicidal killers intent on wreaking havoc in the “land of the free,” what are we left with but abject, horrifying fear?
I have a grandson and another on the way, with prospects for other grandchildren as well. What kind of world are we giving them? And how many times this week has that question been asked by you and everyone else in the world who loves freedom? What kind of world are we giving those who follow us? Have the events of September 11—911—rendered Jesus’ words completely impotent and irrelevant?
Our initial response to this travesty is disbelief. Hard on the heels of our disbelief comes an almost uncontrollable anger… and understandably so. Our very human reaction is to get even. It was reported by NBC news Wednesday morning that someone had scrawled a message in the dust left by the destruction of the World Trade Center. It read, “I Love America. Vengeance!” Another image in yesterday’s newspaper showed a vehicle with a word written on the front bumper: REVENGE! Is that not the way we feel?
But in our heart of hearts, we know America will come back. All the terrorists in the world will not overwhelm our national soul. Our government leaders have admonished us to go on with life, not to let those who oppose us see us weakened or afraid. The question is, what will be the guiding force behind these feelings? What will be our motivation for moving on?
If we are driven by anger, we will have lost the battle before we’ve started. If all we seek is vengeance and retribution, we will gain nothing, for even if we were successful in bringing Osama bin Laden to justice, his people will simply raise up another leader. If we are guided by the same fear that caused people to flood the gas stations before the greedy owners had the opportunity to gouge the prices, we are to be most pitied. As fragile as it may appear to be, the only guiding force that will prevail in this world, and in the world to come, is faith. The only sustaining inspiration for our continued journey is hope. The only thing that is eternal is love.
Jesus knew that, and I am convinced it is what caused him to say, in the face of his own impending death, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The meaning of the word he used for afraid is “timid” or “cowardly” (Burghardt, page 50). To not be fainthearted. Following Jesus Christ is not for the weak of heart or the timid in soul.
There is, of course, a positive side to fear… a sensible fear, if you will. It is right and good for us to be fearful, or at least concerned, about our nation’s future and our relationship with other peoples in the world. In that sense, fear can work to our advantage and keep us on our toes. But that is not the kind of fear Jesus is talking about when he cautions his disciples. He is referring to the fear that freezes you, immobilizes you, makes you despair (Burghardt, page 50). It is a defeating, hopeless fear. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
There is nothing we can do about what happened Tuesday in New York and our nation’s capital… except pray for the victims and lend aid to those who suffer and grieve. We can give blood and other forms of encouragement in the face of this great tragedy. We are not responsible for the hatred of those who so savagely and cowardly perpetrated these great crimes, unfortunately in the name of god.
But we are responsible for the manner in which we respond, even on a personal, individual level. How do you relate to people of other color? Do you show kindness to those not of our culture? Do you live biblically, sharing your faith in what you say and do? If you do these things— things that Christ would do—you do them not out of fear but out of faith… and with the hope that these little things will make a big difference in our part of the world.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” The disciples of Jesus are about to face life without their Master, and rather than simply leave them with what on the surface could seem to be empty sentimental thought, he wants them to have the courage that is found only in him and in the kingdom. They will need to face the new circumstances of their journey in light of his having left them behind.
We too face new circumstances. Because of the tragic events of the morning of Tuesday, September 11, our world will never again be the same. Will we face the unknown future with the courage borne of our faith in Jesus Christ? If you find yourself this morning still searching for the answer to that kind of question, come to the Lord’s Table. It is here you will find the answer you so desperately seek. “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
Our Lord, give us courage for the facing of this hour. Be with those who suffer and grieve, and may you find a special place in your heart and in your kingdom for those who have given their lives to save others. In the name of Jesus our Lord, Amen.
Copyright 2008, Randy Hyde. Used by permission.