St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity, NY
September 11, 2011
We gather here today in peace, yearning and hoping that peace may come in this land and across the world. We gather to remember those who died violently and senselessly ten years ago. We gather to reflect on lives lost, families devastated, and hopes dashed. And still we gather in hope for hearts that will grow and learn and change, so that no nation will study war any more.
I saw a pickup truck a couple of weeks ago with a waving American flag painted on its rear window. As I walked through the parking lot, I realized there was something written on the tailgate – the word ISLAM stood out first. Finally I saw the whole sorry slogan, “everything I need to know about Islam I learned on September 11th.” How will we change hearts that seem closed to learning more about peace?
Are we willing to recognize and then proclaim that as children of Abraham, Christians, Jews, and Muslims share that vision of a healed world that Micah paints for us? God’s world is meant to be a holy realm where nations beat weapons into tools of peace, where “peoples no longer threaten or wage violence, where leaders learn peace instead of war – where “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” Take that piece of Micah home and put it on your mirror where you can see it every morning. See if the world around you changes.
The Hebrew word for that vision is shalom. Islam, shalom, and salaam all come from the same Semitic root. We children of Abraham share a religious understanding that peace is only possible when our hearts are aligned with God’s intention for peace. That is the word that God has spoken.
When Jesus says “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors,” he’s challenging his listeners to turn their hearts. He’s speaking directly to people who are oppressed and victimized by capricious power-mongers addicted to violent and fear-filled methods of control. His own eventual public execution was only one example of the terrorizing used to keep people in line. Yet the ability to align one’s heart with peace eventually changes reality. His ability to say, “your will be done” and “forgive them, for they know not what they do” changed the heart of reality.
How do we love our enemies and pray for those who do us evil? A friend tells the story of a man imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese during the Second World War. Years later, someone asked him how he forgave his torturer. The man said, “I imagined him as a babe in his mother’s arms.” Changed and healed hearts seek not vengeance but greater life, even for victimizers and dealers of terror.
Pray for those who perpetrated the violence of September 11th. Picture their mothers holding them as babes, filled with hope for their future. Pray for those who have sought vengeance for the terror of September 11th or earlier terrors, and pray for all the torturers and terrorists among us. Imagine them sitting in a vineyard, feasting in the late afternoon sun, laughing and making music with former foes, in a land where no one is afraid any more. Pray for families and friends of those who died ten years ago, and envision them as living memorials, people bringing greater life and healing in this world, building peace among strangers.
Can we recognize the hopes all mothers have for their children? Are we willing to look for the reflection of those infants on the faces of our enemies? Can we recognize the common desire of all the world’s faithful peoples for peace in their own day? Will we claim the same human yearning in our own hearts? Those are all choices we can make – they are not accidents. When we can love our enemies enough to see a different possibility, our own hearts have indeed begun to heal – and God’s kingdom is coming.
Amen. So be it. May our hearts be turned toward our enemies. Shalom, salaam, may your peaceful kingdom come, O Lord, in our hearts and in this world. Inshallah. God does will it, for this is the only road to peace.