This weekend, we mark a somber anniversary: fifteen years since 9-11. We don’t really need to give a year with that date now; it’s just "Nine-Eleven" – the day the world changed. For those of us who were alive during it, there was a very real sense that the “sky was falling,” and that we could be the next to have a plane crash into us or have a building fall. We were terrified, because it was terrorism.
So, this weekend, I want to share a story of three days – in hope of helping us grow beyond this terror and see how God is still at work in the midst of this changed world.
The first day is 9-10 – the day before 9-11. Most of us grew up in the world of 9-10. It was a world where anything was possible: we went to the moon; we were curing diseases; we were ready to change the world for the better. We who grew up in that world of 9-10 drank straight from our garden hoses without dying; we stood in the back seats of our parents’ cars; we rode in the back of station wagons (not the back seat, but the “way-way back”), and we rolled around corners with delight. We even went to schools without air conditioning! In the world of 9-10, we were strong; we were safe; we were happy.
Then, the next day happened. And the world changed.
The world of 9-11 was very different. Now, we have to be aware of our shampoo getting onto planes, and we can’t go through a checkpoint without taking off our shoes. Now, if a person is a different race, or from a different nation, or of a different religion, they are immediately suspicious and avoided – all in the false name of “prudence” or “carefulness.”
The world of 9-11 is one marked by bitterness, hatred, anger, a desire for vengeance, and fear. This is the world that we are living in now. But these worlds are actually nothing new. These worlds manifest themselves over and over throughout history. Jesus knew these worlds too.
Praise God! – today, 9-11-16, we are here, in church, hearing these words of Jesus. And these words speak directly to this world in which we are living.
The familiar story of the Prodigal Son/Forgiving Father/Unforgiving Brother gives us a new perspective on these days that I am highlighting now. Let’s see.
First, the younger son is a child of 9-10. He has grown up happy, secure, and – frankly – a bit spoiled. He is ready to go out and change the world to his own liking. Taking his inheritance, he goes forth.
And he experiences his own 9-11. He finds himself penniless, jobless, homeless, and on the verge of death. He is jealous of pigs! Imagine being so bad off that seeing a pig eating garbage makes you jealous! In the midst of that misery – those 9-11 ashes – he comes to his senses and decides to return to the Father. He is ready to live the rest of his life in this 9-11 world, but at least he will have a roof over his head. So, he heads back.
And this is when a new day dawns: 9-12. On that morning, we find the Father, looking to the horizon and seeing his wretched son. He races out to meet him, and he embraces him. “Quickly,” he wraps him in a robe, restoring his dignity; he puts a ring on his finger – “this is my son”; and he puts shoes on his feet – “he is no barefoot slave in my house.” Nine-Twelve is the day of the celebration, when the fatted calf is slaughtered and the party begins.
9-12 is a day of reconciliation, restoration, and renewal. It is a day that finds its source not in any political edict, but in the mercy, compassion, and love of the Father. This is the day that Jesus offers us now!
However, outside, where the older brother is standing, it is still 9-11. He is bitter, angry, hurt, resentful, jealous. He will not enter. And the Father comes out to him as well – just as he did for the younger son. He offers an invitation – and the reason for that invitation. He reminds the son of his love for him and the gift of life that he wishes to share with all his children. But the son must respond himself. The Father returns to 9-12, and we are left with the older son, wondering if his new day will dawn too.
Friends, there are many children here now who were not even alive on 9-11. They are truly 9-12 kids. However, are we as a society making them into 9-11 kids? Are we perpetuating feelings of anger, hate, suspicion, and fear? These children are our promise; they are our hope.
9-11 is over!
Say it with me: 9-11 is over!
God is offering us an invitation to 9-12. Yes, it is a time when we cannot forget the losses and sacrifices of the past; but it is not a time to use those losses to fuel hate and bigotry or a desire for revenge. Rather, it is a time when we are invited by God to the table – with “tax collectors and sinners” – to share in the life and celebration that God is offering.
A new day is dawning. Let’s step into it together.