Where Was…Is…God?


The Lord is my shepherd.  I shall not want.

I shall not want? But I do want.    There is so much that I want.

This afternoon, as I think about all that happened that morning ten years ago; if there is one constant, it is that there is so much more that I need and that I want.

I still want answers for one.    I want to know what is it that corrodes a person soul so deeply that they are driven to commit such heinous crimes.

The images of the planes hitting one side of the building and exploding through the other have been all over the news this past week.   It seems as if you can hardly turn on the television or the radio without the images immediately returning. Each replay of those videos brings the gut wrenching sadness of that day, screaming right back.   Its ten years later, and I still want to know what drives a person to commit such a horrific deed.

I want to know why violence seems to be such a frequent answer to the world’s problems.  On the sidewalk outside of the pentagon after the attacks was scrawled a telling piece of graphitti.  It read; “God save us from your followers!”   Why is violence and faith so intricately linked?    I want to know why is there so much rage in both our faiths and in our day to day.   Why was there rage on September 11th, and why is there rage today?  Why was there rage in NYC and why is there rage in Chesterfield, NH?    Why does this happen still today?  Why are we so dead set on hurting each other.  Its ten years later, and I still want answers.

This week I found a copy of People Magazine, which had a section of photographs.   The pictures told the story of a dozen children who fathers died on 9/11, before or shortly after they were born.   They are called the children of 9/11, and sadly they will never meet their fathers. For these children, there is no memory of Dad.    Their eyes and faces are haunting.    There is sadness and an emptiness that is almost palpable. 

Katie Danahy, who is twelve now, asks her mom if her eyes are like Daddy’s.  Lauren McIntrye, an impish redhead, declares with unwavering certainty that “Dad would have like me.”  There is a picture of three brothers standing together, and the youngest appears just moments away from breaking into tears.  Staring at the pictures you can feel the emptiness that was born ten years ago today.

The images are sad, but there is also something else.    The article has the stories of children overcoming an  unthinkable personal horror born on September 11th, and over a decade  finding hope and happiness.    There is sadness certainly, but there is also joy, and hope.   They are the children of heroes and they know it.

I shall not want?   No, I want those children to have their fathers back.

Ten years ago, my wife was 6 months pregnant with Sophie, and Annie was four years old.   On September 11th everything changed.    A cloud of smoke and ash covered New York City and soon settled all over this country.      It was as if someone turned a switch and everything changed.  I think of that moment a few days after 9-11, when I found myself looking at my girls and realizing that everything changed.

Bill Cosby loved to tell the story about how he would take his son to the park every Saturday morning.   His son would bring the bike to the park and Bill would sit and watch the stunt bike driving that ensued.   For hours his son would through caution to the wind.

He would drive on one tire. He would do crazy jumps.  He liked to say, with great embellishment that the boy would jump from the slide to a fence, pop a wheelie, and defy all natural laws and ride the full length of the top bar of a chain link fence.   Bill sat awed at the sheer joy and happiness the boy found in his wild rides.

One Saturday as he sat watching his son, he saw another older boy walk up to him and begin a conversation.   Shocked at his son’s bicycling prowess, he offered his admiration.

“Its amazing what you do on that bike.    Its unreal”

Bill’s son was a bit confused by the admiration, and asked why.

“Gravity,” the first boy replied “You are defying the law of gravity on that bike.  You should fall”.  

From there, the older boy explained gravity to Bill’s son.   From that moment on, every time he attempted to do anything on that bike, the boy fell.  Knowing about Gravity, he was convinced he would fall.

Bill liked to say that the most cherished moment, and the absolute hardest moment, of fatherhood came the day his son learned about Gravity.    He can hardly think of that moment without tears.  He gives thanks to God that he was there for that moment.

On September 11, 2001 our nation learned about gravity.

I shall not want?   No, I want the days of wild, joy and happiness before the towers fell.   I look at my girls and I want them to experience the time when there was no patriot act, there was no racial profiling, where there was no machine guns at bus and subway stations.   I want the return of September 10th, 2011.

The Lord is my shepherd, and there is a heckuvalot that I want.

Sadly, the King James Version of the Bible missed the mark on the translation of this verse, and because, overtime, this became one of the most beloved of all scriptures, the haziness of the translation has remained.

A more accurate translation would be;  The Lord is  my shepherd, and there is nothing I lack.* 

I may want all those things I mentioned and a whole heck of a lot more, but there is nothing I lack.   When violence, fear and anxiety shake my world to the core and rips from me all that I know, trust, and depend upon,  I know, that the Lord is my shepherd and in that fact, there is nothing I lack.  He has given me the tools, the heart, the strength, and the way forward.   There may be plenty I want, but there is nothing I lack.

The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I lack, for he maketh me to lie down in Green Pastures, he leads me beside still waters.

I know that despite the earth shaking, there is a calmness and there is a peace that is found in him.  

When I shake with the anxieties of this world, I know that in him, there is a peace that surpasses all understanding.   The world may be scary and dark, but there is nothing bigger that the world can throw at me.   There is nothing bigger than my God.  In the darkness of all of the rubble, hope shines through.

There is a small historic church that sits adjacent to where the World Trade Center church stood.   It is Saint Paul’s Chapel known by many as the “little chapel that stood”.   It was built in 1776, and it was the church that George Washington worshiped at.      On September 11th, the impact on the church of the buildings collapsing was buffered by a tree that stood in the cemetery that encircled the little chapel.

Despite a few broken windows, a debris covered cemetery, and an incredible layer of ash, the church survived unscratched and untouched.   From there on out, the church became a ground zero command center.   From inside their sanctuary rescue workers were counseled.      Daily services were held, and moments of worship were had as needed.    

The church became the center for all communication and for rescue personnel support.

One worker who spent three weeks at ground zero, told how he would spend hours in a mindless haze of thick ash and body parts.    He would shake and feel his body start to give out from hours of the most heart and back breaking labor you could imagine.    When he couldn’t go on any longer he would find his way to St. Paul’s Chapel.     He would sit in the pew and pray.

It was there, in early October, that he found himself dealing face to face with the greatest sense of doubt that ever came his way.    It was at that moment that God was dead. In his mind there could be no God amidst the vile chaos that he was experiencing.   He realized that life was empty.    There was no God.  

He sat just a few pews from where George Washington sat, as Washington’s own heart broke with the thought of surrendering New York to the British.    This young man, collecting the pieces of the world trade center, piece by piece, was fighting the same battle.  The pain and struggle is hard to imagine.

Almost resigned to the realization of the God’s absence, he raised his head and it was then that he saw something that changed his mind.     The Chapel had stained glass windows on both sides, and in that moment, the ash broke and light poured in through both sides of the sanctuary, and filled that chapel with a rainbow of colors.   God has promised a rainbow. 

He realized in that moment, that although there is often a chaos in the world that sometimes shatters the mind, God is there.   There are green pastures and there are still waters.  

Because we trust in our shepherd we can find comfort in the truth that we will find them.  There is no place too scary.   There is no place to dark.   There is no place so covered in ash that God can not find a way in.  He will bring order out of chaos.  In those moments of darkness he will restore our soul.

The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I lack, for he maketh me to lie down in Green Pastures, he leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.

As I wrote this message, I realized that its staggering to see how much our world has changed in the last ten years.   That change angers me.     The terrorists that struck our country looked at who we were as a people and they hated us.   They hated our way of life to such an extreme that they gave up their lives to crush it.  

In some ways, the terrorists won on September 11th.

It wasn’t long before churches started to equate faith with patriotism. It wasn’t long before we started looking at our neighbors with suspicion.   We as a people feared, and still fear, a repeat of that moment so much that we started to see torture as a viable national security tool.   We started to agree with things such as profiling, wiretaps, building walls, water boarding, and the patriot act as viable tools of self defense.  We have moved towards a place where we are afraid of the immigrant and each other.   We are approaching a place where we will do everything in our power to keep and protect what is ours.   In a few hours they turned us from the world’s humanitarians and the most charitable people in the world, to blood thirsty seekers of revenge, and overtime, turned many of us into angry, scared and hiding people.   

I remember going to an ecumenical meeting for clergy and church types when the news announced the death of one of the key Al Qaeda masterminds.    The news was given to a room full of clergy, soon to be ministers and church leaders.  When they heard it a clear majority erupted into cheers.  I remember sitting in that group in a haze.   I thought to myself; when a room full of ministers cheers the death of another, regardless of how vile that man is, we have changed.  Maybe in the adult man all traces where lost, but we need to  remember that at some point that man was a child, and he was a clean slate.  He was a child of God that was lost; either by chose or unknowingly, and in its place evil remained.

When Osama Bin Laden died instead of mourning the situation (situation – not the man), reflecting on the trip that we have been on for the last decade, or finding comfort in closure…we danced, cheered, and celebrated in the streets. 

There is a scar on us, as a people, because of what happened on September 11th.   Our joy became our scar.  In at least that small way, the terrorists won.  In retrospect, that’s hard to say and it’s hard to hear.

The terrorist may have won a battle, but it is certainly clear that they indeed lost the war.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

I will fear no evil.  For thou are with me.  Your rod and your staff they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.

There was a public service announcement after the attacks, that began with a camera panning a quiet row of homes.   The voice over said “On September 11, Terrorists attempted to change our country, and our community”.   With that, the screen momentarily fades to black.  As the image returns, the same row of houses appears, but this time every one of the dozen shown now has an American flag on it.  The narrator concludes by saying “You succeed”   The screen fades again with the words “God Bless America”.

Maybe there are two distinct lessons that we need to embrace and celebrate today.

Lesson one is that evil men do not win.  Although we did change, and we are still changing, in dramatic ways, we are, at our core the same people. In the aftermath of 9-11 our nation bonded in shared grief.   We bonded in a shared desire to pick up the pieces.   We became one in collective tragedy.  

Each of us who is old enough to remember, remembers how for some time after September 11, we saw community, neighbors helping neighbors, and strangers reaching out.    We became one in collective possibility.   Although a great deal of that national unity has been lost to the incredible divisions we struggle with today, it’s a memory that can be recognized, at least on each September 11.  We can celebrate today, that although we are not good at solving our problems currently, there was a time when we were.

I think the second lesson is exponentially more important.   God is not absent today, and he was not absent from the rubble of ground zero.     In the presence of our enemies, God’s presence was made clear to those that would do all they could to wipe away our way of life.

When we find ourselves in unthinkable and unimaginable places of darkness and hurt, we will not be alone.   When we find ourselves walking in the ash and rubble of what was, we can trust that God is with us.

Where was God at Ground Zero?

  • He was with the victim who huddled in fear as a building collapsed around them.
  • He was with the accountant who carried a disabled man down 20 stories from Tower 1.
  • He was with the fireman, who didn’t think twice running up those same stairs.
  • He was with the 92 passengers of American Airlines Flight 11 and the 65 passengers of United Flight 175 that crashed into the Towers.
  • He was with the 64 passengers on American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon and the 45 from United Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
  • He was with the 343 firefighters, 23 Police Officers, 47 Port Authority workers, and the 2,735 civilians who lost their lives at Ground Zero.  

God was there at Ground Zero when the buildings fell and God was there in the aftermath.

  • He was with the red cross nurse who bandaged the wounded on the sidewalk.
  • He was with the construction workers who picked up the pieces.
  • He is with the little girl who now wonders if she has the same eyes as Daddy’s.
  • He was with the minister who served communion to rescue workers each and every day for months.
  • He was with the stranger who was the shoulder we cried on when we heard the news.
  • He was standing beside us as we opened our wallets to give cash or opened our viens to give blood.

God was there that day, just as God is at all of the Ground Zero’s of our Life.

  • He is with us when we hear the bad news from the doctor.
  • He is with us when we clutch the pink slip.
  • He is with us when our spouse walks away.
  • He is with us in the aftermath of our bad decisions.

The LORD is my shepherd;  I shall not want.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake. 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil; For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;  My cup runs over.

 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

 All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD  Forever.

God is there, and God is Here.   Thanks be God, Amen.

****

Acknowledgements
The Never Forget Photograph is an advertisement from Guitar World Magazine, that has gone viral across the internet over the last few weeks.  A small logo can be seen in the lower right hand corner of the manufacture.   The advertisement says it all, and a special thanks is due Schecter Guitars, for reminding many that this moment transcends our everyday and sometimes it’s not about another dollar.
 
A special thanks is also due to John Thornburg, Perkins School of Theology  Southern Methodist University Dallas, TX and Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book The Lord is My Shepherd who both took similar trips through the 23rd Psalm, and planted the seed for this message.
 
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge a college housemate, friend and fraternity brother, Chris “Babs” Babiana, who worked in the Ground Zero cleanup, and whose stories and photographs are still haunting today.    Thank you Babs (MTSND).
 
And John Herrick, a parishoner at Asbury who serves Chesterfield as a first responder, and whose gear was part of our worship this morning.
 
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