I remember September 11, 2001 very clearly. It was my second week working at Christ Church, I was living in Evanston at the time. I was in my car at Golf road and Harlem when I turned on the radio. And I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I remember pulling up to the church, anxious to be with a community of people, and immediately joined others to watch events unfold. There wasn't a lot of talk. Just people riveted to the horror we were witnessing on the screen. Then we were informed that one of our staff members, Jeff Mladenik, was booked on a plane that was flown into one of the towers. The horror became even more chilling for now one of the terrorist victims had a face and a name.
9/11 changed everything. For awhile we came together as a nation to pray, to comfort each other, to find answers. And in the days that followed we caught a glimpse of the beauty of lives submitted to the authority of self-giving love. We remember the rescue workers and the volunteers who flocked to helped. We witnessed open-hearts and joined hands all across America. This was a change we needed. We came together. And when we heard stories of courage and sacrifice such as those passengers on the plane that crash landed in Pennsylvania we were awed by bravery. And like Todd Beemer we were ready to roll. We were inspired by selfless giving.
Church attendance doubled on the Sunday following the tragedy. But within a short period of time attendance waned, and the closeness of community began to splinter again. A mood swept through our country. We felt less safe, more fearful. Some say we began to distance ourselves from each other. We knew the world had changed profoundly and we struggled to come to grips with a meaningful response.
Throughout the past decade the ripple effects of our national tragedy continue to wash over us. Fear and mistrust continue to manifest itself in all kinds of ugly ways . Now ten years later we find ourselves in the midst of a global economic crisis, a mistrust of government and institutional authority, rampant incivility on the airwaves and in the halls of power, a war against terror that seemingly has no end, and racial and economic divides. For many the American Dream has been dashed and they find themselves ill prepared to adapt to a changing world. And many wonder if our moral compass has been lost.
Of course there are signs of hope and goodness but I think it's safe to say that 9/11 ushered in a sobering reminder of what evil can bring and keeps bringing into our world. The Way of Terror leaves a very unsatisfying aftertaste in our mouth. Even the hunting down of Osama Bin Laden didn’t fill the void many felt. The fruits of terror leave us feeling empty and unsure. We try to rally around the flag, stay positive, anchor ourselves to the next best new idea or the hottest political candidate but we often find ourselves wondering, in our quieter moments, if anything can refocus our attention and reorder our priorities.
It's remarkable, isn’t it, what a small band of fanatics, submissive to evil authority, can do to change the psyche of the entire world.
Scripture tells us that we should not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. How can that happen? I believe that there is a path leading to freedom and of hope. It's the Way of Jesus. At our church we're going to take the next year looking at how He wants us to live and where He wants us to go. It's an opportunity to get our bearings again. To check our maps, to look for the trail markers, to look at our compasses, to find true north again. We live in a tough world but we live in a world that comes with a promise for those who love Jesus ...don't worry, I will never leave you or forsake you. He reminds us that we are His masterpiece, created to do good. And guess what? There is a lot of good that needs to be done.
I want to say clearly that the Way of Jesus is the pathway to real life but I can't promise you that if you walk this path that the world we once knew will magically reappear, that your bank accounts will be full again, that your house will sell, and terror will disappear. I can't promise that. Nor would I want to. I think many of the things that are part of our American Dream aren’t necessarily central to the good news Jesus proclaimed. Here's something that is central.
It's Romans 12 from the Message.
Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Let me paraphrase the paraphrase. God wants us all in walking along His way. Period. Allowing our lives to be a fragrant offering. Allowing Christ and His teaching to define us. Not our allegiance to some political philosophy, not our lack of contentment, not our anger, nor our fear. He wants us to be lifted up, not dragged down. And we can’t be lifted by becoming adjusted to every cultural whim and fancy or becoming mired in a world of unforgiveness or vengeance. God wants us to be defined by what happens on the Way of Jesus through the person of Christ Himself. He and only He is the hope of the world. God wants to define us and shape us so that we are more and more like Christ. He might use our club membership, our politics, our work, our play, our position, and our use of money to help accomplish that. And he might not. He might want to strip us of our props or redeem them for His purposes so that nothing challenges His authority in our lives.
I get this sense that God wants us to roll with Him because He wants to use us to change the world as we know it. It means being all in, deep in. I'm reminded of the words attributed to Dwight Moody who said (and I’m paraphrasing a bit) "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man or woman fully consecrated to Him. I want to be that person." I wonder what would happen if we dived into the deep end of the pool of discipleship. Could we change the world?
G.K. Chesterton once said: "Christianity hasn't been tried and found wanting. Nope. it hasn't been tried." There's some truth in what he said. I don't know about you but I want in on the trying. I actually believe we can change the world. It's time to roll.