A dozen days now have passed since the Terror struck—but what an immeasurable abyss of time we survivors have crossed since thousands of God’s beloved children died—and other thousands so badly hurt—and so many more grieving and weeping and praying as perhaps never before.

Contrary to what some false and foolish prophets have claimed, we must not believe that God has willed any of this human suffering—not because of our sexual behavior, or our views or abortion, or civil liberties, or anything we have done.

For God is the One who loves more, and cares more, and suffers more than any one of us. God is Immanuel. God is with us. And nothing in life or death can separate us from God’s love.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred German pastor who participated in the anti-Hitler conspiracy, who confronted the massiveness of human suffering inflicted by Nazi terror, and who was himself hanged in the last month of the war, understood that to be a disciple of Jesus is to share in God’s own sufferings. In a poem from his Berlin prison cell, Bonhoeffer wrote: “People go to God when God’s own self is sore oppressed…. Christians stand by God in God’s own hour of grieving.” These dozen days have been God’s own hours of grieving.

And also, contrary to what some false and foolish prophets have claimed—whether among the fanatical perpetrators of their suicidal missions or among this country’s own mindless haters—Allah is with us. Allah, Elohim, the One God of all peoples, wants us to be a whole and healing human family: in peace, in shalom, in salaam.

Our long-ago-appointed readings for this day, from the prophet Amos and the Gospel of Luke, do not offer gentle, soothing words that might salve our hurting hearts. They smack us with some very plain language, like:

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
And bring to ruin the poor…
And practice deceit with false balances,
Buying the poor for silver …
And the selling the sweepings of the wheat.

And then languages like: “You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The old King James Version is more stark and more personal. It gives to wealth the name of its false god, Mammon: “You cannot serve God and Mammon!”

These are hard words to hear on any day. They may seem especially hard this day—if not downright inappropriate.

But remember: this was to have been the week when those global money institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, were to meet in this city. And tens of thousands of protestors (including many church folks) had planned to come to town.

But then came the Terror. And the Terror struck not only the citadel of military power but also the towers of trade and finance in our biggest city. And now the Bank and the Fund have cancelled their meetings in this city.

Beyond the awful toll of immediate casualties and griefs and disruptions, the economic costs of these events will hurt millions of God’s children—not only in this country but in many others.

So it may not be amiss, after all, to hold to the words of Amos and of Jesus—especially remembering the poor and all the other people suddenly bereft of their livelihoods.

Before the Terror came, the poverty of millions of our own people had already been getting worse. The Milton Eisenhower Foundation (named for President Eisenhower’s brother) had published a 1998 report whose conclusions were not out-of-date a dozen days ago: “The rich are getting richer ( in America ), the poor are getting poorer, and minorities are suffering disproportionately.”

More than half of minority children in underfunded urban schools fail to reach even “basic” achievement levels. That report stated flatly: “The private [capital] market has failed the inner city.”

This richest country, our country, is the only industrialized country that permits widespread hunger and homelessness—and fails to insure basic health care as a human right. And one-fifth of our children continue to live in poverty.

Somebody, somewhere seems to be trampling on the poor,
Somebody, somewhere seems to be serving Mammon, and not God.

In the wider world right now, there is another war: a war of attrition against the poor. More than 25,000 children are dying each and every day from poverty and hunger. In Africa below the Sahara, 300 million people try to subsist on less than a dollar a day. On that same continent, 17 million people have already died of AIDS—one every 13 seconds.

Somebody, somewhere seems to be trampling on the poor,
Somebody, somewhere seems to be serving Mammon, and not God.

Yes, there are compelling reasons for well-informed disciples of Jesus to protest against some of the forms and shapes of the global economy.

So far as I am able to understand these matters: I do believe the World Bank and the IMF need to do more to open their meetings to the public, to ease the burdens of debt, to free the conditions of their grants and loans from the dogmas of “market fundamentalism,” and to take more account of the social and environmental consequences of the big capital projects they fund.

But those indispensable institutions must not be made the scapegoats for what their member governments (including our own) direct them to do.

The World Bank recently published a report titled “Our Dream: A World Free of Poverty.” I must testify that I know many people who have worked for the Bank and the IMF and who have shared that dream.

The holiest books of Christians and Jews and Muslims all share the dream of a world free of poverty. The last word of Amos is not a harsh word but a word of hope and healing; a word that now binds the suffering of this nations with the suffering of all the world’s victims of indiscriminate violence and oppression. Listen to Amos again: “The mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. [God’s people] shall rebuild the ruined cities…and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit…. And they shall never again be plucked up out of the land that [God has] give them” (Amos 9:13–15).

If you share such a dream, can you believe that every true disciple of Jesus ought to have a very personal anti-poverty strategy as part of his or her discipleship? Perhaps a three-part strategy that includes:

  • Generous support of institutions directly serving the poor, both in the U.S. and globally;
  • Second; involvement in local church ministries to the poor; and
  • Third; civic action, political action, to support the most promising strategies of government to overcome poverty.

You might join Bread for the World, the Christian organization well-equipped to challenge us and our government to do more, and to do better, for the sake of the world’s poor. Thanks largely to Bread for the World and Catholic and Protestant church folks, the remarkable Jubilee 2000 campaign succeeded in achieving $34 billion of debt cancellation for the world’s poorest countries.

But recent years, our boom years, the United States, to our shame, has ranked twenty-second out of the twenty-two governments providing economic aid to poor countries—in absolutely last place proportionately. For U.S. economic aid is now less than 1/10 of 1 percent of our gross products. That’s contrary to the fond myth, shared by many Americans, that ours is the most benevolent country and that foreign aid amounts to 20 percent or more of our federal budget.

Dear Friends: I know that it hurts to speak of such things right now. Why speak of them today when we all are hurting from the Terror that has gripped us for a dozen days?

Less than forty-eight hours ago, I found myself invited into conversations among eight of this nation’s top career specialists in how to fight Terror: counter-terrorism. One of them, a former assistant secretary of defense, spoke to the roots of terrorism. “Why do they hate us?” he asked. Answer: they resent American wealth and power. And they speak for religiously conservative parents who resent the cultural imperialism of American movies, TV and music they believe corrupt their children. Another of Friday’s speakers was a psychiatrist who portrayed Osama Bin Laden as a genius in religiously manipulating the bitterness of the world’s poorest people.

We do not yet know where this new brand of warfare will lead us—warfare initially (and rather pretentiously) called “Operation Infinite Justice.” But must we not realize at last that the defenses of our own freedom require a much more faithful commitment to that kind of justice that brings good news to the poor and helps the oppressed find their own freedom?

We Christians must not let the language of justice be monopolized by the rhetoric of retaliation and revenge. Some of us do believe that careful, prudent military action may serve the cause of justice and even peace. But if military strikes serve mostly to compound the vicious circles of violence—especially between this nation and the Muslim nations of Asia and Africa—justice itself will become the victim and we shall all be the losers in such a war. Justice will not be done if millions of impoverished and famished people of Afghanistan are made to suffer even deeper distress.

We Christians, as always, remain conscientiously divided over the moral issues of war and peace. Our nation’s unity in sorrow and anger must not now permit the stifling of differences of belief and opinion.

The whole testimony of Scripture is that, in the centuries-long pilgrimage of faith, justice rose from primitive, unlimited vengeance, to only proportional eye-for-an-eye retaliation, and finally to justice as lovingkindness, even to bitter enemies.

Ultimately, justice is faithfulness to the structure of human rights and responsibilities which best express God’s covenant-love, with us and for us. So justice must never be caricatured as the contradiction of love or the enemy of peace. It is rather our upbuilding of human community—politically, economically, socially—according to our dream of God’s own Beloved Community (favorite language of Martin Luther King, Jr.).

The last word of the Bible, in the Revelation to John is, after all, a dream of what “globalization” might really mean. It is a dream of “a great multitude…from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages,” singing praises before the throne of God, in an new world of shelter and security for everyone, and “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more…and there will be no more scorching heat [no vicious global warming!]…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:9, 15–17).

Dear Friends, Peace, shalom, salaam—and love—be with you and among you all. Amen.