We all know that this is Veterans Day. For most of us the day hasn’t meant much. I served with the Second Infantry Division in Korea during 1952 with the Division in combat most of that year, but Veterans Day has not been very important in my life. I do remember as a small child a few Civil War veterans in their 90’s, still coming out for the Veterans Day parade in my Missouri hometown, but that’s about it.
But this year it’s different, different I think because everything is different since 9/11. Yes, life will go back to normal I suppose, it always does. But now there is a before 9/11, and after 9/11, time defined by the watershed of the terrible atrocities on that day. Our political leadership, our national economy, our concerns for security, our attitudes often lifted up hopefully to new levels of comradeship and common sense of purpose: everything has changed. People have been extraordinarily generous of their blood and their fortunes in order to help others. We have rallied around the flag more than I have seen in half a century.
From the perspective of a few short weeks the terrorists in many ways have achieved the opposite of what they wanted, as people have transcended themselves and chosen the best that people can be. But at the same time there is shock, rage, frustration, and an inevitable sense of the need for vengeance boiling up in the best of us. Elie Wiesel in a thoughtful article writes, “Can (this mass murder) be explained? Yes, by hatred. Hatred is the root of evil everywhere. Racial hatred, ethnic hatred, political hatred, religious hatred.. For those who glorify hatred, as terrorists do, the end justifies all means, including the most despicable ones”
But if we name hatred as the root of evil, God help us then if we allow vengeance and hatred to take hold of our own lives. Now more than ever we are called to pay better attention to what God really intends for his universe.
I remember a seminary professor who urged us to do our Bible study by placing the Bible on one side of the desk and the New York Times for that day on the other side. Now more than ever that is good advice for our times. We want a word from God. When we’re watching the “Today” show and the towers of the World Trade Center plunge to the ground before our eyes and thousands of lives are snuffed out, when evil suddenly and irrevocably transcends the limits of what we assumed is possible, then it is the time to ask where is God in all of this and what does God intend for us to do. So wee turn to Scripture to listen and hear-to try to understand what God requires of us. As an answer this morning, listen again to the words of St. Paul in the second lesson read to us: “The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” And how does the Lord who is faithful, who will strengthen us and guard us from evil , identify himself.? We can find that answer in the writings of the prophets, especially perhaps in Jeremiah: I am the Lord, I exercise steadfast love, justice, and integrity on earth-these are what please me
Yes, we are angry and rightfully so. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr remarked that “the proper attitude toward evil is anger.” But we most avoid what Niebubr saw as anger’s two temptations, hatred and vengeance, and instead allow love, justice and integrity to shape our response to evil.
Love we have already seen in the abundant sacrifices of rescuers, in the spontaneous generosity of millions of people giving from their veins and their wallets, and in the work of those who have comforted those who mourn and those who are frightened, and who have shown solidarity with Americans of Middle East and Asian descent-people so visibly part of our lives in metropolitan Washington.
As for justice and integrity: justice demands that the perpetrators of the atrocities in New York, Pennsylvania and across the Potomac at the Pentagon be brought to account for their appalling crimes. Moreover, the 9/11 attacks surely internalizes for us what many have warned of for some time; terrorism’s reach is broad, its resources deep and its intentions more lethal than any fiction writer could have dreamed up. All nations who would call themselves civilized must act together to rid the globe, if we can, of what is without question a common threat. Integrity, however, requires our country and all who join with us to act in a manner that honors the lives and goods of those who are innocent. I read both the Post and the Times every day as I read the Bible, and as I read more even than I want to read, I know that we are in a precarious position as we seek to accomplish both the goals of justice and integrity at the same time.
But listen again to St. Paul’s words “The Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” How shall we know him in our lives? A professor at Duke University tells the story of a young disciple in India who left home seeking a spiritual master to teach him how to pray. When he found that master by a river and asked him how to pray, the master grabbed the young man and shoved him into the water, holding him down so long that the young man was gasping and coughing as he came out of the water.
“While you were under the water, what was it that you wanted?” the teacher asked. “Air”, the young man said, still panting. “And how badly did you want it?” “All’ the young man said, “It was all I wanted in the world. With my whole soul I longed only for air.” “Good, said the teacher. “When you long for God in the same way that you have just now longed for air, come back to me and you will become my disciple.”
Today is not just another Veterans Day, but a special one. When my life turned inside out after college and I was drafted, ultimately to serve in Korea, I began to pray again. Through the years I’ve learned many forms of prayer, but I for one find myself praying the Lord’s Prayer in the daytime and in the middle of the night with an awareness I don’t think I’ve had before. On September 11 people prayed that day in sometimes unaccustomed ways. Some were very simply moved to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Now, with a heightened, focused awareness to keep praying it as I do, with personal prayers for the day.
The Lord’s Prayer is for everyone, for persons who became heroes because they found the strength to keep digging in the rubble remaining of the towers of the World Trade Center refusing to drop from exhaustion, for the timid, for even those inexperienced in prayer, for people like you and me. I need now more than I imp* ever knew I needed: the strength and solace of that prayer. I need, in particular, the petitions for forgiveness and deliverance from evil-including the temptation to return evil for evil. And if you will so deliver me, Lord, I may learn perhaps more than I have learned before to forgive as I am forgiven.
So today is Veterans Day, 2001, exactly two months since the fateful day when all the supposed verities of comfortable civilized existence were turned inside out
And at this remarkable time, by the sheer coincidence of the liturgical cycle of Scripture lessons, we heard this morning out of the suffering agony of Job the most momentous words of faith perhaps in the entire Bible: words that I pray will be absorbed into the viscera, the heart and brain, the bloodstream of your life and mine: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth … and then …. I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and NOT as a stranger!” AMEN!