11 September 2012

After Eleven Years: Nothing Has Changed / Everything Is Different

Eleven years ago this morning I drove from Titusville, FL to a church in some other town in the Space Coast Conference for our monthly Conference gathering, my first as an intern at Trinity Lutheran Church in Titusville and Sunrise Lutheran Church in Port St. John.  As we sat in the meeting, the senior pastor was called away around 10:00, and when he returned his face was white.  "Two planes hit the World Trade Center this morning," he said.  "I think we'd better get back home to our people."

In the blink of an eye, our world became different.  Families were torn apart by loss and grief.  We began to question everything.  That night, at a hastily arranged prayer service, Kris, my supervisor, said, "Today I'm ashamed to call myself a human being."  It remains one of the most profound sermons I've ever heard - an outpouring of grief and horror at what we do to ourselves, and at the same time, a desperate plea for God's grace and mercy to cover us all.

These eleven years have been hard years for most of us.  The obvious wounds are slow to heal:  those who lost friends and family in the attacks or in the wars we started in response.  The world seems a more dangerous place these days, as though every advance in communication and technology quickly becomes an avenue for violence and destruction.  My own litany of hard times includes divorce, death(s) and disillusionment after disillusionment.  One broken marriage, grandmothers and mentors gone to their rest, bitter church struggles and scraping by fueled by coffee and a prayer.

Maybe your story is similar. (Maybe I've been the one disappointing YOU - if so, please know I'm sorry, and I'm trying to do better).  Maybe you're like me tonight; reflecting on how the world has changed, and in so many ways for the worse.  If so, let me share another thought with you: the good has held on also, and the God who has created this world has not abandoned us to its tempest just yet.

I shudder to think of how different I was on 10 September 2001 - and how little of it I would trade for the wisdom I've gained through all the hard times since then.  I'm a better husband, better father, better son, better brother, better pastor.  Maybe it's just maturity, but it feels like more than that.  It feels like God has continued to mold and shape me, even in the many, many times I though God wasn't listening or acting at all.

Marty Haugen wrote O God, Why Are You Silent?, a new set of lyrics to Bach's Passion Chorale, rooted in the pain of these days.  For me, the final stanza is the clincher:
May pain draw forth compassion, let wisdom rise from loss;
oh, take my heart and fashion the image of your cross;
then, may I know your healing, through healing that I share,
your grace and love revealing your tenderness and care.
This morning I drove from Story City, Iowa to Bergen Lutheran Church in Roland for a gathering of the Riverside Conference clergy and lay leaders, my first as pastor of St. Petri Lutheran Church in Story City.  I am not the man I was eleven years ago this morning.  The world has changed, also.  But we're still gathering as God's people, still maturing, still growing in wisdom, and most of all, still being fashioned into the image of Christ crucified.  God who was and who is and who will be, bless us all.

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