​A Sermon from September 16, 2001

[1] As one of the thousands of ELCA pastors who struggled to find words to speak in their September 16 sermons, I found the scripture texts for that particular Sunday to be challenging but also profoundly helpful, reminding us we are all sinners dependent on the infinite mercy of God. That Sunday’s gospel parable of the lost sheep drew me to an eschatological vision of a restored “flock” after the lost sheep is found – that is, a vision of a community restored to wholeness. Such a vision can not only speak a word of hope in the face of a human-caused catastrophe but can also inform a personal and social ethic in these difficult days. It is, perhaps, an image that can speak to what God hopes for us in the left hand and right hand kingdoms, restored relationship between God and humanity, and restored relationships within God’s creation. What follows are some excerpts from that September 16 sermon preached at St. John United Lutheran Church in Seattle.

[2] “. . . The shepherd’s work, God’s work, is the work of restoring broken community, and we are called to participate in that work . . . that is one place for us to start as we grapple with responding to this horrible act. On the road to restoring broken community we have to deal with evil and with injustice; we have to deal with wrongs that have been done, recognizing that judgment and mercy ultimately belongs not to us but to God. We have to recognize that some do not want to be in community with us. Nonetheless, our vision and our hope is that one day the wolf and the lamb will lie down together. One day all God’s people will live together in harmony and justice. If that is our hope, then it profoundly affects what we do now in this situation of crisis.

[3] As individuals and as congregations there are many things we can say and do to be part of God’s work of restoring the flock to wholeness and well-being. We can reach out to those who are hurting to show our caring, give aid to those in need, stand up for the vulnerable including Muslim and Arab minorities in this country, and acknowledge the humanity of our enemies… As individuals and congregations, we can work to mend broken relationships and reach out across the barriers …between religious and ethnic groups. We are also called to be good citizens, to support the legitimate efforts of government to protect and defend those who are vulnerable.

[4] But then we get to the harder part. Is this image of the restored flock, is our conviction that God calls us to be partners in working to restore broken community, is this at all relevant to our discussion of what our government should do in this crisis? Does it have anything to do with making the world safe from terrorists? If the God that we proclaim is God of all creation, I would think that it would.

[5] I don’t have easy answers. Yet, I hope our political leaders can find a way to move forward to address the threat of terrorism without deepening the divides that have contributed to terrorism in the first place. I hope they can find a way to move forward in cooperation with other nations . . . that furthers our common human goals of justice, peace, security and freedom without insisting on U.S. dominance in the world arena. I hope we can find a way to move forward that recognizes the common humanity we share with Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and all religious and ethnic groups. . . .

[6] God has reached out and will continue to reach out to us in love and mercy – we do not have to be afraid that we may get lost, because God can find us and bring us back. God weeps when we are lost, when we are broken – as individuals, as communities, as the whole human race, and God rejoices when unity is restored. . . . Let us show our thanks by taking the message of God’s love and hope for the world in to our homes, our neighborhoods, our places of work, and daily lives. This is what we are called to do in these days, this is what we can do, by the grace of God. God’s peace be with you. Amen.”