Homily at the Ecumenical Center, 17 September, 2001

[1] For many places around the world, being vulnerable to devastating attack is not a new historical experience, 20th century Europe being just one case in point. But we who are Americans have been conditioned throughout our national history to feel our nation is invulnerable to attack, and certainly not by airplanes with “American” or “United” emblazoned on them, and certainly not in impregnable fortresses like the Pentagon or the World Trade Center.

[2] Human hope in the amassing of financial wealth and military power has been decisively dashed, and lies smoldering in the ashes. The fiery destruction of these symbols filled with human beings has become a new symbol of evil….of the depths to which human beings can go, out of a sense of unspeakable anger and vengeance. The seductive power of this symbol is to pull people into reacting in ways that themselves become reflective of this vengeance-seeking hatred. It is especially this that people of faith are called to resist.

[3] The swirling cloud of an elemental loss of orientation, of the depravity of human nature, and of the utter loss of a sense of security and hope — this truly is a potent mixture that together opens up a huge, gaping spiritual crisis. No wonder so many have rushed to places of worship these past few days. But the question is, will churches — their members, clergy, theologians — be able to respond to the depth of this crisis, and to offer the kind of spiritual leadership that is most needed in a world filled with such outrage, and balanced on the precipice of war? What kind of helpful public leadership will come from those of us who work here in this building? Are WE up to the challenge?

[4] Far more than platitudes are needed, especially the kind that rationalize or look the other way in the face of preparations for war. An adequate response by the churches needs to begin with a clear theological naming of what is at stake. Otherwise we will have sacrificed our distinctive calling in this critical time — not to tolerate, but to work together with others to counter and overcome all the violence-laden tendencies looming over our world today — to offer the world an alternative expressed through compassion and unity across all those forces that would divide. To really pursue a Decade to Overcome Violence. To decisively proclaim and live out the radical gospel: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:27)

[5] Within a few hours of Tuesday’s devastation, glimmers of hope broke through in the form of simple human gestures to reach out and help, gestures that seemed like utter miracles in the face of what had occurred. Many of these gestures were rooted in faith in a God who causes life to emerge even in the face of massive devastation.

[6] As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord who made all things….and who says of the devastated city, ‘It shall be inhabited….and I will raise up their ruins.'” May our responses, and those we call for in the world, be grounded in faith in that kind of God, who is faithful, loving and steadfast in keeping promises.

Karen L. Bloomquist

Karen Bloomquist, ordained in 1974, has served as pastor of Lutheran congregations in CA, NYC, WA, and after completing her PhD at Union in NY, has been on faculties in Chicago, Dubuque and Berkeley, as well as director of departments in the ELCA and the LWF.  She also has taught at seminaries throughout the world, and has authored or edited many publications. She currently is a theologian-at-large, and lives in  both WA and CA.