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From the Pastor's Pen — Message Commemorating the 10th Anniversary of 9/11


 Bob Kerr

"Greater Love Has No One than This …"

On this Tenth Anniversary of the attacks of 9/11/2001, special invited guests were the first responders, firefighters, emergency medical technicians,
and law enforcement personnel of our community. The following comments were addressed to them as well as to the gathered Rehobeth Congregation.

Scripture Readings:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)


Every adult in America can remember where he or she was when word broke that America was under attack. I recall where I was, watching on television at the church office in Reidsville as the second plane hit the second tower, and then as word came about the Pentagon and Flight 93. In the uncertainty that immediately followed, we drew our loved ones and neighbors closer to us and unified as a nation, without regard any longer for the things that so foolishly and so often divide us. One’s race, ethnicity, status or position didn’t matter — we were Americans and we were under attack. Much like the older brother who picks on a younger brother mercilessly — but dares anyone else to touch him — so we stood with and for each other, because we were all Americans. We were family.

In those first hours following those attacks, we came to recognize another strength of the American character: we were ready and willing to give our lives to save others. Not just members of our own immediate families, but even the stranger whose life was threatened. No one exemplified that more than the passengers of Flight 93, who knew that if they didn’t act, even at the risk of losing their lives, countless other brother and sister Americans would lose their lives, and among them could be our elected officials in Washington’s capitol. As Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, the light overcame the darkness.

As reports came out, we began to realize another truth: there were those among us who were willing to rush into the very teeth of the darkness to rescue those about to perish. Who can forget stories of firemen and rescue personnel who were struggling to make their way up crowded stairways to try to rescue people on the floors above them, only to perish in the flames? As additional emergency personnel — firefighters, first responders, emergency medical technicians, and law enforcement personnel rushed to the scene, many of them lost their lives in the thick ash and crushing debris as the towers fell. But again, the light had overcome the darkness.

In an action meant to cripple America, to divide her people against each other, and to paralyze the nation with fear, those who had chosen to be instruments of darkness miscalculated the American Spirit and the resolve of her people. Rather than division, there was unity; rather than fear, there was courageous resolve; rather than being crippled, a nation rediscovered the very strength of purpose that has always made her great. We are a nation built by immigrants from all parts of the world, a nation that finds its greatness in our motto “E Pluribus Unum” — from many, we are one.

Today, as people all across our nation remember the losses incurred in those attacks, we have even more vivid memories of the courage and self sacrifice of those who responded. And we honor them today. For those same people, in those same professions, live beside us, move among us, and respond in a moment’s notice to life-threatening circumstances every day in each of our lives and in every community across America.

For the past ten years, we have been safe here at home. Men and women, older and younger, who serve in an all volunteer military- in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines Corp, National Guard, Coast Guard, and in Reserve units across the nation have given themselves to the war against this terrible darkness that would envelop the world if it could. And their losses have numbered more than were lost in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Flight 93. We would be remiss were we not to honor their sacrifice today as well. Those who have chosen the darkness rather than the light continue to attempt to rob us and others of the freedoms and security that are part of a civilized world. It is important to note that the vast majority of people killed by this enemy of the light have been innocent Muslim civilians, actions forbidden and undeniably condemned as sin by the holy book of Islam itself, the Koran. These enemies of the light are enemies of all humanity, whose fanatical hatreds have warped even their understanding of their own professed religion.

I was reading yesterday from St. Augustine’s writings on love and hatred, and he stated that to hate is to kill, and the first person to die is the very one who hates. Even as we wage this fight against the darkness, hatred is not what drives the American response. No one desires peace more than those who are called upon to defend it. But when called, they respond with a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect us and the principles of our great nation. We believe that freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness is the birthright of every man, woman, and child on the earth, for all are created in the image of God.

There is a question that must be addressed if we are to honor those who were lost on September 11, 2001 and that question is this: How are we Christians to conduct ourselves in light of all that has happened?

As Christians, we believe in and follow the one who said of himself that he was the light of the world and that we were to be as well. That light shines most brightly when we love and serve one another. To succumb to the kind of hatred that made 9/11 possible would be to willingly enslave ourselves to that hatred. As we live out our lives interacting with fellow Americans of every race, creed, religion, and ethnicity, we must be certain to seek justice and pursue it; to deal fairly and generously with the less fortunate; to reach out our hand to the poor and lift up the orphaned child. If we are to be bearers of the light, pushing back the darkness, then it is imperative that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and that we live and let live all those who would pursue the American dream.

Not all of us are called to pay the ultimate sacrifice in the service of others, but all of us are called to live lives that honor Christ by binding up the broken hearted and lifting up the fallen; by encouraging the hopeless and comforting the bereaved.

In one of Jesus’ kingdom parables he tells of the day of judgment when all the nations of the earth are gathered before the great throne of God. And he will say, "Enter into the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was naked and you clothed me, sick and in prison and you came to me." And those gathered will ask him, "Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison?" And he will say, "In as much as you did it to the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me."

Those who choose the darkness would have us hate those who are not like us or our friends. They would shatter our unity by dividing us along religious, ethnic, or racial lines, and we cannot allow that. To do so would be allowing the darkness to overcome the light. I am confident that the day when darkness overpowers the light once and for all will never come. For we have seen and tasted and participated in the kingdom of God; we have known the one who is king of kings and lord of lords, and he has already won this victory over darkness for us. It is imperative, then, that we remain vigilant, but not just vigilant in our search for those who would harm us. It is important that we remain vigilant in living out the faith among each other. Jesus said one does not light a lamp to hide it under a basket, but puts it on a stand so that it may give light to all who are in the house.

To the men and women we honor today, we say “Thank you,” and may God watch over you, protect you, and bless you. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Rehobeth United Methodist Church • 9297 Sherrills Ford Road • P.O. Box 356 • Terrell, NC 28682
Copyright © 2011 Robert L. Kerr, D.Min
Used by permission