Remembering the Ashes: 15th Anniversary of September 11

ground-zero-63035_1920Fifteen years ago, I stepped into the pulpit just days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with a shattered heart and sore soul. I wanted to share that sermon today in remembrance of those who  died, those who survived, those who responded to the disaster, and those whose lives were changed forever. That may be just about everyone. When I started to write this sermon, I knew only one thing….the last word that I would say that day would be LOVE. 

May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable you your sight. Amen.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine…his name is Wade Green. He’s married and he has a son just a little older than my little girl and a baby girl who’s just a little bit younger than Claire. We used to sit together, back when I was doing parish field placement in a parish, back before I was ordained. That church was a smallish church, you see, and when I got there, no one really knew what to do with me, so I ended up sitting with the choir. I sat on the left side with the men, because the women filled the pews on their side. So every Sunday, I sat next Wade…and if someone seemed to forget what they were doing, or if a reader didn’t come up right a way… Wade would always nudge me and say, “Go on, Hailey, here’s your big chance…just jump in.” Or some days he would kid me “Ready for you big solo today? Here’s your music.”

Wade had a breakfast appointment last Tuesday…at eight o’clock in the morning, he met some business people at the Windows on the World restaurant on the top of the World Trade Center. Just one hour later, the tragedy began, and as far as we know, Wade Green lost his life.

Today’s Gospel story is about things that are lost and things that are found.  On Tuesday, our country and the whole world started totaling up losses that are bigger than any of us can even really contemplate. We’ve lost people: fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, associates… the toll continues to rise. We’ve lost our sense of security, our understanding of the world, our feeling of safety, our sense of how the world works. Some of us have lost hope, lost faith, lost our ability to function, lost our innocence. And, as for me, I’ve lost Wade… who was always grinning, always willing to lend a hand, always ready to laugh and joke.

For me, Wade Green is the lost coin, the lost sheep…the person that I look for as I watch the endless footage of the devastation at the World Trade Center on television. But he was no more or less special than any of the other thousands plus people who died in the airplanes, or the buildings, or the streets. And that’s the worst of it: every single one of us has lost a Wade Green…. Each of those people who died touched hundreds of other people in the way that Wade touched me.  Each of those people was unique and gifted and special…and each had made a difference in the world, touched another person in some way.

On Friday, we had a national day of Mourning in an attempt to recognize the loss that we’ve experienced as a country. School children dressed in our national colors and people hung flags. Many people also took a moment to light a candle and stand outside of their doors at 7PM on Friday. All ways of trying to recognize the extent of the loss. Here at Epiphany, we had a noontime prayer service… in remembrance. We prayed for the dead, and the lost…for the rescue workers and the volunteers, for the families and friends of those who have been lost. More than anything, though, we came together to remind ourselves, as this morning’s Gospel reading reminds us, that we are still within the sight of God…that we are not lost.

In trying to think about how to pray at that service, I found myself coming again and again to those that were at or near the World Trade Center or the Pentagon—those people who were found alive, who escaped from the wreckage or watched as it occurred.  I have many friends in New York and dozens of them have sent me their experiences of being in the streets of New York on that morning. Here’s just one account, from a Deacon friend of mine:

I work on the 85th floor of tower 1 (the first one hit).  Because of subway delays, my train had just pulled in the terminal when the plane hit tower 1.  Our first sign of trouble was a large throng of people coming out of the center through the subway entrance.  When we got upstairs, we saw the top of tower 1 in flames.

People were leaping from the upper floors, probably thinking that that would be a faster way to die than by suffocation and fire.

I was heading north, away from the building when the second plane hit. Fortunately there was a construction shed over the sidewalk at that point and those of us under it were safe from the shrapnel.  One piece the size of large sheet of plywood hit the street a few feet from where I was, sounding like a shotgun blast.

Praise God for those who survived. Several of my co-workers who also get in about 8:30 were able to get to safety before either building collapsed.

I pray for those who were not so lucky (it could be several thousand) 

I pray for those who have not yet been able to contact loved ones and who sit in fear.

I pray for those who put themselves in danger to save and rescue. 

I pray for the innocents in the planes that were hijacked.

I pray for those who did this terrible thing. 

I pray that all those who are so full of hate that such a thing can be planned and executed without any shred of conscience or compassion.

And… I ask God, why was I saved?

And so we find, in the wake of these past days, even those who are found are feeling lost… wondering at their own survival. We ask ourselves why New York and Washington only? Why not San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, Dallas, some other city?

How do we find God in these hard days? Our Gospel teaches us that God keeps each one of us in his sight—Only a few weeks ago, our reading from Luke reminded us that “Consider the sparrows of the field: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds.”  From today’s story, we know that when we are the most lost, God goes out and searches for us…and brings us home.

At the same time, in these coming days, we must begin to pick ourselves up and begin to live again. A friend of mine, a very experienced mother, watched me in my efforts to keep my daughter from wandering away from me. I said to Claire over and over again “Stay where I can see you…” My friend said to me: “Don’t tell your child that, because she doesn’t always know if you can see her…instead say “Stay where you can see me”.  Even as we know that God can see us, we must also turn our efforts to making sure that we can see God. As we struggle to pull our lives and our country together again, we must search for things to do and for places to be that will allow us to keep our eyes on God.

We are hurt and we are angry, and our temptation is going to be to try and find easy targets for those feelings…but there are no easy targets. Instead, let us reach out to our neighbors… and try and help those who have been affected more immediately than we ourselves have. We can give blood, we can send money and clothes and food…and we can be a voice in the world that affirms the importance of life and love and faith. 

I read the following in a book called “A COMMON PRAYER”:  

There are only two feelings.  Love and fear.

There are only two languages.  Love and fear.

There are only two activities.  Love and fear.

There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.  Love and fear.

Love and fear.

Even in these harsh and trying times, let us keep our eyes on God and continue to say: We will not live in fear…. We choose love. 

Preached by Hailey Lynne McKeefry at Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos, CA on September 16, 2001

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