The Gospel message for this morning is all about looking for something valuable and rejoicing when it is discovered. In these parables, Jesus talked about a shepherd looking for a lost sheep and then celebrating with his fellow shepherds when it is found. He also referred to a homemaker who was desperately looking for a lost coin, which represented a tenth of her resources. When she found the coin, she was so happy that she held a party with her neighbors.
Both the parables have Ďhappyí endings because Jesus wanted to emphasize how delighted God is when lost sinners suddenly rediscover Him and are returned to the fold. Itís supposed to be a wonderful event in heaven and Jesus, in His own way, was just trying to encourage people to make that one great decision in their lives to come back to God.
But what happens when youíre searching for something that canít be found? What if you lose something or someone precious that canít be regained? Last Tuesday, we lost our sense of security as a nation when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were bombed by suicidal assassins. We all watched in horror and disbelief as our freedom was violated when the two towers collapsed and crumbled. And throughout all this week, we have watched the tireless work of the firefighters and rescuers, as they scramble over the wreckage in New York City, trying to dig through the devastation, desperately attempting to find people still alive under the ruins and the rubble. It seems that our concept of civilization. society and order has been completely shattered and we are left struggling and choking in the dark, trying to make sense of what has happened and hoping to find everything and everyone we have lost.
There have been many stories of heroism and heartbreak that have come out from New York City this week. The media have flooded us with information and personal events which have been deeply moving and terribly fascinating. We have all been constantly drawn to the television and its has outpoured a constant stream of facts, figures and fatalities. We are all suffering from information overload, from a great burden of grief, and also a contagion of culture shock.
One story that has stuck with me happened to a young Irish man who was on the ground floor of the World Trade Center when the first plane struck. Instinctively, he set out to run away from the building, but stopped when he heard a cry from someone behind him. A young woman had been badly burned and she needed help desperately. The young Irishman went over to her, to comfort her. She thought that she was dying and she asked him to pray with her. Together, they both recited the Lordís Prayer, and as they did, the second plane struck the second tower and where he had been standing, piles of rubble now remained. If he hadnít gone back to help the woman, he would have been killed instantly. As he said later on, she saved his life. Eventually, they reached some rescuers who took her to hospital to be treated for her terrible burns.
You would think that was the end of the story, but tragically it wasnít. The young Irishmanís sisterí best friend had been on board the first flight which hit the World Trade Center. Even more sadly, his sister and four year old niece were passengers on the second flight which struck the second tower. How do you tell him to go and find all that he has lost? When can he celebrate the return of his loved ones?
And yet, out of the ashes and the rubble, out of the horror and holocaust, something has risen in the hearts, minds and souls of all of us. Itís a spirit of determination that we will not surrender to the darkness of despair or the phantoms of fear. We will not cower to the tyranny of terrorism or the mayhem of murder. The Great Seal of the United States, which was used for the first time on this day in 1782, defiantly declares what is in the hearts of all Americans - E Pluribus Unum - Out of Many, One. The murderous hijackers may have calculated how to destroy some buildings full of innocent people, but they made a major miscalculation on the reaction and response of this great people. Instead of dividing the people, this violent act unites the people, and with the Presidentís leadership, America will prevail and conquer the evil that has penetrated this land.
This morning, we also read from Psalm 14, which will turn out to be prophetic of these calamitous circumstances. Verses 4 & 5 declare :
Psalm 14:4-5 4 Will evildoers never learn-- those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on the LORD? 5 There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous.
The Word of God promises us that those who commit such high crimes of evil against humanity shall be overcome and brought to justice. The psalmist tells us that those who think that they are fearless whilst they destroy Godís people, will one day be overwhelmed with dread and they will see that God is in the company of the righteous. They shall have no escape and no place where they can hide. They shall found. They shall be captured and they will be destroyed.
What we have lost this week, God will help us to regain in the future. It will be a hard and uphill battle. It will be an arduous and painful struggle, but our right to be free and government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
Traditionally, the third Sunday in September is an Ember Day in some Christian Churches. Ember days occur four times a year and relate to the changing of the seasons. Todayís Ember Day is called the ďExaltation of the Cross.Ē Itís a time when Christians remember the suffering and tragic death of Christ, but also celebrate the Cross as a symbol of freedom from fear, of deliverance from death, and of salvation from sin.
Originally, the Cross was meant to horrify and terrify opponents of the tyrannical Romans empire. Christ took hold of the Cross and changed it into an everlasting symbol of hope and glory which still calls us, challenges us and changes us today.
So, in the midst of all this hurt and helplessness, what can we do?
As individuals, we need to cherish our loved ones and stop taking them for granted. We need to get to know our neighbors and support one another in times like these, so that we can build into our freedom faith and friendship.
As a church, we need to pray for the President every day and ask God to guide and protect him. We need to give more of our time to good causes and sign up for mission events, for in doing these things, we build into our freedom compassion and care.
As Americans, you need to remain resolute and determined about rebuilding this nation and overcoming terrorism, no matter what the sacrifices and costs may be. In doing those things, you will build up your freedom into something precious and priceless that the world will aspire to possess and duplicate throughout the nations.
Finally, itís now beginning to be made clear that the passengers in the fourth plane which crashed in Pennsylvania thwarted the assassins plans to destroy the Capitol in Washington. They were faced with a choice to meekly accept their deaths and unwillingly become a part of another suicidal plan. They chose instead to die fighting, struggling to win control of the doomed aircraft and prevent another disaster from occurring. We may not know exactly what happened on that flight, but we do know that those people on board were true Americans, whose commitment to democracy, justice and freedom stopped the hijackers. The passengers sacrificed everything and fought for on freedomís side. itís our turn to do the same. This is our moment in history to fight for what is right and not to be terrorised by fanatics.
In losing their lives for us, the passengers of the last flight have helped us to find what we thought we had lost - freedom - Freedom - FREEDOM!