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Environmental Stewardship Commission

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

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Lectionary Reflection

Year C, Proper 26 Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary Revised Common Lectionary Sermon

An environmental sermon on all readings for this day:
Isaiah 1:10-20
Psalm 32
2 Thessalonians 1:1-15
Luke 19:1-10

Between Terror and Text by John Gibbs, PhD

At the start of the Third Millennium one date stands out above all others. You and I will never forget where we were when first we learned about the shattering events of that day. The watershed terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 now dominate consciousness worldwide. They are so fateful that especially we Americans bring them with us every time we come to worship, whether at Church or Synagogue or Mosque. We cannot pray, we Christians cannot partake of Eucharist, we cannot read and hear Scripture as if those events had never happened, for they are always present with us.

Accordingly, we approach today’s lectionary texts from within this terrible situation. Half a dozen main themes have emerged for me out of confrontations between that terror and these texts. I share them with you as encouragement for discussing whatever themes may have come to surface among us:

First, after that terror nothing will be the same. Everything has changed. The word “normal” has been redefined, though we do not yet comprehend what the new definition is, or what all its implications may be. The ashes that fell on Ground Zero fell on the landscape of world history, and changed it. The fires that still burn there at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit continue to attack the civilized world. That terror has a Before and an After. Collectively we all know that our days after September 11 are radically different from all our days and years before September 11. Change is upon us.

Second, we need one another. Now we know it for sure. All of us with our bare hands collectively would have pushed those hijacked planes away from their targets, if only we could have. But when terror struck, it did not tear us apart. It welded us together.

Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel was in New York City on September 11. Soon thereafter he wrote this about the American people:“Never have they been more motivated, more generous. Their behavior was praised the world over. Instead of trying to save themselves, men and women, young and old, ran to Ground Zero to offer assistance. Some stood in line for hours to donate blood. Hundreds of thousands of sandwiches, sodas and mineral waters were distributed. Those who were evacuated from their buildings were offered food and shelter by neighbors and strangers alike.…Americans have never been as united. Nor has our hope been as profound and as irresistibly contagious.” So I say: terror tore into us, and unearthed the roots that bind us together.

Third, listening is top priority among people who need one another. During the first days after September 11 we saw that within our House and Senate. Earnest and accurate listening was noticeable there to a degree that none could have forecast up through September 10. Knowing that they needed one another, our leaders really tried, at least for a few weeks, to listen fairly and hopefully to one another.

As a nation, moreover, we must have friends among other nations. This country cannot go it alone unilaterally. We the people need to listen with care to other governments and other cultures. National security requires that we listen more carefully so that we can understand why some peoples hate us, and then we can take steps to accommodate what we can, change what we must, and defend what we must. Some Muslims and certain nations say that we neither listen to, nor care about, their concerns. For instance, as our Episcopal bishops wrote on September 26, “The affluence of nations such as our own stands in stark contrast to other parts of the world wracked by the crushing poverty which causes the death of 6,000 children in the course of a morning.”

We need to be sure that we are listening and are caring. Otherwise we might hear from God what the psalmist heard:“Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.” We do well instead to listen with the psalmist for God’s counsel and instruction about how Israel and we may be good neighbors in the world community.

A fourth theme in the confrontation between terror and text is this: we must make choices, and we can make them. Some change has been forced upon us. But other change comes because we choose it. There has been much talk about bringing terrorists to justice, and self-defense requires us to do that. Beyond that emergency stopgap measure, however, the question arises: “What is justice, and what choices does it require of us?”

We have heard from Isaiah: “Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.” What does that mean? What is God’s kind of justice? What does God’s justice have to do with the USA? When this text confronts that terror, what light of justice does it bring to American strategic and tactical choices?

What is a just way of coping with terror? Should we build a $60 billion missile defense (against box cutters and knives)? Will our national destiny be decided only by the flow of today’s body politic toward reaction, revenge, and the consuming quest for retribution?

Or, on the other hand, should we initiate an international policy that strongly supports human rights, protects the global environment, develops economic justice no less than democratic rights to vote, and wages a war against poverty wherever it exists (and not only within the USA)? What choices might move us closer to God’s justice?

Fifth, as a people thinks, so are they. Our vision directs our choices. Our self-definition as a nation, our picture of our history, our view of this nation’s future, all these guide our votes. They shape the choices we make in domestic and foreign affairs.

Vision directs choices, and so it was for Isaiah.“Instead of perpetuating a world of violence, Isaiah proposes a vision that demands another reality” (Christian Century, Oct. 17, 2001, p. 14). Isaiah had to tell his people that they were part of the problem in the world of violence: “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.” The counteracting vision that Isaiah proposed is this: “seek justice [which means], rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Set the vision of Justice before you, and let “vengeance” as just recompense belong only to God. Let “ultimate justice” be reserved, as the second letter of Thessalonians says, for “that day” at the end of time. In the meantime let your nation “seek justice” for the oppressed.

What vision dominates choices in the United States? It is not partisan politics to talk about the two opposite visions that are at work across the political spectrum. On one hand, the vision of invulnerable fortress America would lead us to erect an impregnable missile “shield” over us. This vision says that we cannot afford to choose justice for the oppressed, either here or abroad. But if the imploding twin towers of the World Trade Center have taught us anything, it surely is this, as Miroslav Wolf at Yale has written: “Without justice for all, there can be no lasting peace, not even for the powerful” (Christian Century, Oct. 10, 2001, p. 32)

On the other hand, if we adopt as national policy the vision of Zacchaeus, we discover that “salvation” as wholeness of life comes to those who redistribute their wealth on behalf of “the poor.” That is not “bottom-line” thinking. It is the commitment of a “rich” man to be accountable to “the poor.” That, according to Jesus’ radical social vision, is what “salvation” means. Saving the lost means giving to the poor, so says our gospel text.

A last theme emerges when these texts confront that terror. Into the horror at Ground Zero, in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon come ancient words that remind us Whose we are: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice…, and shout for joy.” Within that terror, why, why joy? Because God is still God. Because the dwelling of God remains with all humanity. Because to praise God is to destabilize all false gods and unjust worlds. (See Theology Today, Oct. 2000, p.383.)

We are “glad in the Lord,” aren’t we, when God enables ordinary unassuming people (firemen, policemen, and later musicians and poets) to hope and sacrifice for the new creation that is God’s answer to the aftermath of terror. Imagine it: We take the sacrificial generosity of ordinary Americans, and export it. We give it foreign policy expression. We take their hope, and it becomes contagious around the globe.

Between that terror and these texts, I begin to hear a familiar echo calling us again to sacrificial holiness: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; …to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” (Lincoln’s Second Inaugural)

Copyright Statement

Reflections on other Readings [Standard (Episcopal) and Revised Common Lectionary] for Year C, Proper 26

Revised Common Lectionary

Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary

Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Lesson:
Job 19:23-27a
no reflection available
Job 19:23-27a
no reflection available
Psalm 119: 137-144
no reflection available
Psalm 32:1-7
no reflection available
Psalm 32
no reflection available
New Testament Lesson:
2 Thessalonians 1: 1-4, 11-12
no reflection available
2 Thessalonians 1: 1-15
no reflection available
Luke 19: 1-10
no reflection available
Luke 19: 1-10
no reflection available

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attended Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN, when he originally presented this sermon on November 4, 2001. John and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:

MEESC c/o C. Morello 4451 Lakeside Drive Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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