The Faces of 9-11—The Face of Compassion
-- From those who’ve lived more life than they had left to live, I’d heard stories of the surge in patriotism after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Everyone flew their flag and looked for ways to support the war effort. Everyone sacrificed. There was a sense that we’d been violated, how dare they come over here and attack us? As I listened to these stories I wondered if our nation would be able to pull together like that again, or was that simply a byproduct of a much less selfish generation? Would I ever see the stars and stripes unfurled with such pride?
There were many lessons learned on 9-11,lessons about the pain and suffering evil men are capable of inflicting, yet at the same time there were many wonderful things we learned about ourselves as a nation. First of all, we learned that patriotism knows no age. The flag still stands for all that makes us American, and when those values are attacked, we will band together and raise our banner high.
We also learned that heroes come from unlikely, even familiar, places. For who of us can forget the photo of the firefighters, covered in clouds of white ash, raising the red, white, and blue over the rubble of two fallen towers? And who can forget the children who emptied their piggy banks, and the teenagers who ran carwashes so they might send money to those in need? Who wasn’t touched by the compassion of businesses that pledged to fully fund the benefits and retirement plans for the families of their employees who died that day?
Acts of love and compassion, once suspect, were now commonplace. Drivers offered the extra courtesy of “letting someone cut in,” and no one seemed to mind the crying baby in the checkout line. People found extra quarters were placed in parking meters, and people found time to linger in conversations. Our churches opened their doors in the days and evenings that followed and people poured in, at all hours, to pray and to seek. Some sought solace, some comfort. Many sought answers. On the Sunday that followed churches all over this nation filled to overflowing. And many of us, the faithful who’d been praying for revival in this land, believed our prayers had been answered. But by the next Sunday, just as quickly as they had appeared, they vanished.
What were they looking for? What did they need that they did not find? For some I’m certain it was an explanation, a neat and tidy way to understand the whys of that day. But suffering is never neat and tidy. In an effort to have an answer, many well-meaning Christians said things like, “We might not always know the reasons why, but God does,” and “Time heals all wounds.” I, in fact, might have been one of those people, but did I answer their real question? If I didn’t, what was that real question? It is the same question that all of us have been asking for centuries. “If God is so good, where was He when…”
Like many of you, I sat in a crowded pew that first Sunday. I sat amongst a sea of unfamiliar faces, faces that were worn, faces that revealed a heavy heart. As my pastor looked out on those faces, he must have felt like Jesus did as He looked out over a crowd gathered to be healed. To Him they were sheep without a shepherd. That Sunday morning the sheep were gathered. My pastor shared that over the last few days many had asked, “Where was God when those towers fell?” His response was that God was with every single person. God was in each stairwell, inside each plane, and under each desk. Then he told us as tears streamed down his face, “It was God’s heart that was the first to break that morning.” His words touched us, and healing began.
As people flooded our churches in the days following 9-11, many had experienced the surge in patriotism, in random acts of kindness and compassion, and they wanted more. They feared it would be fleeting, and so they looked for a way to make it last. Perhaps it was an experience from childhood, an encounter with a ‘Jesus fanatic’ during their college years, or the witness of a considerate and thoughtful co-worker that led them to seek the answer in our churches. Perhaps it was a longing for an answer to the “why” of it all that led them through our doors, but in either case, some found what they needed and many more did not.
Five years have now passed, five years without another terrorist attack. But one is coming. I’ve heard it said, “our defenses must be right 100 percent of the time, but the terrorist only need be successful 1 percent of the time.” When that “next time” occurs will we, the church, be ready? What can we do differently? The first thing we must do is prepare now. Do we have a plan in place within our churches to meet the real needs of the lost and broken? Are we willing to peer into the faces of His lost sheep, and offer to be there in the midst of the suffering, without platitudes and easy answers? When the lost sheep of His fold look into our faces, will they be seen with the eyes Christ? Will they see in our face His face of compassion?
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