… preaching the anniversary

If preachers don’t articulate the Zeitgeist on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks – then they can be sure that everyone from newspaper columnists to placard-toting protesters will do it for them. It is part of our role as preachers to ‘step up to the plate’ at times like this. However, we must do so carefully. Thinking back to Bonhoeffer’s gentle wisdom yesterday, here are a few personal pointers and cautions:

  • “The man who despises others” – anything we say about the attacks ten years ago, or the unfolding conflicts since must not slip from comment to caricature about any group of people.
  • “A generation with so little ground under its feet” – 9/11 was a sign of the times, but it did not utterly define them. Just after the attack I visited North Eastern India, where it was barely a blip on their horizon. To treat the WTC attacks as defining the state of the world at large is too big a deal, and may promote the kind of Western preoccupation which belittles other parts of the world.
  • “Hardly anything can be more reprehensible than the sowing and encouragement of mistrust”- the pulpit is not a place to encourage the kind of fear and suspicion which makes us treat the ‘other’ as a lesser person.
  • “It is not the genius we need…but honest, straightforward men”  – a preacher is not a geo-political analyst, a military tactician, nor a sociologist – a preacher is a man or woman with God’s trumpet in their hand and God’s spirit in their heart.
  • “The only cure for folly is spiritual redemption” – whilst I may stand accused of perpetuating a ‘sacred-secular divide’, preachers must never forget that their primary script is redemption. Our greatest gift to our listener is always to extend God’s gracious invitation to them.
  • “Tomorrow may be the day of judgement. If it is, then we shall gladly give up working for a better future, but not before.”  Sermons this Sunday may catch the retrospective wave – but they must point forwards.
Below is a picture of the USS New York, a warship commissioned in November 2009. Its bow is fashioned from 7.5 metric tons of steel from the wrecked World Trade Centre.  In this way, something new has arisen from all that destruction. Mangled and twisted steel has been fashioned into something streamlined and purposeful.
As we trawl through the stories, recollections, and columns about 9/11 this week – may our sermons emerge as something streamlined and purposeful, with bows turned towards a new day.

image: wikimedia