Monday, 12 September 2011 00:00

"Where Are You?", September 11, 2011

“Where Are You?”
Revelation 22:1-2
A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
September 11, 2011
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

We all know where we were on September 11, 2001.  As the tenth anniversary of that horrible day is commemorated, we have looked back at what was.  We know where we were as individuals, as a people, as a nation, as a world.

We remember that day when our security was compromised, our innocence shattered, our world came tumbling down.  We wept, we prayed, we felt the love and support of the rest of the world as we watched the grainy TV screen in stunned silence.

On campus, we quickly mobilized the Interfaith Campus Coalition to hold a noon prayer vigil on the Northrop.  We opened up the sanctuary and held a prayer service here that evening.  We were in shock and wondering what this meant.

Few of us probably were thinking about what the ten-year anniversary might look like.  Many of us predicted the military response, but it’s hard to have a war on an adjective.  So, we engaged in other wars, in part so we could say we did something.  That something has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and is largely responsible for our current debt crisis.  Few of us even a year ago predicted that regime after regime would collapse by student uprising, not military force in North Africa.  It’s shifting world out there.  And we look at it with more sober eyes, away from the nostalgic idea that we are always right no matter what and that we are above scrutiny.

Today, I’m especially conscious of where we are as a country, as a people.  I’m so glad our sisters and brothers are here from Nicaragua.   They bring us greetings and show love across the miles.  And I’m conscious that they and a lot of the world have endured decades of terrorist attacks.  Bloodshed is much more a fact of life rather than a rare occurrence in other parts of the world.
Our Nicaraguan sisters and brothers in the last 35 years have dealt with earthquakes, hurricanes, mudslides, death squads, a revolution, a counter revolution, a debt crisis and enduring poverty that comes from being the home to sweat shops run by US companies looking for cheap labor.  All the while jockeying with Haiti for the title of poorest country in the western hemisphere.  Their young people flee the country for a better life somewhere else, often up north here. We have just a slight taste of what has been their meals for most of their lifetimes. Where are we?  Donde Estamos?


It’s important to look back and to remember.  Memory ought to help us to make sense of our world.  But looking back is not an end game.  We can’t get stuck there.  There needs to be some looking at the present, some looking forward.

The last chapter of the Bible begins with these words:  “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”(Revelation 22:1-2)

Those words are the response after the apocalypse graphically displayed on the pages of the book of Revelation.  All hell breaks loose, all known institutions crumble, the world reels in sorrow.  But it’s not the end of the story.  The next step is the inevitable and vital healing of the nations.  I’m not going to unpack all of this today.  We’ll be looking at the topic of “For the Healing of the Nations” all fall season.  But let me just plant this seed in your mind.  The writer tells us that there is a river of life, which passes by the tree of life lining both sides of the river.  On the trees are 12 kinds of fruit.

That’s miraculous enough.  But it’s not the fruit that holds the healing of the nations.  It’s the leaves.  The little tiny pieces of the tree.  Each one of them is for the healing of the nations.  I think that the writer is telling us that the healing of the nations is a vast project.  It’s as vast as counting the leaves on a tree—and not just one tree, but trees that line the river of life.  There are thousands of opportunities to make it happen, thousands of ways to make a difference, thousands of ways to be a part of the healing power of God.

Every act of justice, mercy, compassion, love, solidarity, peace, is like a leaf on the tree of life for the healing of the nations.  Football players and fans pausing in prayer for a fallen comrade as they did when coach Kill collapsed at the end of yesterday’s game was like a leaf on the tree of life.  Rivalries somehow weren’t as important, teams weren’t as important.  Life, and health and solidarity were important.

Our partnership with our sister church in Leon, Nicaragua is like a leaf on the tree of life.  So is each relationship you make with them while they are here.  Those of us who have been in their homes already know that their warm embrace has been evidence of leaves upon the tree of life.

Your education is a leaf on the tree of life, especially as it serves the larger plan of God for peace and healing.  
The leaves on the tree are for the healing of the nations.  We survivors of the apocalypse are to be about the mission of the healing of the nations.

In October, we will be partnering with the Interfaith Campus Coalition and Al Madiyah in a program called Muslims for Life.  Al Madiyyah is mobilizing Muslims across the country on September 11th to facilitate the donation of 10,000 units of blood in honor and memory of those who died.  So, on Friday October 14th, UBC will become a blood bank for hope and partnership across religions and cultures.

This is a leaf on the tree that is for the healing of the nations.  What does your leaf look like?  What color is it? How big? Is it by itself or is it surrounded by others?  Each leaf is important.  It is for the healing of the nations.  While you are thinking of your leaf, think of this old story which has taken on new meaning today.

A boy told of his anger at a schoolmate who had done him wrong. His Native American Grandfather said: "Let me tell you a story." "I, too, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But, hate wears you down and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me: one is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. But the other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights with everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of then try to dominate my spirit."

The boy looked intently into his grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?" The grandfather solemnly replied, "The one I feed.”

Each leaf is vital to the healing of the nations.

We know where we were ten years ago.  The question is where are we now?  Has this day brought us new perspective?  New insight?  A new way of dealing with our world? Are we better people, more loving, more forgiving?  Or are we simply more vigilant, more wary, on a constant orange alert for the next attack? What is the best use of our energy in this context?  How would God want us to be right now?

As we listen to the music, mourn and remember who we were.  But also remember who God is—that force of life and love that bridges the gaps between despair and hope. Remember who we are as a people.  We are people as numerous as leaves on a tree.  Each with a mission and a purpose ordained by God—to heal the nations.  As the music washes over you, remember who you are.  Embrace your mission as leaves on the tree of life.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 22:1-2)