There has been a lot written and said on this 20th anniversary of 9/11. I would like to share a blog written by our Executive Pastor, an immigrant from Cuba. His words, and those of Billy Graham below speak God’s truth better than I ever could. I hope you enjoy the read. The words below belong to Reinaldo, not to me.
“They say you don’t forget the days when fateful events takes place. Works for me. I distinctly remember being in the 8th grade when shortly after lunch on Friday, November 22, 1963, our teacher, a nun, was called out of the classroom and then returned with a grim look on her face. It was then that she informed us in her heavily Italian accent that “President-e Kennedy has-a been-a shot!” I suppose that the fact that John Kennedy was the first Roman Catholic U.S. President was of particular significance to her and her fellow sisters. She had us all stand and recite the rosary. I was only 13 then, but I knew enough to comprehend that this was an act of evil the likes of which seldom occur. But that’s not the only fateful day which stuck with me; there were others, such as the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle on January 28, 1986. But there’s one more which has impacted me the most over the years …
I’ll never forget driving to JB’s for a breakfast meeting with Hope and some others twenty years ago on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when I heard on the radio that a plane had hit one of the twin towers in Manhattan. At first, I assumed it was a tragic accident. But as I continued driving, I heard on the radio some 15 minutes later that the other tower was also hit, and I knew then that this was no accident but an act of horrendous evil. And about an hour after I arrived at our meeting—we were too sad and dumbfounded to discuss what we had planned—we learned that the Pentagon was hit as well. And later we learned that a fourth hijacked plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania with no survivors.
Evil days have a way of taking up residence in our heads—and never checking out.
The numbers alone are staggering: 2,997 people were killed, mostly civilians in Manhattan, including 344 firefighters, 71 police officers, and 55 military personnel. And then there were the injured, 6,000+, many of whom experience health problems to this day from the dust and fumes they inhaled that day.
I do not personally know any one of the nearly 3,000 souls who died that day. And I’m sure that I would be writing a much better, heartfelt blog if I did. And so, rather than expressing my own feelings about the events of that day I will quote from someone who lost a loved one on 9-11. I recently read on The Dispatch about Kimberly Rex whose dad, Vincent Litto, perished on 9-11 in one of the Twin Towers (Ms. Rex is a freelance writer for CNN, The Washington Post, and other publications). She wrote,
“Losing someone on 9/11 was like watching them disappear. They were there, and then they weren’t. On Sept. 10, 2001, I ate dinner beside my father in our Staten Island home. I was 19 and sat at his left, as usual. I watched him shake spoonfuls of grated cheese onto his soup. He was right next to me: flesh and bones, salt-and-pepper hair and a sharp nose. The next day, the plane hit. Fire raged and smoke billowed. Then the floor where he stood, the walls, the ceilings and the windows crumbled away into dust. And the people inside disappeared. … As if I could forget how small my mother looked in their bed that night, drugged into sleep after hours of agony, curled up like a tiny fetus, lost in the vast bed he’d slept in just the night before. As if I don’t remember the moment I finally knew that my father was never coming home. Or I don’t remember the sound of my sister’s cries down the hall when that moment came for her. Or the day we told my grandparents that there was no one left to be rescued, that their son was somewhere in that pile of rubble and yet he wasn’t there at all. The terrible sound of my grandfather’s voice as he sobbed, ‘My baby. My baby’ about his 52-year-old son. The wordless wails my grandmother made as she lay on my sister’s shoulder.” The Washington Post and CNN, September 5, 2021
“They were there, and then they weren’t.” It’s even harder to forget when evil pays a visit to a close family member. Even after 20 years, the memories of the lost loved ones persist.
I drove to work later that morning, but within a few hours UNM closed all its campuses for the remainder of the day. And so, I drove home to be with Hope and the kids. My family needed me, and I needed them. Classes resumed the next day, but I took the day off on Friday of that week. I wanted to watch the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. scheduled for that day. And I wanted my family to watch it with me. And so, we did.
Several prominent politicians and clergy spoke on Friday September 14, 2001, but no one expressed our collective sentiments of loss with truth and persuasive eloquence as did the Rev. Billy Graham. Here’s a link to a video of his 11½-minute message: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VptxoWl0pxI&t=6s
You can read the entire text of his message here: https://billygraham.org/story/a-day-to-remember-a-day-of-victory/
He began his message with these words,
“We come together today to affirm our conviction that God cares for us, whatever our ethnic, religious or political background may be. The Bible says that He is ‘the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.’ … ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.’”
He then turned his thoughts to the lessons that we can learn from the tragedy that just happened,
“First, we are reminded of the mystery and reality of evil. I have been asked hundreds of times in my life why God allows tragedy and suffering. I have to confess that I really do not know the answer, even to my own satisfaction. I have to accept, by faith, that God is sovereign, and that He is a God of love and mercy and compassion in the midst of suffering. The Bible says God is not the Author of evil; it speaks of evil as a mystery. In 1 Thessalonians 2:7 it talks about the mystery of iniquity. The Old Testament Prophet Jeremiah said, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure; who can understand it?’”
The first passage he made mention of is actually from 2 Thessalonians 2.7. The context is that of a future “man of lawlessness,” aka, “son of destruction” (v. 3). And then in the first part of v. 7 we read, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” Regardless of whether you believe that the worst is yet to come or that the best is yet to come, what we can all agree on is that a spirit of lawlessness has been operating on humanity since the Fall in the Garden. And we can also all agree that, as Jeremiah said, evil is endemic in our hearts even as it remains a mystery to us. For why would something which is so destructive, which causes so much pain and suffering, and which is contrary all that is good and that we long for in life be so prevalent? Jeremiah didn’t understand it. Who am I to think I get it?
But even though we can’t fully comprehend the mystery of evil we can know that in the midst of much evil there is even greater love, goodness, and hope from God. Billy Graham went on to say,
“Here in this majestic National Cathedral we see all around us the symbol of the cross. For the Christian, the cross tells us that God understands our sin and our suffering, for He took them upon Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. From the cross God declares, ‘I love you. I know the heartaches and the sorrows and the pain that you feel. But I love you. The story does not end with the cross, for Easter points us beyond the tragedy of the cross to the empty tomb. It tells us that there is hope for eternal life, for Christ has conquered evil and death and hell. Yes, there is hope. I’ve become an old man now, and I’ve preached all over the world. And the older I get, the more I cling to that hope that I started with many years ago.”
His closing words that day continue to be a great source of comfort and encouragement to me.
“My prayer today is that we will feel the loving arms of God wrapped around us and that as we trust in Him we will know in our hearts that He will never forsake us. We know also that God will give wisdom and courage and strength to the President and those around him. And this will be a day that we will remember as a Day of Victory.”
Wow! How I wish I could preach like that! Such wisdom! Such love! It’s as close to hearing God Himself speak as we can get!
I have one closing thought for us. As we remember the horrendous and evil events of that day and especially how 3,000 innocent men, women, and children died senselessly, it is easy for us to hate the 19 hijackers and those who masterminded and abetted the attack. Their religion allows for hatred of their enemies—real and imagined—and vengeance. But ours does not. Jesus taught us to love and pray for our enemies and persecutors. Paul summarized this principle with these words,
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 8.19-21
He says, “never avenge yourselves,” and “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” And then he concludes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Failure to obey Christ when it comes to forgiving others—absolutely, unilaterally, and unconditionally—is tantamount to watering and fertilizing the evil which resides in our hearts. But to forgive our enemies and to pray and do good to those who persecute us is to yank out the evil in our hearts by the roots. There is no other way to overcome evil than by doing good—to everyone!
This coming Sunday we will hear again from my good friend Pastor Tom Lambelet who will be concluding his message on Jude. The title of his message for this Sunday is, “When Someone Doubts”; he describes his message as follows:
“The Christian journey includes times of wrestling with questions, uncertainties and disappointments that can push our faith to the edge. From the book of Jude we will explore how we can process our doubt and how to help one another grow a deeper and more authentic faith.”
Sounds to me like a great message! I hope you will join us, live or livestream.
Grace to you!“