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  • Writer's pictureHenry Rafferty

The Greatest

Old Testament Reading- Lamentations 3:1-24

New Testament Reading- John 16:21-33

By Henry J. Rafferty CP -September 12, 2021

Yesterday, September 11, 2021, we remembered the terrible events of twenty years ago, when in the year 2001, our country was surprise attacked by terrorists, destroying the World Trade Towers, a part of the Pentagon, and the devastating loss of almost 3,000 lives. Each of us that was alive and of an age that could remember, know exactly where we were on that day and in that moment how it affected us personally. Much like the bombing of Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy before, this event was one of those life changing events in history that you cannot forget, even though you may try.

I remember that I was at work, a day like any other day, when I received a phone call from someone telling me that a plane had just hit one of the tall towers of the World Trade Center. The internet, still somewhat in its infancy then, and each of our work computers was not equipped with internet capability anyway, nor would we have had the ability to view something live then, so I ran upstairs to a television that we had to show training and safety videos. There was no cable access to this T.V., but I was able to shove a metal coat hanger into a socket to ‘MacGyver’ a makeshift antenna. I turned the channel to NBC and the ‘Today’ show was covering the story with live footage of the smoking tower. I remember thinking, “How odd that a plane, even one that was in trouble, could actually hit the building.” We all thought, at the time that it was an accident, but then I remember seeing another plane come into view and watched it hit the other tower, “Oh no,” I said aloud, “That was no accident. That was terrorism, no country did that.”

All of us around the television stood in shock and disbelief at the sight in front of us. We all empathized and sympathized with the people there in New York City. Not long after, we heard of the Pentagon attack, I looked at the date on the calendar, exactly one month earlier to the day, I had stood in the Pentagon while on vacation. I remember thinking about that and couldn’t help but wonder how many visitors that day were there. Flight 93 was now the flight that was not grounded yet, where was it headed? Who would be next?

How bad it had truly become when our President must give orders to fighter pilots to shoot down a passenger plane if needs be. In fact, last night I watched a special on 9/11 that interviewed one of the two pilots sent up to keep watch. She shared that they were sent up so fast that they were not able to arm the planes with rockets, which would have taken at least twenty minutes to do. When the two pilots got into the air, her commander, who was in the other plane said, “I’ll ram the cabin,” she replied, “I’ll ram the tail.” I had never heard that part of the story in twenty years.

Fortunately, they did not have to finish their missions thanks to the brave passengers of Flight 93, who, having knowledge through cell phone contact that their plane was going to be used as a missile to take more innocent lives, they decided that if they were going to go down, it would be on their terms and that they would sacrifice their lives to save others. In John 15:13 Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Those brave passengers fought the terrorists and were able to cause the plane to go down in a rural area of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, an area approximately 75 miles southeast of Pittsburgh saving the lives of those either in the Capitol or the White House and God only knows how many more. There really is no greater love than to be willing to give the ultimate sacrifice of yourself to others, especially perfect strangers. I wonder though, just how close those passengers had become in just minutes? They say your life flashes in seconds in moments like this, I’ll bet that those passengers became like long lost siblings in just that short time.

All this by only 10:30 in the morning. I remember thinking, what else? What just happened? We hadn’t even really had time to think yet, who did this? I don’t remember a lot of work being done that day. There were so many questions on our minds. How will all these people be helped? How many have been killed or injured? Where was God in all this? How could He let this happen to us? How could He let all those innocent people be killed so senselessly? God was listening, because something happened that evening that hasn’t happened in a long time, churches were full that evening all across the country. People are funny, like the prodigal son returns to his home in times of trouble, so too, when we need real answers, we seek out the one who can answer them best, God. People came that night because they needed God’s comfort in a terrible time, they needed to feel the presence of others who believed that God was the only one able to heal these wounds. God’s peace and love were the only things that could suffice on that day full of questions and suffering and death.

"God’s peace and love were the only things that could suffice on that day full of questions and suffering and death," ~ Pastor Henry

After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the author of the Book of Lamentations, cries out to God telling Him of their realization that Israel had sinned against God and that their calamity was brought on by themselves and their unwillingness to follow God. They were tormented and living in a time like no other. A time of darkness, where they did not even feel God was with them any longer. Lamentations 3:16-20 says,

"He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust. I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is. So, I say, 'My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.' I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.”

The Israelites are beside themselves with grief and suffering just like we felt on the evening of 9/11 and like the Israelites we too knew where to go in our greatest need, to God. Lamentations 3:21-24 tells us,

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, 'The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.'”

The next day, on September 12th, a new morning had begun and the hope that only God can provide did make a difference. I had never in my life seen the American people pull together the way they did. We had gone to God and God had provided us with His Spirit of love and compassion that allowed a nation to come together to help each other. For once, we looked beyond our differences and worked together. Republicans and Democrats, all races, all genders, all religions, people from the largest cities to the smallest rural towns all helping and praying for each other. Do you remember that? I do. Do you remember how good that felt? I do and I know the source of our abilities: GOD.

For once, we looked beyond our differences and worked together.

Our New Testament lesson today tells of the lessons that Jesus was giving His disciples about when He will be gone. John 16: 21-33 tells us,

A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

What sweeter words have you ever heard than Jesus’ last statement? Yes, you will have trouble, but don’t worry for it is just a short time, I have overcome the world and its trouble, and because you believe in me, so shall you.

Here we are now on September 12, 2021, twenty years after our great evening of coming together in prayer for the events of 9/11. We are again experiencing another calamity in the form of a world-wide pandemic. Certainly not the first epidemic the world has ever seen and probably not the last, but definitely a tumultuous time. From the very start we have been divided, by political, religious, moral, ethical, and financial differences involving every aspect of the pandemic we know of as Covid-19. In each of these areas, much can be said about both sides, with often no clear-cut answer to what the straightest path should be and there seems to be no backing down by people on either side of the issues. Both sides believe themselves to be morally and ethically right with only the best interest of the country and its people in mind. So, what can be done? Here we are one year and six months into this and with people still unwilling to reach a compromise. What should we do?

Twenty years ago, we went to God and prayed for His help, because we didn’t know what to do. Does this seem any different, because I don’t see that we know what to do now any better than we did then?

Jesus said to ask for anything in His name and you will receive it. Are you willing to admit that you don’t know what to do and to ask God for Help in the name of Jesus? The churches were shut during a good portion of the pandemic. People had to make decisions based on unknowns and that is a very hard thing to do, and they do the best they can. Should the churches have been closed when people needed them most? I don’t know, and we will never really know, but I know that we are open now. Now is the time to come to God with our heads bowed low and our hands raised high. Pleading with Him to hear our prayers for healing the sick and saving our world. Like twenty years ago, if we come to God, humbly and with prayers for each other instead of ourselves, will He not hear our prayers?

We worship the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the Almighty, what is too hard for God? What sickness can He not quell? What quarrel can He not mediate? A house divided cannot stand, I think it is high time we start putting others before ourselves and letting God take care of the rest. Do you really think that if we came to God in prayer knowing nothing more than that we wanted compassion for people around the world that He would not change the hearts of people and make us whole again? Whether it is through a vaccination or an eradication of the virus, who cares, God can achieve it however He sees fit. Now is the time to come together as the Church of Christ and pray to God for this time to end. Let us show others like we did in 9/11 the power of prayer to our Almighty Father. Let us be good to one another again and put our pettiness and our ugliness behind us where it belongs, “Get behind thee, Satan.”

A motto for 9/11 is ‘Never Forget.’ So, let us never forget all that we did together through God and with God during that time and to never forget that we can do it again right now. In Paul’s great words on love from 1 Corinthians 13 he tells us that we can do nothing without love, love for God, and love for others. Let us show this to one another and know that these three things remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love. Thanks be to Almighty God. Amen.

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