ďWhere were you whenÖ?"

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15

Romans 8:31-38

September 8, 2002

 

Where were you when it happened?Where were you when you heard the news?Do you remember?I bet you will never forget.It's hard to believe that a year has almost past since that horrible day.I still remember that day as if it was yesterday.

At 10:00am on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I had just finished my Final Things class, and I walked over to Campbell Hall to check my mailbox.The sun was shining brightly and there was not a cloud in the sky.I was feeling great and excited about being in my last year of seminary.

I walked into the building, and I noticed right away that it was deafening silent.That was unusual.Normally, at 10am the halls should have been full of students leaving their morning classes, checking their mailboxes, laughing, carrying on, and heading to the refectory for the morning coffee break.But this time there was nothing like that.The hallway was practically deserted except for a few new students.

I walked by a guy and said hi and he didn't even look my way.He just headed down the hall and out the door.That was rather strange, normally everyone is very friendly.As I continued down the hall, I noticed that the door of the President's conference room was slightly open and it was full of people, professors and administrators.Several of the women were crying, others were just sitting there with expressionless faces, eyes staring at nothing.I wondered if something had happened to a professor, or student, or a family member of one of them.

I got to my box as another student walked up, and I said to him, "What in the world is going on?""Haven't you heard?", he said."No.""There was a terrorist attack in NY and DC.""A what?""A terrorist attack of some kind.I really donít know all the details."I quickly grabbed my things and headed down the hall to my truck, when I heard a radio playing in the admissions office.I walked in and listened as news reports came in describing the events that had transpired that morning.

Suddenly, my thoughts turned to my dad.My dad was living and working in NY!Where was my dad?I busted out of the office, out of the building, jumped in my truck and raced to my apartment.I turned on my TV and for the next several minutes I saw things on the TV that I could not believe were actually happening.

Death and destruction, chaos and pandemonium, then the buildings feel, buildings I had once been to the top of, Oh my God, all the people, all those people.For the next several hours, I sat on my coffee table, alone in my apartment, and I cried.

For the past year, I have tried to come to grips with what happened on September 11, 2001.I've tried to make some sense of it all, think theologically about it, react pastorally to it, but in the end, I don't have many more answers than I did when it first happened.It some ways it still hurts, it still makes me angry and sad.The images are still fresh in my mind's eye, and the wounds are still healing.

Even today, as the anniversary of that day draws near, I have a hard time watching the replays on TV of the planes hitting the buildings, the buildings falling to the ground, and the pile of ruble on the ground that I once walked upon.Even today, as I look at video and pictures of the hole at ground zero where those buildings once stood, I'm only reminded of the hole in my heart over the deaths of nearly 3000 people.

As Wednesday approaches this week, we will be reminded over and over again of where we were when the attacks happened, but this is not the only anniversary of a national tragedy, there are others.You know what they are.They have names like Challenger, Kennedy, Pearl Harbor, and many more, some I don't remember, but you do, some that only you know, some that are personal to you.

So how do we deal with events such as the one that happened on September 11, how do we continue to deal with unanswered questions, how do we respond as Christians and as parents to these events that seem to keep happening?

Our OT text today is perhaps one of the most familiar passages in the Bible.For many people, this passage is a beautiful, poetic expression of the events of life that we experience.Each verse describes for us, on one hand, the favorable events of life and well being, and on the other hand, the unfavorable events of death and loss.There is no doubt the writer is a faithful person, he believes in the sovereignty of God, but his perspective of life is not one full of much hope.††

You see, the writer views life as being filled with events of time, events and situations in which we find ourselves stuck in, events and situations that just befall us to which we have no control.

For him, each favorable and unfavorable event has been predetermined beforehand by the all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God.For him, we can no more choose these events than we can change them or stop them from happening.For him, the fate of time continues to tick away independent of our wishes to slow it down, speed it up, or stop it all together.

In some ways, it is amazing that Ecclesiastes even made it into the canon as part of the Wisdom literature of the OT.The central teachings of Wisdom literature is that God made the world and an order within which the human race must learn to live.Through wisdom, given as Godís gift, human beings can cope with the world and live happy and successful lives.Wisdom authors saw human beings as active agents, who choose either the way of righteousness or the way of evil.If people just use sense and reason or in other words, wisdom, they can avoid the unfavorable, negative events of life.

But for our writer, to attempt to control life is the vanity of all vanities.Not even smart or righteous choices can make the events of life change.Events happen regardless of what choices are made.

Since September 11 the radio and TV talk shows have been full of people trying to explain why the attack happened.Some people, like Jerry Falwell, claimed it was the work of God, who was upset with the decline in morality in this country, others, like myself, claimed that the only reason this happened was because evil people flew planes into buildings full of people.Iím sure that even in your home, you have discussed with someone the reasons why.

A few days after the attack, Jill and I were talking about why things happen, bad things in particular.I went into my theological discourse on the sovereignty and providence of God, when Hollie looked at us and said, ďI know why things happen, because they just happen.ĒYou know what?She was right.Children are much wiser than we give them credit for, and many times, they are much wiser than we adults are.Is it any wonder why Jesus said, ďLet the little children come unto me?ĒChildren understand.They get it.

On the other hand, we adults fumble around with our big theological words with deep meanings trying to make sense of all that happens, trying to figure out the reason and root cause of events.But in the end, we can never quite get our minds around the elusive reasons for the events of life.We are left restless and uneasy from the persistent uncertainty of the events marked by time, the uncertainty brought about by the back and forth movement, the ebb and flow of the waves of events of life described by the writer.

††††††††† For many people, they believe the writer is correct.The events of life are on an endless cycle of different times, which always repeat themselves.For them, God is just an arbitrary deity who is responsible for both the good and the bad events that happen in human life, and who orders the events of life according to His own sovereign will.

Maybe the writer is right, maybe we, like the writer, should just concede the fact that we cannot escape our fate.We cannot escape our lot in life. Any sense or reason or wisdom we have is really just futile attempts to try to grasp the mystery of Godís divine plan.As the writer says, no matter how hard we try, we cannot add a favorable event to Godís ordered life, nor can we subtract from it.Maybe in the end all we can do is just try to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can before God takes it away again.Maybe in the end all we can really do is just be afraid.

††††††††† But is this the message of Holy Scripture?Is this the message of Godís in breaking into human history in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is Immanuel Ė God with us?My friends, IT IS NOT!!In whatever way we may want to read Ecclesiastes, we can never read it, or any part of the OT, apart from the whole of Biblical witness that proclaims and witnesses to the goodness of Godís sovereign will and love in Jesus Christ.

I once had a preaching professor tell me that we should not talk about Christ when preaching from the OT.We should let the OT speak for itself.My answer to him was, "How can we not talk about Christ?"It is Jesus Christ, who is for us the very foundation of our belief and faith about who God is and what God is doing in the world.This is why the words from the writer of Ecclesiastes is still important to us, because in his own way, he testifies to what life is really like without and apart from Christ.

††††††††† In Jesus Christ, God gives us hope for a new and better future, because when God broke through the endless cycle of events in history in the person of Jesus Christ, a new direction and destination was set for all of human life.In Jesus Christ, human work has meaning and purpose.

No longer can we sit idly by while the events of life just happen to us.No longer can we accept the events of life as just predetermined events in history in which we have no say.Yes, we must confess that God is a sovereign God who is both loving and just, but God has demonstrated to us in Jesus Christ, that God is neither the creator of the bad events of human life, nor is God the cause of them.They just happen and we do not know why.†††

But what we do know is this, it is the reason why Paul had hope during the best and worst times of life, it is the reason why I am able to have hope for our future after 9/11, it is the answer I have told myself over and over again during this last year, that if God is for us, who is against us?And no matter what happens, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

My friends, because of Godís incarnation in Jesus Christ, we have been called to seek the good and favorable events of life, to work for love and peace rather than hate and war, and to participate with God in Godís mission of reconciliation and redemption of the whole world.

So as you remember the events of a year ago, instead of asking where you were on September 11, remember where God was.God was with those firefighters and police officers who ran toward the buildings and not away.God was with those who were trapped in the buildings, held hostage in the planes, and lost their lives on that terrible day.God was with the families of those who died, with those who were hurt, with those who were scared and lost.And God was with us, crying with us, mourning with us, and hurting with us.

In these uncertain times, my friends, remember that in Jesus Christ we have can have peace in God, and we can look toward our future in hope of knowing that God is with us and for us and not against us, and that nothing, nothing at all, can separate us from Godís love.Amen.