September 11, 2002 Service
September 11, 2002 | First Presbyterian Church Orlando
This is the third time today this sanctuary has been crowded with people coming to claim remembrance and hope. It began at 8:30 this morning with a service here for all of the children who are here on this campus every day of the week and their families. And then a service at noon for the community around us. Now tonight for our families here. This is a time of both remembrance and hope.
Pray with me, please. Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, oh God, for You are our rock and You are our redeemer. Amen.
Night fell on a different world. Those were among the first words President Bush used to reflect upon the event of September 11, 2001. Night fell on a different world. How prophetic those words now seem a year later. For is it not impossible now for us to look at what is happening in the world without seeing it all through the fireball and the ashen cloud of 9/11? Oh, the terrible price paid. 3,000 deaths. 10,000 children with a lost parent. $40 billion in buildings crumbled to the dust. $40 billion in clean-up costs. $40 billion in initial war preparations. $15 billion in bailouts for the airlines. Trillions of dollars of damage to the world economy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. Billions of dollars of losses in economic convulsions. And that is just the beginning.
What an unbelievably difficult year has unfolded from September 11, 2001 to September 11, 2002. Think about it. We have lived through Enron. Arthur Andersen. Worldcom. The crisis in the Catholic church. Power and energy prices. Economic recession. Bear markets. The clamping of handcuffs on corporate CEOs. Chaos in the Holy Land. Unstoppable forest fires. West Nile virus. Need I continue?
On September the 11th, 2001, night fell on a different world. It is a different world. It is a world which now, a year later, seems filled with much darkness. I wonder if there is any light to be seen in the midst of the darkness.
So many times over this last year, I have found myself turning, as I always do in time of crisis, to the words of Paul in Romans chapter 8. One of my favorite passages in all of scripture. As a matter of fact, last year on the Sunday after September 11, I preached a sermon from this pulpit on the eighth chapter of Romans. But here, in recent weeks, I’ve found myself focused on a single verse from that chapter. Romans 8, verse 28. When I was a little boy, I memorized that verse. I learned it in the King James Version. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” That’s the way I learned it as a child. All things work together for good. But I confess to you that I look at September the 11 and that—the unbelievably difficult year which has unfolded since, and I say to you from this pulpit, I do not believe that all things work together for good. Not even for those who love God.
Some things work for evil.
September the 11th threw that reality right into our faces. Some things work for evil, even, even for those who love God. I suppose that’s why I find myself now turning to the way Paul’s words are rendered in the modern translation. “We know that in everything, God works for good with those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.” We know that in everything, in that which is good, and even in that which is evil, we know that in everything, God works for good with those who love Him. I want to suggest to you, that even in the darkness of the world which now is so different, there’s a light. It’s still shining. The light captured in those incredible words. We know that in everything, God works for good with those who love Him.
You see, when we claim the promise that in everything God works for good, that gives us a new appreciation for life. A new approach to life. My great friend Leonard Sweet says that in light of September the 11th, we as Christians ought to adopt a hold-the-door approach to life. A hold-the-door approach to life. I want you to understand that Leonard Sweet takes that phrase from the experience of a man named Ron Fazio. Ron Fazio was a vice president of the AonRe corporation. The offices of that corporation were on the 99th floor of the World Trade Center South Tower. On the day, when the plane hit the North Tower, at that precise moment, Ron Fazio made what I would consider to be the best decision of his life. Even though the second plane had not yet hit the South Tower, Ron immediately ordered all of the employees of the AonRe Corporation to move away from the windows. To leave their desks. To go through the doors and down the stairs and out of the building. In fact, Ron Fazio stood holding the door open, yelling at his fellow employees to hurry to the stairs and down and out. At that point in time, others in other locations were bolting their doors. Ron Fazio was holding the doors open, encouraging people to bolt through the doors.
Amazingly enough, every single employee of the AonRe Corporation made it down the 99 floors to safety. Once all of his own employees had vacated, Ron Fazio then began to move down the building, holding the doors open for others. Encouraging them. Yelling at them. Calling to them to move to the steps and down. When the second plane hit, he was still holding the doors open. That is the last that anyone saw of him. When the second tower collapsed, Ron Fazio was still inside.
Ron Fazio’s wife, Janet, and their three children have established a foundation designed to honor the heroism of their husband and father. That foundation is called Hold The Door For Others, Incorporated. I want you to listen to how Rob Fazio, Ron’s son, describes what has occured. “My dad was a quiet, humble man. He died after holding the door open for others. As a family, we are now trying to do the same thing. To help people move through the pain so that they can begin to live and dream again.” My beloved people, I call us to adopt the hold-the-door-for-others approach to life.
Before September 11, 2001, we lived in a world and we lived in a nation where most people regarded life as being about getting. Now, a year later, most people know full well life really is about giving. One of the things we do today is to celebrate the incredible heroism of firefighters, policemen, soldiers, and ordinary citizens like Ron Fazio who held the door open for others that they might be saved. I call us to adopt a hold-the-door-for-others approach to life so that others might find safety, security, hope, encouragement, freedom, and in the end, eternal life through Jesus Christ. I think that’s the light shining in the midst of the darkness of this world now. It’s part of the promise. We know that in everything, God works for good with those who love Him.
When we claimed that promise, that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, it gives us a new attitude towards adversity.
I should tell you, just a couple of weeks ago now, I was reading through the Prophecy of Isaiah. I came to the 30th chapter of the Prophecy of Isaiah, and as I was reading, I found myself encountering words that literally left me gasping with awe. Listen to Isaiah. “On every lofty mountain, and every high hill, there will be brooks running with water. The picture of life in all of its glory and joy and beauty and happiness.” On every lofty mountain, and every high hill, there will be brooks running with water. “On a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall, in the midst of the beauty of life,” suddenly a great slaughter when the towers fall. “Moreover, the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun. The light of the sun will be sevenfold like the light of seven days on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of His people and heals the wounds inflicted by the blows.”
You hear what Isaiah is saying. That so many times when life seems so wonderful, suddenly evil strikes. The towers fall. Catastrophe reigns. But in that moment, God draws close to bind up the injuries and to heal the wounds of His people. It is in time of adversity that God comes so close, and draws from us a strength of character and a power of hope we never knew we possessed.
James Michener was a very prolific writer, writing well up into his 90s. He was asked on one occasion why in the world he was still writing in his 90s. He said, “When I was a little boy, I lived on a farm. And down the lane from our farm there was another farmer, who had apple trees. One day, I saw this farmer driving nails into one of his apple trees. I asked him what he was doing. The farmer said, ‘Well, this apple tree is old. Old apple trees don’t produce apples. They just take up space. So I’ve driven nails into this apple tree. I want you to come back later in the summer, and I will show you a lesson that you will never forget.'” James Michener then said, “I have never forgotten the day in late August when I went back down to that farmer’s place, and I saw that same old apple tree now laden with apples. The farmer said to me, ‘Jimmy, the pain of the nails caused the tree to produce.'” James Michener said, “When I entered my eighties, it seemed that someone was driving nails into me. My heart gave out and I had to have bypass surgery. I developed vertigo and was placed on very strong medication. My hip went bad and I had to have it replaced. But, you know, with every nail I was reminded that I was made for making apples, and I intend to keep making apples as long as I can.”
The pain of the nails caused the tree to produce. It is the pain of adversity which God uses to bring from us a strength, a courage, a character, a productivity we never knew we had. If we could adopt that attitude in our lives tonight, then September the 11th, 2002 would not only be a day of remembrance, but also a day of hope.
So September the 11th, 2001 night fell on a different world. It is a different world. It is a world filled with much darkness, but in the darkness the light still shines. The light of faith in Jesus Christ. The faith captured in the incredible words of the apostle Paul. We know that in everything, in all things—good. Evil. We know that in everything, God works for good with those who love Him. In the face of that, all I can say is thanks. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray. Almighty God, tonight there is a hole in the skyline of New York City. There has been a hole in the walls of the Pentagon. There is still a yawning hole in the fields of southwestern Pennsylvania. And there is a hole in our hearts. Some day, perhaps, the hole on that great city’s skyline will be filled. Already the hole in the Pentagon has been repaired. Never, I suspect, shall the hole in the countryside be filled. And the hole in our hearts? The only way that can be filled is for you to come to us to fill our hearts with faith, hope, love. Faith in Jesus Christ. Hope through Jesus Christ. Love in the pattern of Jesus Christ. Lord, come to us now and fill this hole in our hearts. Amen.