It’s been 15 years this Sunday, 15 years since our world as citizens of this nation changed in a moment. I’m pretty certain for those of you old enough, you remember where you were, what you were doing, with whom you first saw or heard that airplanes had flown into the twin towers, that the Pentagon had been hit, and later that a plane had gone down in a field in Pennsylvania related to the first attacks.
I was serving Baldwin 1st United Methodist right across the street from the campus of Baker University. It’s beautiful, the campus, old growth trees everywhere, a chapel brought over piece by piece from England and rebuilt. The football stadium is made of limestone, as is a state of the art Science building which is down the street from Parmenter Hall, one of the first structures on a campus begun in 1858, the year Baldwin 1st chartered as well. It’s United Methodist, both the church and the University, both undergoing the adapting and changing and ups and downs of what it means to live in the midst of, follow after, and intentionally lead different chapters of history. Grace UMC started in 1858 as well, interesting.
I was on my way into the city to interview a candidate for ministry at the seminary. My goodness the sky was so blue that morning, I remember thinking that as I was driving and listening to the radio. And the announcements began and didn’t stop, and I simply kept driving and thinking how blue the sky was, how beautifully blue the sky was in early September. It was surreal really. When I arrived at the seminary, I met Rev. Ron King who was then a District Superintendent, and Rev. Missy Patterson who was then the Deacon in Christian Education at Old Mission United Methodist. Her middle daughter lived and worked in New York City and was in a building close enough to see and feel the impacts of the planes on the twin towers. We sat for a few minutes trying to let what happened sink in and still deal with the current nature of our meeting. So we simply completed the interview because it felt like we needed to do something “normal”.
The President of the United States had been immediately put on a plane and was being taken to an undisclosed location for safety, at which time he declined the invitation/mandate and determined to go to New York – a global leader being one especially in that particular moment I think. There were, in fact, so many known and unknown heroes in those moments, we can’t know them all, God does . . . not pie-in-the-sky-it-was-God’s-will and/or punishment. . .no, the God who walks beside, holds, cries with, strengthens, longs for, and I think maybe wonders why we humans walking after the way of Jesus cannot seem to find a way to embrace rather than destroy one another.
We had services at Baldwin 1st, the minister to the University, Rev. Dr. Ira DeSpain and I, and that Sunday the place was packed with students and town folk and farmers and professors, and the University President and the cooks and the custodians. Somehow a church structure made of 3-4 feet thick stone and solid wood yet with stained glass so fragile and intricate it’s quite literally priceless, represented how we felt. Strong together yet fragile human beings intricately made and confoundingly free to make choices from the complexity and subjectivity of nature and nurture and political, religious, economic, and social contexts. We weren’t to make sense of it, we were to commit more strongly to living like Jesus – loving God and loving neighbor, that’s what he said, right? The commandments on which hang all the law and all the prophets, loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves, (Matt. 22:36-40), right?
So 15 years this Sunday. We’ll light two candles in remembrance and in hope. We’ll read together an unbelievably moving litany. We’ll speak of souls seemingly lost and a God who refuses to let us remain unfound. And we’ll be strong and we’ll be fragile, and we’ll probably cry a little and laugh some, and mostly we’ll be human – beloved children of God made in God’s image. Confoundingly free, frustratingly diverse, beautifully creative, and sacredly remembering the places from which we come as a holy guide to where we have yet to go. And you know, the sky is sometimes still so blue, so beautifully blue in the early days of September.