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Grace Notes: Be a hero
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Nine years ago tomorrow, one of the most significant events in United States history occurred. "9/11" is now much more than a date on the calendar between 9/10 and 9/12. Just hearing that string of digits now fills us with emotion.

But if you’re like me — the emotion is not fear. It’s more patriotism and appreciation and a desire to be some kind of hero. Just think of how many people were inspired to give and share and volunteer and help when they saw their fellow Americans doing just those things so unselfishly. What happened on Sept. 11, 2001, changed the landscape of life in our country, not just the skyline of New York City. And for that, it is a day that should be remembered.

I was asked to speak at a special program one of our elementary schools is having today to remember 9/11. I get to tell children (many of whom weren’t even born at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attack) how important that day was.

But here’s the catch: I am supposed to talk about the day and what it means and why it is important to remember without saying anything that would alienate other religions or upset any parents. In other words, this is not supposed to be a "religious" speech. That’s tough.

But this column is in the "Religion" section. This column is designed to remind you of God’s grace, his love for you that goes beyond anything that even makes sense. I’ve got no restrictions on how I handle this topic here. So I can say it: When it comes right down to it, 9/11 was a day God used to pour out so many blessings on our country.

Sure — Satan, sin and stupidity caused those terrorists to take way too many lives (from our viewpoint) and cause way too much destruction on that day. But God used it for our good. The Bible verse I want us to think about this anniversary day is John 15:13: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

On Sept. 11, 2001, think of how many people risked and even gave their lives for their friends, many of whom they hadn’t even met. From some of the passengers on that fourth plane that ended up crashed in a field to the firefighters and all the rest who went into those crumbling buildings when every survival instinct said to get out, countless heroes and heroines were willing to lay down their lives for others.

All the pictures you see today of dust covered volunteers and blood spattered workers can remind you that our nation is a nation of heroes, that given the right circumstance, you too may just be a hero. That is probably what my "non-religious" speech today will most focus on.

But here I get to freely tell you why. Why did those acts of heroism and bravery happen?

Here’s where the default Sunday school answer fits perfectly: "Jesus."

"Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." That is what Jesus did. He walked into our world knowing the death he would experience. When everything human would have told him to save himself, he offered himself to rescue us. When the flames of hell singed him because of our sin, he pressed on to that cross and showed us "greater love." He laid down his life for us, so that we aren’t destroyed, but instead we have purpose.

Like the Bible says, "We love because he first loved us." When we remember Jesus’ love, we are filled with even more emotion than the date 9/11 brings. And, in the same way, we are inspired to imitate that heroism in our lives of love and sharing the love of Jesus with others.

So do it. Be a hero, because God loves you that much.

The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at