Do you remember where you were when everything changed? September 11th...10 years ago Sunday, at 8:46 a.m. - American Airlines, flight 11 was crashed into the World Trade Center's north tower. And within a couple hours there were 2,996 dead, including 411 emergency workers, heroes who gave their lives to save others. Sept. 11 is a day that changed America. And we remember it. Terrorism hit us hard. And as a result, we will never be the same.
How does that make you feel? When you hear names like Khalid al-Mihdhar, Mohamed Atta, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Osama bin Ladin...what emotions go through you? When you think of what they did to our fellow citizens, to mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and so many of our heroes - the firefighters and rescue workers; the police and medical personnel who sacrificed so much, even their own lives...when you think about that...what goes through your heart?
In other words, what would you do if Ayman al-Zawahri, al Qaeda's top living leader - if he walked in to where you are right now? Don't tell me the thought wouldn't cross your mind - "How can I take him out right now?" He needs to die, right?
Now look at what Jesus says: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Luke 6:27). "Love your enemies." Whoa, wait a second - that's just talking about the guy who contradicts everything you say, right? Not terrorists, right? Wrong. In our text from Isaiah 56, we hear all about God's love for the foreigners - like the Assyrians who had desecrated and decimated the northern kingdom of Israel and the Babylonians who were getting ready to do the same to Judah and Jerusalem. The word "Foreigner" is not a pretty picture here. Think Bin Ladin. Think al-Zawahri.
Now read from Isaiah 56: 6 "And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord (that could also be translated - who are bound to the Lord)... 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations."
Foreigners are bound to the Lord. Think about that.
According to a Dateline story, on Sept. 11, 2011, Josephine Harris met six men of New York Fire Department Ladder Company 6. As these healthy young men were evacuating the tower, they came upon this 60-year old grandmother who couldn't move all that quickly in the stairwell. As they tried to help her get down, they were limited by the narrowness of the stairwell and the responsibility they felt to help her. They urged her as much as they could until she got to the 4th floor, where after nearly 70 flights of stairs, she simply said, "I can't go anymore" and she made them stop. Right about then is when the rest of the tower collapsed, above and below them, and the only part spared was a small pocket of stairway B between the 2nd and 4th floors. Any faster and any slower and they would have been crushed. They now call her their Guardian Angel, and she calls them her rescuers. They would not have had any relationship otherwise, but now they consider themselves bound for life. Because of what had happened, those who were foreigners to one another are forever bound. And you can imagine the joy they share when she visits their firehouse.
They were as different as can be, foreigners brought together. But actually, that's not nearly as wide a gulf as the one that separated us from God, or Osama bin Laden from God for that matter. Truth be told, and think about this... by nature, we had more in common with the terrorists of 9/11 than we did with our God.
It's true. We are the foreigners our text talks about. I know our pride likes to think of ourselves as the good guys and everyone that is against us as the bad guys. It's like that comic strip that shows a couple of Nazi soldiers in the trenches and one of them is looking at the skull on his uniform and some of the things they are doing and asking his friend, "Hans, do you ever think maybe we're the bad guys?"
Be real. Look at the failure and sin in your life. We are the bad guys. Sinners are foreign to a holy God. Our pride, our selfishness, our arrogance truly make us God's enemies. Every time we look at some other kind of people as less deserving than we are - we are hating, not loving, and that puts us infinitely far away from a God who is love.
Now think about this. That is whom our God binds to himself - foreigners like ourselves. Being real with our situation simply sets the stage for the magnitude of the rescue God has performed for us. Check out the full sermon online or check here next week to think about that rescue for a while. And be sure to get to church this weekend to thank God for all the men and women who sacrificed so much for our freedom and safety.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.