By now, the images are burned into your minds eye. The picture of the plane just before it hits the second tower. The fireball enveloping the tower. The collapse of tower one, then tower two. You will never forget these images… and so you shouldn’t. What are we to do? How can we respond? What is the Christian thing to do?
I met up with one of the pastors from our circuit at the hospital on Tuesday morning, an hour after the attacks. On Monday, we had a wonderful circuit meeting and had a great time at lunch. We greeted each other in the parking lot and then walked together into the hospital. This pastor is a returned missionary and has been in the states for two years. I said: “Gee, what a difference a day makes.” He looked at me and said: “Scot, the rest of the world lives this way. In many places missionaries wait almost daily for state department reports on terrorism.” Wow…! How do we respond?
Our Lord tells us precisely how to respond. God has given two very different kingdoms. One is the civil government and her citizens. The other is the Christian church and her citizens.
St. Paul clearly outlines the responsibility of the civil government in Romans 13. God places governing authorities in their office to serve citizens. They are called “ministers” – servants of God and on behalf of God. Their purpose is to maintain order in society through reason, law, and force. The authority of the government comes from the foundation of government: mother and father. (4th Commandment Explanation, Small and Large Catechism)
The terrorist attack was a deliberate attack on order in society… here in the U.S. and around the world! Its very nature is to create chaos, fear, and panic. Justice is the response of the government. Justice requires reward for good and punishment for evil. This act of terrorism requires judgment and punishment from our government in order to maintain order in our country and around the world.
However, the church responds differently. It is not the church’s call to seek justice and punishment in society. That is your job as a Christian in society, as a mother and father, as a good citizen according to the means given therein. It is good and right to be patriotic in your daily service to the community. It is good to bare arms and wave our country’s flag. However, the church brings repentance and absolution, sin and grace, word and sacraments. The church brings peace that passes all understanding. The church calls all to repent. The church brings forgiveness and mercy. She then prays, giving thanks for the gifts of both kingdoms: orderly and peaceful government in one kingdom; salvation and transcendent peace in the other kingdom. Finally, the Church teaches.
The church calls her own and the world to repent of their sin. What we saw, mostly through television, was a very obvious manifestation of sin. Never, ever underestimate sin! Never underestimate sin in your life. Never underestimate sin in your family. Never underestimate sin in your community or around the world. Sin always brings disease, death and destruction. So, we repent of our sin according to the Ten Commandments.
“But Pastor, what about justice and someone paying for these murderous acts?” Ah, make no mistake justice is good! But, it is the government’s responsibility to mete out a just response in the world. However, it is the church’s responsibility to call people to repentance and then to forgive. Each one of us can now realize how thankful we should have been for a peaceful and orderly country. We now realize how wonderful it was to live in such safe country and how we have taken it as granted.
The Church alone, from God’s Word, has the power to forgive sin. You are citizens of the Kingdom of Christ, where forgiveness is the way of life. Where we repent and are absolved daily through our baptized life. The government has the authority to punish injustice on earth. But eternal justice belongs to the church because of the work of Jesus. He is the one who justifies us with the Father. The church then takes this message of forgiveness in the Word and sacraments… to the world. For it is only in the means of grace that the world can be forgiven. The government does not have the answer to sin. The Church does.
The church prays. She gives thanks for God’s gifts: order through good government and its means and the forgiveness of sins through the Church and her means. Yes, the rest of the world does live the way we have lived since last Tuesday, September 11th. What is so different is that we now have a point of reference whereby we can grasp the nonsensical terror and destruction of fanatical religious zealots. Yet, we still have a very orderly and peaceful society. Think about it. What happened in Manhattan still has not killed anyone in Clinton Twp. Life is still VERY good in the United States. We are still eating regularly, going to work and receiving our paychecks. In our prayers we thank God for all of these.
We also thank God for the wise, patient and determined government officials who are addressing this attack without responding in a fanatical manner.
Especially, we can be thankful for our civil freedoms. Including the freedom of the church to preach God’s comfort, peace, forgiveness and mercy. Your pastor did not have to ask for permission to hold last Tuesday’s service! We did not file papers to pray Matins with our grade school on Wednesday. I did not file a report to the civil authorities when we scheduled our service at noon on Friday. We are free to baptize – as we will later in this service. We are free to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in a few moments! Thanks be to God for our freedoms in this land.
We pray that God would continue to provide the president and all in authority with continued wisdom. We pray that our leaders would respond in such a manner that justice and order would prevail… that the punishment would be appropriate, yet fair to the world community.
We pray that God would provide the physical strength and wise use of vocations for all the rescue workers who are working in Manhattan…. the firemen, police, medical staff, the political and military personnel, etc. We pray that God would provide them protection, even with his angels watching over them. We pray that they also be strengthened spiritually so that they might know the true God who brings true strength, hope and peace even in the face of death and destruction.
We pray for all those who suffer. We pray for the families who mourn and walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We pray for those who live in fear, not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones. We pray that our Lord would use this as an opportunity for his clear Word to be preached, both Law and Gospel. It alone brings the God who is the true light in the midst of darkness (Jn 1:5). It is in his victory over sin, death and Satan that the world might truly rejoice even in the midst of death and destruction.
Finally, the Church teaches. The Great Commission of Mt. 28 orders the Apostles to baptize and teach. Now we can learn. We learn from this disaster some very hard lessons of sin and its terrible manifestations. We learn to be thankful for good government and a peaceful society. We learn how comforting it truly is to have a God who sacrificed his own life. Who spilled his own blood. Who paid for our sins and grants us peace.
The liturgical phrase: “The peace of the Lord be with you always” comes alive. For the peace of Christ sustains us in a world that can only FORCE people to be peaceful through guns, bombs and yes even nuclear arsenal. But, the peace of Christ is the result of God’s daily cleansing activity in our baptisms. It is this daily comfort and strength that allows us to continue on with life. It is God’s mercy that showers down upon us that permits us to wake up and get back to work, get back to school, and get back to our daily routine. For Christ’s peace transcends it all.
Once the Christian learns the truth of God’s Word, he then takes those truths into daily life. You now have the privilege and responsibility to teach. Moms and dads you must teach your children, your family, your neighbor, your friends. It is your responsibility, now, to teach the world of Christ’s promises, strength, and forgiveness. You now have the eternal power and might of God’s grace to grant peace. It is the Christian alone who can say “Thy will be done” in the face of such death and destruction. It is the Christian alone who trusts God’s Word when it teaches that all things will work out for his best. It is the Christian who knows that in our weakness, God is His strongest. For it is God Himself who tasted the ultimate death and destruction. It is God Himself who suffered even eternal hell…. and conquered it! It is this Christ who has secured for us eternal justice! It is that same God who can—in the midst this world’s sin, death and destruction—grant us peace.