I have always hated our country dwelling on what happened on September 11, 2001. People are killed in much greater numbers every day -often by American’s own hands across the world – yet we Americans focus on the 2,996 Americans who died on that day.
I was scheduled to preach at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Atlanta on Sept. 16, 2001, the Sunday after 9.11. Although I had been attending the church since 1997 and loved its racial and social economic diversity, I had never preached and I was nervous. Nibs Stroupe, the pastor there, is an incredible preacher. Seminary professors, ministers and students, as well as those who haven’t had the opportunity to attend college, attend. .
Whenever I preach, I write the sermon ahead of time and I remember sitting in my apartment, watching the towers fall on television knowing I was scheduled to preach that Sunday. I called Nibs and offered the pulpit to him, but he said, “No, you go ahead and preach.” I suspect he didn’t want to preach that day either! Fortunately I had chosen John 10:7-10 ( “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”) as well as the story from Luke about the unknown woman being healed from her issue of blood (Luke 8: 43-48) as my texts. I was able to easily adjust the sermon to refer to the attacks.
I will never forget walking into the sanctuary with Nibs, seeing it filled to the rafters. I took a deep breath, said a prayer and entered with him. Although I love preaching, it takes me forever to write a sermon and I get really nervous beforehand although it never shows. This is one reason 20 years ago; I was looking for a call where I could preach more. Folks have told me its gets easier and this is a TBI loss that will always hurt.
However, once I get going, I’m fine. Since Oakhurst is not your typical white Presbyterian Church where the label of “frozen chosen” is apt, getting direct responses such as “Preach it!” or “Amen, sister” energizes the preacher and it energized me that day.
Here is how I ended that sermon, 15 years ago:
“In the book, “the Blood of the Lamb” by Peter Devries, the main character loses his daughter to leukemia. On the day of her death someone had left a cream pie which he was carrying when he found himself standing before a crucifix outside the church next to the hospital.
He looked into the eyes of the crucified Christ hanging on the cross, cursed his name, and flung the pie squarely into the face of Christ. He stood there defiantly thinking, “Take that you SOB”
Christ did Christ took it, and then giant tears began streaming out of those holy broken eyes of that Christ causing the whipped cream to slide down his face.
Through the tears of Christ, through your tears, through my tears and through the tears of those involved or aware of this catastrophic event- together – through our tears, we can reach out to Jesus and Jesus will help us stand. This is the meaning of having life abundantly.”
Even today, 15 years later, this image is powerful to me.