From: T.M. Schoewe
Last week Sunday we were surrounded for hours on TV with the horrible disasters that happened in N.Y., Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. The disasters happened in just a few moments but we reviewed them for hours and history books will never forget them. Actually, the observance of 911 in a way turned into a celebration that said to the world, “America and her way of life have not been overcome!” Terrorists beware! Note the planner of 911 has been wiped out of the land of the living! We are watching and will get you before you get us. We have arisen from the ashes of that disaster and have been on a path of vengeance. 911 encouraged many to rise up and become part of the greatest volunteer military establishment in our history. Is this right? Probably, but read on.
It is very interesting to note that the Lectionary reading from the O.T. for last Sunday was from Exodus 14: 19-31. How many preachers and congregations heard this story above the triumph talk that rose up out of the 911 observance and the celebration that it has become? Ten years ago the churches were full, last Sunday you could count the small crowd. Are we slipping into a period of vengeance? Are we joining the Israelites who passed thru the Red Sea unharmed while the Egyptians are drowned? But it would be a mistake to celebrate coming out of 911, seeing by our eyes a sort of deliverance and forgetting to see what the “Big eye” of God sees. Coming out of the Exodus story is the image of the pillar of fire and the cloud. After the gift of ten years time, can this image help us understand better? We happen to have been looking at TV that morning and we remember the pillar of fire shooting out of Trade Center, and then there was the cloud of smoke. After a spell the towers were gone and nothing left but big blue sky. We couldn’t see the streets of New York. But down there was panic and over in the Middle East they were singing and dancing with joy.
In the Exodus story the pillar of fire and cloud separated the enemies. Read Exodus 14:20. In this story is all we need to know, and also a lot we will never know about the judging and redeeming story of God’s presence in our world. Above the cloud that separates the Israelites from the Egyptians is the unpredictable God. And this our God, He’s not a God who is biased toward some people at the expense of others, but a God Almighty who is concerned with grace - a horizon of grace beyond our small comprehension. Our God is simply bigger than you or me and far above any of our agendas. AND the “BAFFLING thing” about God’s pillar of fire and cloud is they not only separate enemies but in the end finally connects them. We will find out one day!
A few months ago you likely read about this story. We refer here to the story and thoughts from Ted Wardlaw, president of Presbyterian Seminary, Austin, Texas, about a person named Dan Cherry, who found the F-4 Phantom fighter jet that he had piloted when he served a couple of tours of duty in Southeast Asia. It was sitting junked and neglected in a thicket of weeds outside a VFW club somewhere in the Midwest. The sight of the plane took him back to April 1972. In a dogfight with a North Vietnamese Russian-made MIG-21 he fired a heat-seeking missile that blew the wing off of the enemy plane. Cherry remembers seeing the plane’s pilot, with his arms broken, ejecting from his aircraft and parachuting to the ground 30 miles outside of Hanoi. Years later his memory launched Cherry on a search for the North Vietnamese pilot and in 2008 Cherry found him in Ho Chi Minh City. “Welcome to my country,” Nguyen Hong My said, “glad to see you are in good health. I hope we can be friends.” Don went to the man’s home for dinner, met his family and held his one-year-old grandson. Later Hong My returned the favor and visited Dan Cherry in the U.S. There you have it! Getting rid of their “old selves,” two former enemies were changed into friends. Some call this being born again.
Finally Ted Wardlaw tells of an old Hasidic tale. According to the rabbi, the angels were rejoicing over the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, playing their harps, singing and dancing. “Wait,” said one of them, “Look, the creator of the universe is sitting there weeping” (like Jesus did, weeping over Jerusalem before His Crucifixion.) They approached God asking, “why are you weeping when Israel has been delivered by your power?” “I am weeping,” said the Lord of heaven and earth, “for all the dead Egyptians washed up on shore “ somebody’s son, somebody’s husband, somebody’s father.”
So look at the Red Sea and the 911 disaster from the perspective of the one who is up there beyond the fire pillar and cloud, who is not rejoicing in anyone’s victory but instead is weeping at everyone’s loss. Maybe that way those tears will help form a cloud that is deliverance and purpose, and a cloud that not only separates enemies but also finally connects them.
A point to ponder amidst thoughts of reconciliation and forgiveness: While the Lord is weeping, how is justice met and how do we punish evil doers? How do governments deter or minimize such disasters like 911 and others. The Lord suffered capital punishment for the world on the Cross, that includes you and me. So here’s something to think about. Do you know if every nation in the United Nations would maintain and enforce the doctrine of capital punishment in their countries, radical Islamists that seek to destroy and take innocent civilian lives through such terrorist attacks like that which occurred on 911, could be wiped off the face of the earth? That still leaves us with a weeping Lord, but it seems that a hell is a necessity! Amen!