Monday, September 26, 2011

LSB Proper 21A Sermon -- Matthew 21:23-32

September 25, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“When [Jesus] entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to Him as He was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?’”

When someone performs an act that another person disagrees with, it usually brings response. There are questions raised: “Who gave you the right to do that? Who made you king? Who put you in charge?” These are questions rooted in disapproval. They are questions of rebuke. They are meant to force the acting individual to stop, to put an end to his actions.

The chief priests and elders want to put an end to Jesus and His actions. They disapprove of His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem the day before. They disagree with what the crowds believed about Jesus, that He was a prophet and the promised Messiah. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, a radical act of judgment, had rankled them. Then the next day, Jesus was standing in the temple and teaching the people. Just who gave Jesus the right to do that? Who had put Him in charge? So the question is posed to Jesus: “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?”

Their question is a legitimate one to ask. The drastic actions that Jesus had done do need a foundation of authority. Jesus knows that. In fact, He had mentioned His authority in previous encounters with leaders and rulers. In the past, Jesus had spoken of His heavenly Father, of His charge to seek the lost, of His being a prophet, of His Messianic identity. The question of authority had already been answered: the problem was that the chief priests and elders did not believe what Jesus had said. But this was not the first time that they had refused to heed a messenger sent by the Lord.

So when confronted by the chief priests and elders with a question of authority, Jesus responds by asking them a question on the same topic: “I will also ask you one question, and if you tell Me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” Jesus takes the minds of the chief priests and elders several years back in time. “Remember John,” Jesus is saying, “Think about him and his actions. He went in the wilderness preaching repentance and baptizing. All people from Jerusalem and Judea went out to hear him and confessed their sins. By what authority did he do such things?” The question that Jesus poses is similar to the one asked of Him. It has to do with whether the chief priests and elders receive the Lord’s prophets, even a forerunner of the Messiah.

The discussion that ensues shows that the chief priests and elders understood the point of Jesus’ question: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” They know how either answer will convict them. Jesus’ question was meant to bring the chief priests and elders to repentance, to change their belief, so that they could receive Him as the Messiah. But their response shows that they would not have the Lord’s words change their hearts and minds: “So they answered, ‘We do not know.’” They punt on the question. They will not answer. They plead ignorance, though they had a very specific opinion about John the Baptizer.

What is found in the chief priests and the elders is the obstinacy that impenitence creates in sinners. They will not have anyone correct them. They will not allow the Lord’s words to change their hearts and minds. Even when people who carry the Lord’s authority come in their midst and speak, they will not listen. They are certain, dead certain, that they are right. But actually, they are completely incorrect. Their obstinacy causes them to miss out on what the Lord wants for them, as Jesus’ statement of judgment points out: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.”

But this is not the first time such an incident had taken place among the chief priests and rulers of Israel. Their forefathers had done the same. You heard how the Lord addressed them through the prophet Ezekiel: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel.’” The belief of the ancient Israelites was that the Lord was unjustly punishing them—that they were suffering because of the guilt of their forefathers’ sins. So what does the Lord say to them? He answers their accusations: “Hear now, O house of Israel: Is My way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness that he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.”

Yet, that response is not the only thing that the Lord says. He puts forward the way of forgiveness and life that comes after repentance and turning: “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn and live.” But would the people listen? Would they receive what the Lord offers them? Would they hear His words spoken authoritatively by the prophet?

The Scripture record shows that many refused to hear and turn. The Lord’s words just bounced off their hardened hearts and minds, bringing no benefit to them. Yet, there were others who did heed what the Lord said, who did believe His righteous judgment and trust His merciful promise. They did repent. They did receive a new way of life. They did have a new heart and new spirit created in them by the words that the Lord spoke. Throughout time, sinners have heard the convicting judgment that the Lord has spoken, but have also received the promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation that He graciously gives. Even what the tax collectors and prostitutes did in the day of John the Baptizer was not a new phenomenon, but has occurred throughout the history of mankind and continues today.

This incident in Jerusalem’s temple puts forward the same two possibilities for you. That is what Jesus describes with His parable: “A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.” The first son represents those who have the repentance and turning to life take place in them, but the second son represents those who hear the Lord’s word but have no effect happen in them.

You can be like the chief priests and elders who did not receive the Lord’s words, who did not recognize the authority that He bestows to those He calls to speak. That will cause you to miss out on what He desires to give you. What Jesus says about such people stands true even now: “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” Such is the fate of those who might promise faithfulness to the Father’s will, but who do not actually have it. That is what the obstinacy of impenitence and unbelief brings. Pleading ignorance will not excuse it.

What Jesus desires for you is to be like the tax collectors and prostitutes, to be like the first son who started in disobedience but was led to righteousness. Countless times you have said to the Father in heaven: “I will not obey You. I will not heed Your command. I will not follow Your will for my life.” Even if you have not verbally spoken such things, your actions have proclaimed such a message. That is when the Lord’s words of judgment are spoken through His servants: “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!” As you hear such words and are led to believe that the Lord’s statement is applicable to you, that you really have broken His Law and His judgment is justly spoken against you, then the response created is to receive the forgiveness and life that He offers.

But where is that forgiveness and life found? It is found where the Lord puts His authority, where He places the benefits that Jesus’ death and resurrection have accomplished—in the preaching of the Gospel, in the baptism that brings spiritual renewal and rebirth, in the absolution of sins, in the eating and drinking in remembrance of what Jesus, the promised Messiah, has done. That is what the Church does, as the Lord authorizes. But if that authority is not seen, not believed, not recognized, then the reaction will be like the chief priests and elders: there will be rejection of what the Lord offers, a rejection that leads to everlasting death.

So even today the question is directed to you: “Why will you die? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” The fate of the chief priests and elders is not meant for you. No, Jesus wishes to dole out forgiveness, life, and salvation to you this morning and all days. From this pulpit, your sins are put in front of you; the Lord’s Law speaks against them. Do you believe that authoritative statement? Your actions say that you do, for you have already declared your sinfulness and your desire for forgiveness. You have received that message of judgment and recognized it to be true. You have said to the Lord, like the psalmist did: “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions.”

From this pulpit, salvation is also put in front of you; the Lord’s Gospel says that because of Jesus’ work, you are forgiven, you are declared righteous, you are made part of God’s kingdom. Do you believe that authoritative statement? If so, then say to the Lord: “Remember Your mercy and Your steadfast love; for they have been from of old.” Count yourselves among the tax collectors and prostitutes that Jesus welcomed as they turned to Him and lived. Then go from here “as children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” On that day, you will be welcomed as those who were given a new heart and spirit, who did the will of the Father, who have been taught the way of life and led in it. For that is what Jesus desires for you and what He works to accomplish.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Proper 20A Sermon -- Matthew 20:1-16 (LSB Proper 20A)

September 18, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“[The master said]: ‘I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’”

Jesus tells a parable to describe another aspect of the kingdom of heaven. He does so to show that the matter of being made part of the Lord’s people and given salvation is not a transaction like the world makes. No, what Jesus puts forward shows that the Lord’s ways and thoughts are not congruent with how the world operates. Instead, Jesus talks about the actions of grace that God performs in the world. He tells the parable, so that His followers will be shown the mindset that must be found in His people, the Church.

Jesus’ parable begins this way: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hired laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” Jesus depicts a scene that His audience would have often seen in their own towns and villages. A vineyard owner goes to the marketplace where day laborers could be found. He goes to employ a workforce, and upon finding some willing to work for a day’s wage, the vineyard owner contracts with them. With that illustration, Jesus is describes an incorrect concept that some people have about membership in the Church. They have been called to be His disciples, but it is done seeking an agreeable earthly benefit, what they will get out of the deal. And that sets up a future conflict.

Jesus’ story continues: “And going about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.” The vineyard owner determined that he wanted more workers. So throughout the day, he goes back to the marketplace, finds other people to employ, and puts them to work. But this time, the contracted wage amount is not spelled out. No, the hired laborers are only told: “Whatever is right I will give you.” There is no haggling, no spelling out what the pay will be, yet the laborers go off into the vineyard to work. Again, Jesus is describing the call of people to be His disciples, to be people of God, but these are those who are not seeking a matter of wages, what they will get out of it. No, these are the people whom the Spirit calls, enlightens, sanctifies, and gathers into the Church, who trust that the Lord will give what He deems to be right. They are the elect who are truly incorporated into the body of Christ.

As the day draws to a close, the vineyard owner still wants to hire more people, still wants more laborers: “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’” This is an interesting exchange! The vineyard owner decides to hire new people for one last hour of work. When he gets to the marketplace, he asks why the people there have been laying about, doing nothing. They had been, because they had nothing to do, no purpose, no belonging to anyone. So the vineyard owner gives them a task, a direction, an identity: they are now his workers, even if they are only so for an hour. These are those who been incorporated into God’s people, even after so many others had been made so.

Jesus’ story then comes to its high point: “And when evening came the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.” The vineyard owner does something totally unexpected: he pays a whole day’s wage to people who had only worked for an hour! No one in his right mind would do that! It is a form of lavish generosity. And that generosity gets the attention of the other workers: “Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it, they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat!’”

The doling out of pay causes great distress between the first workers and the owner. Those who had put in the whole twelve hours of work are upset. They had done more work than those hired just before the final whistle, but they all receive the same wage. Everyone gets the denarius. The vineyard owner doesn’t seem to think about all the hard work that had been done for him by the laborers. Can’t he at least show some consideration for all the sweat and strain put into his vineyard? Aren’t their greater efforts worth more?

The master’s response first answers the complaints of the first-hired: “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go.” The owner shows that he has not cheated anyone. He has not gone back on his word. He has not taken away anything that belongs to the laborers that worked all twelve hours. Their contract, their covenant has been fulfilled. The owner made good on his promise; the workers had gotten what they agreed to. The fairness sought, the wage that they demanded have both been given to them.

But then the master speaks about the mindset that had crept into those who were first hired: “I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Those who had been hired at the beginning of the day are demanding justice and fairness. That is what the owner gave to them. They are paid exactly what was agreed. But what is just or fair about laborers telling owners what they can give to other employees? What control should these workers have over what the owner does with his money, if that action does no harm and does not break their contract? The real issue with the workers hired in the morning is that they have a problem with the master’s generosity. They have a problem with grace, thinking that it is injustice and not right. They have a problem with the master’s will, the will that desires to show compassion and mercy, not to give people what they might deserve.

Jesus’ parable is a way of teaching what the Lord had said centuries before: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Jesus’ parable shows that the seeking of benefit, the desire for what is just as mankind thinks of fairness leads to a bitter end. It is not how His Church should think or operate. It is a reply to the question that a rich young man asked: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” It is also a response to Peter’s question: “See, we have left everything and followed You. What then will we have?” The looking for a fair exchange, an equitable transaction will only leave a person in the condition of the first hired: grumbling at the Master and complaining that what was right wasn’t received. And how does God respond to this? “Take what belongs to you and go.” It is a statement of judgment and dismissal.

Instead, the Lord would have you consider the words that call you into His kingdom: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” These are the words that move your hearts and minds away from haggling with God, from demanding to know exactly what the benefit of discipleship will be, from making membership in the kingdom of heaven some sort of exchange of your efforts for blessings. No, the Lord wishes to have an unfair transaction with you: His mercy for your injustice, His pardon for your sin, His innocence for your guilt. That is what the Lord has given already to you through the work of Jesus, as He became substitute for you. His righteousness is now yours. His efforts have made you His people. But it was not an agreed upon contract; rather, this is what the Lord’s will for you has always been. And He freely calls you to share in it, to benefit from what He has done for you.

The recognition of the Lord’s graciousness is what this parable of Jesus is meant to show you. The entity created by that graciousness, the Church, cannot have the mindset of seeking benefit in it. Being called to be a worker in the vineyard, being chosen to be a follower of Jesus should turn you away that way of thinking. The raving about how much service I have done in the Church, the demand for recognition of me from others, the statements about how my work is greater than what others have done, the comparing of how many hours I have put in to what others have done: such actions that arise among the community of Christ’s people are all forms of the same complaining that the first-hired laborers did in the parable. They are not examples of what the apostle Paul exhorted his audience to show: “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. . . .” Just the opposite, they are the actions that have workers striving one against another, seeking the way of the law, complaining about the Lord’s grace: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” Such actions will receive the Lord’s response of dismissal: “Take what belongs to you and go.” If that is what you desire from the Lord, He will pay you in full and send you away.

But the recognition that you were even called to be a worker in the vineyard is a matter of grace is what Jesus wishes to see among His people. That understanding given by receiving the way and thoughts of the Lord is what leads you to say the words of today’s collect: “Lord God . . . we cannot stand before You relying on anything we have done . . .” You cannot demand wages from the Lord. Mankind has no standing to haggle with Him. No, you are those who have been turned, who have been led to a new way of life that is not dependent upon what you have done, but what has been done for you. Without the Lord’s calling, you would have been idle in the marketplace, having no task, no direction, no identity. But it is the Lord’s will to have you among His people, to put you to work in His vineyard, to give you activity in connection with the gospel of Christ.

So you and I must learn from this parable of Jesus, so that He will not say to us: “Do you begrudge My generosity?” We must see that salvation and blessing from the Lord is not a matter of fairness, but of grace. We must have our hearts and minds not set on our efforts, seeking recognition and reward. Instead, we should find our glory in the fact that we have been chosen by the Lord to be recipients of His compassion. We must see that our place in the Church is a matter of privilege, something granted without any merit or worthiness in us. Then the lavish generosity that the Lord shows to all His people will not become a matter of grumbling and complaint. Instead, we will thank Him that He sought us in the marketplace and made us His workers, so that we may not only receive a denarius, but His grant of life everlasting.

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Commemoration of National Tragedy Sermon -- Luke 13:1-9 (LSB Propers)

September 11, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said]: “Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Days like September 11, 2001 cause us to think about matters that we would rather not. Tragic events elicit thoughts that we would rather keep down in the recesses of our hearts and minds. What should be said about such incidents? How are they to be explained? Just what is going on around here? Why is this happening?

Those questions are not new. Mankind has always sought answers or tried to give them. Ancient Job spoke about the tragic circumstances of his life, coming to the conclusion that the Lord had abandoned him and became his enemy: “God has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry to You for help and You do not answer me; I stand, and You only look at me. You have turned cruel to me; with the might of Your hand You persecute me. You lift me up on the wind; You make me ride on it, and You toss me about in the roar of the storm.”

Similar thoughts about victims were found among the Israelites who were hearing Jesus speak. As Jesus was teaching them about the need for the way of life that He was bringing to them, telling them that this was the critical time for their salvation, He is faced with news of a tragic event: “There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Jesus is told of a sacrilege that has taken place: devout worshipers of the Lord had been killed during their acts of piety. The people who brought that news to Jesus want an answer, an explanation.

So what does Jesus do? He comments on the tragedy. But before He gives a statement of truth, He challenges the common wisdom of the day. How had people been explaining such events? They had equated such deaths as divine retribution for the gravest of sins, that the Lord had abandoned them. Note what Jesus says: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” Had those Galileans been murdered because they broke the Divine Law more than any other people from their region? Was God rejecting their sacrifices? Had they gotten their just deserts? “No, I tell you,” says Jesus. That is not the explanation of what had happened.

Then Jesus gives another example of a tragic event: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” Again, the event demands explanation. In this incident, there is no religious context. It is a matter of bad engineering or construction. Yet, the common wisdom wants to drag the mater of divine retribution into it. But Jesus dispels the incorrect explanation, the wrong thoughts that sprung out of the people’s minds: “No, I tell you.”

Yet, Jesus does not leave the matter there. He doesn’t simply rebuke or reprove. He gives the people a proper understanding, comments on which their hearts and minds should dwell: “But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Hear again those words that Jesus says about both incidents: “But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What type of explanation is this? In the midst of a discussion about tragic deaths, Jesus speaks about the people’s own possibility of perishing. That seems more challenging to grasp than experiencing the tragedy.

But Jesus’ statement is vitally important. He gives no empty platitudes and speaks no trite wishes. No, Jesus’ words deal with the way of life. Tragic events—the killing of the Galileans, falling towers, even planes being flown into buildings—all show the grim reality of death. It brings the frailty of life to the fore. They show the finality that each and every person must face, and that it can come at any moment, any time, any place, even in the most unimaginable ways. The clear morning skies in New York and Washington brought no foreboding. A perfect early autumn day gave no advance warning. And in a matter of moments, life ended for thousands. Not because they were any worse people. Not because they were abandoned by God. Not because this nation was being divinely punished by God for offenses worse than any other. The events of 9/11 happened because of sin, evil, and imperfection in this world. Those are the topics that Jesus wrestles with.

Jesus says even now: “But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The deaths of every single individual is a tragedy. When it happens to so many in an instant, the tragedy is compounded. But even worse is the eternal fate for those who do not have sins forgiven, who do not share in the salvation that Jesus had come to bring. Jesus uses the incidents of the Galileans and the Siloam tower to speak both about the sharpness of death and the life that He brings. The Galileans and the tower victims were no worse offenders; the people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were no worse sinners. All will face death. The words of Job about the Lord are true: “For I know that You will bring me to death and to the house appointed for all living.” All will make their way to the grave, for “the wages of sin is death” and “all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God,” as the Scriptures say. But the perishing of this age need not be the perishing for eternity: that is the message which Jesus brings, that is the heart of His statement: “But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

What Jesus brings into the atmosphere of tragedy—no matter how large—is true hope. Death shall come to all, but He brings life and salvation. Repentance is to turn away from the ways that do not avail, that lead to eternal destruction. In turning away, the individual is led to the life that Jesus brings—what He makes to be others’ by His suffering, by His dying unjustly, by His rising again. In the midst of tragedy, the incidents of Jesus’ life shine through. The incorrect thought—like Job’s—about being abandoned by the Lord is countered by the knowledge that Jesus was abandoned for humanity’s sake. The wrong conclusion—like the crowds had—that victims are worse sinners is countered by the statement that Jesus has borne the sins of the world. The lament of hopelessness—spoken when all seems lost—is countered by the cosmically-altering message of Jesus’ resurrection. For those who are called to repentance and belief in what Jesus has done for them, there is no eternal perishing.

That message of true hope found in what Jesus has done forms the basis for the apostle’s words heard this day: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?”

So what shall we say, what shall we think about the tragic events of 9/11? Were they signs that the Lord abandoned us? No, He is still for us. Were the deaths of thousands evidence that the Lord decided not to give us life? No, He has already given His Son for us all. Were the attacks that led to destruction proof that we been condemned by the Lord? No, He has declared us righteous and His Son is still pleading for us. Is Al Qaeda or Taliban or Islamic Jihad able to separate us from Christ’s love? No, because “nothing in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Yet, the tragedy of a decade ago does rightly bring to mind truths about our situation here in our earthly lives. First, our status in life does not bring eternal security: “Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” Both rich and poor, young and old, executive and civil servant died that morning. Second, trust in the temporal wealth brings no hope: “Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.” Even the great symbols of capitalism fell that day. Third, man’s strength is not able to conquer evil: “Once God has spoken; twice have I heart this: that power belongs to God, and that to You, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For You will render to a man according to his work.” Even the walls of our nation’s center of military command, the symbol of the greatest might on earth, were breached. These truths turn us away from looking to ourselves, to our strength, to our wisdom as the source of refuge and support, since none of these provide the way of life.

But for us who have repented and turned, who have been called to faith and trust in the Lord’s work, we have a true, eternal, supreme refuge and support: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.” That refuge in the midst of tragedy is what we receive because of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Christ has called us to repentance and life, so that we will not fully perish. Our Refuge who died and rose again for us will ensure our eternal good, no matter the efforts of death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, or powers, or height or depth, or anything else in all creation. In our times of tragedy that happen in this earthly life, He is still with us and for us. So as we experience the tragic and remember what transpired ten years ago, may we all heed the psalmist’s exhortation: “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.