What Will God’s People Do?

By Dr. Scott Rodin    

Thoughts from September 11, 2001 for July 2016.

sunbeamsOn September 14, 2001 I was sitting in a faculty meeting at Eastern Seminary in Philadelphia discussing with our faculty how we should respond in the challenging days after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. My assistant came in and told me I had an important call, and reluctantly I left the meeting to take it. The voice on the other end of the phone was the director of the Ocean City Tabernacle, an icon in Ocean City, New Jersey where nationally-known speakers addressed 2,000+ attendees every Sunday throughout the summer season.

The director told me that Lloyd Ogilvie was scheduled to preach on Sunday, but his role as Chaplain to the US Senate understandably demanded that he be in the U.S. Capitol that weekend. The director went on to say he was now in need of a preacher and he invited me to fill the pulpit. I was shocked. I asked for time to pray and went back to inform the faculty. We prayed together and they unanimously encouraged me to accept, which I did.

On that first Sunday after 9/11 I stood before a standing room only crowd, not because of me but due to the overwhelming weight of the moment. We were scarcely 100 miles from Manhattan, and certainly many in the crowd would have known people directly involved in the tragedy. I had prayed for God to grant me a message of honesty and hope, and I believe He did.

It is now July 2016, and as I survey the state of our country – the deep divisions, violence, anger, disbelief and hopelessness that seem to grow daily – I felt led to share that 9/11 message with you. So much of what we are feeling now is reflected in what we were feeling then. If this was God’s word for those assembled on the New Jersey shore in 2001, perhaps there is a message for us today. May God move in your heart as you read it.

On Tuesday morning, September 11th, our lives changed forever.  Many of us grew up hearing our parents recalling where they were on December 7th, 1941 when they heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. For another generation it was the recollection of where they were on November 22, 1963 when they learned that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on that warm day in Dallas.

Without a doubt, the question that will mark this generation and our nation forever will be, “where were you on September 11th, 2001?”

The tragic reality we face today is that the voices of nearly 5,000 of our fellow citizens will never be heard in reply. Scores of others will answer through physical wounds that will scar them for life. Countless more will retell stories of horror that they saw and experienced and survived.

Those of us who watched from the safety of businesses, schools, and homes will remember our shock, our grief, our anger and our fear. All of us have a story to tell in response to the question, “where were you on September 11th, 2001?” Whatever our answer, the events of that day have changed our lives forever.

This morning we gather to hear a word from the Lord. That is why we are here. We seek to hear God’s voice, find answers in his word, be comforted by his mercy and discover hope in his nature. For many of us, we may have found the voice of God hard to hear this past week. We heard instead the voices of screaming people fleeing the collapsing buildings, the debris and the choking smoke and dust. We heard the voices of newscasters telling us the accounts of planes flying into buildings, hijackers being battled on jetliners, firefighters and police rescuing and dying. We heard the voices of our political leaders grieving, directing, assuring and promising retribution and response. And we heard the voices of utter brokenness and unimaginable grief from parents searching for children, brothers for sisters, husbands for wives, from rescuers recounting the horror they faced in rescue and recovery, and in those haunting words of the last good-byes spoken by heroes over cell phones.

I don’t know about you, but all these voices have left me desperately needing to hear the voice of God at this moment. And that is why we are here, in the Lord’s house, on the Lord’s day as the Lord’s people.

And so I invite you to hear the word of the Lord today, first from Psalm 11:1-3:

“In the Lord I take refuge: how then can you say to me: ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain. For look, the wicked bend their bows, they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright heart.’ When the foundations are being assaulted, what can the righteous do?”

Secondly, hear the word of the Lord today from the Gospel of John chapter 11, selected verses from 1 through 25:

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick… Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”… On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days…When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home. “Lord, ” Martha said to Jesus,”if you had been here my brother would not have died.”… Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.”

The word of the Lord.

This week I searched the Scriptures to hear God’s voice in the midst of the noise of tragedy and grief. As I turned to the Psalms, with a heart searching for answers my eyes fell on this one poignant question that came from the grief-stricken lips of God’s children thousands of years ago, “When the foundations are being assaulted what can the righteous do?”

The righteous here does not mean the sinless, the holy or the guiltless. It simply means God’s people. Those God has loved and redeemed and called. Therefore, it is our question for this day. What do we do, how do we respond, what are we to believe, how do we cope, where do we go from here when our very foundations are being assaulted?

We hear the same question in different words in the voice of Martha. Words of respect yet words that carry a sense of accusation, of despair, of anguish and of disbelief. “Lord, if you would have been here, my brother would not have died!”

This past week it has been tempting to cry out, “Lord, if you would have been here, these people would not have died. Evil would not have triumphed, hearts would not have been broken.” A woman at St. Patrick’s Cathedral was quoted this week as saying, “we need a sign that God is still here.” Many of you may be here today hoping for a sign that God is still here.

The message I have for you today is a personal one. This is a week that has called us to deep personal reflection, to soul-searching. It has introduced us to a new level of grief that we bear inside ourselves and perhaps to a crisis of personal faith. On Friday President Bush reminded us that ‘tragedy introduces us to ourselves.’

As one who is called to minister, this week I found myself in need of ministering. In the blaring noise of the news I sought desperately for that quiet voice of the Spirit of God that comforts and reassures. Where my theology and education and life experiences and Scriptural knowledge ended, I was forced by this tragedy to step beyond and listen anew for the voice of God.

It was in the brokenness we have experienced this week, in the moments of anger at evil, at ineptitude, at our history of arrogance and, yes, even at God, it was there that I began to hear His voice. Through the TV images, through the endless interviews, through the pain felt by the people in our Seminary, I began to hear His voice and he was saying to me over and over again, “Look at me!”

It seemed a simple request, but there were so many other things to look at, so much distraction that demanded my attention. I looked at students in my Systematic Theology class who expected answers from their professor. I did my Ph.D. in the whole area of the reality of evil in the presence of the holiness and love of God. I was the expert, I was to have the answers, but I knew that as hard as we may search, and as much knowledge as we may gain we will never produce logical, satisfying and Biblically faithful answers to the presence of such evil in our midst. Yet in my heart the voice of God continued to say, “Scott, look at me!”

I went to Scripture for comfort, for words of assurance, for justification for my anger and for proof that God is still here. And throughout the Word of God wherever my eyes stopped, I heard his voice saying, “Look at me!”

In the midst of this grief I felt like Peter who was out of his comfortable boat and found himself standing on the shifting, unstable, threatening blackness of the sea. Winds roaring and waves lashing against our sides and all the time Jesus says just one thing, “Look at me!”

What is it about looking at God that is so desperately important at times likes these? Why must we so diligently seek his face. What answers are there that we will not find any place else?

My brothers and sisters in Christ, our faith is built on the incredible belief that our creator God, the sovereign God of the universe, wants us to know his heart, his character, his very nature. He desires that we know him personally and intimately. And so, he came to us and said, “this is who I am.” When we are hurting, when we are in grief, when we have only questions and no answers, he says, “this is who I am.” We cannot question God’s motives, accuse him of abandonment, charge him with lovelessness or deny him sovereignty until we are willing to stop and Look at him.

Today so many of us feel like we have been brought to our knees in sorrow, our heads hang in grief and mourning and our hearts wrench with anger and despair. And today, at this very moment, God, our God reaches down, touches our chin, raises our eyes and says, Look at me.

And when we do, when we as Christians look up and gaze upon our God, we find that we do not look up to a great and mighty throne where the omnipotent ruler of the universe sits in splendor. Although our God is great and mighty and rules the universe.

When we as Christians look up and gaze upon our God, we find that we do not look up to a mighty warrior sitting atop a great stallion with a sword of justice in his hand. Although our God is a mighty warrior and he is the champion of justice. But this is not what we see.

No, no. My brothers and sisters in Christ, when we as Christians look up and gaze upon our God, we look up from the foot of a cross. And that makes all the difference.

Where was God on Tuesday morning? He was in New York, and Washington DC and in the skies over Pennsylvania bearing again the suffering that evil continues to inflict on his world. He wept with those who suffered loss, bore the pain of those inflicted with injuries, and died with those who lost their life.

If you know Christ as savior then I invite you to return to the foot of the cross, this sacred place where God first touched your heart with his Spirit and called you to be his own. If you are here this morning without a personal faith in Christ, then I invite you to look at him. Gaze at the God who in all his sovereign majesty chose suffering and death because he so loved you and me. “He who had no sin became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But that is not where the story ends. For that same suffering God of Good Friday and last Tuesday, became the risen victorious savior of Easter Sunday and of this Sunday. Jesus proclaimed to that same despairing Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life!” And he brought life out of death, joy out of despair, triumph out of tragedy and victory out of defeat.

And that is why we are people of hope. That is why we know evil will never prevail. That is why our faith and trust is sound because it is this God and no other in whom we believe. That is why on Easter we sing those great words of assurance and faith that we must here again this morning,

“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,

Because He lives, all fear is gone,

Because I know, I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living, just because he lives.”

With that Blessed Assurance, let us return to our question from Psalm 11,

“What then will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?”

We will cleave to a God who we know is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. For the Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge! (Psalm 46:1-3,7)

“What will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?”

We will get on our knees and repent believing the promise that “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

I invite you now to seek God’s face, humble yourself and pray. I invite you, as you are able, to slip out of your seats and go onto your knees before God. Every one that is able, kneel before God at this moment and let us pray.

Our God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home. It is to you and you only that we turn in this hour of sorrow and grief. You have created us to be your own, but we have not lived as your children. You commanded us to love one another, but we have harbored prejudice and hatred in our borders. You have called us to pursue holiness, but we have become content with conformity and satisfied with sin. Before we ask for your divine help in coming against this evil that has attacked us from without, we come to you on our knees asking for forgiveness for all that remains evil within us. In your mercy, forgive our sin, O Lord. We humble ourselves in your presence, with our whole heart we seek your face and we pledge to turn as a nation from our wicked ways. Heal our land, O Lord.  Heal our land. And begin with me. Today. Begin with my heart, right here, in this place, at this moment. In the name of our savior and Lord, Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

“What will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?”

We will weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. We will lift up the downcast and heal the brokenhearted. We will be a bright candle in the darkness, a voice of hope in the midst of despair.

On Friday morning I visited with my pastor at a local restaurant he has frequented for years. When we were paying our bill I noticed that the owner behind the cash register was of Arab descent. It’s strange, isn’t it, that I noticed that. As I looked at him I could see a deep sadness in his eyes. He could barely look at us. Outside I learned from my pastor that they were from Egypt. I was about to go to my car when I thought about what it will take to heal our land, and more importantly, what it will require of me. I turned around and went back and found the owner sitting alone at a table near the front. He stood quickly as I approached looking apprehensive at what might have brought me back into the restaurant. I looked at him and asked, “How are you doing?” He looked down and said quietly, “OK, I guess.” I put my hand out on his shoulder and said all I could think to say. “We are all Americans, and we will get through this together. Hang in there. And I will be praying for you.” That is all I could manage to say, but the look in his eyes told me that for now that was enough. I left, and went to my car and sobbed as I thought about how far we have to go to heal this land. Every one of us is surrounded by opportunities to be that one small light in this darkness. Every one of us will be needed to speak the word of grace, of mercy and of the love of God.

“What will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?”

We will love and serve the needs of our neighbor. We will give money to the relief efforts, donate blood to the Red Cross, volunteer time at our churches and community centers and hospitals. We will speak out against violence and hatred with a new and clearer voice. We will be peacemakers and we will seek and work for justice.

“What will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?”

We will love our country more, fly our flag proudly, support and pray for our leaders, and thank God every day for a freedom we almost took for granted.

“What will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?”

We will be diligent and unswerving in the work that lies ahead of us. Work of reconstructing buildings and rebuilding lives. Work of bringing our nation back to God. Work of ensuring that justice is carried out and evil is defeated wherever it is found and work to ensure that we do not become that evil in the process. Work that will require endurance, dedication and patience. But we move ahead confident that if we will wait upon the Lord He will renew our strength, we will mount up with wings like eagles. We will run and not be weary, we will walk and not faint.

“What will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?”

We will expect miracles, join together to restore broken dreams, transform ashes into works of beauty, we will be ministers of healing and wholeness and joy.

“What will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?

We will be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give a reason for the hope we have within us. That hope in the one who said I am the resurrection and the life. If you have that hope this morning, then share it. There is a world out there that needs to hear it more than ever in our history.

“What will God’s people do when the foundations are being assaulted?”

We will be beacons of hope in this tragedy, for as children of the God of the cross and resurrection, we are convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Today that certainty is ours because our God lives.

I invite you this morning to look at Jesus. See him perhaps as you have never seen him before. For in him, and in him alone are the answers all of us are seeking.

And then go and do what the people of God do. Serve the Lord with gladness and glorify his name in all the earth.


Dr. Scott Rodin    

Dr. Rodin is the Founder and Content Expert of the Center for Steward Leader Studies. He also serves as President of Kingdom Life Publishing and Rodin Consulting Inc.

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