On Tuesday, September 11, America was knocked to its knees. When the first plane hit the World Trade Center tower we thought that it was a horrible tragedy. How could a pilot make such a gross error in judgment? Did he have a heart attack? How could you not see the building? When the second plane came crashing into the World Trade Center everyone who was watching the horrific explosion knew that there was more to the incident than an accident. He was no misguided pilot. He was a misguided maniac bent on destruction. People began to wonder what would come next. I heard a lady scream, “Oh my God!” What building would be attacked next. How do you prepare for planes roaring out of the sky at their human targets? Shrieks of horror filled the air in New York City and in our nation’s capital.
Firefighters and police officers busied themselves with doing what firefighters and police officers do – protecting and serving those who are in trouble. Many watched the uniformed men and women race into the building to rescue those who had been attacked, but now they would need someone to rescue them.
Most of the firefighters and police officers knew the faithful figure of Rev. Mychal Judge, the Fire Department’s chaplain who had been an ever-present help in their time of trouble. The Catholic priest had been there for those who are always there when tragedy strikes. He was there when TWA flight 800 was downed and he was there last year when a memorial service was held for those who had lost a loved one. He was there for every funeral conducted for one of his faithful flock of firefighters. And he was there last Tuesday when the buildings came crashing down on the city of New York administering last rites to a downed firefighter, but nobody ever dreamed that they would be Rev. Judge’s last rites as well. And America was knocked to her knees. When the buildings came tumbling down, lives began to crumble as well, and America was knocked to her knees.
Mary Rae Sopper was just 35 years old and a successful lawyer in Washington when she knew she had found her calling in life as a gymnastics coach. She had handed in her resignation and was so excited about beginning her new career as a coach. The former high school champion was on her way to the University of California, Santa Barbara, to meet her new team on Thursday when her plane, American Airlines flight 77, was hijacked and used as a weapon to destroy life. Mary would never meet her new team, her athletes would never meet their new coach, and America was knocked to her knees.
South Bronx firefighter, Scott Burik, worked in the maze of steel, concrete, and broken glass all day long last Tuesday. He stopped his work long enough to tell a reporter, “At least 10 people I’m buddies with are dead.” The next day he saw the same reporter and said, “Now it is up to 32.” With every new word of an old lost friend, Scott Burik was knocked to his knees, and so was America.
Rodney Dickens was growing up as the oldest son to a single mother of five in one of Washington’s toughest neighborhoods. The 11-year-old honors student was one of three outstanding sixth graders who had been chosen for a special prize: a four-day field trip to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Rodney died on Tuesday along with the two other winners, three dedicated teachers, and two members of the National Geographic staff who had sponsored the contest. Rodney’s desk at Ketchum Elementary School will never play host to the bright young student again. When Rodney’s mother heard the news of the tragedy on television she felt like the life had been knocked out of her…and America joined Rodney’s mother on her knees.
Over one week ago, America was knocked to her knees in grief and sorrow like she has never felt before. Her chest was heaving. Her heart was crushed beneath the tumbling buildings. Her breathing was labored. Her eyes were red like fire because of the salt in her tears. Her knees were bruised and bloodied. The Pentagon wasn’t the only powerful entity that lost its might, America felt her strength drained with each new image of destruction displayed for all the world to see. Her strength has been sapped. Will she rise up again? Will she get up from her knees and go on? Will she raise her chin and wipe her tears away in defiance of her attackers? I certainly hope not. I hope and pray that America will stay in this posture of humility and brokenness for many generations to come. Not defeated, but determined to distance herself from trusting in her might, her money, or anything other than her Maker, the One who is able to raise her from the rubble and restore her.
I hope that she does not rise up in her own power. I pray that she does not clinch her fist in defiance. I pray that she will not cry out to the idols of power and money to save her and redeem her from this terrible trial that she has encountered. My prayer this morning is that America and her children will remain on their knees and cry out to Almighty God who is able to save her, able to restore her, able to redeem her, able to heal her, able to hold her through this dark night of pain and fear, and able to raise her up in His own power to live a different life than she has known for so many years.
There is so much talk going on across our land at the present time about what will happen next. The anger that we talked about last week is still with us. Muslims have been senselessly killed in the “land of the free and the home of brave” during the past week. My friend Lisa Cummins wrote me this past week to tell me that Christians in Washington D.C. are volunteering to walk Muslim children to their schools so that they will feel safe. That my friend is how Jesus’ people should be responding in times like these. I’ve heard talk on the streets of “nuking” whole nations who had anything to do with the tragedy that brought us to our knees.
The President says that this will be long battle. There will not be a few bombs dropped, but many of our young people may have to drop their plans, leave their families, and fight for our country. I know our young people and I know they will serve with zeal and passion if they are called upon. We are a nation who is ready to go to war. The Army is ready. The Navy is on alert. The Air Force has fired their engines. The Marines are standing at attention waiting to hear the word. God has given our nation’s leaders the go ahead to bring our attackers to justice according to Romans 13, but just what is justice? Who is to be brought in or snuffed out? That is a question that President Bush will have to huddle with his advisers and determine from their posture of humility and prayer…from their knees.
It is encouraging to me to see America on her knees. The rubble, the lost lives, and the shattered hopes break my heart. I can’t seem to escape the images that I saw last week. I can’t seem to stay away from the reports coming in about new unfolding events. My heart breaks for little ones waiting for mom or dad to come home. My soul cries out to God for parents who are not able to hold their little ones one more time. My heart is broken, but at the same time my heart is singing with the hope that we will stay on our knees and cry out to God for strength, in repentance of our wayward ways, and hoping in Almighty God to do for our land what no army, navy, or air force will ever be able to do.
I don’t want you to misread me, or to hear me wrong. I know that there are a mounting number of ministers across our land that are calling for a pacifist approach to what has happened. That is not my understanding of Scripture at all. Romans 13 gives our leaders the power to bring our attackers to justice and I am praying for President Bush as he leads our nation in this endeavor. Just as President Bush is leading our fighting forces in seeking justice the Body of Christ must lead our nation in seeking God – and this will happen as we stay on our knees. These two fronts must be maintained if America will once again be known as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
This morning I want us to take a look at Psalm 33 so that we can gain strength and encouragement to stay the course and remain on our knees in complete dependence upon our Lord and King. Read along with me.
1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. 2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. 4 For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. 5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. 6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him. 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. 10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. 11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance. 13 From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; 14 from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth– 15 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. 16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. 17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. 18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33 NIV)
This Psalm has no introduction and it needs none. The Psalm is about what God has done and what He will do. The Psalmist knows about being attacked by the enemy. He says, 10 “The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.” The Psalmist knows about military might and the temptation to trust in power. He says, 16 “No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.” The Psalmist knows about the power of God as he writes, 6 “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses.” The Psalmist knows beyond doubt that the best defense is the dwelling of God’s people. He says, 18 “But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love…” The Psalmist knows about the Sovereignty of Almighty God. He says, 11 “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” It is this knowledge that causes the Psalmist to say in verse 1,
1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. 2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. 4 For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. 5 The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalm 33:1-5 NIV)
How can we sing when our hearts are filled with such sorrow? How can we dream of glorious times when we are shrouded in the darkness of despair? How can we have faith when we are clutched by such fear? Those are great questions. The answer is…we are not shrouded in darkness as long as we remain in the light. The answer is…though are hearts are sorrow-filled our souls are full of the Word of God that promises us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. The answer is…perfect love casts out all fear – we, the people of God, the Body of Christ, walk by faith and not by sight. With all of these at work within us, we are not crushed like lifeless buildings, but we are moved to break out in praise of our mighty King.
You need to know that these are not the words of some na?ve preacher who does not live in the “real” world. These are not the words of a Pollyanna preacher who has never tasted the tears of tragedy, but this is the counsel of Jesus, who said,
11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12 NIV)
Some would say, “There is a big difference between people insulting us and destroying thousands of lives, tens of thousands of families, and billions of dollars of assets.” I would encourage you to not be so narrow in your understanding of this powerful little verse. The word Jesus uses for “persecute,” is the Greek word, “diw,kw” (dioko). The word means, “to make to run or flee, put to flight, drive away, to pursue (in a hostile manner), to harass, trouble, molest one, to be mistreated.” Do you think that mere words were hurled at Jerusalem, God’s Holy City, in 70 A.D. when Roman general Titus rushed the city and destroyed it? Not one stone of the magnificent Temple was left standing on top of another. Jerusalem, God’s city, has been attacked, burned, and its people taken captive over and over again throughout its history. Today the city of God continues to be attacked and its people slaughtered on its streets. And yet, God’s Word remains true. God’s people are to rejoice through tear stained faces, trusting in their King.
The great prophet Isaiah said to the people of Jerusalem while they were living in ruins and wondering if their prayers were being heard by their God.
9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. (Isaiah 52:9 NIV)
With constant images of destruction before us every time we turn on the television, every time we read a magazine, every time we go out to get the newspaper — we are reminded of the frailty of life and the sinfulness of humanity. Every time we are reminded of these two indisputable facts we are faced with a decision – will we break down into tears of hopelessness or will we burst forth into songs of faith.
We can trust God my friends and continue to cling to the hope that He provides for us if we will know His character and the promises He has kept throughout history. Listen and be comforted by the Word of the Lord.
1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah (Psalm 46:1-3 NIV)
2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. 3 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. 4 The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of instruction overwhelmed me. 5 The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. 6 In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. (Psalm 18:2-6)
14 The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. 15 My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare. 16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish. 18 Look upon my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins. 19 See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me! 20 Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. (Psalm 25:14-20 NIV)
15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; 16 the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. 17 The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. 18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 19 A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all; 20 he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken. 21 Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned. 22 The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:15-22 NIV)
14 For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end. (Psalm 48:14 NIV)
God is our guide. He is our God forever and ever. No one will be condemned who takes refuge in Him. The eyes of the Lord are always on the righteous. His ears are attentive to their cries. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit. He is our strength. He is our protection. He is our hope. Trust in Him my friends and you will never be disappointed. Though the mountains shake and tremble He is on His throne and His eyes will never leave you.
We find out help in the Lord, we find our hope in the Lord, we find our strength in the Lord when we remain on our knees seeking His face, trusting in His power, and surrendered to His will. Apart from seeking Him we will find no hope in this world, no peace in this life, and no power to live life free from the bondage of sin.
No army is able to accomplish for you and me what the Lord desires to do in our lives. No bomb can provide for you like the Balm of Gilead my friend. The Psalmist says in verses 16-22.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. 17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. 18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:16-22 NIV)
No king or no President will be saved by the size or strength of his army. The Psalmist says, “A horse is a vain hope for deliverance.” If he were writing this Psalm this week he would probably say, “A bomb or a tank or a nuclear warhead are vain things to hope in for deliverance.” Instead of hoping in these things we must hope in the Lord. We must turn to Him in this hour of need and allow Him to search our hearts, repent of our own sin, ask for His forgiveness, and trust Him for whatever may come our way in the days ahead.
This tragedy that has come upon us has given us the opportunity to reflect upon our own lives. I am certain that if we as Americans will do this then we will see an outpouring of repentance like this nation has not seen in years. The great President, Abraham Lincoln, said while our country was going through great upheaval,
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God.
Last week, a preacher in our country shared these powerful words with his congregation. I wish that I would have written them, but I am borrowing them now to share with you.
We have called America a “great country” without reference to the God who made her great. We have raised twin towers of Babel as tokens of our wealth and power, and now they have been leveled to dust and ashes. Our great country has been humbled. One leader said that America has been brought to her knees, but she will get up again. Perhaps she shouldn’t. We have been suddenly made aware of our vulnerability. While many are calling for war, the truth is that we are already at war. We need to surrender. Each American needs to be told to make peace with God through the blood of the Cross. After the first tower was struck by a plane, a public announcement assured those in the second tower, “This building is not in imminent danger. Stay where you are.” God forbid that the Church should say the same thing to this nation.
I was stunned this past week when I heard another prominent preacher say that he blamed “homosexuals, the ACLU, abortionists, feminists, and others” for what had happened to us. The Bible says that “Judgment begins with the House of God” and I would say that it is the Church that needs to fall on her face and remain on her face before the Lord on this day. Those in our society named by the preacher are sinners, just like me, in need of God’s grace, in desperate need of God’s Son, Jesus, who died to set us free from what will destroy us. Just as the President must lead our nation in seeking justice for our attackers, the Church must lead this nation into a season of national repentance. I will repeat our President’s words to you the Church. “This will be a long battle. The enemy, our sin, must be dealt with.” Don’t get up! Man your positions and stay on your knees.