Never Forget — Sept 16, 2001

God and humanity

“Never forget” is our September 11, 2001, motto, especially if we were old enough to experience that awful day.   I do wonder, though, why is it that holding onto a horrible memory so important?

One vivid memory I have is that, for a few moments, everyone could see that the economic, political and military powers that rule the world might not be invincible after all.

All of a sudden we all got a glimpse of a disturbing reality:  everything could change.  That was bad news for some and good news for others.  We Americans were threatened, and we pretty much all agreed that we wanted to hold onto what we’ve got, and we took steps to destroy whoever did this to us.

The globe also awakened to the possibility that September would change everything.  Many wondered if a world turned upside down might turn out to be for the good.

One way people worked through these sentiments was by turning to Psalm 46, from the Bible.  It seems like people were reading it everywhere, especially in church on September 16, 2011.

We read it then, how does it read us now?

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.

At each of the breaks, the text invites the reader to pause.  To reflect on what we just read.

Sometimes I think most of us Americans paused at the end of the first paragraph and took it in because, in the context of September 11, 2001, turning to God provided a sense of stability.

If we made it through the second paragraph, we found some words of comfort that seemed to have been written for lower Manhattan  “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved”.   We dared to believe that God was on our side, particularly when the nations are in an uproar.  We could be forgiven in 2001 if that’s how far we got.  We might not identify with the kingdoms that totter when he utters his voice and the earth melts, but the Psalm is gently taking us to a place where we can recognize and embrace our vulnerability rather than assert our strength!

There was so much to chew on in those first two paragraphs, that I don’t remember spending much time in the last one.   Perhaps then it was uncomfortable go that far.  Rather than us reading it, it may have felt like the last paragraph was reading us and calling us to account.

Today, in 2016,  when we get to the last paragraph we are still asked to stop, and reflect on what we have read.  It still reads us and confronts us with old words that invoke modern realities.  The environmental degradation that continues to threaten the lives of many around the world, the wars that we cannot stop, the arms race, and the exaltation of the gun culture.  From the perspective of this Psalm, these modern themes continue to resist the way of a God who aims to “break the bow and shatter the spear and burn the shields with fire.”

As I come to the end of reading the Psalm again in 2016, I see that God also doesn’t forget.  He is interested in much more than America.  He doesn’t forget the nations or the earth.  He is “with us” not so much to defeat our enemies but to end wars between us and offer refuge to both us and our enemies.  The “us” whom the Lord of hosts is “with” turns out to be all of humanity.   The “our” in “our refuge” is not exclusive, or limited to the descendants of Jacob.  It is inclusive, extending to all the earth and to all the nations that inhabit it.

May that be what I “never forget” to pause and think about the Psalm that I read in September 2011, so that someday I may have the satisfaction of playing even a small role in its fulfillment.

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