16th Sunday after Pentecost “The Greatest Love”
September 12, 2021 John 15:9-17
A message by Rev.Dr.Daniel Gard (Rear Admiral.ret.USNavy, pres.em -concordia univ.chicago.)
Patriot day: twentieth anniversary of 9/11, September 11, 2021
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
When I say “9-1-1”, we think ‘emergency’ or ‘police, or sheriff.’ But when I say “9/11”, something else comes to mind. Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks of Sept.11th, 2001. They used airplanes for destruction & death in New York, Pennsylvania, & Virginia. If you’re older than about 30, what comes to mind is some combination of words or images of the New York City World Trade Center towers smoking, and then collapsing.
Those towers are the dominant image. They were 110 stories high, over 1,300 ft tall; a real marvel of human engineering & construction, taking 6 years to build, employing over 3,500 workers. They had 7 underground levels of parking, shopping, & a subway station. 200-thousand tons of steel; 425-thousand cubic yards of concrete. At its peak, there were 50,000 people working there; 87 tons of food were delivered each day; 30,000 cups of coffee were served each day. They stood there for 28 yrs.
Then in one day, 10 men intent on evil, with two airplanes, brought down all that concrete & steel, and killed over 2,600 people. Nine other men with two other airplanes crashed into the Pentagon and into a field outside of Shanksville, PA, & brought that number up to 2,977 killed that day.
But 20-yrs is a long time; and New York City is a long way away = over 1,400 miles. It’s very likely we didn’t know anyone killed that day; probably not even ‘the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend.’ So, we might have a hard time being emotionally invested in commemorating the 20-yr anniversary of 9/11.
But, if we are ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’, then that event deserves our attention. We don’t have to commemorate it like those at ‘ground zero’, but we should remember it == for the sake of our neighbor & nation; to honor the sanctity of human life and the only God who can give life; for the sake of the military & emergency workers who worked that day, and who continue to rescue & protect us wherever we are; and for the sake of recognizing that all human beings are fragile, are facing death & accountability to God, and so all need The Savior whom God sent = that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
We should remember that on Sept.11th 2001, our nation mourned, and we began a war on terrorism largely centered in Iraq and Afghanistan. 8-10,000 soldiers & military workers have died trying to protect us from a future attack like that one, and trying to root-out those who would kill to gain world power & religious dominance thru violence.
On that Tuesday morning, just before 8:00am local time, I was standing in my living room in Finlayson, MN and heard of the first plane hitting the north tower and was seeing the smoking building on the news. Then just after 8:00, the news showed the second plane hitting the south tower. In the hours & days after that, I was still in MN, miles removed from all that terrible pain & sorrow.
But others were there. One of those was Rev.Dr.Daniel Gard, a professor at our Ft.Wayne seminary, and a military chaplain in the Navy. In the bulletin, I’ve included a short article he wrote as part of the 20th anniversary commemoration; it’s his personal account, and I invite you to read it = later.
Right now, I want to give to you something else he wrote; it’s a sermon message from him, from a pastor=chaplain who was there that day & in the aftermath, to face the physical & spiritual casualties of evil. I’m simply going to present his message; from a preacher with a certain memory & perspective of that day, which is more than you & I experienced. His theme sounds like this: On ‘9/11’, concrete evil brought down 425-thousand cubic yards of concrete, killing nearly 3,000 people. But that evil has met its defeat in the concrete reality of Jesus =the Son of God= and His love & hope for all sinners.
Pastor Gard begins with Jesus’ words from John 15, vs. 9-17 =
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
(Chaplain Gard writes this) The events of September 11, 2001, are seared into the memory of all who lived thru that experience. It has been twenty years, however, and the young people and children of today were either not yet born or were very young in 2001.
For those who are old enough to remember that horrible day, there is a realization that so much has changed. Like the assassination of President Kennedy, everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Those who are too young to remember still live every day with the results of that dark 9/11.
For those who confess Christ, the words of Jesus in this morning’s text speak great comfort == and a great challenge. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life
for his friends.” We remember those who perished and the families who lost them. We remember the first responders who ran toward the fire in order to save the lives of people they did not even know.
We also remember this day the heroes of yesterday and today who have given their lives in the service of their nation. We remember them as men and women who entered into places of danger with courage and devotion. But they are also people who show us the power of love for others and give us a glimpse of the greatest love.
In every age, Christ’s call to ‘love one another as he has loved us’ has challenged the deadly culture in which His people live. As the forces of evil in the world have gathered throughout the history of America, our nation has responded. Over the last twenty years, young people have put on the uniform of their country and gone out to defend their homes, families, and freedom. Because so many have given so much, you and I have been given a way of life unknown throughout most of the world.
But evil in this world has not yet been vanquished. Each generation until the return of Jesus will be forced to engage that evil that comes to destroy and kill. So it is in our own day. September 11, 2001, is a day that none of us will forget. All the horrors of that day are impressed on our memories. On that day, the United States was attacked and drawn into a war that it continues to fight to this very day. Battles have been fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, and wherever terrorists seek to kill and destroy.
Wise leaders of our country still prepare us for the future by speaking of these as victories in battles
but not yet a victory in the war on terrorism. As that war continues, the roll of heroes to be remembered on this day continues to grow.
And there’s more. Some people speak in despair of our culture in America today. They point
to the many evils that exist in our society —and they are quite right. We do have problems. Racism still exists. Biblical marriage is an endangered institution. Criminals continue to put many in fear in their own neighborhoods.
Substance abuse, spouse and child abuse, and juvenile delinquency continue to dominate headlines. The unborn continue to be denied their right to life under the mantra of “choice.” A pandemic has demonstrated just how fragile we are and just how much it remains a struggle to contain disease.
Here in America, civil discourse often gives place to civil disturbances.
Sometimes I suspect we hear so much about what’s wrong and ugly that we forget to see what’s good and beautiful. But perhaps this twentieth anniversary of September 11 will remind us that our God is greater than all the evil of the world, the devil, and, yes, even our own flesh. For Americans before 2001, the world’s evil was distant and almost abstract. Crime, division, the denial of the sacredness of human life from conception to natural death were all around us. But mass murder and terrorists were far from our shores. We felt secure. Then four aircraft were hijacked and thousands perished. No longer was this something affecting others somewhere but not America. Evil was concrete here in our nation, and it was seen on every TV set across the world.
But the image of concrete evil (& collapsed concrete) was balanced by the more amazing images of love. During the rescue and recovery phase following the attacks, those same television sets showed images of heroes at work. Police and firefighters ran to the disaster sites and rescued many thousands of their fellow Americans. Medical responders met a wave of injured with compassion and care. Neighbors and friends reached out and embraced those who fought to contain their emotions as they witnessed scenes that offend even our fallen human nature.
Since those days, our military personnel, both active and reserve, have answered the call to duty and left their families and homes to protect freedom. While many point to our national failings, we point to these men and women and see something else. Those who went forward to war in the early years after 9/11 have, for the most part, completed their enlistments or retired from military service. After twenty years, almost all who serve today joined the military after 2001. They stepped forward knowing that we were at war and that they would most likely be sent forward into the fight. We see a kind of love that causes one to be willing to lay down one’s life for someone else.
Many of those who have answered the call to defend our nation have joined the long list we remember on another holiday: Memorial Day. They have paid the ultimate price for freedom. In that sacrifice, we catch a glimpse of what Jesus means when He says that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
The story is told of a young boy walking down a London street with his grandfather one night during the dark days of World War II. Noticing a gold star in the window of one home, he asked his grandfather what it meant. The grandfather looked at the boy and said, “It means that this family has given a son in the war.” Walking farther, the boy saw a particularly bright star in the sky and said, “Look, Papa. God must have given a son too!”
And give a Son He has. Jesus, who defines the greatest love and calls us to obey His commandment to love in this way, is precisely the One who exemplifies sacrificial love. He knows our world and its evil. Yet He in love entered into this very world of evil in order to overcome all the power of sin and death and hell itself. Evil and hate take very concrete forms in this world —if you need proof of that, just look at New York City , the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001! Yet nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He came not to condemn the world but that through Him the world might have life.
No greater price could have been paid for our lives than that which was paid at Calvary. There the very Son of God himself laid down His life for us. We may not have called Him “friend,” but He loved us while we were yet sinners and paid the full and final price for our redemption. On that cross was suspended God-in-the-flesh, there bearing the sin of the whole world —including yours and mine. When His blood was shed, it was indeed the holy, precious, innocent blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
When His lifeless body was removed from the cross and placed in a tomb, it certainly looked to this fallen world as if evil had won. Death seemed to be victorious. But Easter morning destroyed that lie as the Crucified One rose again from the grave, bringing life and hope and forgiveness to a world shattered by the evil that defines fallen humanity. Concrete Evil Has Met Its Defeat in the Concrete Reality of Jesus and His Love!
No matter what the world looks like to us, we belong to the One who lives forever. He remembers your Baptism when He sealed you to himself and gave you His own righteousness and Easter victory. He, in the midst of earthly conflict and war, still comes in His body and blood upon countless altars to feed His own people. Hate may seem strong, but the power of Christ is without limit. His is the greatest love.