The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

"I HAD THE CRAZIEST DREAM!"

Delivered 9/11/05
Text: Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 5:43-48
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September 11th. There are not many dates on the calendar that, simply by mentioning them, the hair on our necks stands on end. This is one. December 7th is one, although less so now than in years past. September 11th will suffer the same fate over the course of time, but for you and me, it will be our generation's "day that will live in infamy."

We remember where we were when we heard the news. I had seen the television coverage of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center just before coming into the office. Tuesday morning at 9:00 is our regular staff meeting, so we did not hear about the second plane until we adjourned. I did not get much else accomplished that day because I followed the events as they were unfolding. Most of us did.

My wife was supposed to be on a plane back from Caracas at that hour and, according to the Delta website, she was now in the air, having taken off just moments after the second attack. Many of you knew of those plans and called to find out about her. We knew nothing other than the fact that international planes were being diverted and would not be permitted to land in the US. Over and over you said to me, "Don't worry, she's fine." Over and over, I was grateful for your encouraging words.

In the hours and days that followed, we all got encouraging words from our leaders. I will never forget our President:

"My fellow citizens, these have been difficult hours.(1) Tonight we are a country awakened to danger in ways that we have never been before. We are grieving the loss of so many innocent lives and, at the same time, angry at those who have perpetrated this heinous deed.

"I thank the Congress for its leadership at such an important time. All of America was touched on the evening of the tragedy to see Republicans and Democrats joined together on the steps of the Capitol, singing "God Bless America." And you did more than sing; you acted, by delivering $40-billion to rebuild our communities and meet the needs of our military.

"On behalf of the American people, I thank the world for its outpouring of support. America will never forget the sounds of our National Anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris, and at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate. We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo. We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America. Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own: dozens of Pakistanis; more than 130 Israelis; more than 250 citizens of India; men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico and Japan; and hundreds of British citizens.

"To be honest, there has never been a time in our lives when the world has been so united. Sometimes, it takes tragedy to get our attention. What occurred on September 11th has mesmerized every nation on earth and has presented us with an unprecedented opportunity to build upon the international goodwill. With that in mind, I propose tonight to strengthen our ties to the United Nations, to ask Congress to fully fund our delinquent dues to that organization, and pledge to offer a new level of respect to the international community as we move into an uncertain future together. With the whole world united as never before in horror over the atrocities just perpetrated, we can make a world-wide commitment to avoid violence and war as a means of settling disputes or grievances.

"So saying, Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking: Who attacked our country? The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda. They are the same people indicted for bombing American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and responsible for bombing the USS Cole. Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money; its goal is remaking the world -- and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.

"The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics -- a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam. The terrorists' directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans, and make no distinction among military and civilians, including women and children. This group and its leader -- a person named Osama bin Laden -- are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

"There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction.

"The leadership of al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan, we see al Qaeda's vision for the world. Afghanistan's people have been brutalized -- many are starving and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough.

"The United States respects the people of Afghanistan -- after all, we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid -- but we condemn the Taliban regime. It is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists. By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder.

"Tonight it would be very easy for the United States of America to say that we are going to wipe the terrorists out, destroy them from the face of the earth. Tonight it would be easy for us to declare a War on Terror. We DO have the military might to follow through on that, as the whole world knows. But tonight I will resist the temptation to that kind of rhetoric. After all, to say that this is a "war" would turn those who have done these evil deeds into "warriors," and they are NOT warriors. They are simply thugs and murderers.

"The people of Afghanistan have suffered enough under this oppression. Tonight, rather than threaten innocent Afghani citizens with attacks as undeserved as what befell men and women in the twin towers on September 11th, we are proposing a different response. We know that Afghanistan is in the grip of a 3-year famine and the UN estimates 5.5 million Afghans will soon be starving. Tonight, America will begin sending aid to Afghanistan on a scale not seen since the Marshall plan. Against the will of the Taliban, America will feed the starving, pour food, medicine and materials into the country. Our response to the outrage will not be an act of revenge but an act of mercy.

"Think about it...How sweet it will be to see the people scrambling for American food in the dust created by their Taliban masters! How sweet to see in the eyes of those peasants, not the easy hatred inspired by war, but the uneasy question: "Can it really be the 'Great Satan' that feeds the starving?" How will we be able to keep from smiling as we hear the Taliban, Iran, and others try to summon contempt for this utterly unjustified act of compassion. We will 'out-righteous' these masters of righteousness and smile indeed as their followers desert them to feed their children. This IS a religious conflict after all, according to those who perpetrated the cowardly attacks, so let us fight them with the weapons we have. If ever the Christian message - "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" - had strategic relevance, it is now.

"To be honest, the world has already seen such an approach work. The nation of South Africa. On an April day in 1994, they came by the tens of thousands. They formed lines that sometimes snaked for more than a mile. They waited patiently for two, five, even 12 hours. One handicapped woman came in a wheelbarrow pushed by relatives. Never allowed to vote before, black South Africans were voting for the first time in their lives. That signaled a major breakthrough in that nation. Political control was shifting from the white minority to the black majority who had endured years and years of oppression under Apartheid. Only a few years ago, many observers of South Africa were predicting that only a bloody revolution could overturn the brutal white-controlled government. But in a remarkable turn of events, a black leader imprisoned for 26 years and a white leader willing to change worked together for a new South Africa. The world has seen it - non-violent change IS possible! And, if we repeat such a scenario, this is a message that will resonate loudly among the citizens suffering under the yoke of totalitarian regimes, no matter where in the world they might be.

"I especially want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It is practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them. Tonight I call on people of faith, whatever that faith might be, to commit to the kind of world in which all of us can live together, the kind of world envisioned by the ancient prophet Isaiah, a world where 'They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.'

"One temptation I have right now is to urge all Americans to get these tragic events behind us and return to 'normal' once again. But, as your President, I am not sure such advice is warranted. Since the events of September 11th, as we have already noted, we have seen unprecedented unity among the nations of the world in decrying this kind of violence. For the first time in my memory, we have international unanimity on this important subject. I do not want the world to go back to 'normal' on this.

"In our own nation, we saw Republicans and Democrats on the evening of September 11th on the Capitol steps in harmony... literally...singing "God Bless America." We have not seen too much harmony of any sort in Washington in recent times, and that is sad. If I and my administration have contributed to that, I here and now offer my heartfelt apologies. I will promise that, from this night onward, I will do my personal best to work in harmony with our leaders, REGARDLESS of political party. During my campaign for the presidency in 2000, I noted that during my years as Governor of Texas, Republicans and Democrats had worked TOGETHER to accomplish what was needed in our state. Tonight, let us ALL commit ourselves to working TOGETHER for the citizens of this great nation. I do not want to get back to 'normal' on this.

"Following the horrors of recent days, we have seen a significant increase in worship participation across all faith traditions. Even folks who, for every other day of their lives might have described themselves as not particularly religious, suddenly found themselves in a church or synagogue or mosque...prayer services on the night of the tragedy, memorial services on the Friday following, Saturday and Sunday worship. As you know, I make no secret of my Christian faith. I believe regular worship is a good thing, and I encourage everyone in that regard. No, I do not want to return to 'normal' now that the terrors are behind us.

"To the American people tonight I say live your lives, and hug your children. Be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat. Uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith. Continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions - Americans have always been generous whenever they have seen a need. I ask for your patience in what will be a long struggle. And, finally, please continue praying for the victims of terror wherever they might be. Prayer has comforted us in sorrow, and will help strengthen us for the journey ahead.

"Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered as a nation. But contrary to the expectations of those who attacked us, in our sorrow we have found our mission and our moment. Our nation -- this generation -- will lift the dark threat of violence from people everywhere. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage, and our creative action. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.

"September 11th. I will never forget this day. None of us will. We will take this moment of unity, both at home and abroad, and build on it. We will not meet evil with evil, but rather repay evil with good. And, by the grace of God, we will NEVER return to 'normal.'

America, America,
God shed his grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.


"Thank you. Good night. God bless you, and God bless America."

[sound of alarm clock ringing...ringing]

[Stretching, as if just awakening] Uh-h-h! Oh! Oh, hi. Good morning. Gee, I just had the craziest dream...

Amen!

1. Portions of the following are excerpted from President Bush's State of the Union Address to a joint session of the US Congress, Sept. 20, 2001

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