I heard a son on the radio last weekend talking of hearing about the death of his father on 9/11 in 2001. He was one of the 67 British victims of the terror attacks on the US that day.
Each year relatives gather at the memorial garden near the site of the old US Embassy in Grosvenor Square in London. The son said that this moment changed his life forever. It was also a moment that changed the world forever.
When the twin towers collapsed creating a mixture of acrid smoke and toxic dust, the area around it was called Ground Zero. It was a place that appeared abandoned, hopeless and full of despair.
Yet even at the time there were small signals of hope. The giant ash tree in the nearby St Paul Churchyard protected the church from the full force of the blasts.
St Paul’s became 9/11's unofficial chapel for firefighters, police and rescue workers.
Wait a minute. What has this got to do with preaching? It reminds me of Paul Scott Wilson’s ‘Four Pages of the Sermon’:
Trouble in the Text
Trouble in the World
Grace in the Text
Grace in the World
Preachers reflecting on the texts they are about to preach need to make connections. When we see trouble in the text, we look for corresponding trouble in the world around us. When we see grace in the text, we also look for corresponding grace in the world.
A tree in a garden bearing the full force of the evil of human hatred has a familiar ring to it; the tree of Calvary where Jesus bore the curse and released the blessing.
Part of the wonder of God’s story is that he often brings out his best in response to our worst. This is what Paul writes in Romans 5:20b:
“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”
Preachers need to learn how to make the connections that can resonate with people who have felt the sting of evil’s toxic blasts.
Fast forward to New York 9/11 in 2021. The so called “War on Terror” has bowed out amidst chaotic scenes in faraway Afghanistan. Again, there seem to be very few signs of hope. Yet grace has been revealed as many churches prepare to welcome refugees from that country offering a taste of home away from home.
On this twentieth anniversary of 9/11 there was a tennis match in New York between two teenagers who were not even alive in 2001. The elder player, Leylah Fernandez is 19 years old. She had been told by her coach to “concentrate on her studies because she might not be able to make it as a professional tennis player”(!) Yet here she was playing in the final of the US Open Tennis Championship.
Her opponent, Emma Raducanu is an 18-year old girl from England, who has just received her A-Level results this summer. She advanced to the final having entered the competition as a qualifier. The fairy tale continued as she convincingly won the match and lifted the trophy.
In the shadow of history’s darkest moments beautiful rays of hopeful light can emerge. Here is a winner who, rather than being self-absorbed, is polite, articulate and generous.
Anyone tempted to give up on the youth of today can see a glint of hope here.