Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
17th Sunday after Pentecost
September 11, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is a new day. It’s a day filled with change, remembrance, and celebration.
We know that today is the 15th anniversary of the incredibly tragic day of September 11th, 2001. Much like Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, Neal Armstrong walking on the moon, and the Challenger explosion, this was an event where we who were old enough to witness it knew where we were when it happened. And I know that we don’t want to experience that again.
Today is also National Grandparents Day…so those of you out there who are grandparents, Happy Grandparents Day to you and I hope and pray that you are able to celebrate with those who make you grandparents.
It’s the NFL Kickoff Sunday…..which means it’s also the kickoff Sunday for NFL Fantasy team owners.
Here, it’s Rally Day today, New Year’s Day in the church, if you will. Today, we kick of our Sunday School and fall programming in the church. After worship today we will convene at Henes Park and share in the food and fellowship of the annual picnic. We’re trying a whole new approach to worship (during our 10:00 service), with an alternative liturgy format, and some new songs.
But it’s not just Rally Day. Today, is also God’s Work. Our Hands. Sunday in the church. Our governing church body, the ELCA (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), annually designates the second Sunday in September for the purpose of sending its members out into their communities to do just that…to use our hands to do God’s work. Our response this year to that mandate is to join with Bethel Lutheran of Menominee and Zion Lutheran of Marinette in putting together student health kits for our area schools. So, thank you for your contributions in providing some of these most basic necessities for the kids in our local schools who simply can’t afford many of these things that we take for granted.
So, as you can plainly see, there’s a lot going on today; and tonight we will conclude this jam packed day with a candlelight vigil to pray for those who answer the call to serve our communities as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and first responders.
So much for a relaxing Sunday, eh?
But it’s good, because today is all about gathering, about coming back together. Gathering us in together, as we sang in our opening hymn. Today is about celebrating our togetherness as a worshiping community, which we do right now, as an educational community, happening downstairs, as a fellowship community, happening after church, as a service community, happening the past several weeks,andasaprayingcommunity,whichwillhappenthisevening. Everysingle one of these elements define us as Christian and are opportunities to celebrate the unique belief that we all share, and to do so together.
Which is precisely what Jesus is striving for in today’s Gospel reading, the joy and the love of being united in Christ. In the parable that Jesus tells of the lost sheep, upon finding it, the shepherd rejoices in returning it to the 99. The joy is not complete in just finding the lost sheep, though that is wonderful and celebratory; but the joy of the shepherd is made whole in returning the lost one to the flock.
I think that’s very important because sheep are not only dependent upon the shepherd, but are dependent upon one another as well. Sheep need one another for survival. If a predator comes among sheep, what they will do is group together and then stare down their enemy. By itself, a sheep is incredibly vulnerable and has no defense. Banding together and staring down their enemy, they are more formidable.
Sheep never walk in a straight line, but will create zig zagging trails so that as they veer to and fro they are able to keep an eye on the back of the line of the pack and then with the other. They are constantly looking out for one another.
As well, sheep have an amazing tolerance for pain for the simple reason that if one sheep signals that it is in distress, it will draw predators to it. By not showing pain, it will keep the predators away, thus keeping the flock safer.
Sheep are all about being together and if one wanders off, it not only exposes that one sheep to the innumerable dangers that could befall it, but it also makes the flock one sheep weaker.
That is why our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, desires nothing more than for us as a believing community to come together. For if one wanders off, innumerable dangers could befall it; whereas we are stronger when we band together.
A story is told about a father who catches his two sons quarreling. He calls them in and gives the oldest one a small stick and asks him to snap it. The son did so with a rebellious smirk on his face. The father handed him two sticks together and asked him to snap them which he did easily. Then it was three, four, five and six sticks and by this time the boy was straining to snap the sticks. Finally with seven sticks he had to admit defeat. Then the father cautioned his sons that “A house divided cannot stand.” You can be defeated one by one but if you stand together your united strength will be unbreakable.
And on this fifteenth anniversary of the terror attacks, we are reminded of the unity we shared in the immediate aftermath of this event. I’m certain that you all remember the incredible patriotism, the endless stories of courage and faith, of neighbor helping neighbor. For weeks on end, in the midst of incredible pain and fear, American citizens found themselves uniting against the common enemy; at least until politics entered into the equation and then all of a sudden we had to hold somebody domestically accountable; but that’s a story for another place.
The point is we are stronger when we are together, and not only will God go to any and all lengths to create and ensure our unity in Him, but invites you and I to be partners in creating and sustaining this wholeness as well.
You may or may not remember the name of Welles Crowther, but fifteen years ago today, in fact almost to this hour fifteen years ago, Welles Crowther went to work like every other day to his job as an equities trader in the World Trade Center. After the second tower was hit, the one he was in, Welles led everyone he could find down the steps to safety, and then he went back for more.
And after leading more people to safety, he went back again, and again, and again, until the tower collapsed. On that day, this talented, athletic, good natured, but in so many ways ordinary person did an extraordinary thing, giving his life to make sure others could live. On that day, God used Welles Crowther to find people who were lost.
I know we won’t often find ourselves in these kinds of circumstances, yet God can and does use each one of us to find others and to bring them back together. And not only can God use us to do this work, but does, and will. At work, at home, at school, through the work of our congregation here at Emmanuel, through our places of volunteering, God regularly uses us to find others and to bring them back.
For that is exactly what Jesus did in coming to us as one of us. 2000 years ago, Jesus went into the burning building that was our world of sin, and Jesus repeatedly climbed those stairs to lead us to safety until that moment that the temple was brought down and the Son of God was nailed to that cross.
Except He rose up again three days later, rebuilding that temple, and ensuring the safety of those who are sheltered in it, gathered together, rejoicing in the unity that has been created through His death and resurrection. Thanks be to the God who claims us, redeems us, and gathers us in, rescuing us from certain and eternal death, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.