This is my September 11 sermon from 2002. I wrote it when I was the director of a skid row mission. Hence – the illustration.
I have included a “tag” from 2012, where I made some additions to my notes and updated the tone a bit. They are at the end.
Feel free to use the message as you deem appropriate.
September 11, 2002
Title: Making a Better World
Text: Matthew 22:34-40
MT 22:34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
MT 22:37 Jesus replied: ” `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Proposition: If you want to make a better world, treat others the way you would want to be treated yourself
Aim: To show that hate and the acts of hate build nothing; they only tear down and bring war. But love of neighbor, forgiveness and humility are constructive virtues that build a better world and bring peace and blessing.
Opening Song: “God is Love”
A few weeks ago when I was working in the warehouse unloading donations from the trucks I came across something interesting in the truck from Leisure World. It was in a white plastic grocery bag. It was thrown into the back of the truck topsey-turvy, just like all the other stuff, but it ought not to have been because it was more than just another bag of hand me down clothes. It was more than just another bag of unwanted rags. It was something sacred. I recognized it at once as something special that deserved to be handled in a special way. It was our flag. The fact that it was our flag was enough in itself to merit a kinder fate than being thrown away and left to be hauled off by The Salvation Army like some junk to be recycled, yet there was something particularly noteworthy about the two flags that were contained in that bag. They were of the highest quality. They were new and bright and clean and gave no evidence of ever having been flown or displayed. This fact, combined with their larger than normal size attested to what these two flags, in fact, are. They are memorial flags. They are the kind of flags that are placed upon the caskets of deceased service men, as a pall, and are then given to the family after the burial service as a memorial. To confirm this fact, tucked inside one of the flags, was a note. Here it is: it says, “My brother’s flag.”
People give us this stuff when someone passes away. Coming from Leisure World, we can surmise that some elderly lady passed away and that the family cleaned out her apartment. They gave the stuff they didn’t want to us. She kept this flag for many years in memory of her brother, and perhaps her husband, but when she passed on, it became unwanted. Can you believe it? They didn’t want this. The sacred memory of the fallen in their family was not special enough for them. I wonder what they did keep? I bet they kept the money in the bank accounts. I bet they kept the real estate and the jewelry. But their families honor, they sent to The Salvation Army. The flag of their country had so little meaning to them that they were able to discard it into the trash.
How quickly we forget. The children and perhaps the grandchildren left behind were so disconnected from what these banners represent that they no longer had any meaning for them.
You know, this is made of more than fabric and thread. This is made of the blood sweat and toil of the generations of Americans who gave their lives to give us a free society; a government of the people by the people and for the people; a Constitution and a Bill of Rights; and a land of opportunity, which is a refuge that millions of people swarm to every year from all over the world to make a better life. The men who lay beneath these flags were among those who toiled and sacrificed in our behalf. We ought not to take that lightly. We ought to honor their memory.
But how quickly we forget. How long will it be before we forget the fallen of 9/11? Already the memory is fading. I remember that flag that the firemen raised on the radio mast from the World Trade Center, which had somehow landed upright when it fell among the rubble at Ground Zero. I wonder how long it will be before I find that flag among the donations at The Salvation Army; a discarded and forgotten memory? May that never be!
Let us not forget that nearly 3,000 of our countrymen and fellowmen were slain last year on this day, victims of the mongers of hate in this world.
It’s funny you know, some people believe you can build a better world with hate. Some people believe you can get right with God by hurting other people. Kill a Jew; go to heaven. Kill an infidel; go to heaven. Kill an American; go to heaven. They even teach these things here in our own free country. They believe that by eliminating everyone who disagrees with them, by killing them if necessary, they can build a better world and that God approves of such conduct. People who believe like that must have a very small God. It is a very small God who has to leave the work of world building to hateful men through the use of violence and coercion.
You know, I believe we can have a better world too; and I even believe that you and I can have a part in making that world, and that God would want it so.
Hate and acts of hate build nothing. They only tear down and bring war and suffering. This is how you make a better world: You make a better world by fighting hate and opposing evil. Do you want to put a dog in this fight my friends? You need to. Each and every one of you needs to take up arms in this fight. You each need to take part. But how do I do that, you ask? This is how:
Do you want to fight hate? Love your neighbor! Do you want to oppose evil? Practice forgiveness! Do you want to honor the ideal of America and the memory of those who came before? Swallow some pride and practice humility!
If you want to make a better world, treat others the way you want to be treated. And is this not what the Lord has said?
Matt 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
The first way you do unto others as you would have them do unto you is by loving your neighbor.
Main Point #1 Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.
Let me tell you about love. Love is not a passive activity. Love is something that you do. Love is not about the bad you avoid nor is it about the sentiments you express in words. For love to have any meaning, some action is required. That’s why the Scripture says the following in the Book of James:
JAS 2:8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
JAS 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
And Jesus confirmed the power of these words when he himself said in Matthew 25:34-39:
MT 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, `Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
MT 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
MT 25:40 “The King will reply, `I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
In the Gospel of John Jesus says:
JN 14:15 “If you love me, you will obey what I command.
And this is what Jesus commands:
JN 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The fundamental way we show our love for Jesus and our heavenly Father is by obeying his command to proactively love others and take care of their needs. This is the form of Religion God accepts.
JAS 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
The religion of hate and violence is not accepted by God.
The quintessential example of neighbor love is contained in the story of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke chapter 10. The self-righteous religious leader asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” and Jesus goes on to explain that even people you don’t like or disagree with or have some resentment against are your neighbor; and you need to love them.
That’s how you make a better world, brothers and sisters. You proactively love people, even those you disagree with. Defeat hate, love your neighbor.
The next thing you do to make a better world is forgive.
Main Point #2 Forgive.
We have endless cycles of violence in this world because nobody can forgive. In some cases, the cycle of hatred and revenge runs so deep and so long that nobody can remember the original offense.
Let me tell you what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is breaking the cycle of revenge. When you forgive someone, you agree not to perpetuate the cycle of revenge, even though retribution or compensation might be warranted. When you forgive someone, you agree to maintain fellowship and community with them in spite of the wrong they may have done you. When you forgive someone, you agree to work towards reconciliation and restoration.
Forgiveness means you have to give up something that may legitimately be due you in order to secure peace between you and another party, and I guess that’s why it is so hard for some because nobody wants to give up their due. But this should be your attitude:
COL 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
I would like to share one more thought with you on this subject.
RO 5:6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
So you see, like love, forgiveness is something you do proactively. You have to take the first step towards reconciliation. We live in a world where foolish men see benefit in perpetuating grievances centuries old; they think the world will be better for settling the score.
But if you want to make a better world, break the cycle of revenge. Defeat evil; forgive!
Finally, to make a better world, be humble.
Main Point #3 Humility.
Would you agree with me that, even more than the lack of love and the lack of forgiveness, the root of the world’s ills lies in foolish pride.
Some people just think they are smarter and wiser and better and more moral and more holy and just more of everything that the rest of us and therefore, they are qualified to tell the rest of us what to do. Politicians and lawyers are especially afflicted with this desiese, but even more so are the Bin Laden’s of this world.
My way is right, they say. My way is right.
Let me tell you something, my friends. If I have learned one thing in my walk with God it is this: God loves a humble servant.
JN 13:4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
JN 13:12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me `Teacher’ and `Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
Again he says:
MK 10:41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Again he says:
PHP 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
PHP 2:8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross.
The mighty king was born in a stable, the son of a carpenter. Ask yourself. Would you believe if it had been any other way? If God had come in a grandiose way, like some narcissist on an ego trip, would you put your faith in him?
Do you want to make a better world my friends? Be humble in walking with your God. Defeat self-righteousness and pride; serve others, don’t kill them.
That’s how you make a better world my friends; with love, forgiveness and humility, not with hate, revenge and pride.
Will you join this fight? Will you oppose these foes; hate, evil and pride?
As we conclude our time together, I would like to share with you a poem, written by a Mr. John McCrea; an American Soldier stationed in Flanders, Belgium during World War I. Let us share in this poem together in honor of the memory of those who lost their lives at ground zero and our men and women in the armed forces who have given their lives for the country in this current conflict.
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The Larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved,
And now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. (John McCrea)
As you take up the torch, consider this:
Sixty years ago the Japanese made a terrible war on us. But as terrible and cruel as that war was, today we are at peace with Japan, and that wound has been healed.
Sixty years ago, the Nazis inflicted horrible atrocities against the world, but as horrible as the holocaust was, today, we are at peace with Germany, and that wound has healed.
For forty years we were at bayonets with the Soviet Union and the world was on the brink of nuclear war. But as fearful as those times were, we are at peace with Russia now and the countries they held in bondage for fifty years have been freed and we have a blossoming friendship with that country.
Today Japan, Germany and Russia take their place in the fellowship of nations as equals and the hate that was between us has been reconciled, but in each and every case, in order for that reconciliation to be affected, the ideology of hate and pride that drove those societies had to be defeated. Communism, Nazism and Imperialism are discredited and dead. But when they fell, the United States did not seek revenge. Americans did not seek to enslave or exploit. Rather, Americans gave. They gave of themselves and they gave of their resources. We rebuilt Japan and Germany and we are helping the nations of Eastern Europe today. The wound between us, and these former enemies was healed because in victory we sought healing with love, forgiveness and humility. That is unique in the history of the world. I think that speaks a lot for our country, and the values we stand for.
As horrible as the events of 9/ll were, I believe that even this breach between the Muslim world and the West can be healed, but as with those who came before them, this new ideology of hate must be defeated before that can happen. When that happens, the world will be a better place for it. The world will be better in that day because we will seek to heal this new wound with love, forgiveness and humility, not re-infect the world with hate, revenge and pride. Each of us can have a part in that.
This is my brother’s flag. I don’t know who he was. I don’t know his name. But he was my brother. He is our brother. He took his stand with all of us in the fight against wrong. It did not mean much to his family but we will honor his memory, and the memory of all those who fell last year on this day, the victims of misguided and perverted religion. We will not sell this flag in the second hand store, but we will display it here, at the Center, and when we see it, it will be a reminder to us of the victims of 9/11 and all our brothers and sisters who have given their all for America.
We come from many different backgrounds, and many different points of view. But I think we all can agree with this: Better worlds are built with love, forgiveness and humility.
Can we agree on that?
I think we can. Because I believe that we all share this point of view, there will not be an alter call this evening, but rather, let us all stand and pray together tonight and ask God together to bless us with these qualities.
Closing Song: Battle Hymn of the Republic
Tags – Sept. 2012
Today I have a difficult message. Generally – I like to focus on the Good News. Jesus said ‘The Good News of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” We understand that God will judge the wicked; but I believe that anyone who wills can be saved. I do not believe anyone is beyond redemption – so I don’t often preach fire and brimstone nor do I focus on judgment and condemnation. – typically, I speak on positive and optimistic themes like “redemption” and “forgiveness”, subjects of recent messages.
But world events compel me to deviate from my usual subject matter and confront the unpleasant truth that Christianity is under assault in the world – hated in fact – and that many of our brothers and sisters are coming under increasingly vicious and murderous attacks from the forces of antichrist.
The spirit of antichrist is at work in many and varied forms in the world. It is at work in the hateful deeds of the Islamists who are murdering Christians all over Africa, Asia and the Middle East. We are particularly concerned with Christians in Egypt, Nigeria and Indonesia who are under direct attack.
It is at work in the atheism of the Communists, who suppress and oppress Christians in China, North Korea and Cuba. Sadly, Christ is now even under assault in the West and even here in The United States, where the Socialist Left is increasingly hostile to Christians and our own government is going out of its way to inhibit the free exercise of religion.
Recent actions against the Catholic Church, on the subject of abortion, and the rounding up for questioning of that Coptic Christian, who made a 15 minute anti-Islamic – Monty Python like – almost send up of Islam, that has appeared on YouTube, and on which the left is trying to blame world unrest, is shameful.
You know what the most hated scripture in the Bible is? John 14 verse 6 –
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
- and the second most hated is this:
Philippians 2:9 – 12
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
It just flies in the face of everything that is contemporary.
It is not morally relative. It is absolute. It is not multicultural – it is not all encompassing – it is not politically correct.
Does anyone come from a faith tradition in which you recited the Creed as part of the liturgy?
The Creed is the Confession of Faith. It is a recited statement of what we as Christian believe to be true.
Do you remember how it goes?
“I believe in one God . . .
The creed, as we recite it today, comes from the early Middle Ages, from the seventh and eighth centuries, but the first Creed of the ancient Church, the first confession of faith that Christians made was the simple statement:
‘Jesus is Lord”
It seems like such a simple statement, but it is extremely rich in meaning.
The world hated Jesus and Christians for that. They hated him so much they nailed him to a stake, and they hated Christians so much they threw them to the lions.
The world has not changed. They hate him still; and the world still hated us.
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
The Islamists, the Communists, and the Secular Socialist West, and that represents just about everyone, billions in fact, do not acknowledge that Jesus is Lord – and will beat you down if you say it.
They are the spirit of antichrist.
All Scripture is taken from the NIV 1984. It is used by permission of Zondervin Publishing House