Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sermon: 15th Anniversary of 9/11

Lord, take me where You want me to go, let me meet who You want me to meet, tell me what You want me to say, and keep me out of Your way. Amen.

That prayer was a favorite of Fr. Mychal Judge. Father Mike was a chaplain of the Fire Department of New York City beginning in 1992 and he rushed to the scene of the 15 years ago. He was recognized as the first official victim of the 9/11 attacks.

1 of 2,977 who died that day. But we know the toll from that terrible day affected so many others.

Earlier this year, I was reading about those who died in 2015, when I came across a picture I hadn’t seen since 2001. It was a picture of “the dust lady” - Marcy Borders, who became known as the “dust lady” from a defining picture of her covered in ash and grime taken on Sept. 11. Ms. Borders was an employee of Bank of America in 2001, and was working on the 81st floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center on the day of the terrorist attacks.

In the chaos of that day, Marcy retreated to a crowded stairwell where she was chased by a cloud of smoke and dust. “Every time I inhaled, my mouth filled up with it, I was choking,” she said. “I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I was just saying to myself and saying out loud that I didn’t want to die.”

She was eventually led downstairs and into a neighboring building by another person, where her iconic picture was taken by a photographer. A resident of Bayonne, N.J., she struggled after 9/11 with depression and drug addiction, She died of stomach cancer in 2015. She was 42. (NY Times)

“Borders got out of the building, but she never escaped the terror or the dust.”

On that morning 2 men arrived at the ticket counter late for American Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles International Airport. This was before the days of the TSA & our security today. At the time, the man working at the counter, Vaughn Allex, followed procedure & checked them through.

Those two men were among the five hijackers who crashed that flight into the Pentagon — "I didn't know what I had done," Allex recalls, He didn't find out until the next day what had happened. "I came to work and people wouldn't look at me in the eye." Officials handed him the manifest for the flight. "I just stared at it for a second and then I looked up, 'I did it, didn't I?' "

He had checked in a retiree's family on that flight. He had checked in a student group, their parents, their teachers. "And they were gone. They were just all gone."

Once it became clear what had happened, Allex says people stopped talking to him. He began to think that he was to blame for everything that had happened on Sept. 11. That perhaps he could have changed it, if only he'd done something differently.

Weeks and even months passed like this, when sometimes even a simple mention of Sept. 11 could trigger a brutal wave of guilt. Once, when a customer told him her husband had been killed on that day, what he misheard instead was, "You killed my husband on Sept. 11."

Allex says he's never been able to fully move past the memory. He says it remains with him always in some form or another. But with time, he has managed to start talking about it. "I feel like in some ways I've — I really have come out of a shadow over the last 15 years," he says, "and I'm — I'm back in the light now." (Story Corps, NPR)

9/11 still effects so many people. Terror and dust and shadow. Guilt and sorrow.

But in the midst of such tragedy, I think of the story we heard today from Jesus, Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'

And did not people rush to the scene looking for the one in the dust and the rubble. Rescue crews, steel & construction workers. Were there not people who helped lead others to safety on that day…

At the National September 11 Memorial Museum, there is a red bandana, belonging to 24-year-old Welles Crowther. Welles was an equities trader who worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower. After the planes hit and smoke overwhelmed the building, Welles put his experience as a volunteer firefighter to work. He put his trademark red bandanna over his nose and mouth and found the stairs leading out of the tower, and then began helping hundreds of people make their way out of the doomed building. Welles himself never made it out.

Months later, in news accounts of the final minutes in the tower, survivors recounted the story of the young man with the red bandanna who led them to safety. His mother Alison knew immediately that it was her happy, generous son Welles - who had carried a red handkerchief with him since he was a boy. The family gave his red handkerchief to the museum. And from this day forward, all who visit the 9/11 Museum will have a chance to know the sacrifice of a young man who - like so many that day - gave his life so others might live.

At the museum's dedication ceremony, Alison took the stage to say that she and her husband "could not be more proud" of their son. "Welles believed that we are all connected as one human family," she said. "This is the true legacy of September 11."

That is the legacy. Fr Mike, Marcy, Vaughn, Wells and so many others. We are all connected as one human family. On this 15th anniversary, may we remember not the terror and hate, nor give into fear and spite but recall the love and community and bond that brought us all together.

For we all have our work to do, to seek out the lost sheep, to bring every one out of the shadows and dust, and into the glorious light. Amen.

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