On this day, 18 years ago a terrible tragedy struck our nation. People were scared, anxious and angry after so many people were killed and more injured due to senseless extremist violence. I had been studying in Venezuela for barely a month, when 9/11 happened. I remember my host family alerting me to turn on the TV because something terrible was taking place in the U.S. From the edge of my bed in a foreign land, I watched the chaos and horror of the days events. Later, I called home to ensure my family was okay and that no one was going to crash into the explosive Houston Ship channel. There were a lot of tears and strange emotions for me that day. I admit that along with most Americans I was hungry for revenge. It was easy to get a war started in Afghanistan and later Iraq because we wanted someone to blame. We are still feeling the effects of this dark day. The problem is we are not very good or willing as humans to move to forgiveness. Desmond Tutu wrote a great and profound book entitled No Future Without Forgiveness. Can we forgive sick and twisted terrorist who not only hijacked planes, but also hijacked a religion claiming to do such an atrocity in the name of Allah? Christians do not believe David Koresh or Adolf Hitler were actually Christians even though they claimed to be Christian. Likewise, Muslims do not believe that such an act could be perpetrated by people of faith. These are extremists who by their actions disqualify themselves from being part of the faithful.

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On our journey to forgiveness, we have to look at how sad and brainwashed you have to be in order to commit such a horrendous crime. What does it take to drive a person to think that killing people in such a way is justified? In most cases, a big part of it is revenge. This of course, only encourages the cycle of violence. A War on Terror has no end. You kill a terrorist and five more are born because an innocent relative was killed in the bombing or a part of a village destroyed that wanted nothing to do with terrorists until they were hit. And then like the Americans after 9/11, they want revenge. The only healthy way forward is forgiveness and reconciliation.

My friend, Rev. Mark Davenport explains it this way: “we are called to forgive in all things, being  reminded that as followers of Jesus to live life absent of forgiveness is to live life controlled by a kingdom other than God’s kingdom and the way of Jesus.When I reflect theologically on events like 9/11, I am often reminded of the conversation that unfolds in John’s gospel between Pilate and Jesus. There comes a time in that conversation when Jesus and Pilate are speaking directly of kings and kingdoms. Jesus says (and this is an important statement to Jesus’ followers then and now about allegiances to kingdoms) to Pilate when pushed about his kingdom, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36). In Luke’s gospel, Jesus stretches the imagination even farther — having been handed over for crucifixion, Jesus does the unthinkable when he says, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The act of complete and utter forgiveness is a divine act. I think it is only possible when we are moved by, in touch with, equipped by the Holy Spirit. ”

So can we work toward forgiveness or will we continue to seek revenge in endless wars? As followers of Jesus, our calling is to forgive. Jesus and Stephen the martyr cry out for the forgiveness of their attackers. I believe that the title of Desmond Tutu’s book is also a warning for us, that without forgiveness we have no future. The only way for us all to heal and become whole is to go through the powerful process of forgiveness. Not for the sake of the attackers, they are dead, but for our own sake. After a terrible and senseless shooting in a small Amish community, they chose the path of forgiveness and it was transformational for everyone involved. We always have the option to chose the path of love and reconciliation. Not everyone is strong or mature enough to go there, some will insist that violence is the only way. Jesus urges us to do better. Lord, I forgive the terrorists who planned the awful attacks of 9/11 and even the ones who continue to want our destruction. Help us to see a better way in forgiveness. Amen.