©Wendell Griffen, 2016
September 11, 2016 (Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost)
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas (9 a.m. service)
First Presbyterian Church, Little Rock, Arkansas (11 a.m. service)
7 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” ’ 9The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’
11 But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth”? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, “I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever.” ’ 14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
To the leader. Of David.
1 Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they shall be in great terror,
for God is with the company of the righteous.
6 You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.
7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.
Fifteen years ago a massacre occurred on this date when nineteen men armed with box cutters commandeered four commercial airliners after the planes departed the Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts. Two jets were crashed into the World Trade Towers in New York City. A third jet was crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Passengers on the fourth jet stormed the cockpit and forced the men who had overtaken it to crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania before it also could be used as a weapon to attack a target in Washington (presumably either the White House or Capitol).
More than 3000 persons were killed in the attacks, including the passengers and crew members of the four airliners, the nineteen men who overtook them, and more than 400 police officers and firefighters. Another 6000 persons were injured.
In the face of this massacre, many people found solace in places of worship. We gathered to draw strength from sacred writings, songs of faith, and the companionship of other grieving souls. For some people, faith in God was shattered. But most people fell back on some notion of faith in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks and massacre.
What happened to the nation that was moved to prayerful reflection in its sorrow? What happened to the belief that our people should trust God for strength to persevere, heal, and grieve? What happened to the idea that we should trust God for wisdom on how to respond to acts of religious fanaticism? What happened to respect for and hospitality to immigrants, aliens, and strangers? What happened to respect for religious diversity and justice? What happened to being people committed to peace-making?
The nation that prayed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist massacre soon put aside faithfulness to truth and justice. We heard and heeded voices who urged us to dismiss as unrealistic or simply politically unpopular the divine mandate that we show hospitality to immigrants, respect for human and religious diversity, and commitment to fairness. Like the Hebrews who constructed a golden calf while Moses was on Mount Sinai, people in the United States turned from following the God of all comfort, love, peace, justice, and mercy.
However, the idol we turned to was not a golden calf. Fifteen years after the September 11, 2001 massacre, the sad truth we must face is that our idols became fear and war.
Within weeks of September 11, fear-mongering political leaders in Washington introduced and hurriedly enacted the USA Patriot Act. That law allowed for indefinite detention of immigrants. It permitted law enforcement officers to enter and search a private home or business without the knowledge or consent of the owner or occupant. It authorized the issuance of National Security Letters that allow the FBI to search telephone, email, and financial records without a court order. The USA Patriot Act exposed us as people eager to worship fear.
Operation Iraqi Freedom also exposed our “golden calf” of war, as national leaders unwisely committed the nation to wage war against the government of Iraq. Fifteen years after September 11, the world knows the United Nations weapons inspectors spoke truth when they declared that there were no “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. Fifteen years after September 11, we have yet to confess to God, the people of Iraq, the military personnel who served in Iraq, and the families of those killed and permanently scarred physically, emotionally, and morally because of their involvement with Operation Iraqi Freedom, that we sacrificed their lives and moral wholeness on the altar of a false god.
Operation Iraqi Freedom did not help us find the Al Qaeda leaders who masterminded and ordered the September 11 massacre. It merely enriched defense contractors, weapons suppliers, fed our misguided sense about “national security,” and left Iraq destabilized politically, economically, and socially.
According to a paper authored by Professor Neta Crawford of Brown University, as of August 2016 the United States has already appropriated, spent, or obligated itself to spend more than $3.6 trillion in current dollars on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria and on Homeland Security (2001 thru fiscal year 2016). The Defense and State Departments have combined requests of more than $65 billion more dollars as dedicated war spending for the next fiscal year (2017). Another $32 billion is requested by the Department of Homeland Security for 2017. When these amounts are added to the estimated future spending needed to provide medical care and disability benefits to veterans, the total U.S. budgetary cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria reaches $4.79 trillion. That money will not be spent on education, homelessness, roads and bridges, research on curing preventable illnesses and injuries, or improve our environment.
The USA Patriot Act and Operation Iraqi Freedom are examples of our “God Drama.” As the lesson from Exodus 32 about the Hebrews who constructed a golden calf demonstrates, humans will manufacture idols rather than trust divine grace and truth. We are easily manipulated to fear and demonize others rather than treat them as other children of God.
The “God Drama” that produced the USA Patriot Act causes people to believe politicians who urge us to fear, distrust, and mistreat children of God who are followers of Islam. The “God Drama” that produced Operation Iraqi Freedom blinds us from confessing that the victims of the September 11 massacre were not honored by when our government kidnaped and held people without charging them with any crimes or providing them with trials.
Our “God Drama” resulted in us holding children of God in prison camps at Guantanamo, Cuba and in CIA prisons around the world.
Our “God Drama” led us to pretend to not know, and later act as if we do not care, that our society permitted government agents to mistreat other children of God by using “enhanced interrogation measures” such as water boarding, sleep deprivation, and other torture techniques. We have seen over the past fifteen years what happens when a society casts aside faith in the God of love, truth, justice, mercy, peace, and hope and builds idols of fear and war because of “God Drama.”
The lesson from Psalm 14 also challenges us to ponder what happens morally to people who cast aside faith in divine love, truth, justice, peace, joy, and hope. According to the Psalmist, people who reject faith in God also behave as if they are not morally accountable. Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good… Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD? (Ps. 14:1, 4)
Fifteen years after the September 11 massacre, we have yet to demonstrate the humility to confess that the USA Patriot Act was corrupt. We have yet to show the humility required to confess that the war in Iraq was abominable. We may never know how many hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilians have been injured or killed. We have yet to admit we sinned against the people of Iraq by deliberately committing war—murder on a national scale—against a nation that did not threaten us and was never implicated in the September 11, 2001 massacre.
Do we have the humility to admit we sinned against the people who died and were wounded in that war, no matter where they were from? Do we have the humility to admit we sinned against God? Or are we so morally compromised as a society that we do not recognize the willful refusal to confess the sinful consequences of our “God Drama?”
Whether we find it comfortable or not, the Psalmist declares that there are painful consequences for the moral foolishness of rejecting the God of love, truth, justice, peace, mercy, and hope and behaving as if there is no god. Those consequences affect the most vulnerable people in a society—described in Psalm 14 by the term “the poor”—first and always. But the consequences do not stop with those who are most vulnerable. “God Drama” impacts everyone and everything in a society one way or another. Recall the $4.9 trillion figure I mentioned earlier. That debt will hang over the heads of our children, their children, and their children!
The Exodus lesson also shows that our “God Drama” grieves God. Recall that interesting conversation between God and Moses when God speaks of the Hebrew people liberated from Egypt with exasperation. The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people [notice they are not ‘my people’], whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” The LORD said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now leave me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’ [Ex. 32:7-11] This passage suggests that when our “God Drama” leads us to substitute the God of justice for idols God has drama!
The Psalmist was, in like manner, obviously grieved by the societal impact of what I am calling “God drama.” Yet, he did not end his song with despair. The Psalmist was comforted by the belief that God is with the company of the righteous. You would confound the plans of the poor but the LORD is their refuge [Ps.14:5-6]. The Psalmist concluded his reflection in prayerful hope. O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad [Ps. 14:7].
God knows and cares about us! God is not through with us! God has not abandoned us! God will deliver us, somehow! God can restore us, somehow! God will correct us, somehow! The Psalmist bet his future on faith that God’s love for us is tested, but ultimately not overcome, by our God Drama!
Our God Drama is does not trump God’s grace! Our God Drama does not trump God’s truth! Our God Drama does not and will not trump God’s justice and mercy!
Yes, we have God Drama! Yes, our God Drama conduct produces painful consequences to us and grieves God! However, our God Drama does not and will not cancel God’s love for us. God has a future for us brighter than our God Drama. Let us affirm and live in the power of this truth on this anniversary of the September 11 massacre, and always.
 See paper by Neta C. Crawford at http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/files/cow/imce/papers/2016/Costs%20of%20War%20through%202016%20FINAL%20final%20v2.pdf.
 A measure of the moral injury from our God Drama is U.S. disregard for the death and suffering inflicted on the Iraqi civilian population by the war in Iraq. The most conservative estimate is that 150,000 civilians were killed in direct violence. However, that number does not include civilians killed (some estimates put this number at equal or higher than the death toll estimated from direct violence) from indirect causes, included those who have died due to lack of medical attention and disruption of the health care system that pre-dated the war. See http://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/civilians/iraqi.