Broken World

Ten years ago out of a clear blue September sky a tragic reminder of the brokenness of our world crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.   Our world changed.  Terrorism became personal sending many of our young men and women half way around the world to fight in two wars.

New security procedures have been forced upon us, removing our shoes in airports, submitting to searches and x-rays, carrying extra documentation.  Another psychological adjustment has been the realization that all of us are potential targets of terrorism, just because we are Westerners, and especially because we are Americans.   We are especially vigilant when we travel abroad, but even at home in the United States, there is always the potential of attack.  And just because we are paranoid doesn’t mean that Al Queda isn’t out to get us.  Even if we have never done anything to anyone, we could become a random target in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The whole point of terrorism is to be random and senseless.  We live in a broken world.

And that was part of the message of our scripture this morning.  Creation is broken.  We live in a good Universe, but not a perfect Universe.  We still wake up in the morning and say, “Thank you God.  Thank you for life.  Thank you for a new day.”  And despite our thanksgivings we still know that bad things will happen to good people.   In the story of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Hebrew story tellers pointed to hubris and free will as the source of the creation’s brokenness.  Certainly our human pride and the choices we make contribute to the suffering of the world.  But suffering has been fundamental to evolution that has driven the ongoing process of creation.  We are products of the survival of the fittest, and our ancestors survived, because they were stronger, more aggressive, more adaptable, that’s hard to believe looking at some of us, and in some cases more violent than their neighbors.

In trying to understand our human situation we can learn from our story that blame doesn’t do anyone any good.  Blaming Eve, or blaming the snake doesn’t help us to assume our responsibility in changing the world.  Finger pointing after the 9/11 tragedy was counter-productive to securing our nation.  Demonizing all Muslims or creating labels like Islamo-Fascism only alienated us further from the very people we needed to work with in order to help prevent terrorism.

If we can give up our need to assess blame for a broken world, we can consider the alternative creation story found in the tradition of Kabala.  In the beginning there was spiritual energy.  And the energy filled a vessel that was the potential Universe and the vessel was one with the Universe.  The vessel wanted to be separate as well as one with the spiritual energy, and in the push and pull between separateness and oneness, the vessel was shattered, exploded into a million pieces spreading light in all directions.

We are part of that shattered vessel that is separate, but still seeks to be one with the source of energy.  And so we are part of a long slow process of reclaiming, reconciling and re-creating – the restoration of the vessel that was broken.  I think St. Paul had some knowledge of this tradition, for in his second Letter to the Corinthians he wrote:  II Corinthians 4: 6  For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

7  But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us.

8  We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;

9  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

10  always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

The story of creation in Kabala is similar to our physicist’s narrative of the Big Bang at the beginning of our Universe.  In the beginning there was a singularity in gravitational tension, seeking to expand and seeking to contract at the same time.  Until at one point at the birth of time an explosion sent light scattering into the emptiness and the creation of the Universe had begun.

Not only does the creation narrative in Kabala coincide with our scientific understanding of the beginning of the Universe, it also invites us to join in the restoration of the broken vessel.  For the creation is repaired through acts of loving kindness, in Hebrew tinkum olam, repairing the world.  This was the message of Jesus.  Luke 6:Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  28  bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  29  To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  30  Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.  31  And as you wish that people would do to you, do so to them.

Our broken world can be redeemed, transformed by self-sacrificing love.  When the trade towers fell ten years ago the courage and faithfulness of the first responders who answered the call to serve inspired our entire nation.  One of the iconic images of that day was the recovery of the Body of Father Mychal Judge, a Franciscan Priest, an enthusiastic member of Alcoholic’s Anonymous, and the beloved Chaplain of the Fire Fighters of Lower Manhattan.  On September 11th he answered the call to the Twin Towers, and as he knelt to help a victim on the sidewalk, he was killed by falling debris from Tower Two as it began to collapse.  Firefighters and police took his body to the nearby St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, where they laid him on the altar – an offering of love, self-sacrificing love.

Because of the sacrifice of the First Responders and the suffering of so many other Americans for a few weeks a few months after the attack we were kinder to one another, we volunteered to help others, even our political rhetoric was silenced for a few days.  We lined up to donate blood.  We gave money to help victims.  We volunteered to help others.  We extended ourselves to help the poor and the homeless.  We came to church to pray.  For a time we set aside differences to work together to perform simple acts of loving kindness to help redeem our broken world.

My hope in remembering the tragedy of 9/11 today is we can recover a portion of the love and willingness to sacrifice for others that blossomed ten years ago.  I recognize great disasters tend to bring out the best in human beings.  We get out of ourselves, stop worrying about our own problems long enough to identify with the sufferings of others.  We are also in the midst of a recession that has many of us feeling anxious about the future, worrying about money, and less inclined to think of others or embrace self-sacrifice.   Perhaps in remembering the sacrifices of others on this September 11th we might respond to a higher calling to minister to the needs of others as a way of redeeming the world.

We do live in a broken world.  But God invites us to join in the redemption of creation.  Each one of us is part of that shattered vessel of light, for we have this treasure in earthen vessels the light of Christ, the light of the world.  As Jesus said, Matthew 5: “14  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hid.

15  Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

16  Let your light so shine before all people, that they may see your good works and give glory to God who is in heaven.

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