18 Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” 19 They answered, “John the Baptist; but others, Elijah; and still others, that one of the ancient prophets has arisen.” 20 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”
21 He sternly ordered and commanded them not to tell anyone, 22 saying, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
23 Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. 25 What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? 26 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
On September 11th 2001, I had just started my senior year at Winthrop. I was student teaching at Saluda Trail Middle School for two days a week, but it was a class day so I went to my 8 am class. I watch The Today Show every morning, so I must have watched it that morning. Towards the end of that class I remember hearing about it somehow. We didn’t have smart phones back then. We all thought it was an accident. In my next class at 9:30 am with Dr. Silverman he had turned on the tv in the classroom, by then we all knew it wasn’t an accident. I remember vividly when the South Tower fell at 9:59 am because someone was holding my hand out to see my new engagement ring as I stood watching in horror as the smoke and debris billowed. We had gotten engaged on September 10, 2001, little did we know that the next day would be etched into our brains forever. Winthrop cancelled class at that point.
I immediately walked over to Winthrop Wesley to watch the coverage with Mike, who was the Director of Tuesday’s Child Learning Center, an after school ministry for homeless and at-risk kids, and Jerry, the campus minister at the time. They were talking about evacuating Charlotte because of the nuclear plant and at the time it was the second biggest city for banking. I worked at Tuesday’s Child and I was also a youth minister and in the coming days, we struggled to find the words to say to the children and youth. However, the afternoon of September 11th we had an education colloquy that was mandatory for all student teachers and the education professors decided not to cancel it. I don’t remember what they covered, but I do remember this. They said that the terrorists want to disrupt our lives and they were not going to give the terrorists the satisfaction of impacting our lives because that’s what the terrorists want. As I’ve remembered the anniversary with students over the years, I got a sense of the chaos that ensued. For example, one student was in the elementary school and one student was in middle school in the town of Blythewood, and one school was on lock down and one they requested parent pick up. I have since taken students from all 3 campus ministries to St. Paul’s Chapel where the first responders stayed. They have created a peace exhibit and saved one of the pews were the first responders slept. One of the students’ uncles had died in one of the towers and we found his name on the memorial. It was my generation’s Pearl Harbor or shooting of JFK. We all have stories of remembrance and sacrifice. As well as struggling with theodicy, in other words, why bad things happen to good people.
This story gave me comfort in the days after 9-11 and it represents a critical, crucial truth to me.
Meet Me In The Stairwell by Stacey Randall
You say you will never forget where you were when you heard the news On September 11, 2001. Neither will I.
I was on the 110th floor in a smoke filled room with a man who called his wife to say ‘Good-Bye.’ I held his fingers steady as he dialed. I gave him the peace to say, ‘Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is OK..I am ready to go.’
I was with his wife when he called as she fed breakfast to their children. I held her up as she tried to understand his words and as she realized he wasn’t coming home that night.
I was in the stairwell of the 23rd floor when a woman cried out to Me for help. ‘I have been knocking on the door of your heart for 50 years!’ I said. ‘Of course I will show you the way home – only believe in Me now.’
I was at the base of the building with the Priest ministering to the injured and devastated souls. I took him home to tend to his Flock in Heaven. He heard my voice and answered.
I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them.
I was in Texas, Virginia, California, Michigan, Afghanistan. I was standing next to you when you heard the terrible news. Did you sense Me?
I want you to know that I saw every face. I knew every name – though not all know Me. Some met Me for the first time on the 86th floor.
Some sought Me with their last breath. Some couldn’t hear Me calling to them through the smoke and flames; ‘Come to Me… this way… take my hand.’ Some chose, for the final time, to ignore Me. But, I was there.
I did not place you in the Tower that day. You may not know why, but I do. However, if you were there in that explosive moment in time, would you have reached for Me?
Sept. 11, 2001, was not the end of the journey for you. But someday your journey will end. And I will be there for you as well. Seek Me now while I may be found. Then, at any moment, you know you are ‘ready to go.’
I will be in the stairwell of your final moments.
Our scripture this morning asks, “Who do people say that I am?” I would answer, Emmanuel, God with us, through our suffering, through the terror, through the pain. The One who gives strength and courage both to the first responders on 9-11 and on United Flight 93 and gives us all the power and audacity to lose our lives in order to gain something far greater.
There’s this story from the Vietnam War that my dad told in every church he was appointed to when I was growing up, and I would look forward to it each time. During the war, some stray artillery rounds landed in an orphanage, wounding several children. One was a nine year old girl who lost a lot of blood and was barely alive. Nearby there were some American forces who dispatched a Navy doctor and nurse to help the children. They went to work first on the young girl who was in shock and needed an immediate blood transfusion to save her life. To get a donor, the doctor and nurse called together a group of unharmed children and in their broken Vietnamese and limited French they explained to the orphans that someone would have to give blood to help save the little girl’s life.
At first nothing but stares came from the frightened children. Then a small hand went up in jumpy hesitation, then down again, then up again, it was the hand of a ten-year-old boy. The nurse asked him his name and he said, Heng.
He was immediately placed on a cot; and his blood drawn for a compatibility test. For example, O positive, O negative, A positive, A negative, etc. They amazingly were a match.
Then the transfusion started from him to the little girl. Heng soon broke into crying that grew into deep sobs. “Is it hurting, Heng?” asked the nurse. He shook his head no, but went into deep sobs and began to shake. Soon he was a flood of tears.
The medical team became nervous and thought something was wrong. At that moment a Vietnamese nurse arrived on the scene. She quickly spoke to him in his own language. After answering several questions between sobs, she whispered to him and he became calm and the crying faded away.
Turning to the American medics, the nurse said in a low voice: “He thought he was going to die. He was under the impression that you needed all his blood, and that he would have to die to help save the little girl’s life.”
The amazed doctor asked, “How could he possibly have the guts to do that?”
The Vietnamese nurse turned and asked the little boy.
He simply said, “Because she is my friend.”
Great sacrifice doesn’t come without risks. Risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing does not live. Because to LIVE – fully, richly, abundantly – you have to risk.
My family loved to play RISK, the game of world domination, pre-kids. The last time we played my mom had to keep Enoch who was 6 months old at the time, from eating the pieces. My favorite RISK story was from my parents in seminary. As Dad told it, he was up late playing RISK with a group of seminarians and this one guy stood up from the table and said, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world, but lose your souls?” and slammed the door. That must have been some game!
We are people who straddle two worlds. We have one foot in the physical realm that is saturated by sinful human nature, systems, and institutions. As Christians, we have another foot in the unseen kingdom of God, where we claim that our true citizenship lies in Christ our King. The call of discipleship is to be willing, as much possible, to sacrifice our foothold in this world. That includes our status and position, and the worldly treasures of all kinds that we’ve amassed of ourselves. Jesus’ invitation to take up our cross means being willing to take on the absolute lowliest position in the entire empire in opposition to the sinful powers that be.
Sacrificing our place in the world also includes sacrificing our worldly sense of identity or self. Jesus’ description of losing one’s life to gain it can be translated, maybe more accurately, as losing one’s self (Greek is psyche which in the ancient world was the difference between a living person and a dead one — the soul/spirit/self). That means we no longer identify ourselves and our value by the way that the worldly empire defines those things. Instead, we search for our true selves whose value comes from Jesus’ body and blood sacrificed for us. Being a disciple means continually trying to cut the ties we’ve built with the empire of the world.
When you cut those ties, whether of addiction, consumerism, ambition, or the other world-enticing sins, don’t get discouraged or dismayed when the Enemy attacks. All you have to do is to call on the name of Jesus. Ann Voskamp writes that she sings hymns, “When the enemy attacks with lies, when I feel alone and scared, when I fear the future and whispers in the shadows. It’s what my mother-in-law, a Dutch farmer’s wife and mother of nine, godly and with these big calloused work hands, said to do. What she told me once hunched over this row of peas we were picking out in a June twilight: “It’s what my mother said, Ann: When it is hardest — that is when you sing the loudest. The devil flees at a hymn.” At the last, when the cancer wound tighter, folks would ask how she was — and my father-in-law would say, “Good! She’s singing all the time.” And we knew how hard it was — and how good she knew He is.”
Indeed, God is good and our God is a God that is with us, who took on flesh in the form of Jesus. Jesus warned us especially in this passage that we would have to deny ourselves and take up our crosses. BUT WE DON’T DO IT ALONE.
I love the poems in Alive Now by Roberta Porter. This one is called simply “Gift.”
It is no small gift to be a faith community,
to worship, to witness,
to walk the way of love
in the name and strength of Jesus.
And in community,
When brokenness and sorrow come,
those in need are surrounded
with prayer and compassion.
Our caring goes beyond ourselves,
and the stranger, in many places,
by the healing love and grace of God.
In our failures, in our busy forgetting,
we are forgiven, renewed
to continue to be the hands and feet of Christ –
no small task,
no small gift.
The world will see our Jesus by our witness and by our community. It’s imperative that we take up our crosses every day AND show the world God’s tangible love for them. We have to let it bleed and infect all of our lives. Nothing is off limits. James 1:22-24 says, “22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, ongoing away, immediately forget what they were like.”
Be authentic. Be real. Be honest. Say and know, you’re not perfect, and invite them into your life so that they see the little reassurances God gives us along the way – the person that says something and God’s speaking through their voice, the song that happens to come on the radio or the itunes shuffle at just the right time, the passage of scripture we happen to read…it doesn’t just “happen.” Be the hands and feet of Jesus. Go and take it to the world and rock it. Claim it. Let your life of faith be a testimony. Live your faith out loud. And remember to be grateful not only to our first responders who put themselves in harm’s way for each of us, nor for their families, but the One who gave the greatest sacrifice, Jesus, so that we, and those lives lost, could have eternal life.
I will close with these words of Mr. Rogers. “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” Jesus says come, take up your cross and follow me. John 15:12-13, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Do we love the world that much that we’re willing to lay down on our lives? God did.