Clinging to Truth—Our Refusal to Forget September 11th by Brett Rodgers (pen name)

The Question
Recently, while driving with a friend on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, I noted that there seemed to be more 9/11 tributes this year than there had been in years past. It seemed as though half my friends’ facebook statuses acknowledged the attacks in one way or another, and I’d seen or heard the attacks mentioned on my television, my radio, and in my morning newspaper. I hadn’t really given much thought to the uptick in memorials and only mentioned it in passing to my friend who was driving the car. I expected him to reply with some sort of remembrance of the tragic event, or perhaps even to tell me where he had been when he first heard about the attacks. His response, given as we passed an American flag at half-mast, therefor caught me quite off guard…“Why is it,” he asked, “that we go out of our way to remember those attacks every year?”
“What do you mean, ‘why do we remember?’”, I thought to myself. Remembering 9/11 is one of those things that we just do! That date, perhaps more than any other, is etched into our collective consciousness. It has always seemed appropriate that many of the 9/11 memorials contain the words, “Never forget,” or something similar. But when I was asked why exactly it is that we refuse to forget, nothing sprang immediately to mind.
So I ended up just sitting there in silence, unable to adequately respond to the question. I was as shocked by my inability to answer as I was by the question itself. There’s no questioning that many of us commemorate the September 11th attacks, but I wonder if we’ve ever really considered why it is that we memorialize that event.
No doubt some of you reading this have a response to the question, “Why do we remember?” There are, of course, a few obvious answers: The sheer number of lives lost, the brazenness of the attack on our nation, the lasting effect the attacks have had on our economy and foreign policy…indeed, there are many aspects of the attacks that make them a significant historical event, but I’m not sure that any of them can fully explain how passionately our entire culture memorializes the attacks eleven years later. (Please note that I’m not questioning any individual memorial or commemoration. People who lived in the areas that were attacked—especially those who were personally affected—have every right to memorialize the event. I’m interested in discovering why our whole society remembers the event as if we were all there.)
Although the loss of life on that day was staggering, the death toll from that day is less than that of several American military conflicts—and who among us commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam every year? It could be argued that such a large number of civilian deaths is the key, but then surely we would memorialize April 19th as well(the date of the Oklahoma City bombings). Perhaps we commemorate the event because of our patriotic zeal—but why then isn’t December 7th, the date of another significant attack on our nation, a day of mourning and remembrance? Or if it’s the lasting geopolitical ramifications of the attacks that matter most, one is forced to ask why don’t commemorate the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall—an event that surely rivals the 9/11 attacks in terms of geopolitical influence. Admittedly, that every single one of these factors were combined into one event makes the attacks extremely memorable; it could be argued, in fact, that the attacks are the most significant historical event of the last several decades. But there are many significant historical events whose anniversaries we hardly recognize—why is it that we so passionately memorialize this one?
Godwin’s Law
In 1990, a lawyer named Mike Godwin came up with the following thesis: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving either Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” In other words, any online discussion(regardless of topic or scope) will involve a comparison to Hitler if given enough time. While the thesis—now called Godwin’s Law—seems comical at first, it has been proven correct with stunning consistency as online discussion has become a regular part of modern life. What Godwin didn’t attempt to discover(as far as I know) is why exactly it is that so many discussions follow his law. The answer, I believe, is postmodernism.
At the most fundamental level, the defining aspect of postmodernism is relativity—right, wrong, good, bad, righteous, evil…in a postmodern society, all of these qualities are subject to perspective and opinion, rather than being inherent truths. The obvious problem with this postmodern framework is that it makes discussion and debate impossible. What one person considers evil, another might consider good—and postmodernism deliberately ignores any mechanism that might determine who is right. The result is that online debaters, robbed of the ability to call something good or bad, can only draw comparisons to events or people that are already universally agreed upon to be good or bad. So if a person compares another’s ideas to those of Hitler’s, it’s not likely because the ideas in question are actually similar to Hitler’s; instead, the person is probably just trying to convey that the ideas are bad. Hitler is just one example—on the other end of the spectrum, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. are often points of comparison for something that is “good.” This method of relying on moral benchmarks may seem like a silly and ineffective way of debating, but it’s the only option available to those who refuse to acknowledge outright truths.
Extrapolating Godwin’s Law beyond online conversations, I think it’s fair to say that our society still recognizes and clings to people or events that demonstrate truth(good or bad). Our refusal to acknowledge truth doesn’t mean that it ceased to exist, and Godwin’s Law demonstrates the means by which we cope with truth’s continuing existence. Is it possible that our commemoration of September 11th is the result of this subconscious clinging on to truth? Having reached pretty much universal agreement in our society regarding the evil nature of the attacks, is our devotion to “never forgetting” September 11th a case of our aforementioned benchmarking?
The Point
If it is the case that our culture’s refusal to forget September 11th is driven by postmodern benchmarking, then we’ve found the answer to my friend’s question. More importantly, though, we can see that our culture is at least subconsciously still seeking truth in spite of postmodernism. Even though it may seem like society has abandoned truth in favor of experience or perspective, here we have evidence that it can only feign this abandonment—that our inherent desire for truth cannot be quelled. For the church, who has the Truth(capitalization intentional), this should be very heartening news. I’m reminded of a story I once heard about a mother whose teenage son had seemingly become a heartless degenerate. No matter what she did, she could not get her son to show compassion for others or seemingly to feel anything at all. Then, one day, she saw that he was watching the movie “Bambi” on television—the son didn’t know his mother was watching him, and he couldn’t help but shed a tear when Bambi’s mother died. As he was wiping the tear away from his eyes, his mother ran into the room and hugged him, her own eyes full of joyful tears. Just seeing that her son’s heart hadn’t completely hardened—that he was still capable of feeling—brought the mother overwhelming relief.
It may be a little corny, but do you see the analogy? It may seem like our culture has abandoned truth altogether, but they can no more abandon truth than the mother’s son could abandon compassion. Our society’s commemoration of the September 11th attacks is the proverbial “tear in their eye.” They cannot help but cling to truth and, like the mother, we’ve caught them in the act. Surely we should rejoice like the mother at this good news.

Mark 9:14-29 “Jesus heals a boy with an unclean spirit”

I normally don’t post my sermons nor do I think I am a great sermon writer but I believe myself as a faithful preacher none the less.  Below is my sermon for today, I am preaching at St. Augustine Lutheran Church in town here.  Today so happens to be on an exorcism of a boy and since that is my area of study, I thought I would put my sermon and post script forward for conversation and the like.  I write my sermons that act like outlines so I don’t type word for word what I preach.  At times I add or subtract from my sermon while preaching.  Also, please excuse any errors and the like.  I might go back to this post to refine my sermon for myself, not an attempt to “perfect” it. In any case, enjoy and please leave comments. Biblical references are all from the ESV …. H.F.

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Mark 9:14-29

The meditation for today comes form Mark, chapter 9 as we hear of a young boy who is possessed by a demon.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We are in a dilemma and perhaps you can help the disciples out today.  A crowd came and gathered around the disciples and not only that, the Scribes came around also and began to argue with the disciples.  Not a good day as you see for the disciples, not only do the disciples have to deal with the crowds and perhaps try to win them over but when we hear about the Scribes coming over to debate the disciples, the Scribes who were frequently seen as the teachers of the pharisees, we know something big is happening.

But then Christ enters the picture, and the crowds quickly turned their attention upon our Lord.  No doubt our Lord’s disciples were relieved that He was there.

Jesus asked, “What are you arguing about with them?”  Then someone from crowd responds, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute,” and he went on to say, “So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”

So at this point, either our Lord’s disciples are in trouble, not having the ability to cast out demons or perhaps our Lord is simply teaching us something here.  You see, our Lord just doesn’t do a miracle simply to show that He is God and moves on to the next miracle, He does these things to teach us about our faith, much like a theme of faith that  is carried out in the Gospel of Mark from which our text is taken from today.

(When we hear that the possessed boy was “mute” it might make us think about an earlier chapter in Mark (7:34) when our Lord healed a deaf man who mute or better, could not speak clearly but when our Lord healed his ears to hear, then he could speak clearly.  When we can hear the Word of God, we can then confess clearly of the faith and life that has come to us.   This possessed boy could not do this because the demon kept his mouth from making any kind of confession, for again as it reads, “for he has a spirit (namely a demon) that makes him mute.”  We also learn that this possessed boy was possessed since childhood.)

Jesus responds and says to the crowd, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?  How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”  Our Lord’s point is how we possess a lack of faith.  In my years in the parish, I see so many people so absorbed in this life and their problems that they quickly forget about the simple faith and trust in God.  Perhaps they do not know what to do with such a faith because the question for our culture is how can this faith solve my problem, trial or situation.  That is how we are taught to think, this is why people go to counselors or to their pastors to solve their problems in life.

Faith is much more than something confined to answering your problems, it is something much more than that, faith is but a “fear, love and trust in God above all things.”

(The nature of sin is that we think God is not sufficient in life, so Eve, after she took of the tree, thought she had to add to what God had originally given her)

This is why in the Psalms, the psalmists rarely has an answer to their problems, but they do, as they simply say, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

One might say, the lesson today is not centered on the possessed boy, if he is exercised from the demon or not, but the lesson today is more so about our faith in God in view of our sin, struggles and tragedies in this life. Thus the father in desperation quickly responds to our Lord’s comment about a “faithless generation” and says, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

So our Lord drives the demon out by saying, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again!” (So we hear once again about “mute” and “deaf” much like I had mentioned about the deaf-mute in the earlier chapter of Mark.)

The faith our Lord was talking about was not simply about our trust in God in the midst of trials, but a faith that finds its rest in the faithful One Jesus Christ.  This is the point of the lesson today.  We can stare at ourselves as the disciples did wondering why they couldn’t cast out a demon but instead our Lord is directing us to understand that our faith is not a faith in ourselves but in Christ.

In sin we are always going to go through an identity crisis, mark our successes and failures, wrestle with our pride, and even at times, with think that our success is God’s success and our failures God’s failure in our life.

The nature of Christianity is when the baptized Christian turns away from sin and selfishness and simply knows oneself and identity in Christ!  We look to Christ, have trust in Him and in the forgiveness of sins.

The faith that we possess is in Christ’s faithfulness, all which He has done for us and our salvation on the cross as He took away our sins and pronounced forgiveness to the baptized in the victory seen in His resurrection.

This is why after our Gospel lesson for today, our Lord foretells His death and resurrection.  This is what faith is about, again, a faith in the faithful One, namely in Christ.  That is why in Ephesians (2:8) calls faith a gift.

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Finally, our Lord’s disciples ask Jesus, “Why could we not cast it out (namely the demon)?”  Our Lord responds and says, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”  If faith is the theme, why does our Lord mention prayer?  Well, prayer is primarily an exercise of our faith.  We confess this faith as we pray for our prayers our true and certain as they are founded upon the promises of God.  This is why Luther, in His meaning of the Second commandment, speaks of prayer in view of our faithful confession of God.  Faith and prayer find their rest in Christ as we pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

How do we know that this was simply not epilepsy or another sickness and the boy really was not possessed? First off, our Lord cast the demon out and the boy was relieved from the symptoms he was experiencing since childhood so either our Lord was a great doctor or we accept Him by His word, that it was a demon and the boy was healed.  Of course we trust our Lord’s words.

Secondly, I am asked frequently about how to distinguish between a psychological, physical illness and a possession.  After long explanations on how this is done, I finally advise that no matter what it is, we treat people with the same Christ, the same Gospel, the same love, the same words of forgiveness no matter if it is physical, psychological, or a possession.  (We are condition to think “scientifically” and not in matters of the metaphysical or the understanding of the body-soul from a Christian perspective).

In the Name of Jesus.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Post Script:  Some have asked, “During a exorcism, I have commanded that the demon(s) come out in the Name of Christ, but nothing happened. Why not?”  We have an example of this in today’s lesson with the disciples.  Though I give a longer explanation to such questions, the simple answer is this, “Though there is a battle, the battle has already been one before entering the room.  So act like it for Jesus has won the battle even before entering into the room.  Speak not as one in desperation as one trying to cast the demon out but as one who has come to declare a victory and as victor no matter what happens or results in that room.”

Typically an experienced exorcist does not yell out commands as if he is desperate but speaks calmly and with confidence.  Like in the move “The Rite” with Anthony Hopkins.  When Father Lucas (Hopkins) was doing an exorcism, he gets a phone call on his cell and he calmly stops the exorcism and answers the phone and has a common conversation on his cell.  Then he goes back to the exorcism.  Not that I recommend this be done, it shows however, Father Lucas’ confidence and contentment.

As we hear in my sermon above, it isn’t  fundamentally what happens in the room but it is all about Christ and all what Christ has done for us and our salvation.  In other words, speak as a Lutheran pastor preaches on a Sunday morning no matter who is out in the pews. We center everything upon Christ.  There’s more to this but wanted to highlight this point in view of the lesson today.

This blog is …

You see on the upper right hand of this blog the purpose of this blog, I added the word “reference” awhile back. Meaning, this is a blog you can use for reference such as the bibliographies that I am developing.  But now, I will have other writers and contributors to my blog page.  So, in time, you will experience more posts and the like.  I will also by slowly adding some of my lecture notes into this blog.  Not the entire lecture but some outline or notes from the lecture.  So stay tuned!!!