Sermon preached by the Most Revd David M Gitari Archbishop of Kenya and Bishop of Nairobi
The Anglican Church of Kenya
All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi
16th September 2001
Sermon preached during a memorial service for those who died in New York and Washington DC during the Tuesday 11th September 2001 bombings
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." (Matthew 6:13)
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer
Today I had planned to celebrate my birthday at Ambridge, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a special chapel service at the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and then fly to New York for a birthday dinner with my friends before proceeding to Burlington, Vermont to attend the meeting of House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church of America. But that was not to be. I was advised to cancel my weekend engagements in America and leave Nairobi for USA tomorrow evening if the situation stabilises. Instead of celebrating a birthday in New York, I have been destined to mourn with you over the shocking events which took place on Tuesday the 11th of September in New York and Washington DC. What we have witnessed this week is indeed shocking. There are many shocks and ripples of shocks. But let me make reference to two virtually incredible shocks.
- First and foremost it is absolutely shocking that human beings can go on a mission in hijacked planes not only to kill themselves but also to kill innocent lives of passengers in those four aeroplanes, and thousands others at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. I say it is shocking because these terrorists have no value for human life, including their own. This is totally contrary to the teachings of the Holy Bible where, in Genesis Chapter 1 verse 27 we read that:
"God created man in his own image. In the image of God, He created him, male and female, He created them." And "God saw all that he had made and it was very good." Genesis 1:31
This statement affirms that there is sanctity in human life because we are all created in the image of God. The 1974 Lausanne Covenant stated that "Because mankind is made in the image of God, every person regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class or sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited or eliminated.
Destruction of human life is a great offence before God our creator. Even suicide is a sin before God. He who created us is the one to determine how we shall eventually leave this world. The first ever-recorded murder in the Bible was that of Cain killing his brother Abel. When asked by God, "Where is your brother Abel?" Cain replied, "I do not know." "Am I my brother's keeper?" he asked. (Genesis 4:9f). Yes indeed you are, because you are made in His image, and instead of eliminating your brother, you should care, protect and serve him.
It now appears Cain has struck again in a much bigger way than the biblical Cain. He is worse because he is nowhere to be asked, where are your brothers and sisters? Because he has not only destroyed them but also himself.
It is unimaginable that people created in God's image can destroy their fellow human beings in their thousands. We are even tempted to think terrorists are not human beings in the real sense of the word. But the Bible restrains us from coming to that conclusion because all human beings including those terrorists were created by God in his image, but as a result of the fall, God's image has become distorted and are now servants of Satan, the devil, who will go to any extent to destroy what God created and said, "it is very good."
- The second shock I wish to express is that it was the symbols of power of the mighty United States that were destroyed on Tuesday. Pentagon is the USA's Military Headquarters, the nerve centre of the defence of the most powerful nation in this world. The 110 storey World Trade Centre is the economic headquarters of the World, and yet it collapsed like a tower made of paper cards.
One is left shocked and wondering, "where were those who keep guard of this great nation. Have they possibly been asleep since the end of the cold war? One of the answers we are reading from the media is that the defenders of the mighty nation were never trained for this sort of attack. The attackers we are informed, used knives, to take over the four aeroplanes, and that the suicide pilots were trained in USA.
The United States Military is the most powerful and the most sophisticated in the world, and may have become overconfident. History is full of castles, which were overrun by enemies just at the point where the defenders thought the castles were so strong that they did not need to be guarded.
This matter points to the truth in the words of the Psalmist:
Unless the Lord builds the House;
Its builders labour in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city;
The Watchmen stand guard in vain.
- The events of Tuesday should confirm to us including doubting Thomases, the reality of the existence of the devil. Satan is real. The Bible does not think of evil as an abstract principle or force but as an active personal power in opposition to God. The devil is the slanderer per excellent, the power who is out to frustrate the purposes of God in his creation, and to ruin human kind.
An international Christian conference on the theme "Deliver us from the evil One" held here in August last year stated that, Satan, together with "the rulers, authorities, the powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" are at work through:
- Deceiving and distorting
- Tempting to sin
- Afflicting the body, emotions, mind and will
- Taking control of a person and using that person to achieve his (devil's) activities
- Disordering of nature
- Distorting the roles of social, economic and political structures
- Scapegoating as a means of legitimising violence
- Promoting self-interest, injustice, oppression and abuse
- The realm of occult, false religions and all forms of opposition to God's work of salvation and mission of the Church.
When Jesus taught us to pray: "Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from the Evil one", He was not implying that God can lead us into temptation (that leads to sin). The Greek word is better translated to mean Test. In the New Testament usage, to test a person is not so much to seduce him into sin, as it is to test his strength, his loyalty and his ability for service. In the Old Testament, God tested Abraham by seeming to demand the sacrifice of his only son Isaac. The prayer therefore is to ask God not to lead us to the kind of testing which will be too much for us to bear. Instead Jesus taught us to ask God to deliver us from the Evil One.
In the Bible there are two stories where Satan seems to have gone to heaven to seek permission to test God's people. He was granted permission with conditions.
He went and asked God for permission to test Job. When permission was granted, he tested Job so much to a point where Job complained bitterly before God but in the final analysis Job triumphed over Satan and God blessed the latter part of his life more than the first.
In Luke 22, Jesus tells Simon Peter:
"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for your Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers"
Once again Satan seems to have asked permission to test Simon and permission was granted. We know that Peter was often too confident about his own loyalty to Jesus Christ, to the extent where we see him vowing to die with Jesus. But when the time came, he denied Jesus three times.
When we pray, "Deliver us from the evil one", we are asking that God does not allow Satan to test us to the extent that we are not able to bear any more. If Satan has asked permission to test United Sates and permission was granted, our prayer is that such permission should not be granted again, and America should not waver from its motto: IN GOD WE TRUST.
- The last thing I want to say is that when Christians find themselves victims of violence, their reaction should be to follow the example of Jesus. The primary purpose of the life and ministry of Jesus was to expose, confront, defeat Satan and destroy his works. Christ has decisively defeated Satan at the Cross and through resurrection. He confronted through prayer, righteousness, obedience, and setting the captives free. In the way he ministered to the people, casted out demons and mounted enormous challenge to the evil institutions and structures of the world.
In Romans 12, St. Paul called upon the Christians of Rome to: "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn... Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible in as far as depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to revenge; I will repay", say the Lord.
On the contrary:
"If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good"
(Romans 12: 17-21)
Christians must meet persecution with prayer for those who persecute them. Plato said the good man will choose rather to suffer evil than to do evil. To hate another is Evil. When the Christian is hurt, insulted, maltreated, he has the example of his master before him, for he upon the cross prayed for forgiveness for those who were killing him. There has been no greater force to move men and women to Christianity that this serene forgiveness, which martyrs in every age have shown. We have to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. We are to live at peace with all people. But Paul quickly adds two qualifications:
- It is possible
- As far as you can
There may come a time when the claims of courtesy have to submit to the claims of principle. Christianity is not an easygoing tolerance, which will accept anything and shut eyes to everything. Here in this city and its environs, we just cannot keep quiet when innocent people are being killed everyday by terrorists while our security forces don't seem to be doing much.
There may come a time when it may become impossible to live at peace with criminals and when that time comes, some action must be taken. As one writer said: "If you want peace, prepare for war". However, we have to keep ourselves from all thoughts of taking revenge. Paul gives us 3 reasons for that:
USA has called for total war and about 50,000 troops have been mobilised in readiness for war. And Taliban is reported to have told President George Bush that they will fight back. So far the enemy is invisible and his methods and motives are not known. While we agree that terrorists and those who host them should be hunted down, apprehended and punished, yet the great world power should exercise wisdom and restraint, for evil can never be conquered by evil.
- Vengeance does not belong to us, it belongs to God. In the final analysis, no human being has a right to judge any other; only God can do that.
- To treat a person with kindness rather than vengeance is the way to move his heart. Vengeance could break his spirit, but kindness will break his heart. Kindness will move our enemies to burning shame.
- To stoop to vengeance is to be ourselves conquered by evil. Evil can never be conquered by evil. If hatred is met with more hatred, this only multiplies hatred. But if hatred is met with love, this serves as a true antidote to the poisonous effects of hate. We have witnessed the results of conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Palestinians. As long as Israel mission is to defeat Palestinians through revenge, there will never be peace in the Holy Land. The only way to destroy an enemy is by making him a friend.
Soon after the bombing of the World Trade Center on Tuesday, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of America, the Most Revd. Frank Griswold sent the following email to the Primates of the Anglican Communion:
The events of this morning in New York City and Washington DC make me keenly aware that violence knows no boundaries and that security is an illusion. To witness the collapse of the World Trade Centre was to confront not only our vulnerability as a nation in spite of our power, but also the personal vulnerability of each of us to events and circumstances that overtake us. My heart goes out to those who have been killed or injured, and to their stunned and grieving families and friends.
Our president has promised to hunt down and punish those who are responsible for these depraved and wicked acts. Many are speaking of revenge. Never has it been clearer to me than in this moment that, people of faith, in virtue of the Gospel and the mission of the Church, are called to be about peace and the transformation of the human heart, beginning with our own. I am not immune to emotions of rage and revenge, but I know that acting on them only perpetuates the very violence I pray will be dissipated and overcome.
Expression of concern and prayer have been poured into my office from many parts of the world, in some instances from people who themselves are deeply wounded by continuing violence and bloodshed. I pray that the events of today will invite us to see ourselves as a great nation not in terms of our power and wealth but measured by our ability to be in solidarity with others where violence has made its home and become a way of life.
Yes, those responsible must be found and punished for their evil and disregard for human life, but through the heart of this violence we are called to another way. May our response be to engage with all our hearts and minds and strength in God's project of transforming the world into a garden, a place of peace where swords can become ploughshares and spears are changed into pruning hooks.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. In the Name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.