Ten Years After 9/11 and the Church

“‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

– Zechariah 3:10, NIV

This week I’ve been working on the above passage from Zechariah for a sermon I am preaching this Sunday that weaves together the themes of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and being neighbors. What follows will not be a preview of the sermon I plan to preach but it is some further thoughts I have on how this passage bears on the anniversary of 9/11.

In the ten years since 9/11, most people seem more than ready for the war on terrorism to be over, for the sons and daughters serving in the military to come home. As Christians, peace is our desire too. The Bible has a term for this: Shalom, the Hebrew word for ‘peace’.

Shalom is the global vision of Zechariah 3.10 where strangers will come together as neighbors underneath a shade tree. Two things are important here. First, the image itself is a familiar Old Testament picture of peace (Conrad, Zechariah, 96; see also 1 Kgs 4.25; Isa 36.16; Mic 4.4). Secondly, the word “neighbor” cannot be ignored when taking into account the place of ‘neighbor’ throughout scripture, especially the way Jesus redefines what it means to love our neighbors (cf. Lk 10.25-37). To be neighbors is to no longer be indifferent or enemies of one another but to be companions and servants of each other.

This is the vision Joshua, the High Priest, is given after God first defends Joshua against his accuser, the Satan, by replacing his filthy clothes with new clothes (3.1-5). Then God says to Joshua, “If you walk in my ways and keep my requirements…” (3.7). God is not interested in “cheap grace” (à la, Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Finally, God promises the sending of his “servant the Branch” (3.8) which in the Old Testament is a messianic promise. Out of the grace God shows to this post exilic High Priest, Joshua, and the subsequent faithfulness God demands, comes a messianic promise. Then we are left with the vision to come of what all of human history has hoped for…shalom as neighbors gather together.

Though there are some differences, I wonder what it would mean for the “royal priesthood” otherwise known as the church (cf. 1 Pet 2.9), to hear a call to once again walk in obedience to God. In a recent Christianity Today article “How Evangelical Leaders Have Changed Since 9/11”, Will Willimon writes about American Christianity saying:

It was shattering to admit that we had lost the theological means to distinguish between the United States and the kingdom of God. The criminals who perpetrated 9/11 and the flag-waving boosters of our almost exclusively martial response were of one mind: that the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid. All of us preachers share the shame; when our people felt very vulnerable, they reached for the flag, not the Cross.

That was then. But what about now…ten years later?

Obedience to God is to follow Jesus, his values and his ways…washing feet en route to the Roman cross, not wielding a sword for the sake of self-preservation. Like Jesus, we obey God because we trust God and believe that has and will overcome.

I am under no illusion that violence and terrorism will end until Jesus returns and all things are finally made new. Nor am I under any illusion that ten years after 9/11 the world is any more safe from the threat of terrorism than it way prior to 9/11. What then should be our response as Christians? To walk again in obedience to God! Yes it’s easier said than done…I know, I know. That’s why we need much grace but lest we cheapen that grace, obedience to God it must be.

In light of the kingdom the church is called to be witnesses of, obedience means living as present day preview of the future…of that day when people will gather as true neighbors underneath the shade tree, where God’s reign is fully at hand and the cross of Jesus is constantly held up as the sign of victory. And if the church will not do this, then who will?

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