The 4th of July 2017 7-2-2017

As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July, I began to reflect over the last 4 or 5 months how many people I listen to who told me story after story of being overwhelmed, overwhelmed by bombings and vicious terrorist acts overseas and in this USA, by senseless school shootings, cars being used as weapons of destruction, chemical attacks on innocent babies.
I began to reflect on when I felt like this before. It was after September 11, 2001. What I wrote then, needs to be spoken today.

When the first crews of firefighters and police raced to the World Trade Center on that horrible day September 11, 2001, they had no idea of the enormity of what they were about to see. In those first few hours, not one rescue worker could find the words to describe the devastation. When asked by news reporters what it was like, all anyone could say was, “It was hell…I have seen hell…I have been to hell”.
And we wondered then and continue to wonder today: How could God create such a hell? How could God allow such a hell to even exist?
The answer is perhaps too simple to grasp. The reality is that God does not create these hells, then or today. Human beings do. Our hatreds and self-centeredness form the foundation of hell’s walls; our fears and angers are its gates. Hell can perhaps best be described as where God is not: When we allow the worst of our human nature to triumph, when we have torn down and dismantled the compassion and justice of God, we have created a new hell.
And the breadth and width of the hells we create can be breathtaking.
So where do we go to escape these hells? Is God’s heaven out of our grasp and beyond our vision?
In the wake of the September 11 bombings, Rabbi Harold S. Kushner was asked some questions. He was the author of the acclaimed When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He responded:
“Where was God? I have to believe that God was at the side of the victims, hurting and grieving with them so that they would not be facing death alone. I have to believe that God was at the side of the firefighters and rescue workers, inspiring them to risk their own lives in an effort to save others. I don’t believe that God was on the side of the terrorists, no matter how fervently they may have invoked God’s name as they set their fiendish plan in motion.
Why didn’t God stop them? Because, at the very outset of the human experiment, God gave us the free will to choose between good and evil. Without that free will, humans could be obedient but could not be good”.
We believe that God is not the God of the dead but the God of the living. God is not placated by the destruction of sinners but rejoices in the return of the prodigal. God does not condemn us to hell; God wishes all of us to be saved. God will love us for all eternity, but there always exists the possibility that we will refuse that love. That rejection and the refusal to respond to such love are precisely the meaning of hell. Hell is not a place where God puts us—it’s a place where we put ourselves. Christ comes to show us how to dismantle the hells we create and set in their places the justice, peace and forgiveness that are the building stones of the kingdom of the Father.

On this 4th of July, may we do our best to be grateful for this country and our freedoms that so many died to protect. It is very obvious as a nation we have problems and areas that need to change and become better, may we not only criticize these problems but may we become part of the solutions to make them better.
I’d like to close with this,
Both the work of building America and the establishing of Gods Kingdom continue, on this celebration of our nation’s founding. May we, recommit ourselves to the work of building the pyramid that is America– Life, Liberty and Justice for all. As baptized in the life of Christ, may we continue the work of the Gospel: to be messengers, prophets, ministers, agents of Gods reign of peace, compassion and reconciliation to all. As we respond to this challenge, may we begin this 4th of July one step at a time. May God help us all.


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