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This sermon was preached on the Sunday following the September 11 attacks.

SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV'D ALLAN B. WARREN III
AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY CROSS

From St. Paul writing to the Galatians: Far be it from me to glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Most of us this morning are still in a state of shock, and it is, I fear, quite certain that this will continue for a very long time. Not only because of the political and economic consequences of what happened last Tuesday, which may take years to resolve. And not only because of the personal connections, which will never be resolved. (And we all have personal connections. Even if we haven't been directly touched by this monstrous disaster, we are surely close to someone who has been.) But there is also something else. The shock will remain with us because we have been made to be witnesses to evil in one of its most brutal, unambiguous and hideous possible manifestations: an arbitrary, impersonal act of murder and destruction motivated by hated. Hatred alone. Moreover, the destroyers destroyed themselves in order to destroy. And that, dear people, is a perfect definition of evil, its dynamic and its end in this world: destruction, as much destruction as possible. Even destruction of self. That is what we were forced to watch last week.

An experience of evil always results in a wound. Even for bystanders and witnesses, evil results in a wound. And we are all wounded. Evil always shocks us and confuses us, and the shock and confusion never really go away. We are wounded, we are shocked, we are confused, because evil is always personal. Evil is an assault upon creation. It is an assault upon order and civilization. Evil is an assault upon life itself. Your life, my life, the life of everyone in the world. Indeed, and paradoxically, it was the very arbitrary and impersonal nature of what happened last Tuesday which makes it so personal. No one was a specific target, and therefore everyone was a target. And that is why all over the world, and not only here in the United States - all over the world - in nations friendly and unfriendly - people are dazed, disturbed, even in tears. The attack may have been directed against America, our country, but the target is everyone, everywhere. Evil doesn't discriminate. Evil destroys.

There is a massive investigation and manhunt going on throughout the world. The people remaining alive who were the agents of this unspeakable act must be found and brought to justice. That is necessary. Others who would contemplate something similar must be found and restrained. That is imperative. We will make a mistake, however, if we imagine that having found them, we have accomplished anything ultimate. Just as we will make a mistake, and a dangerous one, if we identify last Tuesday with any particular group or culture, for every group and every culture can be the instrument of evil. Evil corrupts in order to destroy. It uses anyone and anything it can. We are dealing here with something much more devious and mysterious even than politics and worldly power. We are dealing here with something which goes beyond simple human sin. We are dealing here with something which manifests itself in tiny incidents and interchanges, which often escape our notice, just as surely it does in hideous calamities which shock, confuse and wound. We are dealing here with evil. The demonic. The devil, if you will. In fact, it is the devil's most effective trick to persuade us that we can identify him, that he has one face and that we can point a finger. The devil has no face. Rather, he has many, many masks. We cannot identify evil. If we try, it quickly assumes another shape - perhaps our own - and uses another identity. The only certain thing that we can say about it is that its intention is to destroy.

In philosophy and sometimes in theology there are various arguments and discussions which we call theodicy. They attempt to explain evil. Specifically, they focus on the problem and paradox of how a good God can coexist with all the evil which is at work in the world. In an abstract way they seek "to justify the ways of God to men." On a sunny summer afternoon, or by a fire in a cozy study, such head-talk may make some kind of sense. However, it seems almost obscene when a wife or husband or child or friend or colleague is senselessly murdered. There is little consolation to philosophy when destruction is all around you. Theory feels like an insult when one is wounded and in shock, confused and in pain.

What then? Is there anything? Is there anything at all? Anything which can answer, address, or speak to the pain and dismay? Is there balm in Gilead? Christianity thinks so, and what it proclaims is this: that God confronts the paradox and mystery of evil with a paradox and mystery of His own. And thereby, He brings comfort and consolation, perseverance and hope.

Last Friday was the Feast of the Holy Cross. This morning, observing that feast, we celebrate God's mystery and paradox and we pray for His consolation. The Cross of Jesus is the central and unique mystery of our faith, for on the Cross God confronted evil and took its destructive, death-dealing power upon Himself. And in Jesus, through His faithful obedience, God won the victory over evil. It did not destroy Him. Jesus is Lord. And through Jesus, by faith in His love, alive with His life, you and I may win our victory over evil as well.

And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God does not abolish evil in the world. I wish He would. I don't know why He doesn't. Philosophy and theodicy are no help. All their answers are insufficient or repulsive. The saving mystery of Jesus, however, is that God knows evil and suffering and sin just as we do. We are not alone there, God Himself has been there … on the Cross. And He is still there. In the midst of suffering, God is there with us. Assaulted by evil, God is there with us. Defeated by death, God is there as well. And by His almighty power He turns death to life.

God embraces you and me and all humanity upon the Cross. Jesus is His embrace. Jesus "who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross," is His love. There - on the Cross - in Jesus - God took upon Himself all that evil could unleash upon a man, and as a man He triumphed over it. His obedience, His faithfulness, His integrity could not be destroyed. On the Cross, God in Jesus prevailed, and there on the Cross the ultimate power of evil was broken. Destruction was overturned by love.

Far be it from me to glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ave cruce, unica spes!

Hail Holy Cross, our only hope!

Amen.