Fifteen years ago today, September 11, 2001, a day which ever since we simply call 9/11, we saw that the oceans could no longer protect us.
The following Sunday, we worshipped as usual. We recited Psalm 46 and sang the hymn Luther took from it – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” At the time, we were on a journey through the life of Joseph in Genesis. The sermon theme that day was “No Doubtful Witness.” We could not know then the good, the bad and the ugly that would follow in the next 15 years. But here is a look back at a portion of that sermon from 2001:
“There are times in our lives when the earth seems to move beneath our feet, when all the usual supports are gone, when forces larger than ourselves are like mountains hurled into the midst of the sea, when all the world comes crashing down around our heads. Who has not felt that way this week? One can see the ground giving way in Joseph’s life too as things go from bad to worse. We have taken note of the inspired writer’s refrain: ‘The Lord was with Joseph.’ But Joseph himself could have argued against that. His valiant stabs at goodness have brought him nothing but grief. He interprets a dream to his brothers and they throw him into a cistern – then sell him into slavery in the land of Egypt. He resists the lusty advances of his master’s unfaithful wife and he ends up framed and imprisoned. In this chapter, he interprets another dream for a cell mate and the cell mate promptly forgets about him. Joseph could have argued: ‘God is unfair. God has forgotten. God does not care.’
“But it is because Joseph really believes that God is mapping out the details of his life that, even in Pharaoh’s dungeon, he can give ‘no doubtful witness’ that he belongs to the Lord. It is because ‘the Lord Almighty is with us,’ and ‘the God of Jacob is our fortress’ even when ‘the earth gives way’ in New York or Washington or in our own private lives, that we can render ‘no doubtful witness’ that we are the Lord’s… God says in Isaiah, ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you…’
“…God spoke these words about mountains being shaken and hills being removed to His Old Testament people who would face the end of life as they knew it. They would see their national landmark – the temple of Solomon – in flames – its walls crumbling into dust – the bodies of little children littering the ground – their leaders led off in chains as prisoners of war to far-off Babylon. Life as they knew it would never be the same. Things they thought would always be there were suddenly gone. Sometimes mountains get shaken. Hills get removed…You who saw the tape played over and over again of two 110 story buildings collapsing into a heap of rubble – and the center of our nation’s military power on fire – who saw the rivers of tears and the avalanche of anger across our land – you know that sometimes mountains get shaken – hills get removed.
“But listen to what God says: ‘Yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor My covenant of peace be removed.’ The mountains can be shaken, famous buildings can be blown to bits. Dark forces can take your home, your money, your family, even your life. Things you always thought would or should be there may be gone. But the unfailing love of God for poor lost sinners in the shape of a cross can never be shaken. The peace which comes from sin forgiven can never be removed. Older than the mountains, deeper than their roots, wider than the heavens, stronger than all my sin and guilt, is the love of Christ whose nail-pierced hands will never let me go. Like Joseph in the land of the ancient Pharaohs, let us give no doubtful witness to our countrymen that we are the Lord’s. Truly, only by this gospel of Christ shall God bless us and shall God bless America! Amen.”