The morning of September 11th, 2001 began, for Mohamed Atta, in Portland Maine. Atta, who, along with Osama Bin Laden, is considered to be the chief strategist and ringleader of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, checked a bag at the Portland International Jetport, made his way through a security checkpoint, and boarded a 6AM US Airways Express flight to Boston’s Logan airport.
This US Airways flight to Boston was delayed.
It is hard for us to imagine what kind of world we would be living in today, if that flight had been just a few more minutes late. Unfortunately for us, and every other human alive on our confused planet, that flight wasn’t delayed enough. Atta made the connecting flight, and at 7:59AM, American Airlines Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles, departed from Logan with 81 souls on board. Atta was in seat 8A.
47 minutes and 40 seconds later, American Airlines Flight 11 made impact with the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and in that instant, the history of the world was transformed.
If only that US Airways flight was just a few more minutes late…
It seems like a small thing to ask…
However it was not to be…
Mohamed Atta did make the connecting flight at Logan…
There was something though that didn’t make that connection. Remember the piece of luggage that Atta checked in Portland? That piece of baggage never made it to Flight 11.
Do you know anyone named James?
My older brother’s name is James.
Since our reading, this morning, comes from the book of James, I thought I’d find out what I can about the Biblical character that my brother is named after.
James, it turns out, derives from a Greek version of the Hebrew name Jacob.
I did not know that…
There is another significant Jacob in the Bible, that we would not want to get this person mixed up with so its convenient that he has been differentiated from the other Jacob by being called James instead.
James has some other names too — nicknames — not one, but two! The first nickname was: “James the Just.” Impressive! I wouldn’t mind being called “Mark the Just…” (Somehow it doesn’t have the same ring to it)…
But wait… The second nickname is more impressive still — James was also known as “James the Brother of the LORD.” According to tradition James was Jesus’ half brother — a son of Joseph from a woman other than Mary.
If all this was not enough, James is identified by Paul, in 1st Corinthians 15:7 as being one of the first people to whom Jesus appeared after the resurrection. With all this in mind, it is perhaps not surprising that James was made the first leader of the very first Christian community that gathered in Jerusalem after Christ’s ascension.
James was the first minister, of the first church.
That makes James sound like someone worth listening to.
So what did this first minister, named James, have to say?
Do you suppose he emphasizes how well qualified he is to lead his people?
Maybe he demonstrates to them how wonderfully just he is…
Perhaps he reminds them of his impressive lineage — as someone who is in the same family as their savior…
He would be within his rights to say any of these things… but he doesn’t.
Instead he says:
no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?
Of all the things to say…
James is warning us…
From the first minister of our faith comes this matter of deep concern. Be cautious, he tells us… The same mouth the blesses can also curse.
The tongue may not be all that big a body part, but it is exceptionally powerful. Like the insignificant rudder that can, with a small movement, direct the movement of an immense ship at sea, the tongue has a disproportionate influence on human fate. Like the tiny spark that ignites a forest fire, the tongue has the capacity, like no other part of our body, to steer the course of human events…
What a surprising thing to say…
and yet how true.
If only we had listened!
James proclaimed this cautionary statement back in the 1st century AD, a thousand years before the Crusades, when Pope Urban the second mobilized western European forces to take the Holy Land back from the Muslims, causing centuries of war and untold bloodshed.
James spoke this warning 12 hundred years before the ruling Christian elite in Spain turned on Jews and Muslims, during the Spanish Inquisition, killing hundreds of thousands.
James gave us pause with his prophetic words 15 centuries before Pope Alexander the sixth issued a Papal Bull authorizing Europeans to conquer, colonize, convert and enslave the native peoples of Africa and the America’s, paving the way for centuries of imperialism, bloodshed, and pernicious ideology of white supremacy, that poisons our humanity to this day.
James recognized the danger, almost two thousand years before Pope Pius the 12th remained silent in the face of Hitler’s “final solution.”
From the same mouth come blessing and curse, James tells us.
Religion is the source of all our hope, and when it is hijacked, it is the most dangerous thing in the world.
My brothers and sisters, James says.. this ought not to be so.
When the FBI recovered Mohamed Atta’s bag from the depths of Logan airport, they found a four page document inside. The document, which was written in Arabic, was eventually released by the FBI, translated and given to the press.
The document, which can be found on the web, is a list of instructions for a martyr…
The first item on the list might be expected — it says Make an oath to die and renew your intentions.
But then it goes on to say things like:
Remind your soul to listen and obey;
Pray during the night;
Remember God frequently;
Purify your soul from all unclean things;
The eighth item on the list reads as follows:
You should feel complete tranquility, because the time between you and your marriage [in heaven] is very short. Afterwards begins the happy life, where God is satisfied with you, and eternal bliss ‘in the company of the prophets, the companions, the martyrs and the good people, who are all good company’. Ask God for his mercy and be optimistic,
Isn’t it strange?
The language here is devotional.
It is not unfamiliar to us.
The document seeks to give its reader spiritual solace — the centeredness and assurance of Divine accompaniment.
And yet, this tranquility — this resolution of high purpose — it is all harnessed toward the intention of flying a plane into a building and killing thousands of people…
The people who did this, most awful thing, believed ardently that God was on their side, and that their actions would be rewarded in heaven.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. James said. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
It ought not to be so among radicalized islamist terrorists.
It ought not to have been so for Pope Urban the 2nd who started the crusades…
It ought not to have been so for the European imperialists who invaded the Americas and Africa with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other.
It ought not to have been so for the southern ministers during slavery, that Frederick Douglass described, who “wielded the blood-clotted cowskin during the week and filled the pulpit on a Sunday…”
James warned us, and we did not listen.
Religion has actively taken part in the worst crimes of human history.
How do we, as people of faith, answer James’ indictment? How do we live in a way that redeems…
Redeems our faith…
Jesus tells us how.
Feed the hungry.
Give shelter to the homeless.
Visit the prisoner.
Center yourself, not in a God of vengeance, but in a God of peace.
Not in a God of power, but a God of love.
Shortly after the events of September 11th 2001, the United States military moved into Afghanistan.
Today, twenty years later, the American military has left Afghanistan.
Let us study war no more.
Now, let us learn peace.
For God is not on the side of killing.
I do not believe in that God.
God is on the side of love.
Open your mouth, and let your tongue proclaim a God is love.
There is a time for every purpose under heaven
Now is a time to speak.
Let our tongues speak of God’s love.
God’s love to you,
God’s love to me,
God’s love to all the Afghan refugees who come to our country.