Dedication. Commitment. Determination. Conviction.
When we think of 9/11, we may think of these virtues and reflect on the heroes of 9/11. Without any disrespect to those who sacrificed their lives to save others, consider for a moment that these terms also apply in a literal way to those who sacrificed their lives to destroy others.

When the President said on that day that America was attacked by a faceless coward, I believe he spoke the truth. They are cowards because they have focused their fear and fright into the intimidation of others. Since they themselves are terrified and cowardly, they seek to make other afraid of them. Like a frightened dog that growls and barks menacingly or the schoolyard bully who wants to make everyone afraid of him because he is weak inside, so then terrorists are not fearless, they are just bullies.

Nevertheless, now that we know more about the terrorists of 9/11 we discover that they were completely dedicated, committed, determined, and convicted that it was their mission to attack the United States. For years they planned their assault. They learned to fly jets. They learned martial arts. They challenged and tested airport security over and over again. The attacks of 9/11 were not the result of insane, impassioned madmen. It was the work of calculated, controlled, focused murderers. They were dedicated, committed, determined, and convicted in their cause and in their mission. And they even claimed it was in the name of God, though it served only evil.

Let this be a lesson for us as we consider the mission of God working through us. The powers against God are dedicated, committed, determined, and convicted. Are we? The powers against God call upon their devotees to be sacrificial – are we sacrificial in our service to God?
The powers against God are also cowardly – they are fearful and frightened and seek to intimidate others. Satan’s schemes are the terrified attacks of a desperate power that knows its ultimate fate. Are we fearful? Are we afraid? Or can we be fear-less for God?

Read Mark 16:1-8

8 So they went out quickly and fled from the tomb, for they trembled and were amazed. And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
Verse 8 is rather startling. It leaves us hanging like the ending of a movie we do not like. It unsettles us. It disappoints us. Sort of like the disciples who at just the wrong moment become afraid. Sort of like Peter who even though Jesus warns him, he denies Jesus. He curses, lies, barks, and growls because he is afraid. Sort of like the Pharisees and scribes who should have responded to the Messiah with open arms, but they were afraid of losing the world and the order and the control that they had so carefully built so in their fear they found reasons to justify their rejection and elimination of Jesus.

Why couldn’t the women be like John the Baptist? He was fearless. He was dedicated, committed, determined and convicted. He proclaimed truth. He called on the ruler of Judah to demonstrate God’s ways and not continue his immorality. But the truth threatened the power of Herod and Herodias and through commitment, dedication, determination, and conviction to being devious and ruthless, the powers against God had John put to death.

Jesus knew that the powers against God would also be intimidated by his presence. He taught his disciples that following him called for commitment, dedication, determination, and conviction. He symbolized that not with stories about rushing fearlessly into battle with blood-drenched swords, but with the the symbol of execution – a cross. "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it."

This is a call to sacrificial dedication and it is a call to fearlessness. Those who are fearless can sacrifice without feeling the need to save their own lives or threaten the lives of others.

We didn’t expect such fear from the women. They were the only ones with the courage to stay devoted to Jesus and witness his trial, crucifixion, and death. They were arriving at the tomb for another decoration ceremony to mourn their fallen teacher.

That’s when they not only witness the empty tomb, but they also have it explained by an angel. They see and empty tomb, but it is not left open to interpretation - "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "

Do not be afraid! And yet they are. Jesus had told others who were unafraid to seek his power (lepers, gentile women, unclean people) to be silent. The world wasn’t ready to hear about the Messiah. But now when the time comes to speak about it, the messenger fall silent because they are afraid.

If the gospel ends here, then why are we here? If the women really said nothing, then how did Peter and the others ever find out about the risen Lord? How did they ever learn the good news that casts out fear? Simple – the women and the disciples are called to be committed, dedicated, convicted, and determined; they are called to be fearless and to speak up – they are called to participate in the mission – but the mission doesn’t depend on them! Notice that Jesus is already in Galilee and he will meet the disciples.

Out of the wreckage of the World Trade Center, a cross appeared. It wasn’t formed by anyone as much as it appeared as a result of the destruction. This symbol that rose up out of the rubble and tragedy is more than a symbol for the Christian church. It actually shows us where the cross is really at home. Not on a gilded pedestal high and unreachable above a glorious cathedral, but in the ashes. Twisted, battered and half burnt. The cross is surrounded by those who are tired, dirty, and hopeless. As it was in the first century when the cross – an instrument of Roman execution – was mounted in the most visible location near the city dump where men curse and gamble, in a place where people cry out and criticize, so the cross belongs in the most unlikely and most human – even the most tragic and evil places for it is God’s standard that he rises up to say that this is never the end! There is hope! Do not be afraid! God will have the last word.

Mark’s gospel pulls us into the story. You have witnessed the risen Lord. You have heard his voice. You know the good news. Now, will you be fearless or fearful? What will you do?

Wherever God sends us, he goes before us. He is already in New Orleans, Mississippi, and Alabama. He is already in Laos, Vietnam, Nigeria. He is already in Guyana. He is already in Iraq, Iran, North Korea. God doesn’t depend on us to conquer territory in his name and intimidate the natives into submission. There is no realm that is not under his authority. There may be rebellion – but Christ is still Lord over all. So why are we afraid?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 11 September 2005

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin