pastorEric aug2014Sunday's Sermon - 
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. 

“We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7&8)

Everyone here over the age of 25 so can probably tell us where they were when they first heard the news of the hijacked airplanes hitting the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001. My wife, Kris, and I were both working that day at the ELCA churchwide office, an 11 story office building located near O’Hare airport in

As those of you old enough to remember will attest, it was an almost surreal day – at first, it was unclear if there would be other attacks in other cities. The Sears Tower in downtown Chicago (now called the Willis Tower, I believe) was evacuated twice that day. I understand there were evacuations even here in the Los Angeles area.

Kris and I had no idea if the ELCA office tower we were in could be a possible target – a tall building near the O’Hare airport? Who knew? Presiding Bishop Anderson quickly announced that anyone who wished to leave was welcome to do so, but those who wished to stay (it was only 9am in the morning in Chicago) could do so also. Kris and I decided that, if we were to be killed that
day, we’d rather be among our friends and colleagues, rather than home alone with just each other. Sharing this now, it sounds a bit overwrought - I assure you that at the time, it was not.

I spent much of the day that day on the telephone with the Rev. Stephen Bouman, who was then the Bishop of New York City. Bouman’s office faced the World Trade Center and he saw both towers fall. He also knew that both of his grown children were in that area of the city and was frantically trying to find them. (They were both later found and were safe).

Frankly, my friends, like many, I just did not know what to do or think that day. Except. Except. I knew the truth of today’s second lesson from Romans: “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

(Musician Samantha LaDue and I sang the first verse and chorus of “Jesus, the Lord” – Jesus. Jesus. Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord. In him we live, we move and have our being; in him the Christ, in him the King. Jesus, the Lord.”)

groundZeroSeveral weeks later, Kris and I were able to accompany the Presiding Bishop on a visit to New York City. At that time, the World Trade Center site, now called “Ground Zero,” was still an active crime scene and not open to the public. Because we were with the Bishop and other officials of the ELCA and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, we got into the site and were able to view
the site from the Mayor’s viewing platform already constructed near the hole in the ground where once the towers stood. The earth still smoked and smelled of burning flesh. Flag draped bodies continued to be brought out. We were looking into a very large cemetery.

While we were viewing the “Ground Zero” site, Bishop Bouman told us of pastors and priests who, on September 11th, immediately went to the World Trade Center site and began to anoint the fire fighters with oil and the sign of the cross on their foreheads as the fire fighters entered both buildings. As the office workers came down the stairs, fleeing the towers, the firefighters went
up the stairs to what we now know were their certain deaths, their anointed foreheads glistening with the mark of the cross. They knew the truth of today’s text, living or dying they belonged to Jesus.

(We sang the second verse and chorus of “Jesus, the Lord” - Jesus. Jesus. Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord. Though Son, he did not cling to godliness; but emptied himself, became a slave! Jesus the Lord.”)

Commentators tell us that in today’s text from Romans, Paul is warning the Romans NOT to pass judgment on others and, especially, not to get hung up in non-essentials. Good advice for us also. We should focus on the essentials – God’s continued love for us, in the best and worst of times, and us living and dying knowing this love. Jesus, our Lord, who died on the cross for us.

(We sang the third verse and chorus of “Jesus, the Lord” - Jesus. Jesus. Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord. He lived obediently his Father’s will accepting his death on a tree! Jesus the Lord.)

It has been a week of national sadness – the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, President Obama telling us we are at war again in the Middle East, and increased attention on the continued abuse of women.

911-pastorFather Mychal Judge, a Roman Catholic priest and New York City Fire Company Chaplain, became a hero and symbol on 9/11. You may remember the photo of his collapsed body, looking very Christ-like, as rescue workers carried him away from the World Trade Center site where he had collapsed that day.

On the day before he died, Father Judge said this in his morning homily – “Thank you Lord for life. Thank you for love. Thank you for goodness. Thank you for work. Thank you for family. Thank you for friends. Thank you for every gift because we know that every gift comes from you, and without you, we have and are nothing. So, as we celebrate today in thanksgiving to you,
keep our hearts and minds open. Let us enjoy each other’s company and, most of all, let us be conscious of your presence in our lives …. And, Father, we make our prayer, as always, in Jesus’ name who lives with you forever.”

(We sang the chorus of “Jesus, the Lord” - Jesus. Jesus. Let all creation bend the knee to the Lord.)

Whether we live or die we belong to Jesus. Today and all days.


The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Santa Monica, California


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    • Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
    • 1343 Ocean Park Blvd.
      Santa Monica, CA 90405
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