Generous Orthodoxy  

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Rev. Tim Keller and Gandalf at Ground Zero

Clergy Again Shoulders Burdens of Consoling and Explaining
By Michael Luo
New York Times 9/11/06

What to say after five years?

The Rev. Timothy J. Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, began wrestling with the question about a week and a half ago. He was working at home when the church’s receptionist called with an urgent message: “Tim, I think you better return this call. It’s the White House.”

White House officials asked Dr. Keller to deliver the sermon at an ecumenical prayer and remembrance service yesterday evening at St. Paul’s Chapel in Lower Manhattan for family members of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. President Bush and his wife, Laura, would be attending.

The invitation came as a surprise to Dr. Keller, who is pastor of one of the city’s largest Protestant churches but seldom preaches outside his own church. After hesitating because it would mean missing his church’s two Sunday evening services, he accepted. But what to say?

(the article then discusses other clergy who preached on that day)

…As for Dr. Keller, given the task of addressing a church full of family members of the lost, not to mention the president, he said he initially pulled out the sermon he preached at his church on Sept. 16, 2001. But he recognized that the circumstances have changed, he said.

In the initial aftermath of the attacks, he said, the city was laden with fear and uncertainty. Today, much of that has dissipated, though sorrow and, for many, anger persist. He decided to burrow anew into the difficult question “Why?”

The question is impossible to answer completely, he said in his brief sermon. But Dr. Keller pointed to a theme that runs throughout Scriptures, that God identifies with those who suffer.

“We don’t know the reason that God allows evil and suffering to continue,” he said. “But we know what the reason isn’t. We know what the reason can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he doesn’t care.”

He went on to urge those in the audience to yearn, even if it was difficult to fathom or believe, for a future time, when everything would be made right.
He cited a passage from the last book of “The Lord of the Rings,” when a character, Sam, awakes thinking all is lost but then sees his friend Gandalf. In his joy, he asks him, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?”

The answer, Dr. Keller said, is “Yes.”