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Pentecost 17C Sermon
Luke 15: 1-10

September 11, 2016


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

When Welles Crowther was six years old, his father stuffed a white handkerchief into his shirt pocket. He then handed him a red bandana and directed him to put it in his back pocket with the words, “The white one is for show; the red one is to blow.” From then on, Welles always carried a red bandana.
He carried it with him to school every day, including to his sports practices. At age 16, he joined the Junior Fire Fighters of his hometown of Nyack, NY. He wore the red bandana underneath his fire fighter’s helmet, his hockey helmet, and his lacrosse helmet. He love being with and alongside his teammates and friends. He played NCAA Division I Lacrosse at Boston College and was loved by his teammates, who knew he wore a red bandana underneath his helmet. His quote in the senior year book was, “There is no ‘I’ in team.”

Once he graduated from BC, he moved to New York City and lived the dream of being a stock broker on Wall Street. He became an equities trader with a company whose offices were located on the 104th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. He still carried that red bandana with him in his pocket; but he also still dreamed of being a New York City Firefighter.

On September 11 of 2001, after an airplane struck the north tower at the WTC, Welles called his mother and left a message: “Mom … this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m okay.” He then got moving out of his office. In the Sky Lobby of the 78th floor of the south tower, there were about 200 people waiting for elevators to get out of the building, not knowing what might happen next. At 9:02, their worst fears were realized – another airplane sliced into the south tower between the 78th and the 84th floors, exploding into flames. People were dead and hurt all over the place; those who were still able to stand were confused, afraid … not knowing what to do or where it was safe to walk. Suddenly out of the smoke came a voice that said, “I found the stairs. Follow me. Only help the ones you can.” They followed him down to the lobby on the 61st floor where the firefighters helped the people onto working elevators to get to the ground floor safely. Then, he turned around and went back up, climbing 17 floors until he found another group of survivors, including Judy Wein. Later, after Judy was out of the building, transported to the hospital and out of surgery, she would tell her husband about a young man helping everyone escape, putting out fires that popped up saying, “Everyone who can stand, stand now. If you can help others, do so.” It was as if he was doing triage right there on the spot. After she was helped to the stairway to make her escape, she saw the man return up to the sky lobby to bring more people to safety.

Then at 9:59 a.m. the south tower collapsed. Welles’ father said, “When I watched the tower collapse on television I thought to myself, ‘Welles is lost!’ I dropped to my knees and prayed that God would take me and leave Welles here.” Six months later, Welles’ body was found in an area which once was a lobby 78 stories in the air, next to the remains of uniformed fire fighters. Still, details of his death remained a mystery for his family as they had no connection with any of the people in the tower that day.

In May of 2002, the New York Times published accounts of survivors of the attack on the south tower. Judy Wein’s account was among them. She spoke of a man wearing a red kerchief calling out to people, setting up triage and assisting them in any way he could. Upon reading this account, Welles’ mother knew immediately that they were speaking about her son. To make sure, she sent photos of Welles to a couple of the survivors who were mentioned in the article and they confirmed that indeed this was the hero of which they had spoken in the article, the man to whom they owed their very lives. In 2006, Welles was posthumously named a New York City Fire Fighter.

Imagine the joy that the families of these survivors share because the man with the red bandana courageously kept going back up the stairs to find more lost people. Imagine the joy that this mother has that she found her son – a son who was true to his own nature as a team player, one who sacrificed for the sake of others to the very end. Imagine that joy …
Friends, I am not telling you this story merely in order to get the tissues out on the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11. When I heard the story about the man in the red bandana I could not help but think about Jesus’ question to the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling about him eating with tax collectors and sinners. “Which one of YOU wouldn’t leave 99 to find one sheep?” Well, the answer is that none of them would … or very few would. But the point is, God would … and does. “Which one of YOU wouldn’t sweep out your house for a lost coin and throw a party when you find it?” I know I wouldn’t, and I cannot imagine that too many other logical human beings would either.
Which one of you, having survived a blast on the 78th floor of a New York City sky scraper wouldn’t keep running upstairs to find more lost people instead of seeking the safety of the street below? Not many – I am sure that I would not, had I been in that situation. Welles Crowther did, and in the account of his actions on September 11, 2001, he gives us a modern day parable of the love that God still has for all of us who are lost, afraid, alone and hurting in this world. Thank you, God, for your amazing grace. Amen!