I don't usually post sermons on my blog, mostly because I think they break the genre of a blog post--they are too long and are not meant in their form as blog posts. But since I started blogging not long after leaving my last regular pastorate, I think one motivation for blogging has been my sermon impulse that has no where to go. Now that I'm filling in at University Lutheran Church of Hope for a couple months, preaching every week, I realize my sermons have become more like blog posts--I have intended hyperlinks, photos, etc. all that can't really be shared in a typical sermon from the pulpit. And this is not a high-tech church so no slideware etc. during the services. That said, I had in mind to post my sermon from yesterday because it is a response to the various dramatic happenings around nuclear weapons going on right now and I just think it is so important.
Just this past January, you may have heard, Tsutomu Yamaguchi died of stomach cancer at age 93. Mr. Yamaguchi was a young engineer for Mitsubishi Industries on a business trip to Hiroshima when, on the morning of August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, named ‘Little Boy’ on the city. He was more than two miles away from ground zero but still was temporarily blinded, sustained serious burns and a ruptured left eardrum. Most of the city’s buildings were destroyed and more than 80,000 were killed. After a night in a bomb shelter, he caught a train back home to Nagasaki where a few days later, while explaining to his disbelieving boss what had happened to him, the US B-29 bomber dropped a second bomb, named ‘Fat Man’ killing an additional 70,000 people. Most of his office building collapsed in the blast; had he not been behind a steel-reinforced stairway, he might not have lived. Yet he did, recovering and working most of his life, first for the American occupation forces and then again for Mitsubishi. While his wife and children all suffered from cancer and other health problems, he did not become an activist until late in life. As part of a documentary film about the so-called “nijyuu hibakusha’, or twice-bombed people, Mr. Yamaguchi finally registered and remains the only official survivor of both blasts. He gave a moving speech at the United Nations in New York in 2006 as the documentary was released, pleading with the audience to fight for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
And this week, in a flurry of actions marking the one-year anniversary of his historic speech in Prague calling for renewed commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons, President Obama joined Mr. Yamaguchi’s fight. It is a fight many are joining. The recent push to renew efforts to control the spread of, reduce, and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons comes in large part from a quartet of retired cold warriors, mostly former Republican administration hawks. These four, George Schultz, William Perry, Harry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn, have marshaled compelling arguments that in the age of global terrorism, any nuclear weapons make everyone vulnerable. Where arguments about nuclear deterrence did convince some during the Cold War era, today we know that terror networks and rogue states want nothing more than to gain access to these terrible weapons. Together Schultz, Perry, Kissinger and Nunn have sponsored a film, Nuclear Tipping Point. (I hope to screen it here at Hope in the next month or so; watch The Visitor for information.) They have formed the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a charity aimed at advocating for the immediate reduction and eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Why raise these issues today, you might ask. Last week on Easter Sunday I posed a question I’d like to stay with for a few weeks. I asked us to consider how a resurrection really feels. I suggested that, contrary to most of our standard thinking on the issue, the Gospel story from John is at least as much about the resurrection of Jesus’ friends and disciples as it was about his own resurrection. They had abandoned him, denied him, misunderstood him, tried to fight for him, mourned him and now were hiding in a room for fear that their own death would soon follow his. They uncomfortably remembered his invitation to follow him in the manner of a servant, even in the face of possible suffering and death.
Not that kind of death, they shuddered. In response to the threats, held captive by their fears, they gathered in the waning dusk, hidden behind locked doors. Fear divides us. It causes us to find mechanisms of defense. Yet into the thick fog of their fears, paralyzed by their constricted imagination, Jesus came to them greeting them in peace. He showed them his scars, erasing any doubt that he really was Jesus, now living, now saying again, “Peace be with you,” as if they didn’t or couldn’t hear him the first time. Here in their own dark tomb, Jesus comes offering them new life, breathing on them the Holy Spirit, sending them out into their post-resurrection lives that, in the words of Peter, “must obey God rather than human authorities.” In that moment, the disciples knew what a resurrection really feels like.
Do we imagine that the God we confess in Jesus Christ would say “yes” to our hiding in fear behind the locked doors of atomic bomb silos? Do we imagine the Jesus who God raised from death would say “yes” to our fear-induced complacency in the fact of such potential terror waiting to be unleashed on the innocent? President Obama, in his speech in Prague, said “there are some” who will claim a world without nuclear weapons is “impossible to achieve.” Yet, he said, “we know the path when we choose fear over hope.” Today, we face two futures, one funded by the paranoid fear hiding behind locked doors. The other is born of a hope deeper than that fear, a love stronger than death. How to reach this other future?
President Obama can’t do it alone. Neither can retired politicians like Kissinger and Schultz do this alone, as respected as they are in many circles. Not even the inspirational story of Mr. Yamaguchi can make it happen alone. How do you dismantle an atomic bomb? We Christians have an answer. Love. The love we know through Jesus, the risen Christ, who despite our rejection, comes to us anew in the midst of our locked rooms. He comes to us in the tombs of our despair and resignation and apathy.
“Peace be with you,” he says to us, offering mercy and forgiveness for trusting the voice of fear that rationalized doing away with him. Today such fears still lead us astray, leading us to rationalize a nuclear arsenal marshaled in our defense. But now we know, more than ever, that such terrible weapons built for our defense, could be turned against us or any number of other nations in the most devastating way.
“As the Father sent me, so I send you,” he says to us, calling his disciples to unlock the doors of fear. What doors of fear might we seek to unlock today in order to trust the way of love and mercy his life makes possible? Specifically, can we unlock the decades-old cold-war fears that have locked us into a game of nuclear chess, risking horrific loss of life—human and natural? Tyler Wigg Stevenson, a wonderful young minister in Washington D. C., has founded The Two Futures Project to help organize Christians and all people of good will in this effort.
“Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said as he breathed upon them, giving them the promised advocate by whose very presence and power his disciples were to do, as Jesus put it, “greater things than I.” Do we underestimate the ways God’s Spirit is at work in the world today? Have we caught hold of the Spirit moving, calling us to forgive, to reconcile, to love? “Be what you are!” St. Augustine said to early Christians who shared together the Lord’s Supper. “Go,” he meant, and “be the body of Christ today.”
How do you dismantle an atomic bomb? We Christians have an answer. Love.