Sermon - Ninth Sunday After Pentecost
Genesis 37:14, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22; Romans 12:9-18; John 20:19-23
In the Name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Theodore VanKirk died two weeks ago. He was the last surviving member of the crew that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. He was 24 years old when he served as the navigator on the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the first nuclear weapon deployed in wartime. The blast and its aftereffects killed 140,000 people. As we know, a second atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki three days later with 80,000 persons perishing in that blast. Six days later, Japan surrendered.
In an interview with Associated Press some years ago, VanKirk said he thought it was necessary, because it shortened the war, and eliminated the need for an Allied land invasion that could have cost more lives on both sides.
But it also made him wary of war. He said, “The whole World War II experience shows that wars don’t settle anything. And atomic weapons don’t settle anything.
I personally think there shouldn’t be any atomic bombs in the world – I’d like to see them all abolished. But if anyone has one, I want to have one more than my enemy.”
VanKirk surely knew that nuclear weapons are of no avail since mutual self-destruction is assured and the devastation of the earth and civilization would be catastrophic. And yet, he would like to be one up on the “enemy”.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great mid-twentieth century German-Lutheran pastor and theologian faced a similar dilemma. He wrestled with trying to follow the Lord of peace. Yet he recognized the necessity of ridding the world of Adolf Hitler. He was part of the conspiracy to kill Hitler, but he begged God’s forgiveness for this action.
A two-act opera, with title BONHOEFFER, had its world premiere last October on Penn’s State University Park campus. At the end of Act One, journalist David Pacchioli, in reviewing the opera, says “Here in an intense 20 minute confession, Bonhoeffer awakens to a hellish dream of Nazi atrocities; flashes of light reveal mangled limbs and swastikas rising out of a blue-black fog.
Struggling at first, to get his bearings, torn between his commitment to non-violence and the sufferings of his fellow human beings, (Bonhoeffer) resolves at last to strike back, pledging himself to violent action against the evil engulfing the world. He does so, not with a sense of righteousness, but of anguish.”
Bonhoeffer was executed by direct orders from Hitler, just two weeks before his prison was liberated by Allied Forces. The chaplain who walked with him to the gallows said, that he had never seen such a peaceful death.
Bonhoeffer’s peace came from his faith – his trust in the loving and merciful God, from whom he had asked for forgiveness.
Looking at the gospel reading we just heard, we find it is the Prince of Peace who appears to his frightened disciples who were hiding behind locked doors for fear of the religious authorities.
His first words are: “Peace be with you.” And he bestows upon them the gift of the Holy Spirit so that may be empowered to be bearers of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Many of them were fishermen who had left everything to follow Jesus. To paraphrase the old hymn: They had cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown; such happy simple fisherfolk before the Lord came down. They were contented and peaceful before they ever knew, the peace of God that filled their hearts, brimful and broke them, too. John, homeless in Patmos died, and Peter, was head-down crucified.
The peace of God it is no peace, but strife sown in the sod. Yet let us pray for but one thing, the marvelous peace of God.
As people of faith, we understand that we live and move and have our being in the peace of God. And we also know, as we read today’s headlines, that we live and move in the midst of a world that is often frightening and seemingly without hope. We pray that thy kingdom come, that thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. But we also know that underneath the chaos of the world is the peace and presence of God found Jesus Christ.
With this faith we have eyes to see hope. God 's purpose of forgiveness and reconciliation brings about hope, a peace that passes understanding.
In 1918, the Episcopal House of Bishops wanted to silence Paul Jones who was then serving as the bishop of the Missionary District of Utah. He was an outspoken voice against World War 1. He was forced to resign his post when he revealed his deep convictions about the war. “I believe,” said Bishop Jones, “that the methods of modern international war are quite incompatible with Christian principles of reconciliation and brotherhood…”
But the bishop persevered in his work for peace and reconciliation. He founded the world-wide ecumenical Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.
The mission of the Fellowship of Reconciliation is to end the structures of violence and war, and to create peace through the transformative power of non-violence.
We make decisions in an imperfect world. We seek to make decisions for the peace of the world. It is a costly and ongoing task, which may at times seem hopeless and never ending. We pray for that peace which the Risen Lord bestowed upon his fledgling disciples - a peace which passes understanding.
Archbishop Oscar Romero who was assassinated in 1982 for speaking up for God’s kingdom and justice, wrote poem entitled “A Future Not Our Own”. It gives us a larger perspective. Here are some excerpts:
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us…
…We plant seeds that will one day grow. We water seeds that are already planted, knowing that they hold future promise…
We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results … We are prophets of a future not our own.”
In the midst of all the upheaval our world is experiencing now, there are places of hope and restoration – places where people are working for peace and reconciliation.
I think of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara which for over forty years continues to have world-wide influence in the movement towards abolishing all nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.
I think of the Nonviolent Peace Force which for almost thirty years has been training and employing unarmed civilians to mediate tribal deputes around the world, and developing permanent grassroots peacekeepers to deal with future concerns.
I think of the Episcopal Church’s mission in South Sudan bringing hope to thousands of refugees through its programs to provide shelter, food, clothing and human development.
God is working God’s purposes out. Christ comes through the locked doors of fear to bring peace. He brings the Holy Spirit which empowers us to be his agents of forgiveness and reconciliation.
From the Old Testament reading this morning, we heard the story of Joseph and his brothers. It is a case in point.
Yes, the brothers out of envy and fear, sold their brother into slavery. But we will hear the rest of the story next week, where, through a series of circumstances used by God, Joseph, no longer a slave but a magistrate, forgives his brothers and is reconciled with his family.
Peace starts in our own hearts – hearts that ask for guidance from the spirit – hearts that seek forgiveness and reconciliation – hearts that long for God’s peace which passes understanding.
Everyone on the planet has a place of suffering in his or her own heart. Maybe the place to start the peace process is to imagine what that suffering might be in a stranger we happen to meet; to imagine what that suffering might be for someone we enjoy being with; to imagine what that suffering might be for someone we don’t enjoy being with.
Peace begins with compassion.
The Rev. Canon Richard Lief
August 10, 2014