Sermons That Work

As the Balminess of Summer…, Proper 12 (A) – 1996

July 28, 1996

As the balminess of summer beckon us to commune with nature, our senses become so relaxed that we forget, until the chills of autumn settle in, the passage of time. Earlier this week, we remember to remember an irony of history that occurred half a century and one year ago. That year, the first atom bomb ever dropped on humanity coincided with the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

On the 6th of August 1945, the morning broke with a cloudless blue sky in Hiroshima that had been left unscarred by the war, in spite of the naval base in the bay. The citizens thought, naively, that their fair city had been spared because of its religious significance in Buddhism. By then, air raids had killed 120,000 in Tokyo, and the American Armed Forces had landed Okinawa, turning the whole island into a bloody battlefield, killing 110,000 Japanese soldiers and 94,000 civilians, together with at least 12,000 US soldiers. The military strategists had saved Hiroshima for the atomic bomb so that they could gauge accurately the full impact of a bomb that had only been tested in the desolation of a New Mexico desert. At 8:15 AM, the B-29 bomber, Enola Gay, dropped the bomb. The “Little Boy,” as it was nicknamed, exploded 570 meters above the ground with a light blue flash. The temperature at its center was 540,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Soon after the explosion, black and white smoke covered the whole city and rose thousands of feet high. The fires continued for two days. People near the epicenter literally evaporated, leaving only their shadows behind. Others were turned to charred corpses. Those who barely survived were naked after their clothes were scorched and. Their skin peeled off and hung down. They crawled, crying “Give me water.” Later, large black drops of rain poured down. It was a deadly rain that contained mud, ash and other radioactive fallout.

Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped, this time in Nagasaki. The irony of history is that Nagasaki was the first Japanese port to be opened to the West, the city in which the “Clandestine Christians” who had tenaciously help on to the Western faith, forbidden during the nearly three centuries of feudal rule, won their freedom of faith because of the American intervention. Hamilton Fish, Secretary of State under Ulysses Grant, successfully argued for the lifting of ban against Christianity. Uragami Roman Catholic Cathedral in Nagasaki was one of the largest churches in all of Asia, until it was leveled on that fateful day.

When Japan surrendered on August 15, it was the Feast of Assumption, commemorating the ascension into heaven of Mary the Virgin, the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It was yet another historic irony with uncanny poignancy.

The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ was witnessed only by three of his closest disciples, Peter, James and John. It was much less a supernatural, magical occurrence than it was God’s way of authenticating Jesus as sent from God, the chosen, beloved one of God. Apparently having talked with these disciples, Matthew recorded the event as follows. “When a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ Matthew continued, “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe.” (17:5-6)

Many of the witnesses of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima perished, in fact evaporated leaving no trace, but some have survived to tell their story. They, too, were struck with awe. But, was God well pleased with the transfiguration of so many of God’s children into vapor and charred bodies, into the barely alive thirsting for water, for their loved ones? The Ascension of Mary signals, on the one hand, the return of the Virgin with God in Heaven. It also signals, on the other, the absence of the symbol of Godly mercy, the Eternal Mother.

Although Peter, John and James were there with Jesus on the day Jesus was transfigured into a figure clad in a dazzlingly white raiment, as the Gospel of Luke tells us, they had been asleep most of the time. (9:32) The Church, built on Peter as cornerstone, may also have been asleep, when the world was transfigured by the atomic bombs with the eerie white clouds rising above Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Since then, the escalation of “Cold War” justified the production of far more destructive nuclear bombs. None, as far as we know, was dropped on humanity. Nuclear bombs may now be obsolete, but the possibility of a biological warfare is ever present in our minds. The grand vision of a “global village” has not come to fruition. The world, on the contrary, has been fractured into hostile tribes, based on race, religion and land. Will the biological warfare again transfigure, disfigure God’s creation, the children of God? How will God weep this time?

The Gospel lesson appointed for this Lord’s Day tells us how Jesus fed five thousand me, besides women and children, with two fish and five loaves of bread. It is not a magic, engineered by some supernatural agent. It is a miracle, made possible by the power of love. Jesus brought life to the five thousand, and more, in the “lonely place” at night (Matthew 14:15).

One of the great prophetic figures of our century, Reinhold Niebuhr, observed: human inclination toward evil makes democracy possible, but it is the human capacity for goodness that makes democracy possible. How can we resist evil? How can we nurture the seed of goodness? Is it possible to transform evil into goodness, hate into love?

As aspiring Christians, we proclaim that God who planted seeds of goodness and love is still with us, guiding us that we may choose the way of life, and not death and destruction.

“Thou art a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Nehemiah 9:17)

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Christopher Sikkema


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