Mission First: Gathered Series
Fifth Sunday of Epiphany
February 5, 2017
First Christian Church
You can listen to the sermon by going here.
On November 20, 1983 a major television event took place. It had been talked about for weeks leading up to the broadcast and in many ways seemed ripped from the major headlines of that day. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about the the TV movie, The Day After, which talked about how a fictional war between the NATO and the Warsaw Pact turns into an all out nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union. The film focused on the lives of people living in Kansas City, Missouri and nearby Lawrence, Kansas. The movie was probably one of the hallmarks of the 1980s. The estimates are that over 100 million people watched the two hour movie and it gave Americans a window on what would happen if the United States came under nuclear bombardment. This was a movie that definitely spoke to the times. 1983 was a year when the Cold War was close to being hot. In September of 1983, the Soviets shot down a Korean airliner as it crossed Russian airspace. Only a few weeks before the broadcast, NATO held a war game that the Soviets initially thought was an attack. That peak into the apopcalyspe also had an impression in Washington. The Day After was screened in the White House on November 5, 1983. President Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary after seeing the film that it left him “greatly depressed” and that it was “very effective.” Reagan also said that it changed his mind on the prevailing view of nuclear war. When an Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty was signed with the Soviets four years later, Reagan said The Day After made a difference.
It was a memorable event for a lot of people, except me. You see, I didn’t watch the film. I couldn’t. I couldn’t watch the film because week or two before I was watching 60 Minutes which was doing a piece on the upcoming film. It showed a clip that lasted maybe a minutes or two and it was enough to scare me. It showed people in Kansas City running in panic as the missles near the city. A man is in his car listen to the radio which was carrying the Emergency Broadcast when the bomb hits and you see the sky turn an ugly orange with a mushroom cloud just down the road.
That clip was enough for me. As a young kid living during the “warm” part of the Cold War in the early 80s, this was all too real for me. The fear of a nuclear war kept me from sleep for a few nights after watch that clip.
Stories about the apocalypse always leave me with my stomach in knots. It doesn’t matter if the method is nuclear war, or a lethal virus, the breakdown of society and mass death leave me unsettled. It is a sign of life out of control and with no sign of hope.
In our two texts today, two people are dealing with their own little apocalypse. In one story, a Roman soldier is dealing the illness of a loyal servant who is near death. In another story a widow is getting ready to bury her only son leaving her defensless in the world. In both cases, Jesus comes and brings healing, show that God has authority even over death and we are given a taste of what it will be like when death is no more.
But let me back up a second. A few weeks ago, we talked about Jesus preaching in his hometown of Nazareth. He gets the crowd into a frenzy when tells them the stories of the Widow of Zarapath whose son was restored to life and the healing of Naaman the Syrian general. They didn’t like that he was willing to heal the enemy in the same way he healed his fellow Jews. But here in this passage it seems like these two stories are being updated in real life. Jesus meets some people who are coming on behalf of a Roman general. This man was a good man that had even built the local synogogue. Most invading armies wouldn’t have such caring military officers and to see one of the hated Roman actually doing good was surprising. Jesus heads in the direction to the centurion’s when another group of friends come and tell him to not come and see him. The centurion didn’t feel worthy to be in the presence of Jesus. We don’t know why he feels this way, but he does. Notice that the first set of friends tell Jesus he should heal this man’s servant because he has done a good thing. And then notice that the centurion didn’t believe he was worthy to be in the presence of Jesus, but asked that Jesus just say the word and heal his servant. Jesus was amazed at his faith and healed the servant.
This acts shows that Jesus has authority over all, even death and even from this solder from an occupying army.
Now the second story. Jesus is coming to a town called Nain where he sees a funeral procession. He learns that this is a young man who was the only child of a widow. In this ancient culture, having a husband or a son was insurance to take care of you. But now she has lost both ways of having security. Jesus has compassion for this woman and brings this young man back to life.
This woman had lost everything and now Jesus had given this widow her son again.
But there is a fly in the ointment when it comes to both of these tales. The widow’s son was going to die. Maybe not that day, but someday. Same goes for the centurion’s servant. When they say that the only thing constant is death and taxes, they weren’t joking. Death was still going to come for them.
So what is the point here?
On this side of heaven, people die. But what these stories show is that in Christ, these deaths are not meaningless. Death wins for the time being, but it is under Christ which means that death will not always get the trophy. In funerals, we pastors are to preach of the coming resurrection when the dead in Christ are raised. We believe there will be a day when those that have died will be raised and death will be defeated. We have hope that death is not a final word, but more like an ellipsis.
As Christians, we will still faith death. I wish that weren’t so, but it is. If even Jesus couldn’t escape death. While the young man had received a second chance at life, we all knew one day he would still die. But Jesus resurrection, that which we preacher preach about at funerals, tells us what is no ahead of us. In Christ being raised from dead, we know death is not the end. Widows and generals will cry for now, but it is only for a time. Death will be defeated.
It’s been interesting to start hearing from folk the same talk and fears about nuclear war. After several years of not worrying about such a fear, it has crept back into conversation, with people afraid that our nation, our world will face a literal trial by fire.
Such talk always still leaves me nervous. I still think I’m too beautiful to die, at least right now. But there is not much I can do other than know that I am loved by God, that in Christ death is not the end and stand in the hope that death will not always have the last word.
It’s been thirty years since The Day After first aired and I still haven’t seen the movie and probably never will. But I do give thanks that no matter what happens in life and in death, Jesus has shown us a taste of the kingdom where death will be defeated. And that makes me sleep much better. Thanks be to God. Amen.