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The Hour After The Day After
Armageddon, not Gotterdammerung

F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Audio Version

See original article which was basis for this sermon.

Epiphany II - Jan. 17, 2010     Zech. 8:1-8, 20-3; Ps. 118; Rom. 12:6-16; Mk. 1:1-11

On Sunday, November 20, 1983, ABC-TV presented a film called, "The Day After..." a portrayal of a nuclear holocaust with a city in central America ground zero. It was a portrayal of what might happen if Russia should think it could make a preemptory nuclear strike and hope to disable America before America could strike back.

The scene was a smaller town outside of the targeted and wholly devastated nearby city, with a hospital which tried to minister to the survivors of the blast and radiation. Radiation was almost universal because of the number of missiles which got through. Radioactive dust was settling everywhere. Only those who had underground shelters were safe, and those were few. It was over an hour of unrelenting carnage and devastation, followed by the slow dying of the remaining survivors, including the doctors and nurses in the hospital.

But even worse was the hour after The Day After, during which ABC-TV held a panel discussion of six of the leaders of that time to discuss, "If this is an accurate picture of our situation, what do we do about it?"  This panel of experts had no insight as to what we must do.  They concluded that we, the human race, had locked ourselves into an irresolvable power struggle.  The Day After was pretend, the hour after The Day After was real.  It was America.

Not only was there no way to win any such war, there was also no way to de-escalate the standoff. We had to have two sides who so feared the cost of a nuclear war that neither side would start it, but that depended on having a balance of power so that neither side could believe that it could win.

Yet, neither side could unilaterally de-escalate because that might encourage the other side to strike. And they could not de-escalate even in tandem, because no one knew when one of the many smaller rogue nations would get nuclear weapons and make their own first strike. The only way to maintain peace seemed to be to have a strategy of "MAD" as it was called, Mutually Assured Destruction, with two in a standoff, each too powerful for any smaller country to challenge.

The panel was indeed a panel of experts: Robert MacNamara and Henry Kissenger in politics, General Snowcroft, the military, Carl Sagan, science, William Buckley, the media, and Elie Wiesel, a Jewish secular philosopher who had suffered in concentration camps. He said, I have seen this before. It happened to my people. Now we are all Jews.

But one side was missing, the religious side.  Biblical faith was nowhere presented.  The presenters apparently were so convinced that Biblical religion was dead that God was not given a voice on the panel. The only overt religious reference in the film was a doomsday scene portraying a distraught priest reading, or more accurately raving, to his stricken congregation from the apocalyptic passages of the Book of Revelation with no coherent Gospel message, pathetically out of touch with reality.

The panel itself did not treat God openly with contempt. But the deepest contempt is not hostility, it is to ignore as irrelevant ("Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," that is, not as a vanity).  That is the height of treating God's name in vain, as a vanity, a puff of wind, a nonentity.  God is a nonstarter.

One is reminded of St. Paul's remarks: "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (I Cor. 1:20)

These were not uneducated or stupid men. They were the wisemen and scribes of their time. But they had no answers to the horrific dilemma before them.

As St. Paul says in another context, because they do not acknowledge God, "they become futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools..." (Romans 1:21)

The very discussion illustrated how deeply we have secularized our political processes and thinking. God is not included, not anywhere in the film or the panel. Except in one place.

The musical score was apparently written by a Christian who saw to it that the music spoke for God. Appearing intermittently in the story was the tune of Lyons, to which we sing hymn #564,

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, to you that for refuge to Jesus hath fled?

The soul that to Jesus hath fled for repose, I will not, I will not desert to his foes; That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never for sake.

Probably not one in a million recognized the tune, but one priest did, Fr. Terry Fullam, in 1988 (or thereabouts). He preached a sermon on it which I never forgot. I cannot think of a hymn the words of which could more aptly speak for Jesus to this film. The selection was no accident.

The failure of the panel and of ABC-TV lay not in coming up with no solution, but rather in their aire of rationality and sophistication, all the while treating the extermination of the human race as though it were no concern of God's, and as though God were no concern of theirs.

The issue is so intractable because of the force of lust for power, greed, and the need of nations as well as of individuals to feel a sense of security from enemies, the need for a sense of identity and self-acceptance, and a place in the world. It is right at this point that the process fails. We have no means of approaching the depths of those problems. That is why we always fall back on power politics.

But it is also right at this level that Christians are marching to a different Drummer.  The Christian can contribute to the nuclear arms race discussion only what he has received from God.  Jesus told Pilate, "My kingship is not of this world; if my Kingship were of this world, my servants would fight that I might not be handed over..." (John 18:36)  It is this commitment to a Source outside of the cosmos and to whom the cosmos is subject that the Christian has to offer to the discussion.

God created the cosmos, and He has a specific and definable purpose for it. And God will, under no circumstances, be content with a sideline or disinterested position. He will invest Himself fully and completely into the life of the world, its politics, economics, education, values and goals, and into the ways the world chooses to carry out these goals.

The panel, for its part, agreed that stability was the issue, but avoided the deeper issue -- whether we humans are essentially, not just peripherally, dependent beings, not self-sufficient. The panel assumed, with our culture, that the world is a self-sufficient entity, in no need of God. And therefore so are we.

But, if our present world is all that there is, then our experience of being dependent is so frightening and threatening that we will always try to deny our dependency and to secure our self-sufficiency. That is the power struggle, doing our best to be self-sufficient over against our potential enemies.

But because there is no thing or person in all of the cosmos in which we can safely invest our dependency, we are finally driven compulsively to retaliation and destruction of the enemy.  In a Godless world, we are locked into a mutually conflicting dependency which can never be resolved.  The political and military reality, therefore, is that there is no possible resolution to the nuclear standoff.

And the anticipated smaller rogue nations are already threatening nuclear strikes -- Iran and North Korea.

The dependency goes deeper than the military sort.  It goes to the root of who we are as individuals.

When Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to see the Kingdom of God he had to be born anew (John 3), He meant that Nicodemus had to transfer his dependency on things in the world to God Himself.  He would have to rest his dependency on the Hand of God.  Everything about ourselves, all of our needs, must be placed in the Hand of God, not in anything in the cosmos.

The Christian brings to the nuclear discussion the "suggestion" that the Godless world by its very nature cannot resolve the stability problem, because instability is built-in.  And therefore defensiveness is also built-in, and therefore also retaliation.

But if from outside the created order there is a Creator upon whom we are already in fact totally dependent, in whose love our ability and our right to be ourselves is totally secure, no matter what the world may think or do, then suddenly the picture changes.  Our dependency is no longer hanging around each other's necks like an albatross, but resting in the Hand of God.

From that place of secure dependency we are then freed to deal with the world as already secure people.  We do not need to create security by our own efforts.  The craving for identity, a place in life, a belonging, acceptance as a someone, and the fear of being a nobody -- craving, fear -- all these are wiped away.  Our life, as St. Paul says, is hid in Christ, our citizenship is in heaven, a gift of amazing grace.

The world stands over an abyss of nothingness from which it obsessively struggles to save itself.  The children of God stand on the Hand of God and work to set the worldly free, free to let go of their compulsions and fears.  To be an adult in the world, you MUST first be a child in God.

Pagan literature testifies to this self-destructive state of affairs.  The original chaos out of which life supposedly evolved will return.  The Germanic tribes foresaw the end as a mighty battle in which all would die -- the Twilight of the Gods, Gotterdammerung, celebrated in Wagner's operas, or as the Nordic races called it, Ragnarok.  Everything would be dissolved, the whole cosmos, and then start over again.  Eastern religions tell a similar story.

But it is not just the pagans, it is also the secular world.

When truth becomes relative, as it must in secularism, and morality dissolves in relative truth, life becomes meaningless.  And then flirting with death becomes the final way to eke out some last gasp of intense feeling -- which substitutes for the loss of Godly meaning and purpose.  Brinksmanship, as we call it.  Who can get closest to the edge and not fall in? -- playing "chicken" on the road.

Or the Columbine teen terrorists, who jumped right into death itself.

Iran and North Korea are playing that game with the rest of the world, and there is no way of stopping it until we see what the real problem is -- our compulsive, addictive search for stability and meaning in a world which supplies neither.

The inability of the West even to repopulate itself, our keeping open borders when we have been attacked, tells us that Western civilization has given up, that we no longer believe anything at all, that our pleasure dome has run out of steam, and, like the panel, we have no idea of what to do about it.  We are dying.

Albert Camus, the French existentialist, called the world "absurd".  We live in an absurd world. But it is not absurd in and of itself, he said -- it is just the world.  It is absurd only in the face of the human heart's cry for meaning and purpose, because it does not supply any.  We have no home in the world.  It is absurd for us.  We are always strangers -- not only to the world, but to each other.

Christians respond, True! we know!  We have no home in the world -- until heaven is restored, until the world submits itself to the law and grace of God. Until then, our default drift is toward the Twilight of the Gods. The End. Gotterdammerung.

A part of the Christian answer to this is the Biblical understanding of the end times, not Gotterdammerung, but Armageddon. The pagans and the secular people are wrong. There is a victory for life, not an ending of all things and back into the cosmic mixer.  There will be an honest resolution of our mutual conflicting dependency needs because there will be a Godly judgement.  Those who do not want what God is offering will be eliminated from the cosmic story line.  The Harvester (not the grim reaper) will gather and throw the weeds into the fire.

The resolution will not be complete here before the 2nd Coming of Christ, but we can make serious dent in Satan's program. The forces of darkness cannot stand in the light, they will be forced to retreat back into the caves and under the rocks wherever Christians and other truth-seekers stand up, shine the Light of God, and defend truth with intellectual, moral, and spiritual integrity -- the Sword of the Spirit.

We read in the Gospel from Luke this morning, "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: as it is written in the prophets, 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight....'"  

This was a reference to the return from Exile in Babylon.  The Lord would come with them back to Jerusalem, in triumph.

We are John the Baptist now, crying in the wilderness of our own time.   John says,

"I indeed have baptized you with water; but Jesus shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

God will baptize us, is baptizing us, with the Holy Spirit, the power of God to give life in the midst of death, to make us witnesses to the power of life in the face of death.  The power of God comes from a depth that the world cannot touch.

Lord Jesus, who suffered and died for us, let their be a musical refrain running through our lives, "That soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake, I'll never, no never, no never forsake."

See original article which was basis for this sermon.

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Date Posted -  1/17/2010   -   Date Last Edited - 09/15/2012