Sermon: Love, In the Time of Nuclear War

On November 20, 1983, 100 million Americans gathered in their homes to watch a television movie.  Most television movies were fluff, but this television movie was anything but fluff.  The movie in question is The Day After, a movie about a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.  In the movie a war starts in Europe and the situation escalates until both superpowers are launching their ICBMs towards each other.  The movie focused on the lives of people living in Lawrence, Kansas, a college town northwest of Kansas City.  

One of the posters for the movie claimed the movie was “beyond imagining.”  The director wanted to make sure that this movie was as real as possible to get the point across about the savageness of nuclear war. It seemed to work. It was so realistic, that I didn’t watch the whole movie.  About a week before, I was watching 60 Minutes and they decided to do a story about the controversy surrounding the movie.  During the story, they showed a clip.  You see people running anywhere and everywhere.  Freeways are clogged with people trying to leave Kansas City.  You see Nike missiles launching in the hopes of intercepting inbound ICBMs.  They didn’t because the next thing you notice is the sky turns red and you see the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb striking Kansas City.

That clip was about at most two minutes.  That’s all it took for me to be upset.  For a number of nights, I could not sleep.  For years, I got nervous when someone talked about Kansas City. The movie was so real, I couldn’t watch the whole movie.  

I was already nervous about nuclear war.  That year, 1983 was a year when tensions between the Soviets and America ran high, especially when the Soviet Union shot down a Korean airliner on its way to Seoul.  Our culture was filled with this fear that at any moment we could die in a nuclear blast.  My husband grew up in Eastern North Dakota.  North Dakota was littered with missile silos filled with ICBMs ready to make their way to the Soviet Union. He was not far from the Grand Forks Airbase where there were B-52s filled with nukes and Moscow-bound.  He’s told me that he knew if there were a nuclear exchange, he and his family would be vaporized.  He grew up with a target on his back.

But then the Cold War ended.  The Soviet Union collapsed.  Both sides worked to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.  My fears of an atomic holocaust lessened.  

Until February 27.  This was a few days into this current war between Russia and Ukraine.  That morning we heard that Russian President Vladimir Putin placed his nuclear forces on alert.  We learn that prior to the start of the war, the Russian military conducted a drill involving nuclear weapons.  As the war drags on, we keep hearing more and more about the possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons in this conflict.  A team in the White House has been formed to discuss how the US would respond if Russia used a weapon of mass destruction.

All of the sudden, those fears of 40 years ago are roaring back.  If Ukraine is winning the war, would Putin use a tactical nuke on the battlefield?  Those bombs are lower yeild, but it would still cross a line that hasn’t been violated since1945 when the US dropped Nuclear bombs and Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Daniel wonders if it make sense to put new flooring in the house when we might be facing such a big challenge.  A friend of mine in San Diego is incredibly worried that a nuclear exchange will happen with his city in the crosshairs.

What that little talk one morning reminded me is how fragile our lives really are.  Here in America, we worry about the possibility of nuclear war.  But over in Ukraine right now, lives are hanging in the balance.  I read an article from a woman who grew up in Mariupol, the coastal city that has been reduced to rubble by Russia.  On the day of the first bombs, she fled her home in Kyiv and went west to Poland.  She called her mother in Mariupol every day until March 2 when the communication lines went down.  Now she doesn’t know if her mother and her grandparents were alive or dead.  There is a video from Vice News that shows what is going on in Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine.  Residents talk about the beauty of the city before the war and how it has been blasted to rubble.  A woman cries because she saw her adult son get blasted to bits by a bomb that struck their home.  

Both of our passages today deal with love.  But it’s not the love we see in movies.  Instead it is love that has been through the fire. First John is urging us to love one another and if we want to know God, we know God through our love for each other.  In Luke we hear the familiar story of the Prodigal Son who takes his inheritance and blows it all on living the wild life.  Many of us have heard this story so much that we don’t know the particulars.  You see, when the younger son asks for his inheritance, he was committing a major social faux pas.  In that culture, you didn’t get your inheritance until their parent dies.  In asking for his money now, he was telling his dad that he wished he was dead so that he could get his share.  This had to be embarrassing for the father.  His youngest son didn’t show patience and show particular indifference about his father.  The son isn’t some innocent, he is an active agent in his demise from wealth to poverty.  But he loses all his money, forced to live in poverty.  He returns home with his tail between his legs.  His father had every right to turn his son aside, but instead he runs towards his lost son and welcomes him back home.  Despite all the embarrassment and hurt, the wayward son is welcomed back.

God is love.  That’s what 1 John says.  Because God loves us and that was shown through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As it says in 1 John 4:9 “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” God is the father that waits for the lost person and runs towards you and I want us to be welcomed with open arms.

God loves.  Because God loves, we must love others..  

What does this have to do with nuclear war?  I think I’ve been reminded how fleeting life can be.  I think back ti the people in Mariupol, Ukraine, a city of 400,000 that has been nearly leveled by the Russians.  The numbers aren’t firm, but some think thousands are dead with may being buried in mass graves.  A month ago, this was probably a regular city where people lived their lives.  Now, it looks like something out of the closing of World War II.  Our time here is short.  How will we live our lives?  We are called to love; to love God and love others.  It is about giving ourselves away even at cost, because love is not about holding on to something, but giving it away. 

As a congregation, we sit at an interesting juncture.  Some of us ask questions like where are we headed?  Will we survive?  Those are legitimate questions. I don’t know what we need to specifically do, but the answer right now is to love.  How are we loving the community around us? How are we loving each other? How are we loving others in our own lives?  Do we see God in how people love one another? Do we expect to see God in people showing love to one another? Do we expect to see God?  Do we feel the grace that God has shown to us?

This sermon is part of a series and this focus of this sermon is Reclaiming our Vision.  Vision is something we need to claim in our congregation.  What is our vision?  What are the ends of our church?  In the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) it describes the church this way: 

Within the whole family of God on earth, the church appears wherever believers in Jesus the Christ are gathered in His name. Transcending all barriers within the human family, the one church manifests itself in ordered communities bound together for worship, fellowship, and service; in varied structures for mission, witness, and mutual accountability; and for the nurture and renewal of its members.

Everything in that statement boils down to the passage in 1 John: love.  We gather together loving each other. We gather for worship because we love God. Go out from this place to do mission because we love those outside of this church.  The church is all about love and if we aren’t loving, it’s difficult to say we are church.

I think that as we live in these incredibly uncertain times, we are called to love because the time is short.  Maybe we have years, or maybe we have less time.  If we only have so much time in the world, that means we can’t waste time being scared about the future.  It means not being worried about the small things. We don’t have much time on this earth. We don’t have time to waste.  Hopefully, we will all live full lives.  But we aren’t promised that.  So, today, let’s live and love.  Thanks be to God. Amen.

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