The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time||August 7, 2005|
I hope that as a result of our reflections on the scriptures today that the response we made after the first reading will be something that we'll continue to let go through our minds and our hearts throughout the day. "Lord, we know your kindness. We know your truth. We place our trust in you." We place our trust in you -- that's what we must do if we truly understand the message of today's scriptures.
As we begin our reflection, I think its important to put the short passage that was our first lesson into context. We know that passage well about Elijah the prophet experiencing the presence of God in the quiet, gentle breeze. Not in the earthquake. Not in the fire. Not in the wind. Not in anything destructive but in the quiet, gentle breeze. In that quiet, moment he experienced God deeply present within himself. But that happened when Elijah had undertaken a struggle with the false prophets and he had defeated them in the struggle. He proved that he, himself and he alone of all the prophets was the true prophet of God, the one who spoke in God's name. At the end of the contest between the prophets, Elijah and all the others, we read this in the Book of Kings, "All the people witnessed this. Then they fell on their faces and said, 'Yahweh is God. Yahweh is God.' Then Elijah commanded them, 'Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape.' And so they seized them. Then Elijah brought them down to the river Kishon and there he slit their throats." Three hundred or 400 people were massacred, and after that he had to flee.
When the King heard about it, when Queen Jezebel heard about it, they were ready to kill him. So he fled, traveling south all the way down to Mt. Sinai. But he was going in the wrong direction. That's not where God wanted him to go. After he experienced the presence of God, God directed Elijah to go from Sinai all the way in the southern part of the Holy Land all the way to the north to Damascus, Syria, at the very top part of the Holy Land. His journey had been completely wrong, but I think if we reflect on that, we will see that it wasn't just his journey that was wrong; it is what he had done before. I think the wrong road that he took is a symbol for the fact that he acted in a wrong way, and God taught him that when God made his presence known, not in the destructive power of the earthquake and fire and the wind but in that very gentle, quiet moment where Elijah experienced the breath of God, in a sense, the spirit of God in deep quiet, in peace. Elijah had taken the wrong way, and God showed him the right way.
This week when I was reading about the anniversary that we celebrated yesterday, the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and this coming Tuesday, the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, I read this description of what happens when you explode a nuclear device, "At ground zero the explosion creates a crater 300 feet deep, 1,200 feet in diameter." That's a huge crater. "Within 1 second the atmosphere itself ignites into a fire ball more that one half mile in diameter." Try to imagine or picture some of this. "The surface of the fireball radiates nearly three times the light and heat of a comparable area of the sun, extinguishing in seconds all life below and radiating outward at the speed of light causing instantaneous severe burns to people within a radius of three miles. A blast wave of compressed air reaches a distance of three miles in about 12 seconds flattening everything. Debris carried by winds of 250 miles an hour inflict lethal injuries throughout the area. At least 50 percent of people in the area die immediately prior to any injuries from radiation or the developing fire storm." In that description I hear the wind as a destructive power. God is not in that wind. You hear of the fire extinguishing everything. God is not in the fire. The explosion is like an earthquake that disrupts the whole earth. God is not in the earthquake.
Isn't it amazing how the two experiences are parallel? The experiences of Elijah thousands of years ago where he discovered that God is not in destruction, in violence, in killing. God is not in any of those. And he then discover where God truly is. The same thing is true of Hiroshima. God is not in the fire, the earthquake, the wind, but I know that when I visited there I experienced God in the quiet of the peace park -- the beautiful park that the Japanese have built to remember the tens of thousand of people who disappeared in moments, in seconds even, in the bombings. In that peace park where there is total quiet and beauty, gentleness and peace you can experience God even there in Hiroshima. But it's only in that gentleness, in that love, in that peace that you will experience God. Isn't this still a very important lesson that we have to learn, we have to accept and try to follow.
Yesterday and today, twice, I heard on the radio people interviewed about what happened at Hiroshima 60 years ago. Both times the people said, "Yes, we had to do it." They still believe in the fire and earthquake, the wind, the killing, the violence, the destruction. They still think that's the way that you are going to bring peace to the world. I heard earlier this week that over 57 percent of the people in the United States would still want to use those bombs right now to destroy a Hiroshima or Nagasaki, the hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It seems that we haven't really learned, haven't listened to the message that God speaks to us and speaks to us very powerfully in today's scriptures.
Like Elijah, God is telling us we must take a different road, a different direction. We have to let go of the past where we believed in the violence, believed violence, destruction and killing was worthwhile. We have to let go of that and follow a new path, the path of Jesus. The path of peace. You've probably heard this quote: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." Gentleness, love, peace. That is the only way.
I think if we turn to the gospel lesson, we discover what it is that we must do. In the gospel lesson, the disciple understood, and I think we do understand the evil of nuclear weapons. They understood who Jesus was. They worshiped him, and yet they doubted him. They doubted even though they said, "This is the son of God." But then the next moment they were doubting, they were fearful. That's what happened to Peter. At first he said, "Yes, it's Jesus." He keeps his eyes on him and everything's OK. Then he thinks of the storm around him and looks away from Jesus and he doubts and begins to sink. He has to cry out, "Lord, save me!", and Jesus reaches out and saves him.
I think that's what we need. We have enough understanding about how wrong these weapons are, but we don't have enough confidence in Jesus. We really don't wholly trust his way, and so like Peter we have to cry out, "Lord, save us!" Give us not just the understanding of your way of love and peace but help us to trust in it, to trust in you, to be willing to follow your way. Again, that's the grace we need today. "Lord, we know your kindness, we know your truth. Lord, let us trust in you."
In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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