God has Died

Sermons

Preached by The Reverend Paul D. Allick on Good Friday 2017 (Friday, April 14, 2017)

John 18:1-19:37

 

In my college dorm room I had some paper on the wall for people to write on. One day a clever friend of mine wrote, “Nietzsche is dead” (signed) God.

 

I had no idea who Nietzsche was. My friend told me that Nietzsche was the philosopher who had said, “God is dead.” Coming from an intense God-fearing background, I was horrified by this statement. Who would dare say such a thing? God can’t die. God will strike you down for saying something like that.

 

But wait, listen to these phrases from the Prayer Book, “set your passion, cross and death between your judgment and our souls,” (pp. 276, 282) and “by your death, you took away the sting of death.” (p.123)

 

And from the Creeds, “he suffered death and was buried” and “(He) was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.”

 

Jesus Christ is God. Jesus Christ died on the cross. God has died and we observe it today.

 

I have come to believe that Nietzsche statement is very misunderstood. This wasn’t some Nietzsche rash atheistic declaration. This was a lament. Nietzsche was arguing that God had ceased to be a significant force in people’s lives whether they recognized it or not. Nietzsche was warning Western Civilization that because we were losing our belief in a cosmic order we were heading into a world of nihilism.

 

Nietzsche put these words in the mouth of a madman. In his book The Gay Science, a madman is running through a village yelling, “God is dead!” When no one will listen to him, he throws down his latern and says, "This... event is still on its way, and is traveling— it has not yet reached men's ears. Lightning and thunder need time, the light of the stars needs time, deeds need time, even after they are done, to be seen and heard."

 

 

 

In his 1961 book, The Death of God, theologian Gabriel Vahanian argued that modern secular culture had lost its sense of the sacred; it had lost all sense of sacramental meaning.

 

This is far truer today. God is dead to many people in our society. Sacredness and sacramental thinking and the rituals and commitments these things engender are disappearing. Churches are empty on Holy Days yet full on the secularly sanctioned Holidays of Christmas and Easter. We are still approached for sacraments but they have been reduced to obligatory cultural practices.

 

We don’t really believe any of this stuff do we?

 

God is dead. We have killed him.

 

Today is just like that day at Golgotha. Humanity with our religious and political machinations kills God.  

 

In the passion narrative from John, we witness the escalation of a political battle that is not unlike something we might witness on Cable TVs Breaking News. In his persecution the Lord of Heaven and Earth is forced travels up the ladder of human bureaucracy from Annas, to Caiaphas to Pilate. Pilate tries to calm the movement but he cannot. In order to get the power system moving, the people quickly became faithful subjects of the Emperor. Those entrenched in the “execute the blasphemer” movement were willing to sacrifice their own integrity to get it done.

 

The question for us on this Good Friday is: are we killing God all over again? Is God really at the center of our lives? Or have we fit God into a neat little box that supports our current notions of morality and political power? Is God really dead and we are simply using his name to get our way?

 

Only God is absolute. Putting ourselves in God’s place is the heart of sin.

 

What we learn from secular existentialists like Nietzsche or the Christian existentialists like Soren Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich is that no matter how you look at it, our religion and politics are seriously limited by our emotions and intellects.

 

As we gaze upon the cross today, we are reminded to humble our minds, our hearts and our lips. Each of us today stands convicted. And in the knowledge of our own guilt, we find mercy for others.

Again, Nietzsche, “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderers of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was the holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to be worthy of it?” - Nietzsche, The Gay Science, section 125