Sermon for 16th Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 19)

Text: 1 Timothy 1:15-17
This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, but God was merciful to me in order that Christ Jesus might show his full patience in dealing with me, the worst of sinners, as an example for all those who would later believe in him and receive eternal life. To the eternal King, immortal and invisible, the only God—to him be honour and glory forever and ever! Amen.
Mitsuo Fuchida & Jacob DeShazer

From hatred to love

God does so much for us. He protects us, he loves us, he forgives us, and he reaches out to us. But perhaps the most important thing God does for us is offer us his amazing grace. Without his grace, we would have nothing else going for us. There are many stories that illustrate the way God graciously works in peoples' lives and through these stories we again appreciate and give thanks to God for his grace to us.

One such real life story illustrating God's grace is that of Mitsuo Fuchida. Fuchida was born in Japan and as a child he dreamed about being a hero (like all little boys). Even though samurai warriors had long since disappeared he dreamt that one day he would be a mighty samurai warrior. Fuchida had a burning love for his country and an equally burning hatred for Americans and the way they had treated Asians in the early 1900s.

He graduated from the military academy at the age of 21 and became a pilot in Japan’s Air Force. By 1941, he had become the best and most experienced pilot in Japan. So, when the Japanese government decided they were going to attack Pearl Harbour, they chose Fuchida to lead the attack. It was his voice that radioed the battle cry, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (‘Tora’ means tiger). He wrote later, "Like a hurricane out of nowhere, my torpedo planes, dive bombers and fighters struck suddenly with indescribable fury. As smoke began to billow and the proud battleships, one by one, started tilting, my heart was almost ablaze with joy". Fuchida was elated at the success but when he returned to base he found out that of the 70 officers who were involved in the battle, he was the only one to survive. Later he could see that this just wasn’t a matter of good luck.

He was involved in many more battles but at the Battle of Midway he was confined to the sick bay with a bout of appendicitis. He could hear the battle raging above and around the ship and left the sick bay to help up on deck. He later found out that the sick bay had taken a direct hit and everyone in there was killed.

In 1945 he was attending a military conference in Hiroshima but was called back to Navy headquarters in Tokyo. Only hours later the atomic bomb was dropped and everyone in the military complex died. Was it just coincidence that once again Fuchida had a narrow escape from death? He wrote, "When the war ended several days later, my country was defeated and I was devastated. Bitterness and hatred filled my heart. Once a proud warrior, I now had to turn to farming to make a living." He was discouraged and disillusioned.

One day as Fuchida got off the train in a Tokyo Station, he saw an American distributing literature. He took one of the leaflets entitled ‘I Was a Prisoner of Japan’ - it was printed by a Christian organisation. It was written by Jake DeShazer, an American pilot whose life had also been filled with hatred and enjoyed taking revenge on the Japanese as he bombed Tokyo.

After the raid he had to bail out over China and ended up a prisoner of war. He was cruelly treated and this only fuelled his hatred of the Japanese. After 2 years of confinement his captors allowed one Bible to enter the POW camp. This was circulated around the camp and after 6 months a guard brought it to his cell telling him he could have it for 3 weeks. He read and read and eventually came to understand that the book was more than an historical classic. Its message became relevant to him right there in his cell. He read the prophets 6 times, he memorised passages and he came to realise that the Jesus of the Bible is his Saviour. When his three weeks were almost up, he read again Romans 10:9—‘If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’

‘I do believe!’ DeShazer declared. He prayed, ‘Lord, though I am far from home and though I am in prison, I must have forgiveness.’ He continued to pray until he was filled with inner peace and joy. His dirty cell and the abuse no longer held any horror. Death held no threat. Though a prisoner he was a free man.

Fuchida read about this man’s experience and wanted to know more. He came from a traditional Buddhist background and had always thought of Christianity as a western religion. Fuchida recalls, ‘A few days later again at the train station, a Japanese man was handing out books. I couldn't believe it when he cried, ‘Get your Bible - food for the soul!’ I took one, and as I read, I was struck by Jesus' words in Luke 23:34, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Jesus had died so I could be forgiven!" Fuchida describes the moment when he realised that Jesus had prayed for him that first Good Friday on the cross – Jesus did that for him even though he was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people during the war. ‘On that day’, Fuchida said, ‘I became a new person. My complete view on life was changed by the intervention of the Christ I had always hated and ignored before’.

Jake Deshazer had returned to Japan now as a missionary and often told how Jesus had turned his hatred and anger into love and compassion. He established a Christian Church in the same area, that years before, he had bombed.

Fuchida describes the day he met DeShazer. ‘I stood at the door trembling with anticipation. Jake DeShazer had been sharing the love of Jesus with the Japanese for several years now, but would he be able to forgive the one who had led the charge on Pearl Harbour? It was partly my fault that Jake had spent years as Japan's prisoner (Jake would not have been captured if America had not been brought into the war [mine]). Finally, I reached up and knocked on the door.
"Yes?" asked a kind-looking man.
"I have desired to meet you, Mr. DeShazer. My name is Mitsuo Fuchida."

It took only a moment for him to recognize my name, and to my relief, a smile spread across his face. "Come in, come in." Through the love of Jesus, we former enemies embraced as brothers in Christ's love. God had brought peace not only to a war-weary world, but to the souls of two mortal enemies who had fought in it.’

Fuchida died in 1976. He said that he wanted to be remembered for his service to Jesus more than his bombing of Pearl Harbour. He wrote, ‘I can say today, without hesitation, that God’s amazing grace has been set upon me.’

In his First Letter to Timothy Paul gives us a brief rundown on how the grace of God had intervened in his life. In fact, Paul never tires of telling his story or rather the story about God and his unbelievable love for him. He writes, ‘I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord … for considering me worthy and appointing me to serve him, even though in the past I spoke evil of him and persecuted and insulted him. And our Lord poured out his abundant grace on me and gave me the faith and love which are ours in union with Christ Jesus. This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, but God was merciful to me’ (1:12-14).

Like Fuchida and DeShazer, God had not given up on Paul even though he was filled with hate and anger. In grace God had reached to each of them even though they had been so ignorant about God's love for them and so dead set in their hatred. He claimed them as his own, changed their hard hearts to one’s of love and kindness; turned their lives around to the point where they were not ashamed to speak out for Jesus and his love for all people. The impact of God's love and forgiveness in their lives was so powerful that they realised that something new had happened in their lives. This was obvious to the other people in their lives. The change in Paul was met with suspicion at first by the early Christians. Even Fuchida’s friends could not believe that such a dramatic change could happen in a person’s life. We need to note carefully that people did see the change in the lives of these men – they had been changed from people filled with hate to advocates for the grace of God.

These stories are our story also. It’s true that our stories are quite different to that of Fuchida, DeShazer or Paul but it still stands true, that even though we are not worthy of God's love because we have been so overcome and engrossed in sin, each of us can say with the apostle Paul, ‘Our Lord poured out his abundant grace on me and gave me the faith and love which are ours in union with Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, but God was merciful to me’.

Every now and then it hits us like a ton of bricks. When we talk about the need to be more forgiving, to show more compassion, to be more understanding in our relationship with others and to follow the way of Jesus more closely, we are hit with our total lack of commitment in these areas. We let sin and Satan win the day again and again. But the gospel message is something that never changes and is as powerful today as it has been in the past. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, that includes you and me, even though we may consider ourselves to be the worst of all sinners.

Every now and then it hits us like a ton of bricks when we are low, depressed, sad, and full of doubt and misgivings. God in his mercy and grace never stops loving us and reaching out to us to help us and comfort us. He simply asks that we trust him, take hold of the hand that he is offering and it doesn’t matter how feeble our grip might be, he will do the rest. He will hold us when we don’t have the strength to hold on to him. It’s no wonder then that Fuchida, DeShazer, Paul and every person who experiences this grace of God can’t help but be changed in their attitudes and outlook on life, commit themselves to following Christ more closely and praise God for his love.

Let’s join with Paul and make his words our words. ‘I was the worst of sinners not worthy of God's attention and care. To the eternal King, immortal and invisible, the only God—to him be honour and glory forever and ever! Amen’.

Resources:
From Pearl Harbour to Calvary by Mitsuo Fuchida
Beyond Pearl Harbour by Elesha Coffman in Christian History magazine
From Bombs to Something More Powerful by Elsie J Larson in Today’s Christian

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
16th September 2007
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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