Dec 31, 2006
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Sermon: Jesus Stayed Behind
The First Sunday of Christmas, 2006
Community Church of Wilmette
O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
This is from a BBC on-line article:
A small group of Iraqis witnessed the execution in a spartan concrete-lined chamber at an Iraqi compound known by the Americans as Camp Justice in the suburb of Khadimiya.
They watched as a judge read out the sentence to Saddam Hussein, 69. The former Iraqi leader was carrying a copy of the Koran and asked for it to be given to a friend.
Footage broadcast later on Iraqi state TV showed a subdued Saddam Hussein being led to gallows by a group of masked men.
He was dressed in a white shirt and dark overcoat, rather than prison garb.
Saddam Hussein was led up onto the gallows platform and a dark piece of cloth placed around his neck, followed by the noose.
When the hangman stepped forward to put the hood over his head, Saddam Hussein made it clear he wanted to die without it
Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie, who witnessed the execution, told the BBC that the former leader went to the gallows quietly:
"We took him to the gallows and he was saying some few slogans. He was very, very, very, broken." (link)
This moment in history is one of the more momentous for me...for many of us I presume. I have been following the trial and the invasion for its duration. Like many people, I learned most of what I know about Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War and the months leading up to the second Gulf War. Since those moments he has become an almost daily fixture in my life. Newspapers write about him. The television stations broadcast story after story about him
and the ruthless tyranny he held over the people of Iraq
the tens of thousands of people he killed. There is little if anything laudable about his public life that we know about. He was a brutal killer.
And yet the responses to his execution have been mixed. Most, truth be told, have been expressions of pride in the action taken by the courts. This is the fruition of an autonomous nation taking care of its own business. This is an act of justice, the voices say. Others have been voices of vengeance, or questions about why the Arab people would allow an invading nation to hang one of their own. Opinions vary. Loyalties vary. From all the statements available, I find myself gravitating toward a statement from the Vatican
"A capital punishment is always tragic news, a reason for sadness, even if it deals with a person who was guilty of grave crimes...These words from the Vatican are challenging to say the very least
and curious because they dont deny the need for justice, peace, and a good society. They allow us (and the Iraqis) our desire for such a thing but the Vatican challenges us in how we are to go about achieving them.
"The killing of the guilty party is not the way to reconstruct justice and reconcile society. On the contrary, there is a risk that it will feed a spirit of vendetta and sow new violence.
"In these dark times for the Iraqi people, one can only hope that all responsible parties truly make every effort so that glimmers of reconciliation and peace can be found in such a dramatic situation."
- Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican Spokesman
And as challenging as they are to us, I believe that they are true, honest and, well, right. Somehow justice needs to be done in our world. We cannot neglect our communities, their desires or pain, whether they are local or global communities. But there are ways of caring for one another, of establishing just communities, that have the virtues and strengths of generosity, kindness, and charity.
It is in this light that I encounter the Colossians passage this morning.
3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
It is good that the government of Iraq, even occupied Iraq, was able to make this trial come to fruition. That there is this degree of autonomy is laudable.
And yet, we as humanity are to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Paul is pretty consistent in this preaching. He says this as well:
Do not take revenge, my friends, says Paul in his letter to the Romans, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
This gives us a way to begin thinking differently about revenge
What is always interesting to me in the reading of scripture is to take a step back and think about what is not being said within it. Confusing? Perhaps. But it is important to think about what prompts such a teaching from Paul. The Bible is not a rulebook so much as it is a narrative and guide. Everything within it is written for and from Christian community. So, for Paul to write such things as Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 3:14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Perhaps this needs saying to the Colossians and the Romans. Perhaps teaching like this is necessary because of the brokenness of the communities. Perhaps there are simply underlying questions for these communities. What do we do to be just? they may have wanted to know. "What do we do with our criminals?"
These struggles were present in the life of faith then, as they are now. And they are to be a shared struggle. We cannot go blindly onward individually in the midst of such questions and troubles. We must sit with one another, bear with one another, forgive one another, and love one another through these conversations.
Like Christ in the Temple, we are to sit and talk about the Word of God, to speak of tradition and faith with our peers and our teachers. We must debate with one another and learn from one another, be willing to be changed by one another. It is this willingness that is holy. This is how we are all transformed. The boy Jesus learned from others. We too must learn. The Rabbi Jesus taught others. We too are called to teach.
We can debate whether or not Saddam Hussein had such a will
to learn, to be taught, and to be changed. I am fearful that he did not. I pray that in the end, in his brokenness, he had even the glimmer of such a will. And I pray that God has not left his soul now, even after he has been killed by the state.
What Saddam failed to understand is that there is no difference in the value of one human being over another in the eyes of God. This perceived imbalance of value from one person to another, led to tyranny
cruelty and evil. It led to his demise
he fell from one system of injustice where he held total power into another system in which he held almost none.
At Christmas we remember that Jesus is born to save us all. God comes to us in the flesh, to show us how much he values us all, each one of us without exception. A community that tells this story again and again, sings these hymns and psalms again and again, should and will puzzle over what justice then means.
And, if God blesses us, we will find that Christ is born within our community and justice and mercy are given new birth.