the things that make for peace
by The Rev. Steve Harms
Transfiguration Sunday, March 2, 2003
This is my Son, My Beloved. Listen to him.
A friend was recently diagnosed with cancer. She told me, “I wish I could go back to the time before my diagnosis, but then I would be naďve. However I hate the path ahead of me.” I believe that is how most of us feel about this war.
The Transfiguration is a highlight of Jesus ministry: Who he was, his teaching and wisdom were brilliantly illuminated. He consults with Moses and Elijah about the Path of Freedom, then sets face like flint toward Jerusalem. On the outskirts of the city, he breaks down and weeps . He didn’t go there to die, he went to save the City (of Peace) from destruction. Occupation, civil strife and war surrounded him. Jesus’ special hope was to offer a choice: Transformation or Annihilation.
He went to Jerusalem to save them from Roman destruction. He rejects violence. “Clear your hearts of hatred, lust, jealousy, deceit,” he taught.
He preached the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus had a vision, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” For him, evil had fallen from power! The Kingdom of God is here. The infinite power of change is ours. Come with me, he invites. If we reject God’s love, the situation is hopeless. Yet people didn’t want to hear him. Forty years after Jesus’ murder, Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. All that remains of the Temple is the Wailing Wall.
A lot is at stake today: war, terrorism, global disaster. After 25 years of experience, I have a responsibility to speak to you about issues we face and where there is hope. This sermon is not a sound bite. Preaching is done with a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other. “I will not and we should not be silent witnesses of evil deeds.” Jesus said, “Do not fear those who can kill the body, fear those who kill the Body and Soul."
There is no question Saddam Hussein is a brutal, murderous dictator/sociopath. The question is: How is Evil eliminated without corrupting the “Surgeons of Righteousness? The church itself, through the centuries, has been poisoned when “acting for God” - in the Crusades and the Inquisition. We need to “look out!” The President announced about a year ago the existence of an Axis of Evil.
Why didn’t he mention this on the campaign trail – that if elected, I will kill Saddam Hussein?
I and thousands of clergy and rabbis do not grant President Bush the Moral Authority he claims. All governments want it. Rarely does any government deserve it. It is dangerous when governments cloak themselves in mantle of “We are good and righteous, and they are the evil enemies.” The deceit of the human heart is so slippery and conniving. The Church itself is not a moral institution. We must strive constantly to discern God’s yearning, will, desire for our world. No one possesses “the good.” Military supremacy is not equal to Moral Superiority. As the old adage says, “The first victim of war is Truth.” I pause and I wonder:
Is this a Just War? One criterion of a just war is protection of the civilian population so that only combatants engage in battle. This is a wholesale assault on Iraq’s civilian population. “We’ll begin with a massive bombing campaign of 3,000 bombs and Patriot missiles in the first 48 hours to create shock and horror.” – Donald Rumsfeld. This is an exercise of raw power. Two thousand pound bombs will be dropped which explode 50 feet off the ground blowing craters 5 football fields big. The force is so powerful they cause the internal organs of human beings to explode.
This after Sanctions for 10 years in which 5,000 Iraqi children, under the age of 10 die every year. Now over half a million children have died because of little food and no medicine. Is Saddam the cause? Yes. Are sanctions the cure? No. Depleted Uranium on tank shell casings has increased cancer by 600%. Back in 1990 Iraq was the 50th wealthiest nation on earth. It is now 127th out of 176. Collateral damage or estimated civilian deaths are projected to be 100 – 250,000 people. A Humanitarian Disaster will follow with estimates of 1 million refugees. We may hate Saddam – but what about Iraqi grandmothers and innocent children? Do they deserve this?
No Evidence has been found by the Inspection Teams. There is no Nuclear Program. There is no imminent threat to the U.S. Iraq has no Delivery System with which to attack the U.S. even if they have weapons of mass destruction.
There is evidence that 50 American corporations and 70 German corporations have supplied Saddam with materials for weaponry. In 1983 (at the height of Saddam’s atrocities against the Kurds) a Special Envoy from the White House met with Saddam to give him aerial reconnaissance photos of Iran, weaponry and chemical/biological materials. The envoy’s name is Donald Rumsfeld. Should these people be tried as war criminals?
I wonder, by pushing so hard and so fast for this war, are we subverting 50 years of diplomacy, undermining the United Nations and violating International Law and in particular the Nuremberg Principles? Is the Doctrine for Preemptive Strike a blatant violation of the Foundation of Law in our country which presumes people innocent until proven guilty? Are we risking democracy by betraying our core Constitutional foundation and identity?
By acting unilaterally we are denigrating International Law and Cooperation, we lose our moral authority in the world and we grant the “right” to others to do the same. China can eliminate Tibet and Taiwan as they choose. India can get rid of Pakistan because they feel like it.
It is clearly established that the Inspection Team of the late 90’s destroyed more missiles, chemical and biological weapons than the Gulf War did. Are we hurt if they conclude their work successfully?
Is this a war? Will any of us cancel work obligations, golf dates, social functions because a war is raging?
Governments lie, you know. Bill Clinton lied, didn’t he? The Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which got us stuck in Viet Nam, was based on a lie. The persuasive argument with Congress for the Gulf War was Saddam’s troops “took 75 babies out of Kuwaiti hospitals and cast them on the desert floor to die.” Kuwaiti doctors who testified before Congress have now confessed years later that these were lies.
Al Qaida and Iraq are not linked – they are enemies. Americans believe half of the 9/11 terrorists were Iraqi. None were. In the same audiotape which Colin Powell used at the Security Council (but he did not quote this part) Osama calls Saddam an “Infidel” and encourages Iraqis to kill Saddam and overthrow the government. This war will not stop terrorism - it will justify increasing terrorism; it will not end but expand the Middle East crisis. Look at Israel and Palestine - the harsher the Israelis act, the more violently the Palestinians respond.
3000 innocent people died in New York – do you remember the outrage? How many innocent died in Afghanistan? Do we remember Afghanistan? Do we remember we sponsored the Taliban and the our CIA recruited Osama bin Laden? How many innocent will die in Iraq? And we don’t expect them to be outraged? Do you want to see the faces of the enemy? Look across the aisle – they look just like those people.
Our Civil Liberties are being attacked. Six European countries, including France and Germany, warned the White House about the 9/11 attack. I do not blame our government for the misread of the situation. But we don’t need to spy on the privacy of American families for more information. Our library cards and credit cards are now being “legally” monitored. We don’t need more information. The Intelligence Community needs to learn how to interpret the information. It is also true that hundreds of people from the Middle East who have been in the United States are being arrested without being charged, held incommunicado, deported without hearings or families being informed.
There is open talk of registering all Muslims in this country just like the Jews were registered in Germany and the Japanese who were interned here in WWII. My grandfather was called a Nazi in his hometown in Nebraska where he lived for 35 years because he spoke German (Mueller vs. Nebraska – Supreme Court). This is how it always starts, the separating out of people.
It seems to me this is not a battle between Republicans and Democrats. Saddam didn’t bother us for the last 10 years. What is motivating our government leadership to move so fast and furiously?
The Surplus is gone. We face a $300 billion deficit, leaked Pentagon documents say the war will cost at least $85 billion and our troops will be on the ground in Iraq for 10-50 years. What would the result be if we invested $50 billion in peace? The President brazenly speaks of assassinating heads of state and using nuclear weapons that have been considered “off-limits” since 1945. I have photos of the bombing of Hiroshima and the devastation wreaked on their citizens. Look at these pictures and tell me the value of nuclear weapons.
The fear of criticism is immense, questioners are called “unpatriotic.” The White House Poetry Symposium was cancelled for fear of anti-war comments. We are alienating longstanding allies (France and Germany), the African Union is opposed, so is the Middle East and Asian countries. Ten nations of the “new” Europe have spoken out in favor of the U.S. War - their speech was written by Newt Gingrich. 7 million people protested worldwide on all continents in one day. Nelson Mandela has said, “The U.S. is a threat to world peace.” 88 cities in the U.S. have passed resolutions opposing this war, including Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Chicago. Our nation is divided. Sixty percent support this war. But when asked if they would support a preemptive unilateral war, only 20% support it. Deployed soldiers are committing themselves. Peace activists are committing themselves. Both must be honored and respected for the truth they bear. Democracy depends on conversation and debate not ridicule and mockery.
Can we face what appear to be our double standards: North Korea has nuclear weapons and we negotiate. Iran has a far more advanced nuclear program than Iraq and we say nothing. Saudi Arabia has never had democracy (they decapitate women caught in adultery, they cut off the hands of men who are thieves). Turkey has an abysmal human rights record – since 1980 they’ve killed 30,000 Kurds, 93% of their people oppose this war, they intend to capture Iraqi land for themselves – and we ignore all this. To Muslims of the Middle East all the charges made against Saddam are equally true of Israel – they have occupied land not theirs, murdered innocent people, forcibly denied human rights to others, they have violated numerous U.N. resolutions and they have undeclared nuclear weapons of mass destruction. We may not believe this, but they do.
The Future – Death? Death of Iraqis, death of Americans, the death of conscience, the death of our souls? Are we our brother’s and sister’s keepers? How do you pray if you’re in Baghdad today? (4% of the Iraqis are Christians.) For what do you pray if you are in Baghdad? We are in Baghdad when we commune around this table.
Distrustful souls see only darkness burdening the face of the earth. But we are on the edge of a new era. Never before has it been so clear to the whole world how desperately we need the power and priority of reconciliation to be made real for all of us.
It was for a turbulent and troubled world that Jesus wept and sighed, “Would that you knew the things that make for peace.” For this tormented world he gave his life to open a New Path. He was made radiant with the brilliance of God in two places – on the Mount of Transfiguration and on the cross.
Can we see it?
Give me the blinding light of God over the blinding fear of war. To kill our enemies is to kill the presence of God. We are not worth more than Iraqis; they are not worth less than us.
Jesus invites us “have no fear” or “give your fear to me.” Evil has collapsed. Turn to God, return to the Creator of life. Put no trust in weapons for they cannot save you. Do not ignore the darkness or surrender to its forces but walk with me to Jerusalem and to the cross. Choose Transformation, not Annihilation.
Everything the children of our Early Communion Class have learned is true. We belong to God, life can be mended, joy is our home when we live for God. Let us create the peace and hope for which Jesus wept. God will give us the strength, clarity and Spirit we need.
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