Bin Laden and Good News- Senior Sermon at VTS for the Feast of St. Mark

I don’t know about you, but for me, the announcement of Good News today is a bit jarring.  Hearing, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus ChristWhen yesterday we were with Doubting Thomas, and for the past week we have been inhabiting the other end of the Gospel narrative, the resurrection stories.  The break with the lectionary reflects that today we celebrate the feast of St. Mark, the Evangelist, and it breaks us out of an important cycle.

For liturgical Christians, the lectionary cycle is important.  That both seminary and the lectionary last for three years make sense.  As Dr. Kate Sondregger would say, it is “fitting.”  Leaving aside arguments about how the lectionary is shaped.  Sacramentally at least, during these three years we touch elements of the whole Bible, the whole story.

My first year of seminary, I went with my Hebrew class down to Aggudis Achim, the synagogue down South of Quaker Lane, for the celebration of Simchat Torah.  The Jewish lectionary actually reads through the entire Torah in a year, and the feast day marks the end of the cycle.  Because the liturgical Torah is an actual scroll, the community has to re-wrap the whole story at the end.  I am not sure whether Aggudis Achim follows custom, or if the liturgy that evening had a touch of Rabbi Jack Moline flare, but I was incredibly moved by what I saw.

Slowly, carefully, Rabbi Moline and helpers unwrapped the entire Torah, passing in a circle around the room.  Each of us carefully held the lambskin between our thumb and pointer fingers as the whole assembly was encircled by the text.  As teenagers who had just finished their bar and bat mitzvah’s read key passages, I looked around the room.  We were literally surrounded by sacred story.

This celebration expresses the hope of those of us who undergo the lectionary cycle.  We hope to be surrounded by the text.  The year in and year out repetition slowly forms us.  The lectionary is an investment in formation.  The lectionary shapes the way we see the world.  The lectionary helps us to “grow up into the full stature of Christ” as our reading from Ephesians has it today.  In the words of Ed Kilmartin, the Jesuit theologian, it helps our autobiography look more and more like the biography of Christ.

This shaping is important when an interruption occurs.  We hear this announcement from St. Mark’s Gospel, “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ” with ears shaped by the whole text, by the whole story.  We cannot hear this “Good News of Jesus Christ” in a simplistic way.  We know the nuances.

Knowing the nuances becomes important for Christians who are shaped and formed by sacred story.  The interruption of Good News cannot be seen simplistically.  In the last 13 hours or so, we have begun to hear a piece of Good News that has been jarring.  The immediate reception of the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden, the crowds that gathered last night around the White House, seems premature to me.   Bin Laden’s death in some ways is good news, but in others, like any death, it is tragic.  Unexamined rejoicing can be dangerous.  Uninformed celebration could take a quick turn to Islamophobia.  How much better would it have been if Bin Laden had stood trial in the Hague?  If the world had had the opportunity to deal justly and humanely with a criminal who had committed such inhuman acts, there would be no opportunity for Bin Laden to be seen as a martyr.

Good News, for Christians, often requires discernment.  Even, and perhaps especially when the Good News seems obvious.  That first line from Mark’s Gospel gives us a hint.  The word “Good News” appears in the genitive.  It is inextricably linked to the words that follow: Jesus Christ.”  For Christians good news always belongs to Christ.  The Christian task is to discern Christ in the good news.

In the weeks and years to come, I believe those of us in Christian leadership face an important task.  Lest our society declare some misguided idea about victory over Islam as the Good News today, we are tasked with discernment.  Where can we see the good news in Islam?  As Christians, shaped by our own texts, how can we look for and affirm the Gospel, the good news, in the faithful lives of our Muslim sisters and brothers?  Failure to do so, seems to me a kind of atheism, a denial of God’s presence in the lives of others.

We are coming to the end of the seminary year, and many of us are facing some Good News.  Whether we are starting professional ministry , a summer of CPE, or a sabbatical, whether the good news comes as we cross international borders.  Our work, shaped by the whole Christian story, is to discern how our good news is of Christ.  New beginnings are an invitation to find the “of Christ” in our “Good News” to discern the Christ alive in our lives.

Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Mich., celebrated the news of the death of Bin Laden. (Image from

Published by Mike Angell

The Rev. Mike Angell is rector of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion in St. Louis.

5 thoughts on “Bin Laden and Good News- Senior Sermon at VTS for the Feast of St. Mark

  1. Chris,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I saw pictures of you with Geraldo on Facebook. That must have been crazy. I bet you heard from family members all over the country who saw you on TV!

    I have to say you’ve answered some of my questions about what that night was about. I tried to be careful with my word describing the celebrations. I am sure you have heard some pretty judgmental words about the gathering in front of the White House. I hope my word, “premature,” isn’t heard quite so harshly. Like a lot of my friends, the celebrations surprised me, and I worried that the mob mentality might take an ugly turn. I am glad it did not.

    In regards to the question of taking Bin Laden alive for a tribunal…one of the benefits to being a preacher is that you are working to inform conscience more than actual policy. I wanted to raise the question in people’s mind, “what if?” and explore what it would mean for Christians who believe in justice and the sacredness of all life.

    Most of what i can say is that this sermon was written about 9 hours after the news broke, so the sermon itself is perhaps “premature.” I’m glad you’ve had more time to reflect in the week since.

  2. Hey, Mike. Hope all is well and congrats on completing seminary at VTS! You’re going to be a great Priest in the Church! Anyways, I was one of those people celebrating at the White House immediately after President Obama told the world that Navy SEALS had killed Bin Laden. (I was even interviewed by Geraldo Rivera and my clip was featured on the May 2nd episode of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.) I know it is not right to celebrate someone’s death. As Christians, we believe killing someone is terrible sin that only God can forgive. But, I, as well as a majority of students at GW and a majority of people in my age group, believe this was not about killing an unarmed man hiding on the run. For half of our lives, we have heard nothing but bad news. Since September 11, 2001, we have lived in a state of almost constant depression and sadness. We can only recall how life was easy going and happy before 9/11/01 and since then we have been in fear of those who want to kill us and believe we are inherently evil people. We do not believe that those who want to do these to us are really Moslems since Islam, like the other two great Abrahamic religions is a religion of peace. These people used a pathetic excuse of their religion to express their hatred and anger towards us for which we are innocent and we have done nothing wrong. The immediate reaction for almost all of us at GW was to celebrate at the White House for it was the first bit of good news we have heard in a very very long time. The man who had caused us to be sad, live in fear, and for some people to become islamophobic, was no more. We who we celebrating were celebrating a victory by our brave Navy SEALS, who are the finest sailors this world will ever know, over evil. For us, we finally saw the good triumph over evil. Few of us who were there at the White House that night will regret what we did. For most of us, we were glad that we were there to celebrate a victory. We equate this to when we defeated the Nazis in WWII and when we ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Those were our grandparents and parents great triumphs and now this was ours. On a personal level, I would have liked to have seen Bin Laden taken alive, so we could gather more intelligence on the whereabouts of other high value terrorists who continue to threat our livelihoods, to put him on trial in front of a military tribunal, and be executed. (I know that many Christian leaders now want the death penalty abolished in all cases, but for a man that has caused this nation so much pain and suffering over the past two decades, most would agree there is no other option. We did the same things to Nazis who committed crimes against humanity.) I believe that islamophobia will die down with the rest of the war on terrorism as the terrorists, who happen to claim that they are moslems, are eliminated/captured. In history we have seen Russophobia die down after the end of the cold war, Germanophobia die after WWII, and Anglophobia after the war of 1812. Mike I commend you for suggesting how we could have dealt with Bin Laden if we had taken him alive. We were doing that with that killer Milosevic of Serbia before he died. It would be entirely appropriate doing that since Bin Laden is responsible for not only American deaths but Kenyan, Tenzanian, British, etc. deaths. I do not want to be critical but I reaction to that is that it sounds logical and possible but not pratical due to the game of politics. Almost all Americans would want to try Bin Laden in a military tribunal like we are trying other terrorists such as Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the man responsible for coming up with the 9/11/01 plot and several others. While your plan sounds logical and reasonable, it is very unlikely that that would have happened if we had taken Bin Laden alive. One last note, there are still several conflicting reports out there on whether we were going to try to capture Bin Laden or that the order was simply to kill him. I have heard several different reports but if it were true that the order was to kill him regardless of circumstances, I would disagree with that order on the grounds that it is inhumane and not right to kill someone, even the killer of thousands of people, without taking into account of the circumstances. However, from what I have heard, I believe that our Navy SEALS did the right thing and in the situation they were in, capturing Bin Laden was not possible. Anyways, thats all I have to say about that. Good Luck!!!
    -Chris Ring

  3. I agree
    this is not justice – this is murder – and murder for murder is not right…
    “Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live”; Ezekiel 33:11

  4. When I saw the headline, my first thought was that it was a time for prayer — a prayer of petition not of rejoicing. Of sorrow for Bin Laden, for those who killed him, for those who were his family, friends and followers. For us and our part in this war. One of the prayers of forgiveness we say includes the phrase ‘forgive us our sins and the sins committed in our behalf’ [not quite verbatim, my memory isn’t what it used to be]. Those who killed Bin Laden, those who authorized the killing, were our surrogates. We share the responsibility. And while we may hope that good may come out of this, we need ot as for forgiveness as well as to pray for the forgiveness of those who are our present enemies. I fear that we will find this arousing even more hatred and anger. And I wonder sometimes that the God who is Love can look upon such mutual hatreds and love us all still.

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