Sermon – Quality of Mercy

Here is this morning's sermon about the release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie Bombing. Much of what I said is in the text below.

As I am preaching this morning, I want to take you on a journey. Not a journey from one place to another. Not a journey particularly from one idea to another. Rather a journey from one poet to another. We are going from Shakespeare to Burns today.

And can I say that I feel very comfortable attempting Burns this week. One of the most interesting things I have done in the last few days is to take part in the filming of something called the Glasgow Gospel. It is an attempt to retell the gospel in Glasgwegian. I was delighted, I can tell you to be cast as one of the religious leaders whom the child Jesus met with in the temple. And proud beyond measure when they gave me a speaking part. It must be because of my obvious local accent

I’m going to take the first reading, Solomon’s appeal for wisdom and use it quite unashamedly as a starting point, a place to leap off from. Like leaping from a diving board into the main news of this week which has caused such comment here in Scotland over a deed that was done in the skies over this diocese.

Let us begin with Shakespeare. [Read more…]

The Quality of Mercy

The compassionate release of the Lockerbie bomber is the story that everyone is talking about right now.

I’ve been interested to listen to members of my own congregation discussing it. I’ve been aware of at least four responses within the congregation which have all been held with conviction. They are mutually contradictory

  • That the “bomber” should be released because he did not do it in the first place. (This is accompanied by detailed theories of who did, which make clear that Libya had nothing to do with it
  • That the bomber should have been repatriated to Libya to serve out his sentence there. (After all, we expect British nationals to be brought home from gaols in foreign climes).
  • That the Justice Minister was correct in releasing him on compassionate grounds.
  • That the bomber should have been left to serve out his sentence and that the nature of his crime meant that compassionate release was inappropriate

This last opinion is being taken to extremes in the press today. It seems to me that society is best served by having a criminal justice system which does not depend on a eye for an eye and that consequently, the human rights of prisoners are not contingent on their crimes. Once that is accepted, the logic of the Justice Minister’s position is clear. He has made a decision on a clear ethical principle. I’m surprised that he did not go for the politically more expedient option of letting the man serve his sentence out in Libya, and I suppose I must have a grudging respect for someone taking an unpopular decision on seemingly pure ethical grounds.

Pure ethics are one thing. The theology of Kenny MacAskill’s statement was grim:

“However, Mr Al Megrahi now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. It is one that no court, in any jurisdiction, in any land, could revoke or overrule. It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die.”

The notion of a God who skips about the world deciding who does and who does not get cancer is horrible. That kind of thing gives religion a bad name.

There is no God worth believing in who is so capricious.