Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Litany of Commitment for Faith in Action

Day 4: World Week for Peace in Palestine/Israel


Today is the fourth day of the World Week for Peace. We continue to pray as the global church for the dismantling of the wall separating the people of Israel and Palestine--and for the dismantling of every wall that divides us from our fellow human beings. For this reason, although this week's prayers are primarily focused on this one wall in this one place, we also pray for an end to racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Christian-ophobia. 

If you are still planning this Sunday's worship service, please consider using this litany of commitment to faith in action, from the WWPPI 2016 Liturgy:


Christ is our peace
And now we commit to sharing that peace with the world.

He is our peace
Therefore we will be peacemakers: in our relationships, our families, our churches, and our communities.

He came to us in flesh, born in Bethlehem
Therefore we will not forget the people of Bethlehem, and all who live in communities behind the wall today.

He has made both groups into one
Therefore we will treat all humans with dignity, respect, and honor—Israeli, Palestinian, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, on both sides of the wall. We refuse to be divided by hatred.

He has broken down the dividing wall
Therefore we will insist that our governments, our lawmakers, and our churches advocate for the dismantling of the Israeli separation wall.

May the God who has given us the will to do these things, give us the strength and courage to perform them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Pray with us: World Week for Peace in Palestine/Israel

Join us in prayer:

World Week for Peace in Palestine/Israel


Yesterday morning began the World Week for Peace in Palestine/Israel, an annual event sponsored by the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches. At Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem's Old City, the English-speaking and Arabic-speaking congregations joined together for worship.

Photo by Ben Gray/ELCJHL
Prayers and hymns were offered in both languages. We also welcomed visitors from Norway and the United States.

We heard Scripture readings from Ephesians ("Christ has already broken down the dividing wall") and from the Gospel according to Mark ("Who will roll the stone away from the tomb for us?") These Bible texts remind us that the things we think are immovable and permanent are never as powerful as the love of God in Christ Jesus.

In place of  a sermon, we heard testimonies from Palestinian brothers and sisters about what it is like to live under occupation and in the shadow of the wall. Some poetry related to the theme was also read.

Photo by Yusef Daher

A little while later, just down the street, a Palestinian man was arrested violently by a number of Israeli soldiers, on the Via Dolorosa (the Way of the Cross.) A Palestinian friend, who had just been with us for prayer, posted this photo and commented:

Photo by Yusef Daher

"At the start of the World Week for Peace
Another Palestinian ... Another arrest 
Another Cross
another Station... Another Sunday"

Early this Monday morning, we awoke to the sound of sirens, as a Palestinian allegedly stabbed two police officers at Herod's Gate, and was shot and killed (or, some reports say, seriously wounded). There have been several such events in the last few days, with Israeli soldiers lightly injured and several Palestinians killed. This is a marked increase in violence, and a worrying sign as we approach the anniversary of the start of last year's so-called "Stabbing Intifada."

There is no better time for the global church to join in prayers for peace with justice! There are many other struggles in the world today. There are many other sufferings, many other conflicts.

But this one is happening in our Holy City. This one is happening on the streets where Our Lord Jesus walked. People today are carrying the cross of suffering, persecution, and oppression just as he did. People are living in fear of each other--and we know that fear always breeds hatred and ultimately violence.

If we believe the love of God could move the stone away from Our Lord's tomb, then we must believe the love of God can bring down the Separation Wall, can soften hearts, can remove the disease of racism, and can overcome the unholy evils of violence and hatred which threaten this Holy Land.

Will you join us in prayer? You can follow this blog this week for prayers each day.

Let us pray:

Holy God,

In great love you sent your Son, Jesus, to break down every dividing wall. Give us the strength and courage to dismantle the many barriers erected by human sin. During this World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, we especially pray for the dismantling of the Israeli Separation Wall. Open the ears of those who need to hear the reality of the situation. Open the hearts of all to the suffering of the other. Open the eyes of those who have not recognized their own complicity. And then, following in the footsteps of your Son Jesus and all the saints, open our hands to work for peace with justice for all the people of Palestine and Israel. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sermon for 11 September 2016 "In which God turns the car around on the highway to find us."

Sermon for Sunday 11 September 2016

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem

"In which God turns the car around on the highway to find us"

The Rev. Carrie Ballenger Smith

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In these days when Google Maps and Waze have become ubiquitous (except in the West Bank, of course) the experience of being truly lost has become rare. Here in the Old City, which covers only one square kilometer, one wrong turn can lead you into a neighborhood you don’t recognize, down a road with endless twists and turns, surrounded by buildings and doorways that all pretty much look the same...but sooner or later, you find your way out.

But even if Jerusalem is as familiar as the back of your hand, and your cell phone reception is crystal clear far beyond the Green Line, you may have a memory of being lost (or feeling lost) as a child.

At a dinner party recently, one of the guests was telling the story of how once, when she was about 8 years old, her parents accidentally left her at a remote highway gas station during a long road trip.

“Oh my!” I said. “Did you have a really large family or something? Did they just lose count of all the kids?”

“Actually, there were only three of us kids—me and my two older brothers,” said my dinner companion. “I took longer than usual in the restroom, and my parents were distracted, and apparently they just drove off without checking the backseat.”

All these years later, this grown woman described with great emotion how it felt to exit the restroom and find that her family had left her behind. At only 8 years old, she sat down on the curb outside the gas station and thought to herself, “Well, I guess this is it.”

While she told me this story, this woman’s toddler (her third child) was running all around the dining room, causing mischief and attempting an escape. We chuckled at how something like leaving your child behind at a gas station seems incomprehensible when you have no children, or when you have a tiny baby, but at some point during parenthood it becomes almost understandable.

“Listen,” she said, “Now that I have kids, I can forgive my parents for leaving me behind. I mean, it happens, right? We get distracted. We get tired.

But you know what I can’t forget? After all these years, I still think about my two older brothers sitting in the backseat of the car! I mean, they definitely noticed I wasn’t in the car. They must have realized right away I was lost. And yet, it took them miles—many miles, and many minutes—to say anything to my parents. It’s like they were deciding whether I was really worth going back for.”

While most of us can relate to the feeling of being lost, I wonder how many of us can imagine what it means to be lost, and to feel that no one is looking for you. That no one is turning the car around on the highway. That you are, according to others, expendable.

As unacceptable as it may be for us to admit, this is the reality for many in the world today. Nigerian girls are kidnapped by the hundreds. Palestinian boys are held in “administrative detainment”. In my hometown, Chicago, 500 people have been murdered since January. Bombs explode and wars rage on in countries we can’t find on the map, and almost none of it makes the news or disrupts our daily schedule. This week I read a report about the alarming number of child suicides and suicide attempts in Syria in the last few months. Can you imagine? How lost, how desperately lost must a little child feel to consider such a thing?

And yet, on the other hand, who could blame them for feeling lost? After all, it was just one year ago this week that the body of little Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach, and the photo of his pudgy two-year-old legs and tiny hands lying in the sand broke the world’s collective heart. For one moment in time, it’s as if our eyes were opened and we realized that refugee children are worth our time, are worth our money, are worth opening the borders, are worth even turning the car around on the highway.

But then we were distracted. There are other boats, other washed-up children, other terrible photos, and other problems closer to home to capture our attention.

Consciously or unconsciously, it seems the world has simply decided these children—along with so many others—will stay lost.

In the Gospel text for today, we hear how Jesus has been keeping company with some lost folks. He’s been eating with sinners and tax collectors, and they’ve been hearing his teachings. These lost ones from the edges of polite society even seem poised to become Jesus’ next faithful followers.

Of course, this situation just could not be tolerated by the scribes and the Pharisees, religious authorities who saw themselves as protecting the boundaries of all that is sacred and holy. Sinners and tax collectors were simply not good candidates for discipleship. No real prophet would risk being associated with them. No religious community would accept them. No dinner party would invite them. In terms of purity, in terms of reputation, in terms of respectability, they were simply lost—and in the opinion of the religious men, should remain lost.

 “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” grumbled the scribes and Pharisees.

But Jesus said to them:

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?”

In other words, Jesus makes it clear to the religious authorities—the ultimate insiders—that these human beings, whom they have decided are not worth Jesus’ time, are actually precious in God’s eyes. 

As precious as a sheep in a shepherd’s loving care. 
As precious as a silver coin worth a year’s salary. 
Precious enough to turn the car around immediately on the highway! 
Precious enough to turn the world upside down in order to find them!
Precious enough to go to Calvary and the cross.

If you are lost, abandoned, forgotten, or excluded, God’s Good News for you is this:

You may feel lost, but God’s heart is always searching for you.
You may think you are expendable, but God’s kingdom is not complete without you.
Indeed, God’s joy is not complete without you!

For this reason, the shepherd in Jesus’ parable says: “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.”

For this reason, the woman who found the lost silver coin calls her neighbors together and says: “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.”

For this reason, we are invited to rejoice with God. For only when all the lost have been found, and all have a seat at the table, will the party really get started. Amen!

God always seeks out the lost. This is Good News indeed!

But ultimately, Jesus did not tell these stories for lost sheep, lost coins, lost sinners and tax collectors, or lost children.

These parables are told for the scribes and Pharisees inside the religious institutions of Jesus’ time, and these parables are for those of us inside the religious institutions of our time.

Jesus tells these parables for us, because God’s Goods News for the lost and the outsider is a real pain in the neck for the insiders.

We know these parables are for the insiders because of this one line at the end of the story, when Jesus says:

“Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

There is joy when one sinner repents!

Can a lost sheep change his ways?  Can a silver coin repent?

This call to repentance is not for the sheep or the coin. This call to repentance is for all of us who have ever counted one of God’s children as being “not our problem”, not worth our time, or not wanted in our backyard.

There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents…

Therefore Jesus invites us to repent of the sin of exclusivity in the church and in our communities.

Jesus invites us to repent of our complacency in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other evils which keep people from full inclusion in the church or society.

Jesus invites us to repent of our short attention spans, and our collective willingness to accept neighbors, strangers, refugees, immigrants, and fellow sinners as lost forever.

Jesus invites to us to turn back toward God—and there will be joy in heaven when we do. There will be joy in heaven when even one self-righteous Christian opens her heart to the knowledge that no one is outside God’s grace.

There is joy in heaven when the church remembers that no one is outside of God’s love.

There is joy in heaven when countries decide no one is outside the concern of society. 

In a time when our will for peace, our capacity for hope, our joy, and even our common humanity often seems lost or missing, it is Good News indeed for us to hear that no one in this world will ever be lost to God.

The God of love, who searches for lost sheep and single coins,
The God who eats with sinners and tax collectors,
The God who brings little children home,
This God will never stop searching for the lost.

Through Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, God will never stop inviting the world to turn away from exclusivity and bigotry, from injustice and hatred, and turn toward love, peace, justice, and reconciliation. And there will be joy in heaven on the day when every sheep has been found, when every sinner has repented, and every child has been brought home safely at last. Amen. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Join us in prayer: World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel

This year's World Week for Peace in Palestine/Israel will take place from 18-25 September. Across the world, churches and individuals will join their hearts and voices in praying to God for a peace and just solution to the conflict in the Holy Land.

Will you join us? It's easy to be part of this week of prayer.

1. If you are a pastor or worship leader, you can incorporate the World Week for Peace liturgy into your Sunday worship;
or hold a special mid-week prayer for peace;
or borrow the pieces of the liturgy which may work for your particular context.

For example, consider using this Litany of Confession:

Confident in God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, 
let us come before God in a spirit of confession. 
Silence for reflection
O God our Creator, You created the heavens and the earth 
But humans act as if they own them. 
 You gave abundant water and food for all 
But humans hoard it for themselves. 
You breathed life into every human being 
but some deny the sanctity of human life. 

O God of mercy, 
Free humanity from our sinful ways. 
Where walls have been built up 
Teach us to build bridges of understanding. 
When hearts are hardened
 Open them to the sufferings of the neighbor. 
When we are oppressed 
Preserve our dignity and give us courage to resist. 
When we are the oppressor 
Change our hearts and reform our ways. 
Silence for reflection. 

Hear the Good News: God who is full of grace and mercy has forgiven us all our sins. Through the Son, Jesus Christ, we have been given new life and new hope. 
Thanks be to God, Christ has broken down the dividing wall. He is our peace. Amen.  

Find the full liturgy for download here: WWPPI LITURGY

2. Follow the ELCJHL Facebook page for daily prayers, photos, and updates.

3. Share prayers, poems, or stories from the Week for Peace liturgy on your own Facebook page or blog! For example, read this witness from the grandchildren of a Palestinian friend:

TESTIMONY 4: from Carlos and Isabella, 10 years old, Jerusalem 

 "If one day there is no wall, I would feel more than happy. I will call all my friends and tell them the wall is gone! If there is no wall, all the Palestinians can come to Jerusalem, and go to the airport, too. If there is no wall, we could run from one side to the other. The world will be for everyone."

"If there was no wall, I would tell children around the world that the wall fell down. Friends who had not seen each other for years could now meet. I and all the children of Palestine will be very proud of all the people who made the wall fall down."

Will you join us in prayer? Is your church planning to participate in the World Week for Peace? Please comment or email me to let me know!