On Sunday 2 September, Bishop Ibrahim Azar joined the English-speaking and Arabic-speaking congregations in the Redeemer chapel for a joint service and the commissioning of the 2018-2019 ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission. His Sunday sermon is below. Enjoy!
Message for Sunday 2 September 2018
Bishop Ibrahim Azar
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
2018-2019 YAGM Commissioning
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Today it is a joy to have both the Arabic and English-speaking congregations of Redeemer joining together to worship. This is a visible sign that although we have different languages and different cultures, we are one Church, sharing one faith, one baptism, and one salvation through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for this time together! Amen.
It is also a pleasure this morning to welcome visitors from around the world, as well as our new ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission. You are most welcome here in Jerusalem, Palestine. We welcome you here in our churches, in our homes, and in our schools, and we look forward to getting to know you better. I understand each of you will give a brief introduction after I speak, and we are grateful for the chance to hear a bit about who you are.
Our church, the ELCJHL, has been welcoming young adult volunteers from the United States (and other countries) for many years now, and we are always grateful to have you. It’s always good to be reminded, however, of what this relationship is. You do not come among us to save us or to fix our problems. Nor do you come among us as tourists or guests! Instead, we receive you as siblings in Christ. We welcome you to walk hand in hand with us. We hope you will rejoice when we rejoice and weep when we weep. (Romans 12:15) We invite you to experience our lives as Palestinian Christians living under occupation, to hear our stories, and likewise to share your stories with us.
But above all, we receive you as partners in the one mission we share as the global church. In the reading today from 1 Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul gives thanks for the early Christians, and encourages them to continue the work of the church. And what is that work?
In Paul’s words, the church is called to maintain faith, and love, and steadfastness of hope in Jesus Christ, in spite of persecution. Even when the world stands us against us, nevertheless we are to become imitators of our Lord. In fact, our lives should so closely resemble the life of Jesus that we don’t even have to tell people we are Christians! In fact, this is what he praises the Thessalonians for doing, saying:
“For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.” (1 Thessalonians 1:8)
It seems the church in Thessalonica was so faithful they didn’t need to advertise it—the story of their faith was known even far away!
So what does this look like today? How will they know we are Christians? Of course, they will know we are Christians by our love! We love because Christ first loved us!
But Jesus also spoke truth to power. He confronted the empire and suffered humiliation and death because of it. For this reason, becoming imitators of Christ means boldly working for peace based on justice for all people. It also often means suffering ridicule or opposition as a result. And yet, when we commit to imitating this life of Christ together, then we don’t even need to speak of the Gospel. We don’t have to be excellent preachers or even bishops, for the Good News of Jesus, crucified and risen, will be known by the work of our hands, the paths we walk, and the relationships we create.
Therefore, to our volunteers who have just arrived among us—and to the visitors with us today—welcome. As Paul said,
“We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers.” And our prayer is that our whole lives will be bold witnesses to the love of God in Christ Jesus—here in Palestine and Israel, and in your home countries, and wherever the Lord leads us next.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.