Eric Shafer's excellent reports from his recent trip to Palestine and Israel are on his blog:
I picked one to share. Please go to Eric's blog to see the rest of his fine messages. Eric, my former boss and a good friend, traveled with a group that included bishops and other leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
From Jerusalem - Sunday, February 3, 2008
Early Sunday morning Kris and I hurried into the Old City to help the Holmans prepare for 9:00 a.m. worship at Redeemer Lutheran Church there [http://www.elcjhl.org/cong/jerusalem/]. Before worship we helped carry hymnals (LBW's) from the chapel to the main church where worship was held today. I also did some sermon videotaping with Tim Frakes outside of Redeemer on the Via Dolorosa.
Today the English and Arab language congregations at Redeemer (there are also German and Danish language congregations) worshiped together in the main sanctuary at 9:00 a.m. Bishop Munib Younan of the ELCJHL preached [http://www.elcjhl.org/] and Pastor Mark Holman presided. Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Claire S. Burkat greeted the congregation and also assisted with communion (for photos go to http://www.ministrylink.org/view_article.aspx?id=521).
Bishop Younan preached on Isaiah 58, first in Arabic and then in English. In his sermon, Bishop Younan spoke of Isaiah's link between fasting and social justice - "there is no benefit to fasting if it doesn't benefit the world." He noted that "Isaiah calls us to help loose the bonds of injustice," "let the oppressed free," and "break every yoke." "It is not about my own spirituality," said Younan, "but the world." Bishop Younan then quickly made the connection to the current situation here in Jerusalem - "our spirituality must not allow injustice to triumph .... we must stand for security (for Israel and Palestine) and for an end of the occupation (of Palestine by Israel). "Our fasting must be to help the world."
Bishop Burkat greeted the congregation on behalf of those "pilgrims from southeastern Pennsylvania" who were worshipping at Redeemer this day. She presented gifts from our group to Bishop Younan and Pastor Holman. In addition to Kris and me and Bishop Burkat, Phil & Rene Krey also worshiped at Redeemer. Others from our group worshiped in Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour at the Lutheran congregations there.
After worship we joined Redeemer members for tea and then headed with the Holmans and Tim Frakes to Bethlehem for lunch. Following lunch, Tim and I taped the final section of my Trinity Ash Wednesday sermon in front the the Israeli separation barrier in Bethlehem. We then returned to Jerusalem. Kris went back to the Holmans home to help them get ready to host dinner for our group at their home that evening. Tim and I met up with Bishop Burkat to help her tape two videotapes, a Lenten greeting for the SE PA synod web site [http://www.ministrylink.org/] and an introduction for her report to the coming synod assembly. We taped in front of Redeemer Church and also at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We then returned to the Lutheran Guest House where I reviewed Tim's work on my Ash Wednesday sermon videotape and we made final edits. I then waited until the others returned to the Guest House to travel with them by cab to the Holmans' home for dinner and our evening program.
My Ash Wednesday sermon can now be viewed online at one of two links: www.video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9167213918243112006&hl=en or www.frakesproductions.blogspot.com/2008/02/rev-eric-shafer-ash-wednesday-sermon.html
It is nine minutes long.
Sunday evening our group had a wonderful dinner at the Holmans' home (where Kris and I are staying) in east Jerusalem. Following dinner we heard a very moving presentation by members of The Parents' Circle - Families Forum. This group is made up of Israeli and Palestinian people whose family members have been killed by the violence of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and, instead of more violence and revenge, have banded together to tell their stories and call for an end to this conflict and violence. About 500 families are now part of their group. Their web site is www.theparentscircle.org
Our presenters were Rami Elchanan and Aziz Sarah. Rami began by noting that he is a 7th generation Israeli Jew but, most importantly, "I am a human being." His is a "story of price and pain." Rami served as an Israeli soldier in the 1972 Yom Kippor war and "lost many friends." He came out of that experience "angry and detached." Ten years ago, 9/4/1997, his beloved 14 year old daughter was killed by a suicide bomber. Following such an experience, Rami noted, one has a choice - to get even or try to determine "why?" He chose to ask "what can I do to help prevent this from happening to others" and to direct his life to the simple truth that "we are not doomed," that "we can break the cycle of revenge," that "dialogue is the way and that we must "listen to each other's pain." Rami says that his calling (my word) now is to make "cracks of hope in the wall of fear." Whether victims of Isreali or Palestinian violence, Rami said, "our blood is the same" and "our tears are just as bitter."
Aziz, a Palestinian, told of how when he was nine years old Israeli soldiers came into his home and took his 18 year old brother away. His brother was imprisoned and released one year later. He died in the hospital shortly after his release from prison. At first, "peace and reconciliation seemed like a stupid idea" and he was filled with angry against the Israelis. But, finally, "I realized we all have a common humanity" and that there "must be a way out of this other than more violence." "You can choose." "Peace and reconciliation are possible."
The Parents Circle operates a telephone line, "Hello Peace" for victims and violence and their families and friends. This line has received more than 1,000,000 calls since 2002! They also do anti-violence school programs, first through blogs and then face to face meetings between Israelis and Palestinians. There is a radio program, "All for Peace" and much more. More than 5,000 have died in the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict. "It is less painful to donate blood than to spill it." We must find a way to help "these two crazy nations - Palestine and Israel, from killing each other." "People are dying every day." What must we in the USA do? "Not sit aside - defend the poor, help the oppressed, not support one side only" (in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict).
There is much more on their web site, www.theparentscircle.org including (under "Personal Stories") both Rami's ("Replacing Pain with Hope") and Aziz's ("A Conflict Close to Home") stories. Their own words online tell their stories much better than I have. This moving evening ended a long and full Sunday in Jerusalem.
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