The Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal
Prayer: Lord Jesus, take my mind and think through it; take my lips and speak through them; take my heart and set it on fire with love for thee, and for those to whom I shall speak. Amen.
One of the great gifts of the Church, and to the Church, is Christian fellowship — the act of coming together, of joining hands and voices, and the opportunity to share one with another. It is so painful for any person to find themselves isolated, ignored, or left on the sidewalk of others — left to die! “Happy to share, happy to bear, one another’s burden that’s why we’re here”, is a favorite song of mine often sung by my friend, the Rev. Garth Hewitt.
Bear with me please. I try to abide by Anglican rule and tradition of 14-15 minute sermons. However, if for any reason you feel tired and sleepy — but wish to stay awake — try to pinch yourself! If that does not work, pinch the one at your side.
As never before in our long history as Arab Christians — close to 2000 years — we desire your friendship, your support in prayer, and your brotherly love and concern. We invite you to visit with us — not as the guardians of holy shrines — but as members of the one family of Christ. And we thank you for your past support we pray that you may be blessed and continue to be a blessing.
Tolstoy, the famous Russian writer — was approached by a man in need asking for help. Like many writers of books in those days he failed to find anything in his pockets. Turning to the man in need he said: “Brother, if I had anything with which I could relieve you of your need, I would have given it to you.” With a big smile on the face of the man in need, he turned to Tolstoy and said: “You have given me more than I expected. You called me Brother.” This is but one step on the way to Reconciliation. Not only the rich need to reconcile with the poor, or the powerful with the weak. It is also important that the poor becomes less poor and the weak less weak, having someone to be with and identify with.
Now, I really have one sermon. I do not know whether you heard the story of the curate who preached on nothing but sacramental confession. Wherever the occasion, whatever the text, somehow or other, he was always able to bring his sermon round to his pet subject — sacramental confession. In exasperation, his rector asked him to preach on the feast of St. Joseph, the foster father of our Lord, believing that this time he had the measure of his curate. He had reckoned without the ingenuity of this young man who got up into the pulpit and said: “Of course you know that St. Joseph was a carpenter, and I am sure that he must have built confessionals.”
Yes, it is the subject of this one sermon that I wish to address which continues to address itself to us not only in our homeland – Palestine, but also throughout the Middle East; in fact throughout the world: Among our families and neighbors, where we work, within our churches, communities, countries and nations.
1. “Reconciliation”, great as the theme may be… like peace… and the WORD — LOGOS — until it becomes flesh and dwells among the conflicting parties and individuals, it might end up being devalued and debased.
Reconciliation is an act — not a sermon; a task and not a song; a message that requires a messenger ready to identify with its principles that will make it incarnate.
II Corinthians 5:19 “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses never against them, and entrusting to us the message and the task of reconciliation.”
Episcopal Life — January 2002: Under the title: New Year — New Life: Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop, writes: And what is this ministry we have been given? It is the work of breaking down walls of mistrust and hostility wherever they exist, and particularly as they are constructed around differences of culture, race, nationality, religion and economic status. To reconcile is to bring into right relationship, to reorder our relationships, including our relationship to our own selves, according to God’s all embracing mercy and compassion, which are at the heart of God’s righteousness — God’s desire that all things cohere and find their peace in the underlying force of God’s Love…” He continues to affirm that: The mind of Christ in its fullness is able to embrace and reconcile all people and all things in ways that pass well beyond anything we can comprehend or imagine…” “I pray that we will claim what is at the heart of our mission, which is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
2. On receiving a peace prize from his local authority, a good friend of mine wrote to me that he had never understood the search of peace and reconciliation as the avoidance of conflict.
We can make peace where there is conflict. We can reconcile with others when we allow ourselves to be involved in situations of conflict and hostility. No one with enough common sense leaves conflicting parties to make peace among friends! Those in love do not need you to reconcile them. And involvement cannot be productive if it is exercised with remote controls. When one goes there — you need to know it is not a picnic.
Where we are in the Middle East, and I guess where ever you may be, there is no lack of conflicts. Situations vary. Conflicts within the one home are as serious as political conflicts. Peace — Shalom — Reconciliation — are not absent from our dictionaries or scholastic endeavors. What is lacking is people ready to be serious and perseverant in their involvement.
There is no place under the sun where the term Peace / Shalom is used as much as we do in Israel. We greet one another with Shalom. Children are named Shalom… So also high rises in Tel-Aviv. And yet, not much of Shalom! There is no question the term has been devalued, misused and abused. One is reminded of what came in Psalm 120: “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war.” (Verse 7.)
During a Christmas reception in 1996 Prime Minister Netanyahu boasted that he is “going to make peace and disappoint all the cynics in the world”. “Blessed are the Peace MAKERS” said Jesus of Nazareth, I replied, thank God He did not say blessed are the peace talkers. For the peace makers shall be called the Children of God. Go make peace. Stop talking about it. Stop preaching about it if you wish to be counted among the Children of God.
3. Genuine peace is not the absence of war, or cessation of hostilities. Neither is it the quiet which comes out of subjugation and oppression. We have seen how false such a peace was in the ex-Soviet Union.
Indeed, genuine peace is where justice is present, for peace is a relation from which all the causes that made for war are no more, and where a healing process leads to reconciliation… where and when the parties are able not only to forgive, but also to forget. To forgive may be easy; to forget is not so easy.
A pastor’s son and his mother had been to a shopping center, and the boy had acted badly. As they were driving home he could sense her displeasure and said: “When we ask God to forgive us when we are bad, He does; Doesn’t He?” “Yes, He Does” his mother replied. The boy continued: “And when He forgives us, He buries our sins in the deepest sea, doesn’t He?” “That’s what the Bible says,” his mother replied. The boy was silent for a while and then said: “I’ve asked God to forgive me, but I bet when we get home you’re going to go fishing for those sins, aren’t you?!” Too often we too “go fishing” for other people’s sins that God has already buried. “NOT COUNTING OUR TRESPASSES AGAINST US.”
4. Not counting trespasses — making peace — Reconciliation does not set aside the search for justice. For peace and reconciliation to be true and lasting: JUSTICE must be done. The dignity, and a lot more, of whoever suffers injustice must be restored. “Land for Peace” was the basis for reconciliation in the Middle East conflict. Peace is possible where Israel hands over what is not hers: The Occupied Territories in accordance with U.N. Resolutions. Occupation in my opinion and the opinion of many is the root cause of all the pain, suffering and lack of security in our land. One cannot expect to enjoy harmony, peace and security over demolished homes and human bodies. Security is not a Pre-condition. It is the Outcome. The best of secured borders are reconciled neighbors.
The making of peace is not only the business of the political world leaders — and certainly not those who wish to bring about a new world order designed to guarantee and protect their political and economic interests. This is our business — yours and mine, those of us who believe to be the Children of God. Paul in his second letter the Corinthians was reiterating what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount: God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself… and entrusting to us — NOT TO THEM — the task of reconciliation. I understand Christ to mean when He said: “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the Children of God.” That it is expected of those who claim to be God’s children to make peace. Keeping away from areas of conflict — being indifferent as if this is not our business would make the others around us question whose children we are!!
Gandhi once said: “To refuse to struggle against the evil and the injustices of our world is to surrender our humanity; to struggle against the evil with the weapons of the evil doer is to enter into your humanity; to struggle against the evil, the injustices, and oppression with the weapons of God is to enter your divinity.” This model cost Gandhi and others their lives — but they knew better that making peace is costly, and that the task of reconciliation demands total commitment.
Let us pray a favorite prayer of the Archbishop of Canterbury:
Lord Jesus Christ, the Master Carpenter of Nazareth, on a cross through wood and nails you have wrought man’s salvation; wield well your tools in this your workshop, so that we who come to you rough hewn, may be you be fashioned according to your will; for the sake of your tender mercy. Amen.