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    Bishop Munib Younan & the Church's Mission

    July 3, 2016
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    Pr. David

    (Read 2 Kings 5 and Luke 10)

     

    Some of you may know that last week, I along with Steve Dickin and Judy Zieske, joined with some three hundred other ordained and non-ordained delegates for our biannual Synod Assembly meeting for about four days.

     

    And we stayed at the International Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre on Dixon Road in Toronto, right on the edge of Pearson International Airport.

     

    It felt as though the hotel was positioned on the end of one of the main runways, because there’d be a constant line up of planes coming in for a landing on the runway, one after another, coming in close to the ground and very close to the hotel.

    Constantly, throughout the day.

    Planes coming in from all parts of Canada, from all over the world. 

     

    We really got the sense we were meeting at an international crossroads, where the global came to intersect with the local.

     

    In a different way, at the Synod Assembly, we too had the sense of a global presence in the person of Bishop Munib Younan, the presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, a small 3000 member Lutheran Christian presence in the lands of the Bible.

     

    For me, Bishop Younan’s address to the Assembly brought into sharp focus, what the key, essential mission of the Church is in our day, to which God calls us.

    And the scriptures this morning reinforce nicely what this mission is: openness, care and service to the other, a ministry of reconciliation.

     

    Bishop Younan first talked of the unique context within which the Lutheran churches in the Holy Land exist: a deep, fifty year-old political conflict and heightened tensions between the State of Israel and Palestine, religious extremism, economic uncertainty for the future.

     

    And it is in the midst of this tension and unrest, the ELCJHL has focused its ministry on children’s education.

     

    They’ve set up schools for both Christian and Muslim children.

    And so, both Christian and Muslim children, already at a young age, have a fantastic opportunity to learn about each other’s religions, and grow in friendship with, and understanding of, each other.

     

    In the overall toxic environment of the Middle East, of increasing extremism, violence, and divisiveness, Lutheran leaders in both churches and schools have intentionally provided places of education in peace-building, moderation, mutual understanding, practicing brotherly and sisterly love.  

     

    It is a unique, stand-out mission, especially against the background of anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia and anti-Christian sentiment.

     

    They are intentional about teaching their students to see others different from them, as persons created in the image of God, worthy of respect, care and love.

     

    They are intentional about rejecting, and speaking out against fear, hate, actions which dehumanize “the other”, and extremism of all kinds.

     

    The ELCJHL has a reputation for its moderation and peace-building.

    In Bishop Younan’s words: “We are known as agents of peace, brokers of justice, ministers of reconciliation, defenders of human rights and gender justice, initiators of dialogue, and apostles of love.”

     

    What a life-giving, energizing, vital ministry!!

     

    He goes on to say that their reputation helps keep the churches of the Holy Land from becoming “only museums to a Christian past.”

     

    That we would all do everything we can to keep our church from become a mere fossil, a “museum to a Christian past.”

     

    This relevant, life-giving mission to openness, care, service and reconciliation surfaces in today’s scripture passages.

     

    Take Naaman, the powerful Syrian military commander in the first reading.

     

    In the unfolding story of his healing, we learn some amazing things about God.

     

    First, that God accomplishes the healing of Naaman, not through some magical, super-sensational and other-worldly method, nor through only the revered, highly esteemed and distinguished personalities, but rather through very ordinary, imperfect and lowly people… the easily overlooked, forgotten and poorly valued.

     

    These are the ones through whom God works.

     

    And this can come as a surprise to many of us, who automatically assume that God works only through the grand and glorious.

    It certainly came as a surprise to Naaman.

     

    Who is it but a nameless, obscure servant girl of Naaman’s wife, who first quietly tips Naaman off about the healing powers of the God of Israel mediated through this famous prophet of God: Elisha?

     

    And then, when Naaman eagerly goes to see this revered and holy prophet, Elisha doesn’t even come out to see Naaman, but sends his own lowly servant, a simple “messenger”, to give him the instructions for healing.

     

    But God works healing and reconciliation through whomever God chooses, regardless of status, race, creed, or gender.  

     

    Notice also how Elisha has no hesitation in healing Naaman, of all people.

    Naaman is not part of the elect of Israel.

    He does not profess faith in the God of the Hebrews.

    His life of violent military conquests and warfare, and absolute, oppressive power, stands in direct contrast to the ideals and notions of the Hebrew God who, for example, commands love and forgiveness, against violent killing and murder as we know in the Ten Commandments.

     

    Even this secular, violent, non-Hebrew Naaman was someone God would heal … without hesitation.

    No requirements or prerequisites. No upfront commitments or expectations that Naaman first sign on to the Hebrew faith before being healed.

    Nothing like that.

    This healing comes immediately, with no strings attached. Freely given. Generously offered.

     

    This is the abundance and generosity of our good and gracious God!

     

    We worship, and follow this God in Jesus Christ, who calls us to the same mission.

     

    That we approach all people, however different from us ….

    … with an openness,

    … with hospitality and generosity of spirit,

    … with a good, gracious, healing word,

    … with kindness of heart,

    … and with an eager willingness to serve in any way to meet whatever pressing need is presenting itself….

     

    In the Gospel text, it’s interesting the number of disciples Jesus sends out: seventy.

    The number seventy has a symbolic value based in the Hebrew scriptures.

    Genesis 10 provides a list of “all the nations of the world”, numbering seventy… seventy descendants of Noah’s three sons… representing the nations of the world.

     

    That Jesus sends out “seventy” disciples is a signal to us, that our mission is to all people, to all the “nations of the world”, without reservation or hesitation, and will the full expectation that God is surely at work, even in those whom we’d least expect, or consider part of the ‘in-group’, favoured group, or familiar group.

     

    In a time when “fear of the other” is rampant – in an age of “Brexit” and “Trumpism” where fear of the immigrant and refugee is strong - Christ’s mission of openness, hospitality and service to the other can stand out as a beacon, as a light…

     

    …. Revealing that the presence of God in the Spirit of Jesus, is also very much alive and well in this world.

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