World Council of Churches / Middle East Council of Churches Ecumenical Conference - Notre-Dame du Mont Monastery

Fatka, Lebanon
May 21, 2013
Katharine Jefferts Schori

The ongoing tragedy of conflict throughout the Middle East challenges people of faith throughout the world.  As Christians, we share a vision of a healed world where no one lives in fear of death or violence.  We have gathered here to listen to the stories of those who live in the midst of these conflicts, to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, and to strategize ways in which the wider world might encourage peace. 

The task of our respective churches is to pray and work for peace, and to advocate for justice for all human beings, particularly those quite literally caught in the crossfire.  We gather under the cross of the prince of peace in order that we might lead others toward peace. 

We have the ability to educate our own members about the reasons for these conflicts, many of which are born of competition for the blessings of this life – food, water, fuel, land, the resources to grow food or earn a living – and the struggle for self-determination.  We know that some of the violence is born of the desire for overweening control of other human beings – the lust for power which Jesus met and refused in the desert after his baptism.  We know that a good part of the difficulty is the frightful lack of trust of others who claim different lineage, nationality, tribal history, and religious heritage.  Yet the same God has created us all.  God weeps to see his children at war, murdering one another and exploiting the weak.

Many of us feel quite helpless – we don’t know how to respond, except with lament.  How long, O Lord, how long will you ignore the cries of your children in this wilderness?  Come quickly and save these refugees, bring balm to the wounded, an end to the violence, and comfort to the frightened.  Yet God has only our hands and hearts and feet to do his bidding in this world.  May we make common cause here this week, may we stand in solidarity, and cry, “enough.”  May we find prophets among us to challenge Pharaoh to let all God’s people go.  May we find the courage to confront the powerful and the creativity to mediate and rebuild nations. 

We may feel helpless, yet we share a dream for peace.  That dream must continue to lead us onward, even if the way is shrouded in fog.  We have seen peace come in Ireland and South Africa.  We continue to dream of peace in Korea.  I met a woman last week who told of being awakened in the middle of the night several years ago by such a dream, of God telling her to go to North Korea.  She shared this with her husband, a Methodist pastor, who told her she couldn’t.  He said it wasn’t legal for her to travel there given her immigration status – which wasn’t accurate.  God didn’t let go of her, however, and she kept sharing her dream with others.  Eventually she joined a tour group from California that took her to Pyongyang.  She visited with other Christians, heard their stories, and came home and began to urge her friends to do what they could to help make peace in Korea.  She went a second time not long ago, and this time her husband helped raise the money to send her.  She told me that peace means crying together.  That is the beginning of hope for a better future.

This woman has experienced Pentecost.  The tongue of fire lit on her in the middle of the night, and she heard the same thing people of faith have been hearing for more than 2000 years – “God is doing a new thing, and you are going to be part of it.”  She is one of the ones Joel was talking about, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and see visions and dream dreams.”  The prophet was talking about the dream and vision we have shared for thousands of years, of a world where people can sit down to a feast together because there is no more poverty, injustice, or war – the same vision the psalmist shared:  “you set a table before me, in the presence of my enemies… my cup is running over.”[1]

Let us dream that dream together, even if it begins in lament.

[1] Psalm 23:5-6