Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America have been in the Holy Land since Jan. 6, and will return (God willing) January 13. This is their annual academy which is their time for theological study and reflection. A number of years ago I was honored to be asked to bring a homily to this gathering that focused on the call to ecumenism. We gathered at St. Mary's by the Lake, a beautiful and serene location near Mundelein, IL. This year's academy is a somewhat more challenging endeavor. The 45 bishops have planned meetings with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said, "The United States government needs to take a more active role in stopping the conflict in Gaza. Stopping the conflict needs to be a top priority, and it must be accomplished as soon as possible." Hanson, who served here in Minnesota before being elected to the presiding bishop post, also serves as president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). He went on to say, "Israeli troops must withdraw from Gaza, Hamas must stop rocket attacks on civilians in Israel, and negotiations must be restarted for "a permanent peace with justice and a two-state solution."

Daniel J. Lehmann reported on the blog about the trip that today that the rocket attacks in northern Israel during "the early hours of Thursday threw the day off course. Several high-ranking Israeli leaders, including the president and foreign minister, canceled their time with the bishop. As events settled down, private consultations with the ministers of the Interior and Tourism were held as planned.

"After being given a special tour of the Yad Vashem memorial, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA, National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the ELCIC and Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Holy Land placed the flowers at the memorial for the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II.

"From there they held an abbreviated meeting with Israel's top rabbis, Yona Metzger of the Ashkenazi and Schlomo Amar of the Sephardi branches of Judaism. Both rabbis devoted much of their address to explaining Israel's incursion into the Gaza strip as necessary to stop rocket attacks on civilians in the southern portion of the country. They mourned civilian deaths in Gaza, but said military leaders showed them evidence Hamas fighters were positioned in schools and other public institutions.

"Hanson stressed the two North American church's 'rejection of violence.' He said the current conduct of the campaign by Israel raised just war theory questions, especially 'proportionality and killing of innocents.'

"'If we can't have this kind of exchange,' Hanson said, '. . . then fanatics will win.'"  

"The trip is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace."

The time after Epiphany is a season that is all about finding God in unexpected places. Jesus illuminates the way, even in hard times and difficult situations. Peace be with them.


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