Bishops of the EvangelicalLutheranChurch
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
"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 EvangelicalLutheranChurch
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.