Abraham, Martin, Johnâ€¦.and Bobby.
Where have they all gone?
Today, we commemorate the death of Martin Luther King. Forty years have passed since this assassination. Within in span of five years we lost John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby
Kennedy. America was in turmoil. Our leaders and our hopes and dreams had been snuffed out. We doubted that the promise of Camelot would ever reappear.
Forty years later we live in a world torn by war, violence and ethnic strife. We hear of genocide in Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, and Palestine. We hear of monks and other people being oppressed in Myanmar and Tibet. But, we do see a glimmer of hope in Northern Ireland as shared governance has emerged after years of violence and bloodshed.
We are Easter people. We hope beyond hope because we know that Jesus, the nonviolent One, has risen and sends his Spirit so that he might rise in us. We work for peace and justice.
Jesus is no longer just the personal savior. We realize that Jesus came to lift up the oppressed, the outcasts, the untouchables. Jesus came to liberate the oppressed, to cure the lame, to heal lepers, and to give sight to the blind. In effect, Jesus came to speak truth to power, to actively resist evil and to set people free. He came so that every person might have life and have it in abundance.
Where have they all gone? Away. But, new leaders, new prophets of justice are alive and well and dwelling among us today.
I want to tell you about a few that we met on our pilgrimage. These are people who live in hope and love. These are people who speak truth to power. These are people who work day in and day out to liberate the oppressed.
We met Archbishop Elias Chacour in Ibillin in the occupied territories in the West bank. He is the Melkite Archbishop of Palestine. He is a native Palestinian and an Israeli citizen. He has worked nonviolently to resist the Israeli oppression of his people ever since his family was driven from their village by Israeli troops in 1947. He has built a school and even a college in Ibillinâ€”the Mar Elias Educational Institutions. As part of the strategy of oppression, the Israelis charge huge sums for building permits which they rarely grant to Palestinians. They threatened many times to tear down the schools Abuna (=Father in Arabic, as he is affectionately called) was building. He simply asked them when and where and how many foreign diplomats and press corps they would like for him to have present. Talk about nonviolent resistance to evil! Read his book, Blood Brothers, if you want to be inspired by a man who has been oppressed but does not hate. When President Bush visited Israel recently, Abuna was among the people who greeted him. Abuna looked the President in the eye and said, â€œGod does not kill.â€ That is how he inscribed the book I bought in both English and Arabic. http://www.meei.org/
We also met Maray Taiser from the Druze community in Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights. We saw the beautiful children in the preschool. Then, Dr. Taiser, who was educated a UC Berkeley showed us the clinic he had built so that the people in his community would have access to medical care. Everything he is doing is an act of nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights. Yet, he has no hatred in his heart. http://www.jawlan.org/english/Mines.htm
In Taybeh, we met Abuna Raâ€™ed. He is a Palestinian and pastor of the Latin (Roman) church in Taybeh which is home to the only brewery in Palestine. He is a vigorous and energetic man. He is determined to preserve the last remaining Christian village in the occupied territories. He explained that Taybeh is the biblical Ephraim. It was a place of refuge for renegades and resisters. Jesus spent a lot of time there. He was beyond of the reach of the Judeans who did not like his resistance to the empire and priestly domination. The people in Taybeh like to say that they were evangelized by Jesus and the disciples. Abuna has built a home for seniors and a guest house for visitors. He has started a factory which makes peace lamps, soap, and candles. His hope is to have a peace lamp burning in every church in the world so that people can pray for the peace of the Holy Land. He too resists occupation and oppression nonviolently with a heart full of love. http://www.taybeh.info/en/index.php
Finally, there is Mitri Raheb. Mitri is the Palestinian pastor of the Lutheran Church of Christmas. We visited the church in Bethlehem which has a center for the arts but did not meet Mitri. I have since read his book, I Am a Palestinian Christian. When the Israelis occupied Bethlehem during the second intifada in 2002, they inflicted a lot of damage. The guide told us that the arts center collected the glass from damaged buildings and is using it to make stained glass crosses, angels and other items. Again, an example of nonviolent resistance to occupation and oppression. http://www.annadwa.org/en/ and http://www.mitriraheb.org/
In closing, I want to pay tribute to the members of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron. Hebron is a powder keg as Israeli settlers try to carve a larger footprint in this Palestinian city. I get almost daily reports from the Hebron CPT. They write of settlers throwing stones and verbal insults at school children on their way to and from school. They write of settlers shooting at Palestinians and sometimes shooting or otherwise injuring their sheep eve. They showed us shops on Shuhada Street that had been closed. The green metal doors of the shops had been tagged wit the Star of David. (How often we quickly forget the inhumanity that has been inflicted on us. How often the victim becomes the persecutor.) Daily, they stand between soldiers trying to evict families and confiscate their homes. They stand in front of bulldozers. They escort children to school so that the Israeli settlers will not hurt them. They sleep in homes and schools to comfort and protect families that are under eviction orders. The list goes on and on. They model the nonviolent resistance and the love of Jesus in a violent place. http://www.cpt.org/hebron/HebronBackground.php
I cannot imagine what it would be like to live under daily threats to my physical and emotional well being. Houses, schools and charitable centers are seized, occupied and sometimes bulldozed. Olive groves are destroyed. Numerous checkpoints and the Wall make the West Bank an â€œopen prison.â€ Settlements and outposts are built on land confiscated from its Palestinian owners. Different colored license plates limit access to certain areas and the use of certain roads. People die at checkpoints because the soldiers will not let them pass into Jerusalem for medical treatment.
In spite of all this evil, a star is still rising over Bethlehem and Palestine. It is the star pointing to nonviolent resistance to evil. It is the star of love for oneâ€™s enemies. It is the star of hope. It is the star of liberation from oppression. It is the Star of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace.