Á Skálholtshátíð 2019 flutti dr. Munib Younan, biskup, prédikun í hátíðarmessu sunnudagsins og flutti hana á ensku. Íslensk þýðing var lesin af vígslubiskupi, sr. Kristjáni Björnssyni, í útsendingu RÚV á messunni í útvarpinu. Hér er prédikunin í heild sinni á ensku en þó er ekki búið að setja inn stutt innskot í flutningi dr. Munib. Einnig er bent á erindi hans á málþinginu daginn áður sem er einnig að finna í heimasíðu stofnunarinnar. Til fróðleiks má geta þess að myndin af dr. Munib Younan með hans heilagleika Francis páfa í Róm þar sem þeir tóku saman þátt í sögulegri messu í Lundi í Svíþjóð siðbótardaginn 31. október 2016 í tilefni 70 ára afmælis Lútherska heimssambandsins og ári fyrir 500 ára afmæli siðbótar.
Prédikun dr. Munib í Skálholti 21. júlí 2019:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
SERMON FOR ICELAND
21 July 2019
Bishop Dr. Munib Younan
Former President, Lutheran World Federation
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
First, I thank you for inviting me to be here with you in beautiful Iceland. It is always a joy to be with sisters and brothers in Christ, to share the Good News and to experience the power of the Holy Spirit at work in another part of the beloved world our Lord has made. I also bring you greetings from the city of Jerusalem, which is in need of your prayers for justice and reconciliation. This visit is an integral part of the koinonia (communion) that we celebrate as baptized members of Christ’s Body. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
As I have contemplated this text from the Gospel according to Matthew, my first thought is to be very sympathetic to Peter and the other disciples. After all, whenever a charismatic figure appears on the world stage and speaks with authority, people will start to question: “Who is this person? Who does she think she is? Where does he come from, and with what authority does he speak?”
We may wonder: “Are they sent by a certain government? By politicians or intelligence? By corporations or special interest groups? What is their purpose? Is their purpose the kingdom of God, or their own personalities, or scenarios of power and destruction?”
Especially in the religious world today, so-called authority figures may appear on the scene, and we must carefully discern their agendas. They may have charisma, they may have money, they may have large congregations and seem to have a command of Scripture, but it is good and right to have a spirit of discernment. We must not merely follow the loudest voice or the one who can put together words in the most beautiful way.
For example, we are often challenged today by those who promote a prosperity Gospel. These preachers build churches and attract many followers as they promise material blessings. However, the cross and its self-emptying power are usually missing from the messages of these preachers.
Secondly, especially in the Middle East, we are challenged by Christian Zionists, who use the Bible and the anticipated second coming of Christ for their own political agendas. This is an abuse of religion, and indeed of God, for one’s own purpose. They create tensions in the Middle East, and scenarios which are against the national interests of the peoples of the Middle East. Indeed we wait in hope for Our Lord to return—but Christ does not need our efforts or understanding to come again. Furthermore, the Bible is a book of love, not a book of animosity against any nation or religion.
Today we also face a challenge from a wave of extremism spreading over almost the entire globe. This is an extremism based on fear of the other, and fear of those who are different – whether they are refugees or simply have a different point of view. Religously-sanctioned sexism, classism, nationalism, or populism are not religion at all. They are simply icing, the false sweetness spread on top of the real religion. When we encounter such tantalizing deceits, we must carefully discern: are these ideologies really from God?
In Jesus’ time, people were eagerly awaiting the Messiah, and there were many who came appearing to be the one. There was Bar Kokba, and many others, who provided good expositions on the Torah. However, when they died, their followers discerned each had not been the Messiah. Therefore, when Jesus came teaching and preaching, it must have been difficult for folks to know: Is he the one? Or is Jesus just like the prophets who came before? Is he like Elijah, and Moses, and John the Baptizer? Or…could he be the one the world has been waiting for? But Simon Peter was so courageous, and dared to announce that “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
This was a critical question in Jesus’ time, and it is a critical question for us today. Who do we say this Jesus is? Who is he in our lives?
Coming from Jerusalem and the Holy Land, I can say that this is not a question that can stay in the spiritual realm. Palestinian Christians cannot merely ask “Who is Jesus for me, personally?” but also must discern: “Who, and where, is Jesus in this conflict? Who is he in this military occupation? Who is he in the midst of regional turmoil and impending war?”
Sometimes, the critical question is: “Who does the church say he is?”
Especially in the Holy Land, some see Jesus and think only about fulfillment of prophecy, or about end times and the second coming of Christ.
Some read Scripture and make direct connections between events and people groups in the Bible, and events, places, and people groups in modern times.
Some would simply like to domesticate Jesus, to keep him in his place, to keep him in 1st century Palestine, perhaps even to keep him in the tomb. But some see him as a liberating power, who saves us from all kinds of sin, including oppression.
But we in the church really do need a spirit of discernment, especially at this time, when we read Scripture. As St. John asked us, in 1 John chapter 4:1, “Beloved, we do not need every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” For those who use Christ for their own political and economic purposes, Jesus becomes lost in that kind of Christendom. The Bible is not a history book, a science textbook, or a political manual. It is a story book—and it is also true. As our brother Martin Luther once wrote, it is the cradle in which Christ himself is laid. Therefore, when we read the Bible we seek truth, and we find it. We find it when we seek what carries Christ, and what promotes Christ crucified—the crux of our faith. This is the reason that with Simon Peter we also say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
As an Arab Christian coming from the Middle East, who lives daily with neighbors of other religions, I can say that as followers of Jesus we are also asking ourselves a second question:
“How do we live side by side with other religions, and still reveal Christ in our lives?”
This is not at all impossible, but it can at times be challenging. When we seek insight and strength for this journey, we may look to the lives of the disciples and the saints who have gone before us.
For example, Peter and his disciples were a minority in their context. And still, they were bold in proclaiming Christ as Lord and Savior. They were living witnesses for Christ, even when others considered them heretics, or irrelevant, or voices not worth hearing. In the same way, we must seek ways to be bold in proclaiming Christ, not only through our words, but through our actions and relations with our neighbors.
Once, I knew a pastor who walked to the altar during the service to pray the prayers for communion. As she stood there blessing the bread and the wine, a bright ray of sun shone through the church windows, illuminating the pastor and the altar along with the bread and wine. Suddenly, there was a loud voice from the front pew. It was a tiny girl saying: “Look! I see Jesus!”
Her mother tried to quiet her, but afterwards the pastor went to the girl to say, “You’re right.” Although she herself was not Jesus, what the girl saw was the light of Christ shining into the worship space, in fact shining from the hearts of the people gathered to receive the bread and the wine. We may not always see or experience Christ’s light in such a concrete way, but it is both our duty and our evangelical call to shine this same light through our lives of praise and service in our everyday life and dealings. It is our duty to confess Christ as our Savior, wherever we are, whatever our circumstances are, and to confess him boldly and in love, but without imposing him on others. This we have done in our multi-religious society in Palestine, and we pray that people will continue to see Christ through our love in action.
I know there many people who are happy to come to the Holy Land and see the ancient places, the ancient stones, and to hear the ancient stories. In fact, one time I was in the airport and happened to meet a bishop of one of our sister churches in Europe. He recognized my clergy collar and purple shirt and asked me: “Where are you from, Bishop?”
I replied, “I am from Jerusalem.”
He continued, “So you came from the US or from Europe to serve in Jerusalem?”
I thought carefully how to answer. Instead of giving him an answer, I responded to his question as Jesus often did: With another question.
“How long were you in Jerusalem?” I asked. “Did you visit any churches?”
This bishop replied that he had been in the Holy Land for 10 days but no, he had not met any Christians.
And I said to this man, a bishop, a brother in Christ, that there is a big different between a tourist and a pilgrim. Although he was a religious leader, he had visited my homeland as a tourist. “You have come here to see dead stones” I told him. “But next time, I invite you to come as a pilgrim.”
I told him I want him to visit the living stones, to understand that I am a local bishop, and there are local church bodies, local congregations, local Christians carrying the cross of Christ here today. There are Middle Eastern followers of Jesus, just like that dear European bishop, who have lived here for 2000 years, carrying the cross of Christ, since Pentecost, preaching the Gospel of love, administering the sacraments and means of grace, living in and among the holy places so many desire to visit.
We exist. We are here. We have been witnessing to Christ for more than 2,000 years, and we want to continue to carry the heritage of Peter and Mary Magdalene and the other apostles who have proclaimed “You are the Messiah” – in spite of the difficulties we face.
So for me, when you come to the Holy Land, you are coming to my home.
And I would ask, I would hope, that you would be interested in how we have stood fast in our faith for these 2000 years. I would hope you would come and worship with us. I would hope that you see it is critical to encourage us in our faith—and I promise, we will encourage you.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus told Peter that he is the rock upon which he will build the church. But actually, Peter is not the only rock. Anyone who confesses Christ is a rock! Anyone who seeks to love God and neighbor, to work for justice and peace for all people, and to proclaim Christ crucified and risen, is a rock.
You have beautiful churches here in Iceland, and yet your buildings made of stones or rocks are not the church. You, my sisters and brothers in Christ, are the living stones and rocks of Iceland. You are carrying the cross in this land today, as I am carrying it in mine. We must encourage one another in this, for it is not easy to stand fast in the faith in a time when extremists of every religion—and no religion— want to kidnap our world.
We must continue to proclaim the Gospel of love, not only in words but in action. Of course, nothing will stop God’s message of radical love and inclusion from being shared! As it is written in Luke chapter 19, when religious authorities told Jesus to make his disciples stop, he replied: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
This does not mean we impose our faith on others. But it does mean that we persist in raising our voices for justice, for peace, for love. Christians from Jerusalem to Skalholt were given voices so that we can sing God’s praises: not only in stone buildings, but as living stones on the streets and in the halls of power, working for the rights of refugees, of the poor, of the sick, of the newly born, of the stranger, of the oppressed and the occupied. Thus we together confess, with Simon Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
Martin Luther has said, “May God help us, for we are not the only ones who could preserve the church, nor could our predecessors nor our successors, for only He is the one who could and who can: the one who was, who is, and who is to come, and who say I am with you at all times, until the end of the world. Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today, the one who was, the one who is, and the one who is to come.”
Who is Jesus? Who do we say he is—in our lives, in our church, in our world today? This is the critical question we are still asking. It is the question that guides us as people of faith, both individually and together as a global church. May our answer be known to all through our lives of radical love, of prophetic speech, and of self-emptying action for the sake of our neighbor.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.