Worship Reflection Sunday, October 22, 2023

Thoughts on War and Peace

Events in Palestine and Israel weigh on our hearts as we meet here today in worship. In response to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, Israel has unleashed a bombing attack on Palestine that has been compared to the bombing of Dresden in World War II. Aljazeera reports that protest demonstrations are happening through the Middle East and beyond. Here in the United States people have held protest demonstrations in New York and Washington D.C. This afternoon there will be a protest demonstration in Old Town Square. Government leaders from the Middle East and Europe are meeting in Egypt to see if they can find a way to stop the war and keep it from spreading. Meanwhile the Prime Minister of Israel has told the Kineset that they are “children of light” fighting the forces of darkness and evil. Elizabeth Vos, a reporter for Consortium news reports that 7 hospitals in Palestine have been destroyed along with 21 primary care centers. The Palestinian death toll is around 4,000, including more than 1,600 children. United Nations experts anticipate that Israel’s land invasion of the Gaza Strip will be the end of the Gaza Strip as we know it. Already the governments of the United States and Israel are clamping down on what they allow to be reported.

The General Secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, Dr. Abs, has posted a letter online in which he asks: “Where are the Christians in the West? Have weapons and ammunitions factories begun to dictate western values? Has the West forgotten the DNA of Christianity is found in Palestine and the Middle East?

The Sabeel Ecumenical Center is a Palestinian Christian organization committed to liberation theology and nonviolence. Sabeel has recently released a letter calling on Christians in the West to repent. I quote: “Come along side us. Reexamine your position. Change your direction. We find courage in solidarity with the crucified Christ and hope in the empty tomb. We refuse to give in. We stand steadfast in our hope, resilient in our witness, and committed to the gospel of faith, hope, and love in a time of tyranny and darkness.”

The reference to tyranny and darkness is not just a metaphor. It is a reality. One-half of the population of Palestine is under the age of 19. They are children living and dying without food, water, electricity, or fuel. Yet, the government of Israel professes to be the “children of light,” and the press secretary of the President of the United States says to say otherwise is “disgraceful.” The president is asking Congress for $61 billion for the war in the Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel’s war against the Palestinians.

To witness death and destruction on this scale, and it will get worse, leads to bitterness, despair, anger, or emotional exhaustion, or it can deepen our resolve to look for a better way. Suffering alone is not redemptive. Suffering is only redemptive if it is tied to hope and purpose. In these times, we must fasten our hope to nonviolence. Let me then recall the six principles of nonviolence as Dr. King gave them to us:

Nonviolence is not for the faint of heart. It means getting information. Learning about the situation. Hearing uncomfortable truths. I did not read the full letter from the Sabeel Ecumenical Center because it is too much, it is too raw. But this letter will be an essential contribution to a future Truth and Reconciliation process. So, too, will be the words of the King of Jordan who has accused the West of a double standard–an ethic for everyone except the Palestinians.

Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people. The aim is to change systems and institutions of oppression and violence.

The goal is reconciliation. Killing each other is not going to bring peace. Now is the time to continue to plant seeds for a new beginning. What is happening now cannot continue.

Nonviolence holds that suffering has redemptive power IF we use it to unmask injustice.

Nonviolence pertains to both physical actions and internal thoughts. We have to connect our thoughts and our actions. You can remember the trinity: see, judge, act.

Nonviolence believes the universe is on the side of justice. The moral arc bends toward justice, as Dr. King said, because life is a single fabric. In the alpha and the omega, in the beginning and the end and in the in-between, we are in a web of mutuality and interdependence. We are one.

I want to close this meditation with a prayer written by Rose Marie Berger. It is a prayer for peace in Israel and Palestine. It was published in the October 9, 2023, issue of Sojourners. I have taken the liberty of editing it.

God of comfort, send your Spirit to encompass those whose lives are torn apart by violence and death in Israel and Palestine. You are the advocate for the oppressed. You are the one whose eye is on the sparrow.

Let human arms reach out in healing, rather than aggression.

Let hearts mourn rather than militarize.

Let us burn incense, not babies.

Let us break bread, not bodies

Let us plant olive groves, not cemeteries

Come again and breathe peace on your peoples

Teach us to resolve our differences with righteousness, not rockets

Guard our hearts against retaliation

And give us hearts for love alone

Strengthen our faith in you

Even when we don’t have clear answers

May we still offer ourselves nonviolently for the cause of peace. Amen