First United Methodist Church - Wausau Wisconsin
Saturday, July 02, 2022
Live and Share God's Love

From the Pastor

 

 

 
Rev.  Rebecca Voss

Pastor

 

 

June/July 2022

Dear First UMC,

On our first day in the Holy Land, we were privileged to meet Jean Zaru, a well-known Christian leader and voice for peace and justice in Palestine. She is the only female clergy in Palestine, and leads a Quaker congregation. Her message and title is a fitting highlight to the We Are Witnesses sermon series we just concluded.   Pastor Rebecca
 
Being Faithful witnesses: Serving God in a Changing World
 
Sisters and Brothers,
 
Image goes here.
Jean Zaru
From the heart of Palestine, a land besieged and violated by Israeli military occupation, I have come to join you today. From the midst of Palestine, a tortured nation held in captivity, I stand with you today.
 
Both my life experiences in Palestine and my ecumenical work in many corners of the world requires that I share with you the story of my people, a story of human hurt and hope. I represent a narrative of exclusion, the denial of basic human and community rights. But, I have a message of hope. A message of hope embodied in the spirit and will of all those who refuse to submit to the forces of oppression, violence and injustice, structures of domination, colonialism foreign occupation.

The situation in Palestine calls on all of one’s resources: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. And in the darkest nights of the soul, we seek your affirmation and actions, especially as governments and power systems have failed us because of their power politics, absence of will and shortsighted self-interest.
 
Holy Land Group 2022
Our group at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount
 
The current atmosphere in Jerusalem is highly charged, and the situation in the Holy Land is surely far more complex than that which we encounter in Luke’s presentation of the first century. Even my identity as a Palestinian Christian is not easily explained to anyone living outside my immediate context. You see, I am Christian and I am Palestinian. One part of my identity cannot be separated from the other. And as such, we, Palestinian Christians, are often referred to as the embroidery work of our people that is we are an interwoven and an integral part of the whole society.

Although we are the modern heirs of the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem and despite our rich contribution to the Middle East, we have become unknown, unacknowledged and forgotten by much of the world. We are a highly educated community with deep historical roots, a community that is, unfortunately, diminishing every day as a result of political and economic pressures. Our future is uncertain; the pressures are enormous.

And as we part and parcel of our society, not outside of it, it is a daily challenge to remain faithful, to witness to our faith in these the most dire of circumstances where today as Palestinians none of our rights are guaranteed. We stand with our Muslim sister and brothers at the margins of life in Palestine, sharing a common reality of prolonged suffering and waiting, and acting together in hope for a brighter future.

70 years ago, we were cast outside the course of history, our identity denied, and our very human, cultural and historical reality suppressed. We were victims of the cruel myth: ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’. And we continue to be victims of an exclusive agenda-an agenda that has usurped our rights, our lands and confiscated, as well, our historical narrative.

Our country is becoming one gigantic prison and one vast cemetery. The people, land, houses and trees have been brutally treated. Fear and insecurity have replaced compassion and trust.

Relations have become hard and tense. When almost every aspect of life is framed in oppression and humiliation, moral space in diminished. Our own humanity is threatened and role models for our children become hard to find. People are tired and depressed. They are traumatized by the violence that is perpetuated against them which affects both their physical and mental health. My people need time to mourn, to heal their wounds, to pacify their children and to find their daily bread.

Our oppression and the Israeli occupation could not have lasted so long without outside assistance. Proportionate to its population, the state of Israel is the recipient of more US aid than any foreign state in history. This aid, combined with political support from the US, enables Israel to tighten its grip of occupation and make our lives more difficult, more unlivable. The truth has been so twisted that anybody who dares to speak out for justice is now associated with terrorism or anti-Semitism or according to the theology of some, against God as they understand God’s purpose in this world.

This is done in the name of the so-called Christian Zionists, and as indigenous Palestinian Christians we have no choice but to answer to that claim and to the many religious leaders who exploit the Bible to endorse the legitimacy, policies and conduct of Israel. These Christians have Established a linkage between biblical Israel and the modern nation state of Israel. Evils of discrimination, oppression and dispossession are justified by reference to biblical texts. David Ben-Gurion called the Bible the sacrosanct title deed to Palestine for the Jewish people.

As Palestinian Christians we must liberate our theology from such an understanding. God for us is a God of justice and compassion, not a God of vengeance and exclusivity. As Palestinian Christians, we have long been forgotten, even unknown, and certainly unacknowledged. We have suffered, as have all our people from dispossession, displacement and oppression. And we are then blamed for the history, politics and theology of others.

In spite of our different life experiences, we are very much influenced by each other’s contexts. Where Islam is demonized, we are asked to love our neighbors and not to bear false witness against them. Western missionary movements, past and present, in spite of their good works have sometimes been a source of embarrassment and division, especially in Palestine.

The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem is another story. Politically, it is pro-Israel in its expansionist policy with regard to settlements, and is against any peace process that will end occupation. I find their theology violent and exclusive. It is pro-Israel but anti-Jewish. Fortunately, there are many faithful witnesses in Israel/Palestine. The Christian Peacemaker Teams, the members of the accompaniment programme of the World Council of churches, the International solidarity Movement joined by local Palestinians and Israelis, all bear witness to peace and justice. We have many others who joined us in our non-violent struggle on many fronts and to support in anyways possible.

Both my context in Palestine and my travels throughout the world have brought me into relation with many religious traditions. Many thinkers struggle with religious diversity. Others, as activists, are concerned with militarism, the degradation of the environment, racism and sexism. Many are working from a faith base on peace and justice issues. Often times, I have found that dialogue within the Christian tradition and among these various groups is not easy.

Some of these difficulties concern our understanding of witness, mission and the Bible. Let me begin by stating that I personally cannot take the Bible literally.

The stories in the Bible reveal people’s perceptions of God but not full reality of God. The view that the Bible is to be understood in a literalist way must be surrendered. There are many narratives that are problematic, containing texts of unsurpassed violence, which are an affront to moral sensitivities. Every effort should be made to rescue the Bible from serving as a blunt instrument in the oppression of one people by another. In Palestine, the Americas and South Africa, the Bible has been used as a tool of oppression rather than liberation.

If you want to know what God has been up to in the world, the Spirit bids us to keep our eyes and ears open to the witnesses of others. After all, the Spirit is about movement, and the presence of God. The Spirit fills, inspires, teaches, reminds and comforts. The Spirit both nurtures contemplation and empowers action.

Many Christians differ in their understanding of witness and mission. In many of the places I have visited, the churches’ concern about evangelism is related to the growing influence in the context as well as mine, of sects and new religious movements. The stories are very similar from Russia to the Pacific, from the Middle East to South Africa. The churches are disturbed by a massive influx of Christian charismatic and fundamentalists groups and by the aggressive methods of recruitment they use. I am disturbed by their theology where they generally advocate nationalist or religious exclusiveness and the subordinations or women. They reject many of the political and ethical values of modern democracy, basic human rights, pluralism, freedom of speech, sharing of power and responsibility. Their literal understanding of the Bible is frightening and violent and, more often than not, justifies my oppression and dispossession as mandated by God. This is serious, even dangerous.

Must we not re-focus our efforts towards articulating a religious vision that can contribute to a global outlook and a discourse of radical, democratic human community and well being for all?

So, too, are we not challenged to articulate and then realize a liberating spiritual vision of justice? Biblical studies must be re-thought in such a way that they can contribute to the articulation of spiritual understandings that envision human dignity, justice, inclusivity and diversity in new ways.
 
On many occasions the witness of action has cast doubt on the witness of the Word. To witness to Christ is to follow Jesus’ way and mission as expressed in Luke 4:18-19: