On my flight to Beirut

Früh geht die Sonne unter und der Mond steigt auf. 6 Tage in Beirut zur Evaluierung unseres Programms an der Near East School of Theology (NEST). Alle zwei Jahre gibt es ein dreimonatiges Studienprogramm für Pfarrerinnen und Pfarrer an der NEST. In der letzten Woche werten wir aus um Schwerpunkte und mögliche Veränderungen im Blick auf ein neues Angebot mit den Professorinnen, Professoren und den Teilnehmenden zu diskutieren.

Samstagabend im Herzen des Einkaufs- und Kneipenviertels von Beirut. Junge Menschen feiern ausgelassen das Wochenende. Wenig zu spüren von den Konflikten im Land und der Region. Viel Reichtum in Luxusautos aller Marken. Ihre laute Musik aus den Autos vermischt sich mit den Weihnachtsliedern aus den Einkaufsläden. Man hält vor der Kneipe, überlässt das Auto jungen Männern die es irgendwo zum Parken bringen; später wird es zur Heimfahrt wieder vorgefahren; Parkraum ist sehr rar. Viel Geld kommt aus den Golfstaaten und der Bauboom in Beirut ist enorm.

Heute morgen besuche ich den Gottesdienst der National Evangelical Church of Beirut. Ein großer künstlicher Weihnachtsbaum mit vielen Lichterketten und einer Krippe im Altarraum. Habib Badr hatte mich eingeladen zu predigen. Mit ihm verbindet mich eine lange Freundschaft über die Evangelische Mission in Solidarität – ems. Ein Gottesdienst nach reformierter Liturgie und mit Abendmahl. Für die Gemeinde gewöhnungsbedürftig: jeden ersten Sonntag mit Abendmahl. Traditionell feierte man nur an 4 Sonntagen im Jahr Abendmahl: Gründonnerstag, Ostersonntag, Neujahr und Erntedank.

Am Abend ein erstes Treffen mit den Pfarrerinnen und Pfarrern des Studienprogramms zu einem gemeinsamen libanesischen Abendessen.


Meine Predigt heute Morgen:

National Evangelical Church of Beirut – Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Advent on 7.12.2014 on Mt 24, 1-14

Dear brothers and sisters,
Yesterday I arrived from Frankfurt where I am living at present. Since one week the streets and shops are nicely decorated, there are Christmas trees and lights everywhere. Christmas carols sound in the shops. There are Christmas markets with the smell of mulled wine and sweet almonds. So many people are walking around, especially at the weekend, in crowds and packed with bags. At some of them you can see the stress, others still give a rather cheerful impression.
Advent – in my home country this is a time full of tension, either joyful or stressed. We are living this time in expectation of the feast. This shall become as beautiful as ever possible, and we wish to already now feel a bit of this great joy over the birth of our Saviour, the coming of the Prince of Peace, even before the event.
And then there is this text today for our sermon. We hear about wars, cataclysm and hunger, about hatred and betrayal. – How can this go together with expecting the feast, with awaiting the advent of the Child, by whom all this should be transformed?
I would like to invite you to have look at the ideas of those for whom this text originally has been written.
The first congregations have really waited. Passionately they hoped that Christ would come back, in order to definitely impose the kingdom of God. They reckoned that this would happen within the next few years. But this return was put off again and again. For some hard decades nothing happened. To the contrary: one could even believe that God was unable or did not want to step into the whole world affairs. The centre of Jewish life, the big temple at Jerusalem, had been destroyed. A large part of the Jewish people was expelled, dispersed in the whole world. The oppression by the Roman state continued. Many Christian congregations had to suffer much – an experience that is not at all foreign to you and to our sisters and brothers in the countries of this region. Some lost their hope for a future as God wants to have it. – Of course they did not believe that the Roman emperor earned a worship as it is only due to God himself. But the emperor requested that, as a sign for his recognition as the superior ruler.
And if nothing was perceptible of God’s power, why then shouldn’t they burn the few grains of incense before the emperor’s statue and be safe from persecution? – Quite a few members of the Christian communities might have thought like this, and some of them even did – more or less secretly – what the Roman state demanded from them. In the congregation, this of course meant a terrible ordeal. And it may even have happened that some brought a charge against the others at the authorities.
But things went not the same for all and everybody. Some may even have been desperate. But they didn’t want to believe that all their waiting and hoping was totally vain. They searched for an interpretation of how their own experiences and the trust in God could still be brought in line. They tried to understand how their faith in the future kingdom of God, and the terrible suffering in their present world could belong together. And thus they designed the picture of an immense destruction of the world, and a complete new creation by God. They expected relief from all this suffering by God’s intervention. They did not see a real possibility for human activity to trigger a change of the situation.
Today, nearly 2000 years later, we know how their history went on. God has not created all anew from one moment to the next. But neither the world nor the congregation of Jesus have declined. Still now God lets the sun rise over righteous and unjust men, and the circle of sowing and harvest, frost and heat, summer and winter does not end.
However, hatred and violence, misery and catastrophes have also not ended. Till today Christians, especially here in Lebanon and in the Middle East, are once again confronted by existential risks. In an urgent appeal to the world, your church leaders have drawn the public attention on that, and have called-in our solidarity. We have heard your call and we are trying our best to stay on your side in solidarity and action!
The pictures of our biblical text could be taken from a newspaper in this year 2014. Only some weeks ago, there were catastrophic floodings in the area of one of our Indian partner churches. And not far away from here, in Iraq and in Syria, the killing and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people is continuing without a curb since months.
Thus the pictures chosen by St. Mathew for describing his world are familiar to us. In his case, however, it seems as if there were a godly plan according to which all this should happen. But that is certainly a misunderstanding. What is expressed in the gospel of Mathew, that’s the conviction: „Do not think that God has nothing to do with this world when you look at the suffering and the need here. There will be a change. Nothing must remain so hopeless as it appears now.“ – But the question is: do we still believe that the world will really become different? And: when will this finally happen? The disciples of Jesus also asked that question very insistently. Seen from our perspective, the day might probably still be very distant.
But despite all such experiences, there is still the yearning that once upon a time everything will be good, for me and for the world, and that we can live together in peace and justice. I want to be able to trust, just as the people in our text, in that the fulfilment of this yearning is not dependent on whether I myself can reach it, but that it has been taken care of this. I want to stick to this yearning and not always repeat: „Oh, nothing will change anyway.“ I do not want to give it up in the daily grind, nor let it cool down. And I do not want to lose it in crises, shocks and long hard hauls in life. Perphaps the clinging to this yearning can today be what is said in the text with the challenge to the congregation to be perseverant in their hopes.
Today we certainly wait in a different manner than the Christians in those days. But we also are waiting. Deep in ourselves we are yearning for the good, for the salvation that the world and we ourselves cannot give us. Perhaps this yearning is more clearly noticeable in the period of Advent than at other times, because it gives us a preview of the advent of the child, at whose birth it was said: „Peace on earth, for all men beloved by God.“ Then the time of salvation has already begun, it says. Probably there are only small sparklings of the salvation that we see flashing. But we may look out for them, and in doing so we can unwaveringly cling to the yearning for salvation, against the constantly growing demands of the world, against hatred and discord – and thus grasp a little bit of the essence, not only in Advent.
God’s peace be with us, which is higher than all our human reason can grasp, and may keep our hearts and senses in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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