Ambassadors of reconciliation: General Assembly ecumenical worship

ST. LOUIS — Christians are divided. There is brokenness in the world. Yet, Jesus Christ calls all into ministries and lives of reconciliation. Presbyterians gathered for the ecumenical service of worship Wednesday, June 20, to focus on this holy calling.

J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) introduced pastor Najla Kassab, president of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. She is from the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, and is the first woman offered a preaching license by the synod. In March of 2017, she became the second woman ordained as minister of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon. J. Herbert Nelson said this “proves that women can do anything they want to do in any part of the world.”

Kassab said it was not possible for her to study theology in Beirut, but Princeton Seminary opened their doors. She said, “Here I stand today, to tell everyone who feels discouraged that you cannot change things, especially young people through this worship today we are going to change things, and change the world as well.”

Kassab’s sermon, “Toward a kingdom of reconciliation,” embraced the pain and hurt in the world, and lifted up how Christians are called to live into the calling of Christ of reconciliation. “In this world, it has become who hits the hardest wins. We are Christians, and as Christians, we are ambassadors of reconciliation.”

Kassab shared a personal story, recalling being home one night with her daughters when there was an explosion. Her family took mattresses and hid in a place that looked safe. Her daughter asked her, “What is that noise?” Kassab told her it was fireworks. When her daughter went to school the next day, a friend told her that it was Israel bombing Lebanon. Kassab hoped her children would not have to go through what they had, that they would not be children of war. Her older daughter asked: “Will they do it again? How will we be sure it will not happen again?” Kassab told those gathered at the assembly, “We were hoping peace would be achieved in the Middle East. Children enjoy peace and reconciliation. One incident spoiled it all.”

She said how this same incident happens to Jewish children, Muslim children and so many other children; it takes one small incident to change it all.  “As Christians we are challenged today to live up to the Jesus paradigm of reconciliation. Called ambassadors for reconciliation between humanity and God, and humans with each other.”

Kassab told that she had been in Washington, D.C., for the Churches for Middle East Peace gathering this past week, and she shared words from a pastor there who spoke about children who are separated from their families at the border, and she was moved by the voice of the church speaking against this act, challenging the biblical voice that was used to defend the act.

 “Jesus emptied himself so that reconciliation happens. If we want to be a kingdom of reconciliation, we have to lift up the paradigm of Christ,” Kassab preached. “To live in a world of reconciliation, we are called to live in pain. Our commitment for reconciliation is tested at the point of pain. Jesus’ story is one of pain.” When things became difficult, Jesus went deeper; we should, too, she challenged.

Reconciliation is beyond mistakes, Kassab said. “It is moving forward for a future of healing and looking forward toward what can be done together, seeing all humans as humans.” Instead of building a fence, build a bridge, she said.To lift up the model of reconciliation that Jesus taught, it means moving away from prejudices, violence and counting mistakes in order to raise a generation that is ready to build bridges even when building bridges can be painful, Kassab said.

Kassab said: “The world is overwhelmed with culture of fear and traveling around affirms that. The church is called to share culture of hope not fear. To live beyond the sarx[Greek for flesh], to build bridges of reconciliation, and to be ready to cross the bridge and see things from the other side. For all the suffering children on the boarders, for the children of the Syrian refugees, in Colombia, Israel Palestine, Iraq, Korean Peninsula, the many children suffering around the world.”

“For the children who have lost friends by weapons in this country, for all these children, I want to say forgive us, for we do not work hard so that the kingdom of heaven is made real on earth. But trust us today with our determination of building bridges that we can move towards kingdom of reconciliation,” said Kassab.

Jose Luis Casal, director of World Mission, called for offering and highlighted the action yesterday that raised over $47,000 to free individuals currently awaiting trail in a system that keeps them incarcerated until they can meet bail. He said, “Thank you Presbyterians. We did it, and we did it very well.” He gave thanks to Nelson for leading and calling others to the neighborhoods to proclaim the gospel, “not only with money but with action. This action has to be connected to global context,” Casal said.

A diversity of languages was present at this service.  Songs were sung in multiple tongues and songs and worshippers offered the Lord’s Prayer in their own language – raising voices to God of all.