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Sunday, February 10, 2008


From Jerusalem, January 31 - February 8, 2008 - Media summary

One of the many reasons for this trip to Jerusalem was to preach my sermon at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale on Ash Wednesday from Jerusalem. If you want to view this sermon, you can find it on our web site, http://www.trinitylansdale.com/ - follow the link from the center of the home page. The text of this sermon is online also - look for the "Sermons" button on the left hand column. The sermon video is also online on Tim Frakes' website at http://frakesproductions.blogspot.com/2008/02/rev-eric-shafer-ash-wednesday-sermon.html .

Another reason for this trip was to attract positive publicity around my Ash Wednesday sermon for Trinity and, by implication, for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL - http://www.elcjhl.org/). Here is a summary of the media coverage that I know of:

1) The February issue of "The Lutheran" magazine included a mention of my sermon it its "Churchscan" column on page #43. You may be able to read it online at www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=6971 .

2) The Lansdale "Reporter" newspaper had two stories:
A) The first was a front page story on January 30, "One faith, an ocean apart," which included a color photo of Kris and me from our first Holy Land visit in 1998. It is still online at www.thereporteronline.com/WebApp/appmanager/JRC/Daily?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=pg_article&r21.content=/TRO/_RSSFeed/TopStories/TopStoryList_Story_1508901&r21.pgpath=/TRO/News .
B) The second was a B1 ("Lifestyle") story on February 5, "Sacred Sermon: Ash Wednesday in the Holy Land." This story included a color photo of ELCA missionaries the Rev. Mark & Mrs. Marcia Holman with Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land Bishop, the Rev. Munig Younan. I cannot find this one online.

3) The Allentown "Morning Call" newspaper ran an "Op Ed" (Opinion) piece that I wrote, "In the Middle East, God is on the side of peace" on Ash Wednesday, February 6. It is no longer on the "Morning Call's" webiste for free, so here is the text of that piece:

In the Middle East, God is on the side of peace
By Eric C. Shafer
February 6, 2008

On a February Sunday in 2004, my wife, Kris, and I were traveling with a group of U.S. Lutheran communicators in the West Bank, the area of biblical Palestine occupied by Israel since 1967. We were scheduled to worship at Reformation Lutheran Church in Beit Jala, a town next to Bethlehem. But that Sunday the entire area was under an Israeli army curfew. Since we were accompanied by the Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, we were able to get through the military checkpoint from Jerusalem.

This was a surreal experience -- our two Lutheran World Federation vans following the bishop's car into the Beit Jala area. Our three vehicles, with hazard lights blinking, were the only ones on the road that morning. All businesses, schools and homes were closed, even boarded up. Normally on a Sunday morning, a work day for the majority Muslim population, the streets would have been teeming with people. Not this day. The streets and sidewalks were completely vacant and quiet except for an occasional stray dog. The Israeli curfew kept everyone at home and off the streets. Those who ventured out risked arrest and prison.

The church bells were ringing as we approached Reformation Lutheran Church in Beit Jala. We wondered if anyone would be there. As we entered the church grounds, there were hundreds of people waiting for the bishop and for worship. Surprised by their bravery, bravery I thought might be foolhardy, I asked one of our hosts why he had violated the curfew and risked imprisonment to come to worship that day. ''If God calls us, we're coming,'' was all he needed to say.

Like most Americans my age, I had watched the invasion of Jordanian territory by the Israelis during the 1967 war and had assumed that the Israelis were the good guys. I would say that I had even assumed that God was on the side of the Israelis. That's certainly what most U.S. Christians and most Americans probably still believe.

However, I have now heard different views, views expressed to me when I have traveled several times to Jerusalem, Jordan and the West Bank and met Palestinian Christians, Lutherans who are part of the Lutheran World Federation. They are Palestinians who had their homes and pastures and olive tree groves forcefully taken from them during the 1967 war. They are Palestinians -- Muslim and Christian -- who now have to live elsewhere, no longer able to make a living on lands which had been part of their families since the time of Christ.

I have long been a real admirer of modern Israel, what the Israeli people have done with their country created out of desert lands in 1948. But, much to my surprise, these lands may have been desert, but they were not deserted! Real people, Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, lived on these lands and were forcibly removed in 1948 and again in 1967.

We have seen what legacy these wars have brought to the people of the Middle East and the world. Sixty years of almost constant war and conflict with extremists reveling in death and destruction, wars and conflicts which seem to simmer under the surface and regularly erupt as they have in Lebanon and Gaza.

Abraham Lincoln, when asked if God was on the side of the Union forces (and, by implication, not on the side of the Confederate forces), is said to have responded, ''The question is not, is God on our side, the question is, are we on God's side?''

In the Middle East, as in most earthly conflicts, there are Godly people on all sides of the current conflicts. The extremists on both sides may get the headlines. Often forgotten are the majority of people who live behind the headlines; Israelis who fear suicide bombers, Palestinians cut off from oil and heat, food, employment and medical care. The question then is Lincoln's question: Are we on God's side?

And what would God's side be? In the Gospels, Jesus Christ gives us some ideas. God's side is standing for and with the poor and powerless. God's side is standing for peace in the face of violence and war, ''turning the other cheek,'' as Jesus says. God's side is realizing that God is calling us to be peace makers even in the face of opposing forces all claiming God's direction. God's side is for peace in the Middle East and throughout this world.

We are called to be on God's side, to stand with God and God's values of peace and love for humankind and to stand with others who share these values, in Israel and Palestine and everywhere.

The Rev. Eric C. Shafer, senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, is traveling in Jerusalem and the West Bank and plans to preach today from Jerusalem via satellite. His daily blog and sermon are available online at http://www.trinitylansdale.com .

4) Sarah Larson's Doylestown "Intelligencer" front page article on Ash Wednesday, February 6 "Pastor to speak to faithful from the Holy Land," is also online at www.phillyburbs.com/pb-dyn/news/113-02062008-1483216.html . This article included a color photo of me pulled from my Trinity video Ash Wednesday sermon from the Garden of Gethsemane. Larson's article was also used in the Bucks County "Courier Times" newspaper with this headline - "Lutheran leaders deliver Holy Land sermons," online at www.phillyburbs.com/pb-dyn/news/111-02062008-1483351.html . This same article , with the first headline, was then picked up by MSNBC and distributed nationally - see www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23027030/ . That MSNBC posting was picked up by a number of global news websites. I found it on World News (http://www.wn.com/) and Channel Afrika (http://www.channelafrika.com/).

5) The Reading "Eagle/Times" newspaper ran a brief item, with my photo, in their newspaper on Saturday, February 2. It is under their summary, "Lenten season to get underway." One of this article's subtitles is 'Wyomissing native to preach near Jerusalem." You'll find it online at www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=78745 .

All in all, very fine newspaper and web coverage.


I agree ERIC THE media coverage was really good! Trinity has always set a positive example for so many things for so many years. under your leadership it continues to do so. Trinity is at the cutting edge of ministry
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