Reflections from the Holy Land by Bishop Leila
On the last day of our trip to the Holy Land, we (Seventeen ELCA Bishops and churchwide staff) were invited to The Al Husseiniya Palace to meet with Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, religious and cultural advisor to the King of Jordan. Our delegation was ready with questions and reflections on what we had seen and heard during our visits with the living stones of the Holy Land. We, however, were not necessarily ready for his declarations to and counsel for us.
Prince Ghazi, Muslim religious and cultural advisor to the King of Jordan, told a room of Christian bishops the following:
We need you! Sincerely, we do. But we need you to be followers of Jesus. We do not need you to be followers of tradition. We need you to be followers of Jesus the preacher, teacher, advocate, and prophet; the one who spoke truth and demanded justice for the poor and abused. We do not need you to say you are Christians. We need you to be Christians who follow Jesus not tradition, because your Chrisitan tradition will die.
Your tradition will die if you lose sight of these two essential practices: You must have solid and consistent theological engagement. You and your people must know and be able to articulate what you believe. Consistent theological study and engagement are essential to the life of your tradition and so is a disciplined spiritual life. If you don’t have consistent and solid theological engagement and a disciplined spiritual life, your tradition will die.
There is much to unpack and process from this encounter. For now, this Ash Wednesday, as we read the gospel lesson in Matthew and wrestle with what it means to, “not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” know this; creation, humanity, the people in your world and beyond, even Muslim princes in Jordan… need you. They don’t need loud, dismal-looking hypocrites who want to be seen or maybe even admired for their good works. They need you; they need your heart for Jesus: your friend, savior, healer, rescuer; the one who surprises you and speaks hard and refreshing truths through the least expected people in the least expected places. To be frank, they need you and the prince is right; they need you read and prayed up.
The naive need you with wisdom to share when life is confusing and infuriating. The grieving need you to know when words will not do and your presence alone is the healing balm that will suffice. The disinherited need you prepared and prayed up to discern how to faithfully follow Jesus into challenging spaces and conversations for the sake of liberation and transformation. Creation, humanity, the people in your world and beyond,… need you.
This lent, as we journey toward the cross, let us not hear these words as admonition or receive them as more pressure to the already demanding ministries and lives we lead. Instead, let us welcome these words as permission to reflect on our discipleship with sincerity; let us dare look in the mirror and acknowledge the Spirit’s stirring for the sake of death to that which keeps us from freedom and life abundant in Christ. Ultimately, let us confess, repent, and be restored precisely because we know we are loved, called, and needed if only to be the unexpected people in the most unexpected places with a word or deed that reflects the kin-dom of heaven here on earth… with God’s help and in Jesus’ name. Amen.
You can read an article about Prince Ghazi meeting with ELCA leaders here.