The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. At this sunny Sunday Morning I wish you a good morning and a happy New Year - to all of you here in St. Petri in Kleefeld. I greet you with a word from the gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 22, Verse 32:
Jesus Christ says: "I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail"
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The watchword of this year was chosen long before December 26 last year and long before the first days of this New Year. But we need it more than ever in these days of despair and in situations where no easy words are possible. My first contact to the region of Southeast Asia was through the Internet with a report from our pastor in Bangkok, Burkhard Bartel. Some hours later I saw him in a television special report of the ZDF describing Phuket after the Tsunami-waves. I thanked him and his wife for their spontaneous help and presence in Phuket. Originally they planned to have some free days after the Christmas activities in Bangkok. Some days later we had a telephone contact because of the ecumenical service last Sunday which he celebrated together with the roman catholic colleague in a catholic church in Phuket with some of the local members of the German speaking congregation and with the German foreign minister Joschka Fischer and his delegation visiting the destroyed region. I am not sure who needed the prayers more: the relatives of the victims, the pastors and all the helpers who were close to the wounded bodies and souls or the politicians, who had to cope with a situation at home and abroad which has had no parallel before. All of them - from different countries - needed the prayers. I am deeply convinced that all of us need it - because the language fails to express our feelings - if not our own faith in God's Good Creation. We hardly had so many questions and so few answers. And hardly before the global and ecumenical community was in such close solidarity with the people who are in need of immediate humanitarian aid as well as psychological and spiritual accompaniment. The Moderator of the World Council of Churches, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I and the General Secretary Dr. Sam Kobia said in their message: "In prayer, we yearn to God that we may all overcome this cosmic anguish together with all people of faith in the region... One lesson to learn from this tragedy is the need for the international community and religious communities to unite in one spirit and reinvent the capacity for preparedness to face such tragedies together".
On the eve of the New Year not only the earth but also our faith was shaken to the ground. Not only that many of us have tried to pray, but some felt like Jesus in his darkest situation crying: My God, my God why have you left me alone?
But there is this other word from Jesus: "I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail" - originally said to Apostle Peter in a time of doubts: are you, Jesus, the one who is sent from God? - This word changes the perspective: not only my prayer is important but Jesus himself prays that Peters, ours, my faith may not fail. He is the mediator between men and god, between me and God. He stands for crucification and for resurrection - for death and new life.
In the ecumenical service last Sunday broadcasted from the Berliner Dom, it happened to me to be seated between the ambassador of the United States of America Mr. Daniel Coats and his wife and the ambassador of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Majed Shobokshi. In this moment I thought: why is it possible to come together and pray together when a catastrophe happened but not when the daily extreme poverty for a billion of people is on the agenda and can be changed? Five years ago the nations decided to divide the worlds poverty in half in the next fifteen years. Now - in 3 weeks time - it was spent a lot of money which shall be given to help about five million people who survived but became poor in only a few hours. The vision for a long term help is encouraging, also for our church based aid agencies like Bread for the World or Caritas which have a long and successful story to help so people can help themselves. May be there is a new coming together also with other faith based organizations - not only as an additional activity besides others but as a major political effort - in a new spirit of understanding and universal efforts -.
This year I can look back to 12 years serving in the EKD for ecumenical relations especially close to the World Council of Churches and its activities for the unity of the church of Jesus Christ and the unity of mankind. I traveled in more than 70 countries and have seen the refugee camps in the south of Sudan or - just a year ago - the destroyed town of Bam in Iran where more than 30.000 people died because of an earthquake. But I am very hopeful that a lot of problems can be solved better in the future - certainly not the unexpected catastrophes caused by nature, but the interrelations between nations in all parts of the world. First of all because the good side of globalization is a growing awareness that mankind belongs together in a wonderful, but at the same time endangered one world. And secondly because the religions will play more and more an important role to establish common values which unite more than divide nations and cultures.
In a year from today, more exactly from February 14 to 23, 2006 the next General Assembly of the World Council of Churches will meet in Porto Alegre in Brazil under the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world".
The hand of God, the creation and the cross, the spirit of peace, the covenant rainbow - all these symbols are the elements of our prayer that God in his grace may transform the world. And we can help him working for peace, justice and the protection of nature - Gods creation. I do not know how many denominations are represented just now, but most churches belong to the worldwide ecumenical movement. In Europe - the EKD - has close contacts to the Church of England, to the Lutheran churches in Sweden and Finland, to the protestant churches in Switzerland and the Netherlands and to others in middle and east Europe. In North America our partners are the ELCA, UCC; the Reformed Presbyterians, Methodists and some Baptist churches. In Africa, also in Ethiopia, we have a German-speaking congregation in Addis and close relations to the Orthodox Church and the Mekane Jesus Church. Working in and for the ecumenical movement needs great patience and courage to hope. There are periods in history where nothing seems to happen like in the past 10 years after the big positive changes everywhere in the world. But now after a natural global earthquake - could not a spiritual global earthquake happen? - not because of our prayers alone, but because Jesus Christ has said to St. Peter: "I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail". - God, in your grace, transform the world. And the peace of God, which is higher than our understanding be with you now and forever. Amen.
May the love of the Lord Jesus
draw you to himself;
May the power of the Lord Jesus
strengthen you in his service.
May the joy of the Lord Jesus
fill your spirit
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the
be upon you and remain with you