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German Bishop Challenges Christians to Act Energetically in the World to Bring About Healing

Margot Kaessmann Sounds Assembly Theme, "For the Healing of the World"

WINNIPEG, Canada, 23 July 2003 - "I grew up in the faith of my mother and my grandmother, who told me, ĎWhen God calls you, youíd better go.í" With these words, Dr Margot Kaessmann, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, Germany, opened her keynote address before the Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Winnipeg. Kaessmann noted that she serves as the first woman in a distinguished line of bishops of Hanover, including Hans Lilje who played in important role in the formative days of the LWF.

In her address, delivered alternately in German and English, Kaessmann called on Christians to engage the world with vigor in the hope that the human community can live in justice and peace and thereby bring about "the healing of the world," which is the Assemblyís theme. Kaessmann declared that healing will not occur through the globalization of an economy that does not respect cultural differences. Rather global healing will come about through the message of Godís love manifest in justice, peace and the safeguarding of creation.

Kaessmann spoke before the 700 participants at the LWF Assembly, which takes place every six years, and is hosted this year by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

As followers of Jesus, Christians are able to give hope to the world. "We hope for the new heaven and the new earth, hope that transcends this world," stated Kaessmann, who is one of three women bishops currently serving in Germany. "As Christians we are Godís people drawn from all peoples Ė that remains the biblical vision." This hope enables us to distinguish between a "here and now" society that honors power and might and one that practices solidarity, loves justice, achieves peace and protects creation. "Healing," stated Kaessmann, "means acting as the true stewards of this wounded world."

Kaessmann, bishop of Germanyís largest regional Lutheran church with 3.3 million members, also challenged assembly delegates to bring about the healing of the church. The ecumenical "Kirchentag" church gathering in Berlin at the end of May 2003, which drew 200,000 participants, was the living sign of a vital church whose growing unity cannot be held back by encyclicals. Despite this positive sign, Kaessmann reiterated the convention theme and warned that the church must also contend with its own wounds first if it is to confront the wounds of the world.

She cited the Lordís Supper as the concrete sign of healing for the world. The community that takes shape around the Lordís Table is a healing community, a tangible sign of restoration to health. If the church wants to promote authentic healing in the world, it must acknowledge the centrality of the Sacrament as a healing act not only between God and persons but between persons.

"When we share bread and wine with each other, then we can and must leave behind the conflicts and burdens that separated us and experience anew our life together," declared the bishop. "At the Lordís Table, we come together, the poor and the rich, from the highways and byways, the estranged, the disappointed, the lovers, the sick, people from north and from south." The Eucharistic fellowship has both human and social implications and serves as a reminder for peace and justice. It calls into our remembrance "that we belong together, transcending any barriers, as Godís people." It calls us to ecumenical engagement.

Kaessmann cited as a condition for global healing that we see the world in context, through eyes that are wide open but which look also through the lens of Godís love. It shocks us to see what happened in Yugoslavia, what still happens in Northern Ireland. Despite the fact that in Central Europe we have enough to eat, schools for our children, universal health care, many of us are burned out, empty inside. Success in life is often measured just by the ability to hold things together. Europe may indeed possess great wealth, but there is much that is broken and in need of healing. Christians are able to bring into this context the healing Word of God. They are able to look at the world as it is, without closing their eyes or walking away.

If we want to speak of healing, said Kaessmann, we must first examine our wounds, as any good physician would: at those small wounds that manifest themselves in the angry word, the betrayed trust, and also at the large and gaping wounds of war inflicted on human flesh by bombs and on refugees tossed to and fro; by the guilty parties who thwart opportunity for development in Africa, Asia, Latin America, who force child soldiers to employ brutal weapons, and who daily sacrifice thousands to hunger. Such atrocities cannot be contained in words.

In the face of such horror, it is essential to understand that God himself is wounded "by the destructions that we as human beings inflict on one another," said Kaessmann. "The Jesus story insists that we Ďunderstand God as both all powerful and powerless.í" We donít require logical explanations for an omnipotent God who also permits suffering. We are only called to have the courage to trust that God wills us to life, not death. Christians must bear the brokenness of human life and take part in "the way of the cross."

Kaessmann reminded delegates that the HIV/AIDS pandemic no longer implies an automatic death sentence for sufferers who receive the appropriate medications. The real problem, she said, is that these medications are often too expensive and that second-class substitutes are given to people who cannot afford better. While progress has been made in medical research in the treatment of cancer and the containment of the SARS virus, it has also led to the growing conviction that we have the ability to cure every ill. We often forget that we are created in Godís image, and would rather believe that we create our own image. In this context, Kaessmann called the church to understand that healing is part of the Great Commission, and not merely a secondary, diaconal task.

"When Jesus healed, He did two things," said Kaessmann, "He spoke and He touched. He made Godís Word audible and tangible. When Jesus healed, He saw the personís faith and trust in God." When Christians heal in Jesusí name, we donít demonstrate our own healing power, rather we reflect the presence of a loving God to the whole person. Healing is not proof of Godís presence and is often abused in a human attempt to view it as a sign of special gifts. We truly witness to trust in God by learning to live with illness, to perceive it as a grace, a gift from God.

True healing is a holistic, a holy, a blessed process in which the achievements of medicine, the role of oneís own soul and Godís spiritual gifts are integrated. Perhaps the churchís role is to help us see that "the various gifts - charisms - do not compete with one another, rather they complement and enrich each other," declared Kaessmann. Those who wish for true healing must open themselves in body and soul to receive insights, both ancient and new, and in diverse ways to witness to Godís healing work in the whole person.

Kaessmann put forth a vision for a "different world Ö where Godís spirit is at work Ö we will allow peace to grow without violence Ö there will be a jubilee year that frees people and nations from bondage Ö refugees will find a home Öreligion can finally become a factor in defusing conflicts Öand coming generations will learn to understand the earth as Godís Creation."

The Tenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is taking place 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada, under the theme "For the Healing of the World." It is being hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

There are around 820 men, women and youth participants in the Tenth Assembly including 380 delegates from the 133 churches with full membership and three associate members. The Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the LWF, and meets normally every six years. Between Assemblies, the LWF is governed by its Council that meets annually, and by its Executive Committee.

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