"Suche Frieden und jage ihm nach!"
In diesem Gottesdienst wird Pfarrer Reinhard Menzel als evangelischer Studierendenseelsorger an der Europa-Universität Viadrina eingeführt.
Sermon on Psalm 34
By Rev. Reinhard Menzel
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (1. Cor. 1:3)
Dear university congregation, guests, sisters and brothers!
“Where people come together, overcome hatred, and start again, really new, heaven and earth touch each other, that peace will come among us.” The lyrics and melody of this song are from the year 1989.
In October 1989, soldiers with machine guns patrolled along the borderlines of the GDR. Their aim was to secure the borderlines of the GDR so that the people do not run away from the rulers. Today, 30 years ago, on 6 November 1989, the borderline between Słubice and Frankfurt was still closed. No one knew that three days later the borderlines would open forever. Nobody dared to think that there would be one Germany again and that Poland and Germany would be members of the EU and a borderline would no longer separate the two countries, but connect them.
On 6 November 1989 it also seemed unthinkable that 30 years later it would be completely normal for young people from Poland and Germany, Europe and many other parts of the world to choose to study and work together at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt and at the Collegium Polonicum in Słubice.
On 9th May this year Bishop Markus Dröge stated in his sermon on Europe Day here in Frankfurt (Oder) about the “miracle of normality” that we are allowed to experience every day here in the heart of Europe. This normality is a real miracle in face of the terrible experiences of violence, terror, war and displacement people that is still experienced today in many parts of the world.
In the autumn of 1989, we do not only remember the pictures of the peaceful Leipzig Monday demonstration on October 9, when around 70,000 demonstrators with candles moved peacefully through the streets of Leipzig. We were afraid that those with power in the GDR would make it like the communist rulers in Beijing. In May and June, students demonstrated for reform and opening up of Chinese society in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Their protest ended in the night of 3 to 4 June 1989 in a bloodbath. Chinese Army soldiers killed an estimated 1,500 people, and more than 10,000 were injured.
Today the pictures of Kurdish families cause consternation. In recent weeks thousands of people left their home villages and towns along the Syrian-Turkish borderline and fled from the Turkish invasion forces and their allies.
But hatred and fear are also spreading in our countries, west and east of the Oder. Populists and nationalists fan the flames of fear of people who live differently than the majority of the population. They rush against people who seek refuge in our countries or have a different faith. They create a mood against people who are committed to a tolerant and open society and who want to show solidarity with the weak.
It baffles me that more and more people are content with simple answers, and that they no longer accept other opinions, they exclude all those who want to live differently from themselves. It scares me that they would accept violence and hatred to enforce their own interests.
I wonder how we can preserve and defend this “miracle of normality“, the openness of our society, joint study across borders, the pro-active reconciliation between Polish and Germans.
During the discussion on a thematic focus of our current semester program, Rafał Mocny, my Polish colleague from the Słubice Student Christian Fellowship PARKLETOS, suggested the biblical word for the annual Biblical watchword.
“Seek peace and pursue it.” – Psalm 34, verse 15.
“Seek peace and pursue it.” In a hectic time, in the face of exams and theses, under the pressure of countless, supposedly important dates and in the abundance of daily commitments, somebody is longing for rest and inner peace and is seeking them in the own home, perhaps on the on the cozy couch. If it gets too hard, there you can just turn off the TV or the tablet and have rest. But that is not a solution. Nothing will change in this unpeacefull world around me and inside me. Retreating into your own home is no solution in the long run!
The disciples of Jesus learnt about this. The evangelist John tells of it:
“Peace be with you!” Suddenly the Risen One stands in the room and says these words to them, the disciples who hide themselves after the death of Jesus (Jn 20:21). The disciples look up. They see Jesus himself with their own eyes. He has stepped through the wall of their fears, he is back in the middle of them. “Peace with you!”
Peace, Shalom, Salam. These words are the salutation of people in the Arab world to this day. Their salutation means peace in the broad sense: Salvation and prosperity, success, integrity for every single man; prosperity and good fellowship in the community.
It is such peace that Jesus wants for his disciples. It is a peace that is rooted in God and grows in connection with Him. It is endowed with a gentle, puzzling power: this peace can disarm people. It allows them to remove the shell they want to protect from others. Through this peace, somebody can overcome those walls that others have built around themselves. Yes, they can pass through them to take away their fear.
“Seek peace and pursue it.” This is far from easy. The theologian and later resistance fighter Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed this out already in 1934. At an ecumenical meeting in Denmark in 1934, he said:
“There is no way to peace on the path of security. Because peace must be dared.” –
At that time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer also admonished the assembled Christians from many countries and churches:
“Peace is the opposite of security. Demanding collateral means distrust, and this distrust gives birth to war. Seeking collateral means: wanting to protect yourself. Peace means: to surrender oneself completely to the commandment of God, not to secure, but in faith and obedience to lay the history of the peoples in the hand of the Almighty God and not selfishly want to dispose of them.”
Then his admonitory words were heeded by few. Creating peace on the path to security and gaining one's own safety at the expense of others led to a catastrophe of terrible proportions. To this day, traces of the war unleashed by Hitler and his followers can be seen in our twin city – not to mention the traces in the hearts and souls of innumerable people.
“Peace with you!” – Shalom! – Salam!
Thus, the Risen One saluted his disciples and overcame their shock. Let us also inspire by the Risen One!
A first step may be the peace salutation “Peace with you” to live in the little things of our everyday life. No matter how we greet people, whether with "Hello", "Good morning" or whatever, we can always think along in our thoughts: “Shalom! – Salam! – Peace with you!” With every peace salutation, spoken and lived, we honour those who are different from ourselves. We guard the hope that a friend hides in the stranger, that swords become plowshares and sometimes wings shimmer under an armor.
When we meet each other in this way, I have the confidence that our hunting for peace will become a feast ... – a feast, as the theologian Peter Spangenberg describes it in his translation of Psalm 34:
All my life, I want to tell you how great God is,
and bright songs about him should always live in my heart.
My innermost life should shine so
that other people take courage when they feel bad.
Celebrate this joy with me, so that it becomes a feast of love for God.
God cares for those who love Him
and surrounds them protectively like an angel;
then he is completely there.
We can perceive with all five senses,
how good God's gifts are.
He who believes so does not fall out of life.
If you own a lot and have a lot of money,
you are very poor inside because fear rules.
Children understand this best
when God says: Come, I want to explain it to you!
You want to enjoy life and always know that life makes sense.
Be careful that you always stay true,
that you adhere to the truth.
Do good and always look for peace.
Pursue it until you have it.
Then your heart can be saddened,
and your feelings can get completely confused,
so that you feel battered and in the end.
That can hurt a lot.
But God takes you out there again
and takes the burden of the soul.
So seek peace now and pursue it into your everyday life as you study or teach, as you meet other people.
And this peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. (Phil. 4:7)
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