You are Witness

At my alma mater, Oberlin College outside of Cleveland, OH

there is controversy every graduation.

The controversy is whether to walk through the memorial arch that sits on the town square,

which is the official route of the procession to receive your diploma,

or to walk around the memorial arch.

The arch commemorates 13 missionaries and their 5 children who lost their lives

in the Shansi province of China in 1900.

The congregational church in Oberlin had been sending missionaries to that region

for the past 20 years, and had had a lot of success.

Thousands of Chinese were becoming Christian.

But some Chinese thought that this foreign religion was a bad thing.

They were well familiar with colonialism around the world,.

and didn’t want Western imperialism taking over their culture.

It wasn’t an idle fear, either—8 different countries had taken land in China since 1880.

So they fought back in what has become known as The Boxer Rebellion.

Oberlin’s missionary families were among those slain in the violence—

Along with 32,000 Chinese Christians.

Walking around the arch was a protest that the Chinese victims were not recognized

and that the arch only seems to tell one side of the story.

The memorial arch is emblazoned with the words, Ye Are Witnesses.

It’s a quote from today’s Gospel lesson from Luke.

The disciples were faced with a controversy, too.

Jesus had died a gruesome death at the hands of the authorities

Being associated with him was dangerous.

But there were reports that he was alive, risen from the dead.

Some thought it was an old wives’ tale, but others believed it to be true.

The disciples didn’t know what to think or what to do next.

But while they were discussing these things, Jesus suddenly appeared among them.

He calmed their fears and eased their doubts by showing them he was real:

his hands, his side; he could even eat breakfast!

Then reminded them that the scriptures had foretold his death and rising from the grave

and he gave them instructions:

You are witnesses, he said-- witnesses to my resurrection.

But what did this mean?

These disciples were still in danger- they could be under attack next.

Should they go into hiding? Mount a rebellion?

At a time like this, it seems that only flight or fight is an option.

But the disciples chose differently.

You can see it in the first lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts is actually Luke’s sequel to his Gospel,

and he tells of how the disciples neither lashed out in violence

nor hid out of fear.

Instead, the went public with their news: healing people in Jesus’ name

telling the story to all who will listen,

bringing peace and forgiveness in the name of Jesus.

It is really an incredible story.

Think about all the people who are targeted because their religion around the world right now.

The Christians beheaded in Libya, and targeted in the university shooting in Kenya

are on our minds

but remember that other faiths have been targeted too

The bombing of a Jewish market in France after the attack on the magazine Charlie Ebdo,

Shia and Sunni Muslims who don’t subscribe to extremism are targeted by ISIS in Iraq

Even in our own country, three Muslim students were murdered in Chapel Hill in February.

In this week as we mark the anniversaries of the Boston bombings and the Oklahoma City bombings,

we remember that religious violence is not limited to one sect or faith.

It is something that all people of faith must stand up to.

Imagine if Christians today did what the first Christians did--

What would happen if Christians went public with their message about forgiveness and healing

if we were to speak out against religious violence of all kinds

care for people on all sides of the conflict

instead of reaching back to give a punch in the gut?

It may seem impossible, but that’s what the people of Oberlin did a 100 years ago.

That Boxer Rebellion was every bit as brutal as the news we hear out of the Middle East

Mobs swept through Beijing, rounding up Chinese Christians, looting their neighborhoods

even burning people alive in their homes.

The people of Oberlin not only built an arch

They started an exchange program where Oberlin students when to the Shansi region

to help with the organization of schools

and where they would receive training in language and culture.

The program still exists today, now sending students to five East Asian Countries

building bridges and making peace where once there was fear and bloodshed.

Ye Are Witnesses.

The missionaries were witnesses, telling the story of Jesus in dangerous times.

But so were the founders of the Shansi exchange program

witnesses to the power of Jesus’ resurrection that moves you beyond retaliation and fear

to peace making and gutsy love for all kinds of people.

And that’s our job, too.

As modern day disciples, Jesus says to us, You are witnesses to these things.

You have seen a different way.

Be a witness to the power of the resurrection to make new things possible in our world.

On the day of my graduation, I walked through the arch.

But a friend of mine, a rock climber, tired of all the controversy,

rigged up his climbing gear and went over the arch.

And I think that’s a good metaphor for what we are supposed to do as witnesses.

Not let these complicated issues and the violence can separate us into ‘us’ and ‘them’

but to rise above that, and search for higher, common ground

where we can all meet, hear from the other, and receive and be the peace that Jesus offers.

Children’s sermon: Ghost Busters

Ghost buster routine. You seen the movie Ghost Busters? “I ain’t fraid of no ghosts.”

Are you afraid of ghosts?

For me, not exactly, but I used to wake up without my glasses on and think I saw something moving in the closet. Scared me so much, I put my head under the covers!!

Disciples also scared. Why do you think they might be scared? (Jesus like a ghost, get in trouble/killed like Jesus, didn’t know what to do)

First thing Jesus said was “Peace be with you.” No need to be afraid. Then proved it to them he wasn’t a ghost—touch him, ate fish.

Jesus busts the things we are afraid of too—by being with us. As he overcame the hard stuff (pain and death) he helps us overcome our hard stuff too.

An Arch of Understanding Oberlin 175th anniversary, 2008

In 1900, nearly 200 Western missionaries and more than 32,000 of China’s faithful were massacred in a campaign to banish the perceived Western imperialism being thrust on China’s land and culture. The most severe persecution took place in the Shansi province, where the so-called “Oberlin Band” of missionaries—men, women, and children—had flocked since the late 1880s.

To honor the victims, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions proposes a Memorial Arch in Oberlin and donates it to the College to commemorate Congregational Church missionaries and their children. The Memorial Arch bears two bronze tablets with the names of the 13 missionaries and their five children who were killed by the Boxers.

Builders laid the cornerstone of the monument on October 16, 1902; it was dedicated on May 14, 1903. Built of Indiana limestone, the arch was designed by architect J.L. Silsbee of Chicago. The statement, “Ye Are Witnesses,” is engraved in the center and emblematizes the memory of those slain. The missionaries provide education and medical care and spreading the gospel in the Shansi region of China. Many criticize the arch for failing to acknowledge the Chinese victims of the rebellion. The Oberlin Class of 1994 resolved the omission by raising money for two new plaques to honor their service and sacrifice.

Oberlin’s roots in Shansi began in the late 1880s, a period shared by foreign missionary activity and increasing military presence in China. Japanese, British, Dutch, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Russian military powers seized Chinese land and wealth. A secret Chinese society known as the “Boxers,” or “The Righteous Ones,” was born out of frustration and foreign influence.

The Boxers worked behind the scenes to recruit members in every part of the country. Toward the end of the 1890s, foreign missionary activity became increasingly difficult, and Chinese Christians were persecuted and accused of being “running dogs” for Western imperialists. The turmoil erupted in 1900, with mobs sweeping through Beijing and massacring Chinese Christians, even burning them alive in their homes.

Despite the brutality of the Boxer Rebellion, Oberlin College initiated an educational exchange program in Shansi Province in 1908. Oberlin Shansi was founded to provide support and guidance for the consolidation of educational efforts at the Ming Hsien Schools in Taigu, Shansi Province, China. In 1918, the Shansi Association sent young Oberlinians to Ming Hsien, starting a tradition of sending Oberlin graduates to universities in Asia.

Today, Oberlin Shansi is a thriving educational and cultural exchange program that has expanded to universities in India, Indonesia, and Japan. It is one of the oldest educational exchange institutions in the United States.

The best I can explain it is this

When someone close you dies, there is shock and grief—

and the anxiety this could happen to me

But for some people, it is like waking up

suddenly a whole lot things that once seemed important lose their urgency.

They can let go of stuff they were holding onto.

Questions about how you want to live your life come up:

what kind of goals you have, what kind of person you want to be.

You make a bucket list in earnest, and it’s not just about the places you want to see.

The death is not just about missing your loved one or friend; for many people, it changes your life.

ELCA presiding bishop offers condolences to Coptic Orthodox Diocese

2/20/2015 11:00:00 AM

​ CHICAGO (ELCA) – The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), expressed her condolences and offered support and prayer to the "Coptic Church family" following the news of the martyrdom of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya at the hands of ISIS terrorists.

"May they find eternal rest, and may their loved ones experience God's comfort and peace in this time of mourning," wrote Eaton in a Feb. 19 letter to His Grace Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles. "Even in the brutality of their tragic deaths, they remained steadfast witnesses to Jesus Christ in a world consumed with hatred and violence," she said. "It is important that we remember the powerful sacrifices our brothers and sisters in the faith make daily for the sake of the gospel." "Pope Francis has described the challenge before us as 'the ecumenism of blood.' Twenty-one new brothers have been added to this great cloud of witnesses, and we mourn," wrote Eaton, who recently returned from a two-week ecumenical pilgrimage, which included a visit to Rome. "The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will continue to hold these martyrs in our prayers, even as we ask God to redeem those who have fallen prey to the evils of terrorism. We will also pray for those in your community in the United States and worldwide who live in fear and despair. We will lift you up to God, asking for your continued strength and wisdom, as you lead God's people in this time of turmoil," Eaton wrote.

- See more at:

Jan 4, 2015, Crux “All things Catholic” online

The Middle East is not the only place where Christians are at risk, and radical Islam is not the only threat. Of the 26 victims, only two — one in Syria, and another in the Central African Republic — were killed by militant Muslim groups.

That observation does not minimize the danger posed by forces such as ISIS and Boko Haram, but it does make a simple point: Radical Islam could disappear tomorrow, and it would not mean Christians are safe.

It’s a fallacy to think Christians face threats only where they’re a minority. Of the more than 2 billion Christians in the world, some 200 million live in countries or regions where they’re a statistical minority, yet it’s obviously not just those places where violence occurs.

The country with the highest number of murdered pastoral workers in 2014 was actually Mexico, the second largest Catholic nation in the world after Brazil. The reality is that there are no “danger-free” zones.

Press Release and prayer service for the victims of the Chapel Hill murders (Newington, CT, 2/12/15) The Muslim Coalition of Connecticut together with the Islamic centers in the Greater Hartford area wish to express our profound sadness and deepest condolences to the families of Deah Barakat, age 23, his wife of one month Yusor Abu-Salha, age 21, and her sister Razan Abu Salha, age 19. From their activism and community service, it is clear that the Muslim community in North America has lost three bright stars. Deah Barakat, a dental student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, raised funds for helping Syrian refugees. His wife Yusor and her sister Razan were also university students at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University, respectively. When students are killed in a horrific manner like this, the whole nation mourns the loss of innocence and should ponder the reason for these deaths. Within a few moments the dreams, lives, and aspirations of these fine youth were shattered by a man whose rage and hate overcame him. Blinded to the preciousness of human life, he killed not only three innocent human beings but has also shaken the spiritual lives of their friends, parents, and community. Addressing the cause of this hate is vital for a nation that values life. Their vicious “execution style” murder by an anti-religious extremist highlights the need to educate the public on extremism in all communities. The truth is that hate, terror, and murder have no religion. As the White House hosts a summit on violent extremism we ask that the White House address the alarming rise of Islamophobia in our country. If we do not take a stand against the perpetuation of hateful speech we will all lose out. We appeal to all faith leaders to lead the way in combating the fear, mistrust and hate and be a part of the healing that all our faiths call us to. We encourage our elected leaders to stand against hate and racism in all its forms. As a nation that values mutual respect and diversity, we pray to Almighty God that through this tragedy we are brought closer together. Contact – Reza Mansoor, MD – Board member Muslim Coalition of Connecticut and President Islamic Association of Greater Hartford – 860-794-4011 Date - Friday, February 13th 2015

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