Mr Jack Karn
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2018

In the name of one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Good morning, it is a great joy and honor to be with you on this day.  My name is Jack Karn and I am the Site Director for the 3rd annual Jerusalem Peacebuilders Service-Learning Program being hosted here at Christ Church.  As the setting for my first sermon, I must say that I am excited, humbled, and a little, let’s be honest, scared. 

Between July 1-12, 16 Israeli and Palestinian teenagers (Muslim, Christian, and Jewish) between the ages of 15-16 are here learning about service and its multiple connections to peace.  They do this through volunteering at IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), visiting Yale University and meeting students engaged in public service, traveling to New York City to visit the UN and the US Mission to meet with diplomats, attending leadership and peacebuilding workshops, and developing speeches on these topics to take home and present to their communities as follow-up activities during the upcoming 2018-2019 school year.

These teens come from diverse backgrounds, both in terms of their religious and ethnic identities, as well as their hometowns and perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For nearly two weeks during the program, they play together, they dialogue together, they learn together, and they grow together.  Positions are challenged, deep feelings are expressed, and good will is exchanged freely.

As a person who feels called to the ministry of peacemaking, my work with Jerusalem Peacebuilders fills me with that sense of total satisfaction that can only come from God.  Over my five years of working with JPB, I have facilitated nine summer programs and launched JPB’s in-school programming in the Holy Land.  In total, I have worked with over 300 young peacebuilders in these programs.   

What began as a cry out to God for a purpose to serve humanity, has now unfolded into a blossoming confidence and affirmation to participate in reconciliation and service, as opposed to only wish for it. In my mind, there is no doubt that God is guiding JPB and opening up the hearts and minds of those we serve to hear this prophetic message of mercy, justice, and love.

Today’s Gospel reading is about the Great Commission.  And that work of spreading God’s love, healing lives, and shaping the future, is alive and well among these young people and the mission of Jerusalem Peacebuilders.

The story reads that after being rejected by members of his hometown, Jesus’ moves to other nearby villages and continues teaching. He begins to send out his most faithful followers, the 12 disciples, to share in his mission. He gives them authority over unclean spirits and orders them to only take the most primitive of supplies, meaning that they must rely on the hospitality, charity, and kindness of those they meet along the way. Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to distinguish between whom they meet, Jew or Gentile, but simply to go out into the surrounding area and trust in the generosity of strangers who will welcome them. Interestingly, he does not tell them to submit to those who reject them, but to “shake off the dust on their feet as a testimony against them.” This commission to serve all who will welcome the 12 disciples can be seen as an invitation for us to share God’s Justice, Mercy, and Love all across this Earth. That Justice, Mercy, and Love isn’t just for Christians, it’s for the whole world.  And it’s never easy sharing it.

For me, it hasn’t always been easy to share it.  While serving a year abroad in Jerusalem as a Missionary for the Episcopal Church, I would travel once a week to a refugee camp in the West Bank to teach in an impoverished, all-Girls, Muslim school.  Each time, I would cross a maze of traffic, military checkpoints, pollution and noise, and increased danger to reach the school.  I traveled lightly and always on foot, as I knew in my heart I needed to experience this place of great suffering from a place of near total vulnerability. With a little pocket money in my backpack, a small bottle of water, and the clothes on my back, I relied on my faith in God to get me to the school and back home to Jerusalem safely.  Once at the school, I again navigated a maze of corridors and hallways, where every woman wore a hijab and a conservative dress down to the ankles. When I made it to the classroom, I was met with regular power outages that caused some disruption to the educational environment. As the only young, white, American, male for miles, it was truly humbling and a bit unnerving.  At times, I didn’t think I could do it.

Two things kept me coming back: 1). The confidence that I was participating in Christ’s Mission of healing the world; and 2). That the joy and happiness I witnessed in my nine students week after week for coming and serving them though teaching peacebuilding.  For me, these intangible gifts have brought me far more satisfaction than any amount of money or success ever will.  For me, I knew that even though my impact was small, I was contributing to a positive change in educating these nine young girls to be peacebuilders in their community.  

The story never ends with me, but only grows longer with each year that JPB welcomes more and more brave young teens into our programs.  I remember a young participant from last summer named Adan, who shared her struggle with depression and self-confidence – an issue people face all across the world.  A faithful, and intelligent young woman, she told me how she had considered taking her own life to end the pain of it all.  Like all of us, she faces the overwhelming weight of a world filled with sorrow, misery, and violence. But something happened in Adan that changed her life. I am not exactly sure if it was a specific moment or a change overtime, but in a dialogue one beautiful afternoon in the forests of Vermont, Adan told her Jewish participants that she loved them no matter what happened. She told them that she would not let the divisions of this world stop her from loving them. She told them that she was committed to staying connected for the sake of a greater good.  

Like Adan, and myself, we are all commissioned, Jew or non-Jew, by Jesus, to go out into this world and share in the Good News that is God’s Love and Mercy. Christ sends out his disciples in pairs for a reason, that without being in relationship with someone else, our power to transform this world is greatly diminished.  Ultimately, we must rely upon our trust in God and in that of our fellow brothers and sisters to help us along our journey as healers and peacebuilders in a broken world.  We need each other for mutual generosity and sharing in the gifts of God.  And with this type of loving community and support, the work of making peace, healing lives, and shaping the future will only continue to grow. Amen.