Opening Service ECIC 21

Ljungskile
folkhögskola / Gothenburg May 3, 2016

Luke 24:48: “And ye are witnesses of these
things.”

We have
come here together from many European countries; we are united as Christians
from various denominational backgrounds.

100 years
ago, Europe was in the midst of World War I, Christians fighting on both sides,
the so-called Dialectical Theology claimed after World War I that Christianity
must be rediscovered in order to prevent another war. Thirty years later, the
terror regime of the Nazi started another World War, the Holocaust showed what
humans are capable of.

After the
Second World War, Christians in Germany confessed their guilt; they did not
sufficiently bear witness and did not confess valiantly enough the truth of the
Gospel.

We are
thankful, that we could live in peace for the last 70 years in Europe, it
seemed, Europe had become a success model.

However,
the refugee crisis shows us how the very foundation of Europe is threatened. On
the one hand, there are right wing groups and politicians on the rise, they
claim to defend Europe’s Christian heritage against Islam, sowing fear and
inducing hostility against foreigners, urging that Europe’s borders be closed
to refugees.

On the
other hand, Christians and churches from all backgrounds are helping the
refugees, demanding that Europe grant shelter for those fleeing persecution,
regardless of their religious affiliation. The political arena has become a
place again where Christians can and must bear witness again. We have to spell
out in public what the Biblical command (“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger,
nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Ex 22,21)  means to us today.

We are here
for the European Christian Internet Conference. The main topic is the “Web of
Emotions”: We read in the program: “Marketing clips, viral videos, cat-content,
YouTube and Instagram celebrities, racist comments – the web is full of
emotions. Strong emotions strengthen an experience and connect us to others as
well as our on-line and the off-line realities. It’s important to find ways to
express quiet and more hidden emotions so that complexity of human life can be
present in every social sphere of communication. Without emotions there
is no real digital experience.“

Social
Networks have become a battleground; you can find full-fledged racist
commentaries that one would hardly say in an off-line situation. The web has
become a place with no or a very low threshold. There is pure hatred online but
we also find expressions of love and compassion on the web. There are Facebook
groups called #RefugeesWelcome in which help and support for refugees is being
organized, ordinary citizens share the Internet bandwidth through free Wi-Fi
networks with refugees. The Internet allows for a culture of sharing. And last
but not least, the Internet provides means of communication for refugees.

The
Internet has become a place where we live, where human beings show their best
and their worst sides. And the refugee crisis is a catalyst for people showing
their emotions, there is racism and hatred but there is also love and
compassion. However, what do we do, if we encounter racism on the Web, if we
are shown racist commentaries in our news stream? Do we ignore them? Do we
report them? What do we do if lies about refugees are spread? Do we set them
right? Do we engage in arguments and tell publicly what the Bible teaches us
about refugees? Or do we duck and cover – and hope that the racist
commentaries will go away by themselves? Or are we witnesses of God’s love to
all of humankind and engage in counter speech whenever we encounter racism and
hatred. One lesson we can learn from the past is that as Christians we must
confess our faith if human beings are denied to be treated as human beings.

God may
give us strength to be his witnesses. The Risen Christ may give us his power to
overcome all our fears and our complacency when we are called to bear witness
for the Gospel – offline and online.

Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi – adapted –

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

to be listened to as to listen carefully to others;

to receive attention as to pay attention to by neighbors;

to strive for online reputation as to show others respect online;

to be friended as to be a friend to others;

God, grant that I may not so much seek

for my content to be shared as to share the content of others;

for my tweets to be retweet as to retweet others;

for my posts to be shared as to share the posts of my contacts;

for me to be liked as to like others.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Ralf Peter Reimann – reimann@ekir.de

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