PSR Alums Holy Land Pilgrimage Reflections

February 6, 2013

In January 2013, PSR alumni/ae and friends made a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land where they looked at its historic-biblical significance and its current social and political context in the world. Twenty-one alumni/ae and friends of PSR traveled to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, which was organized and led by PSR alumna, Rev. Allison K. Mark (MDiv 2005), Katherine Kunz, PSR Director of Advancement and Alumni Relations, and Laurie Isenberg, PSR Director of Community & Continuing Education.

Read about some of these experiences through individual reflections by PSR alums below: Lenten Devotions, A Trip to the Holy Land, and A Cup of Coffee, Two Soldiers, Walls and Bridges. As well as the experiences of PSR Alumna, Rev. Heather Hammer (MDiv 2006) on her blog.

Lenten Devotions by Kirsten Linford (MDiv 2001)

Mark 2: 1-12 – Jesus Heals a Paralytic

The day we went to Capernaum was like a day of highlights from the Jesus Ministry Tour.  We went out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee (as Jesus was known to do with the disciples), up to the Mount of the Beattitudes (where it is thought Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount), and down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee (a place like where he spoke to the people and called his disciples).  The shoreline of the Sea of Galilee is very similar to how it was in Jesus’ time, so it is a good place to walk in his footsteps and feel his presence.

And then there is Capernaum.  Built right on the shore, you can see the remains of some of this village, dug up over years by a parade of archaeologists.  One house is thought to have been Peter’s house, but quoting scriptures like this passage from Mark, our guide thought the house may have belonged to Jesus himself.  The area where houses and synagogue have been unearthed feels very small, and it seems entirely likely that if Jesus were at home, the whole town would know about it.  It’s easy to imagine a crowd of people quickly congregating outside the door, wrapping themselves around the house, waiting for a turn to see Jesus.  Hoping he would lay a hand on them in healing or in blessing.  And whether or not they even believed the stories of his work, it would have been impossible to stay away, when it seemed the whole town had come out.

In our time, a small church has been built, on stilt-like pillars above the ruins of the house – Peter’s or Jesus’.  And you can walk up the steps and into the church.  In the center of the floor is a large opening, covered by glass tiles (like a skylight from the house below).  You can stand and look down through the panes of glass and into what remains of the house – stone and dirt and memories and  the offerings pilgrims have left.  It is not hard to imagine those who climbed up on the roof, tore away the thatching, and lowered their friend down to see Jesus.  The boy next door.  The one who lived among them.  Who walked and built and fished and swam and lived with them.  The miracle in their midst.  It is not hard to imagine the people who were drawn to Jesus – this lifelong, overnight sensation.  It is not hard to imagine the ones who were skeptical that the boy they had known all along was suddenly something new.  It is not hard to think they may have felt him all along, and knew he was something special.  And yet, they all came to say, “We have never seen anything like this!”

We have never seen anything like this.

John 5: 1-15 – Jesus Heals on the Sabbath

For longer than we can really understand, people have been going to Jerusalem.  Traveling from locations near and far, from lives absolutely similar or completely different from the people of that city.  Making pilgrimage.  Having come by foot, by beast, by car, by boat, by plane, they arrive at the city, and still have to ascend the hill – to where the Temple stood.  To the place where pilgrims today come to the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. 

It’s that long journey I imagine as I read this text about the man at the pool of Beth-zatha.  Sick as he has been for nearly four decades, he somehow makes his way to Jerusalem and up the hill to the pool.  And having yearned for that journey, having struggled so long to get there, he finds himself at the water, but unable to manage to get in.  And I marvel at how often that is true.  We get ourselves right up to the edge of the miracle, and then find it so hard to get in.  At the last minute, we run out of energy or strength or hope or faith, get overcome by exhaustion or confusion or fear – and we can’t get in.  We hover right on the edge of the Spirit of God, unable to be immersed in the healing we so desperately need.

It is in that moment that we need someone to come and meet us there.  For we realize we cannot do it alone.  We were never meant to do it alone.  We need someone to help us into the water, someone to accompany us, someone to show us that we have already found the healing we seek.  We have met the miracle, and we didn’t even know it.  When we have fought and struggled and crawled to a place that promises peace, it is hard not to give up five minutes before the miracle.  But if we stop, and wait for just a moment, we are reminded that the healing often comes while we are on the journey, not just at the destination.  That the blessing is found in the company of neighbors and friends, angels and strangers, and the Christ who comes to meet us, when we are right on the edge. 

A Trip to the Holy Land by Dick Bastear (BD 1959)

     Sometimes a picture looms in your mind of what you want to do, and the image taking shape is relentless. I was pulled toward that image like iron to a magnet, yet it eluded me. I used to say to friends that I was a pilgrim on his way up to Jerusalem. That was a poetic image of a guy who was seeking for a clearer picture of God. Israel seemed to sum it up. It is the place where people of faith seek to finalize their quest for ultimate truth. But saying that and then doing that were two different things.

     Way back in 1953 while serving in the Army’s peacekeeping force in Trieste, Italy, I purchased tickets on a Lloyd Triestini steamer destined for Haifa, Israel. My personal life was in shambles, and I had turned my back to everything I ever learned about living faithfully for God. Yet to my surprise I wanted to go to the Holy Land and walk where Jesus walked. Weeks later, rumors of trouble loomed over Trieste as Italian Armistice Day neared and angry crowds gathered. All military leaves were cancelled. Soon we had to face those demonstrators and my dream of visiting Israel evaporated.

     One way to deal with a broken dream is to suppress it. Just stop thinking about it. And that worked for a while. I got discharged from the Army, experienced a call to ministry, and busied myself with serving churches. Preoccupied with shepherding the sheep, supporting my family, paying bills, and being a responsible citizen, I pushed my dream into the cellar of my mind, and shut the door.

     But this dream, like Martin Luther King’s, would not go away. Every time I made a mental list of places I wanted to see before I die, Israel was at the top of the list. Yet it seemed so far away, almost untouchable, so I deferred my choice. Instead, my wife and I visited Hawaii, Great Britain, and the heart of Europe. On my own, while single, I made a grand sweep of South America, followed by ventures to Mexico, the Canadian Rockies, Russia, and my ancestral home of Czechoslovakia.  

     All the while the vision simmered in the recesses of my mind. “When will you visit Israel?” I asked of myself. In 2012 the answer resounded with “Now!”  My wife and I checked travel catalogues, talked to a tour guide, but could not find a trip that rose above the level of a tourist trap. In such tours you are guided to all the holy sites, and then shuffled on to the next place of veneration, until you are ready to leave for home. But we wanted more.

      Internet mail offered a tantalizing clue. The seminary where I studied four years for ministry announced a ten-day trip to the Holy Land.  The trip would be led by trained guides from the Society for Biblical Studies. Now we were on to something special. I called Pacific School of Religion, my seminary in Berkeley, California, and talked to Katherine Kunz, their point person for the trip. With more questions simmering in my mind, I called Peter Miano, the director of the Society for Biblical Studies. He assured us that the purpose of the trip would be two-fold: to search out the places of Jesus’ ministry, and to take a look at the cultural collision between Israel and Palestinians. We followed up that conversation by mailing a check as a deposit for two people to travel to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, January 6 to 15, 2013.

     Which is more powerful: the anticipation of such a trip, or actually taking it? Both exerted a powerful pull.  I soon shared with my friends that I “would soon walk where Jesus walked.” That was sweet anticipation. But then reality intruded. Would I be up to such a trip? I am a senior citizen now, and where we are going is hilly country. Could I hike those hills? Another question emerged: what if my wife or I got sick on the trip? So we bought a Cadillac coverage insurance policy at a Cadillac price to cover that contingency. I bought new luggage, and we began packing. Marilyn, my wife, created a checklist for each of us. We didn’t miss a thing.

     The flight over took 16 hours plus a four-hour layover in Chicago.  Leaving San Francisco at 9:30 AM on January 6, we arrived in Amman, Jordan at 9:00 PM January 7, tired and hyper at the same time. We wanted sleep so as to get on Jordanian time, but sleep was impossible. Surprise followed surprise. It was raining in Amman. This was not an ordinary rain. It didn’t stop raining for days. It was the heaviest rain in twenty years, we were told.

     I thought this region of the world was a desert, much like Lawrence of Arabia experienced in World War I. Not so. Amman was surrounded by farms growing fruits and vegetables. Those farms sat side-by- side, and extended all the way down to the Jordan valley. I stopped in a bakery to buy a cookie, understanding nothing about the value of Jordanian money, and little of their culture or language.  I gave the clerk one dinar and he grinned at making such a sale. I must have overpaid him. He kept the change. I felt ill at ease, like a stranger in a foreign country. But the cookie was sweet and delicious, and helped make up for my deficiency as a consumer. There were no supermarkets. Instead, there was row after row of tiny shops specializing in one type of product.

     Warned that Jordan was a land of refugees, I could see the truth of that. These are proud people, but their shops are worn with age, and the shopkeepers bundle up against the chilly wind and rain just outside. There is no heat in the shops, except that created by the bodies inside the shops. This is a polyglot society. These are refugees from wars in Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Some of those wars were caused by American intervention in the region, and I felt some discomfort at being in their midst, perhaps perceived as a part of the cause of their poverty. But I sensed no hostility, and many of the Jordanians thrived on a culture of friendliness. Their smiles were genuine and frequent.

     We spent a morning exploring Jerash. The city was an ancient trading center and stopping point for trade with the east. The size of the city gate, built by the emperor Hadrian, impressed everyone immediately. Jerash is one of the best-preserved sites from antiquity. The rain made the temples of Zeus, Artemis, and Aphrodite glisten as they reflected the light breaking through the clouds. The whole scene was all the more spectacular. Peter Miano, our guide, wanted us to see that these ruins revealed more than the immensity of the buildings. This impressive city revealed the power of cultural influence in the area. Alexander the Great infused Greek culture with his conquests in this region as he sought to marry east and west. The Romans took over in the first century BC and continued by mimicking what Alexander had begun.

     Lunch was a cultural collision of east and west. We went to a Jordanian restaurant and found out that we had two choices for lunch: schwarma’s or felafels, take your choice. I had a vague notion of what is a felafel, but the other was a total unknown. I ordered a schwarma to get in sync with their culture. It turned out to be a wrap with beef, vegetables, and cheese inside, and then fat fried.  Fat fried is a no-no for me, just a year out of open-heart surgery. But, “When in Rome….”  So I came, I saw, and I liked it. Fortunate for me that I liked it, because for the next 10 days that was our luncheon choice. But no other schwarma was as zesty as the one at Jerash. Then, of course, there was always the chance to order a felafel instead.

      I was eager to walk where Jesus walked. I wanted to get in touch with his life and ministry, to see him in the setting of his land, and how it might have looked 2000 years ago. That kind of travel required a sharp eye that can pick up on details, as well as an active imagination. Our bus driver, Mike, drove us to Nazareth, to St. Margaret’s Retreat Center. That was our home for two days. It turned out that we visited “holy sites” associated with Jesus’ life. However, modern Nazareth has crowded out the original village of Jesus boyhood. And the sites we visited were churches built by the Greek Orthodox or by the Catholic Church to venerate some event from Jesus boyhood. My imagination was subdued in this kind of environment. Then, my wife developed a bad cough in the chilly air. Our St. Margaret’s manager asked his son to drive my wife and I downtown to a pharmacy where a young Palestinian clerk helped us fill a prescription, and buy some over-the-counter medicine. Nazareth is a part of the West Bank, and a Palestinian town. Peter had told us of the friendly nature of the Palestinian people, and he was proved right. Our clerk promptly filled our order.

     My cultural learning began in earnest in Nazareth. Of course the local mosque was close to St. Margaret’s. Every morning at 5:15, using a loudspeaker, the mullah called the faithful to prayer. We were awakened by the mournful tones of his call to prayer. He did this five times a day. We did not see many of the faithful stop to pray, but we were told that they pray with their minds at the sound of his voice. Alongside of this was the manner of dress amongst the women. The older generation wore long dresses and coats that extended all the way to their feet. They wore scarves to cover their heads in public. Shopping bags draped off their arms, with which they carried all that they had bought. They walked everywhere. But, the younger generation of women dressed differently. From the waist down they wore chic boots with straps that gave the boots a classy flair.  They had a pair of black slacks that accentuated their shapely legs, held up with a fancy belt. But from the waist up they told a different story. They wore a heavy black coat to ward off the chilly air, topped with a colorful scarf that gave some hint of Moslem modesty. Nazareth was a blend of ancient and modern. I was fascinated by the sights of modern Nazareth.

     Finally, Peter asked us to be ready to leave Friday morning,  after breakfast. We loaded onto the bus and headed toward Galilee. It was only an hour away, but along the road history loomed for any who wanted to sense it. We passed through Cana of Galilee, where St. John tells us that Jesus performed his first miracle: turning water into wine. In the far distance, Mt. Tabor emerged, the highest peak in the area. Tradition says that Tabor was the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus took on heavenly hues in the presence of Peter, James, and John. On the right lay Tiberias, site of one of King Herod’s palaces, which he used for governing this area. For a guy who loves and has taught history, this region was alive with biblical history.

     Capernaum was our destination that morning. Mike drove us to a modern building on the shore of the lake, at the center of new Capernaum. Inside the building our guide made arrangements for a group boat trip on the lake, on the good ship “Faith.” While we waited, the building filled with tourists and pilgrims from abroad, seeking to let the gospel stories of Jesus at Capernaum come alive. Daniel Carmel was our captain, a converted Jew who became a Christian. Once out to the center of the lake he took a guitar, while a shipmate played the keyboard. The hills of Galilee surrounded the lake. I could see numerous coves where the hills bowed down to meet the lake. Natural amphitheaters, those coves were preaching points where Jesus could speak to crowds who flocked to hear him. Daniel sang “Amazing Grace,” and at his invitation we sang along with him. What a moment! Suddenly the scenes of Jesus’ ministry were real to me. This is where Jesus pushed out into a boat to speak to the crowds who pressed in on him. There in the village of Capernaum is where he healed many sick people, and the villagers were astonished by his healing powers. Out here on the lake is where he walked on water and calmed the fears of his disciples in a boat. My eyes misted over as a new kind of reality, a new vision of faith entered my heart.

     Four years of rigorous seminary training had taught me to measure gospel miracles in the light of modern theology. I faithfully learned my lessons: Scale Jesus down so that he can fit into our modern minds. I had done that for years. But today was different. Why diminish him when in his preaching he seeks to challenge us into a vision of God that can transform our lives from the mundane toward eternal verities? One of my teachers said: “We are saved in the realm of imagination.” My imagination fixed on the north star of Christ that moment. “Let your modern mind take a vacation, and bask in the light of what you see,” I thought. I continued to sing along with captain Daniel, taking in the sights and sounds of Galilee, remembering Jesus, and thriving on gospel memories now come alive. I felt deeply blessed. Was this not what my whole life up to this point led me to? The Psalmist wrote: “This is the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.” That said it all. For me, our boat trip was an epiphany.

     Later, we visited what has been excavated of the original Capernaum. The 4th century AD synagogue stood clearly outlined, and it revealed the truth of what Peter Miano had been saying: this was a crossroads of east and west. The synagogue showed distinct Greek architecture while creating a place of Jewish worship. What language did Jesus speak? He must have spoken Greek, for all the gospels are written in Greek. But he must also have known Aramaic, for he is quoted several times in that language. He was well versed in scripture  when most people could not read nor write. He was a man of the people, yet he stood head and shoulders above his peers. “What manner of man is this?” some asked after they witnessed a miracle healing. The creeds have attempted to answer that, but he still eludes our full understanding.

     We visited the Mount of Beatitudes where tradition holds that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. No one knows for sure if this was the place. But Constantine, the Roman emperor who made Christianity the religion of the empire, asked his mother to come to Palestine and identify the places of Jesus’ ministry. She built Greek Orthodox chapels wherever she could find evidence of Jesus’ ministry. However, the chapel on the Mount Of Beatitudes was built by the Catholic Church. We quietly walked through the gardens, lovingly tended, that provided a view of the lake. Here and there were marble slabs immortalizing verses of the beatitudes. If I lived here this would be a marvelous place to meditate and pray.

     But we moved on, this time to a chapel built right on the edge of the lake. This was the place where tradition holds that the risen Lord greeted Simon Peter, James and John after they had spent a night of fruitless fishing.  Showing them where to make a great catch of fish, the risen Lord invited them ashore to a fire where he had prepared roasted fish and bread. Three times he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answered, “You know I love you!” Then the Lord said to Peter, “Feed my sheep,” as if to say, love must be responsible to others if it is to meet the standard of Christ. (John 21:15-17). I could imagine the scene. It became so real to me as we stood there on the beach. A short distance away some flat rocks projected on the beach where the small, intimate group could share breakfast while sitting down. The skepticism of my modern enquiring mind melted away. I was a part of that group from 2000 years ago. How could this be? A poet wrote: “And ever and anon a trumpet sounds from the hid battlements of eternity.” I heard a trumpet sound there on the beach at Galilee. Time stood still.  Our trip came to a dramatic denouement at this place.

     In the village of Capernaum is a first century home that tradition says was the home of St. Peter. Built of stone, and octagonal or circular in shape, it could accommodate a small family. The roof had long ago disappeared, but it was obvious that planks or logs could have been used to provide a roof. Thus, Mark’s story of the paralytic lowered through the roof of the home where Jesus was preaching became clear to me. (Mark 2:1-12). The story took on a new dimension in my mind as I looked at the humble rock shelter. For here in such poverty Jesus performed a miracle of healing that lights the world today. I was privileged to be a witness of that event.

     Mike, our driver, then took us further around the lake to a place called, Yardenit. Tradition says that this was the place where John the Baptist called to Jesus, invited him into the Jordan River, and baptized him: “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” A hundred or more people lined the banks waiting their turn to enter the river, be totally immersed in the water, and emerge with a shout of joy on their lips. As I stood there watching I hoped they would see baptism as a paradigm of dying to self and rising to Christ. It was a deeply moving experience for them and for me.

     Mike now drove us down the Jordan valley to Jericho, then up the steep grade through the Judean wilderness to the city of Jerusalem, now mantled with snow. What a surprise. I had no idea that it snowed in Jerusalem! We pressed on to our hotel in Bethlehem, and spent our last three days in Judea. There was more to see and do, but I will save the story of our last three days until later.

     This trip became the fulfillment of a life dream. Yet, there was the reality of the situation on the ground. There was a cultural collision between Israeli’s and Palestinian’s. We saw evidence of it again and again. The Palestinians were walled off from Israeli’s, and miles of barbed wire kept them separate. We visited an Israeli Kibbutz, and a Jewish settlement, built on Palestinian land. We visited a Palestinian refugee camp. The director of the camp introduced us to some of the women who worked with a few sewing machines to produce tourist items, and a meager income. The whole scene began to take on the flavor of apartheid when we saw it so frankly. This truly was a cultural collision, with the Palestinians on the short end of the stick. Thus, while basking in the light of gospel events we were constantly reminded of an unfolding tragedy on the ground.

     We were in a land of sharp contrasts: in a land of contradictory opposites.  How could we make sense of all of this?  It took time to sort it out after we arrived home. I was lifted to the heights of a faith-vision in biblical Israel. But witnessing the painful collision of cultures made me aware that we live in a time of great tragedies. It surely was the kind of world that Jesus lived in. One thing redeems this situation: our commitment to build a better world, and God’s loving gift to us of reconciliation with Him.

A Cup of Coffee, Two Soldiers, Walls and Bridges by Rev. Jacqueline Meadows (MDiv 1974)

Psalm 36: 5-10, Luke 4: 14-21
January 27, 2013

I am so grateful to be back in ministry with you and to Martin Balding, Dr. Marlon Hall and Richard Gray you have my heart felt thanks for filling the pulpit while I was away (8:30 service Dave Meserve).

The church has certainly been in good hands during my absence but then again this church is skilled in lay leadership.

I didn’t need to worry when I am not here that quality ministry will continue.

While I have missed being in Ministry with you, the experiences I had “walking where Jesus walked” and in some cases climbed, will shape my ministry and life with you in the future.

It is my prayer that through my words this morning you can vicariously experiences
both the oppression and hope that exist in this ancient world of Jesus’.

There will be an opportunity in the future, in an informal setting to share with you, more in depth my reflections on this journey, share pictures and to say more about the Society for Biblical Studies, the organization that planned this faith based trip.

But my sharing this morning about the ancient world of Jesus needs to relate to our current understanding and mission to which Jesus calls us as reflected in our scriptures today.

Let me begin with a story about a cup of coffee.

The 21 members of this cross-cultural group that visited the Holy land stayed four nights at a Palestinian Hotel in Bethlehem early in the trip.

Each morning we had a buffet breakfast and incredible cuisine.

This hotel served only instant coffee however, a form of coffee I have never learned to appreciate.

On the second morning I noticed the breakfast attendant take a cup of Turkish Coffee to the receptionist at the desk.

By the way, for you who may not know, Turkish coffee is extremely strong, is served in a very small cup and a residue of coffee muck remains in the bottom fourth of the cup when you are finished.

When the attendant returned I ask if there was a possibility I could get a cup of “that”.

He said very graciously ”for you, yes.”

There were others in the group who were also addicted to non-instant coffee so when the small cup of Turkish coffee arrived I took a sip and passed it around to the other coffee addicted travelers.

As in most cases when we share our resources, there was enough for all.

The next morning I decided to push my luck and asked the attendant if I could again get another cup of Turkish Coffee, handing him $5.00 as I asked him.

He refused the money at first but upon my insistent took it.

In about 5 minutes he returned with not just one but four cups of Turkish Coffee making it available to others at the table as well.

This is only one example of the kind, generous and extensive hospitality we experienced from those of lowly means in the Biblical land.

We experienced such hospitality again in a humble Bedouin camp.

Bedouins had title to the land prior to the time Israel became a nation and trace their beginnings back to Abraham.

As Bedouin villages are not shown on Israeli maps they have their own maps indicating their locations.

They do not have public services provided by the state even though taxes are taken out of their salaries.

Even in emergencies, Israeli ambulance will not enter a village and women have been known to die in labor.

The Israeli army can bulldoze houses if the residents do not have a proper permit.

Yet they remain on the deeded land and strive to build essential services including water, electricity, and communication links.

With great graciousness Khalie a former schoolteacher and leader at this particular Bedouin camp opened his home to us and shared his story with us.

We sat on floor mats place around the room as he and the two of his seven children served us sweets and tea prepared by his wife who never left the kitchen.

Though oppressed he and the villagers will not give up their right to land.

Several years back the Israeli allowed the village to have water but the people had to travel half a mile and lug the water back to the village.

As soon as the water was available Khalie had bulldozers ready, the villagers dug to the site, installed pipes and brought water to the village.

They also installed solar panel to heat the water, ran electric wires and developed Internet services, all illegal by Israeli standards.

Khalie is now charged with a crime because he piped water to the village and his case is in the courts.

Even though he ran his hand across his neck saying they will eventually “get us” he continues to build up community, taking care of the needs of his people and courageously takes a stand.

He is physical caged but liberated in spirit.

Before we left he showed us around the village in which communication wires ran on the ground and laundry dried on lines in the icy weather.

We were so moved by his story and courage that when it was time to leave we collected money give to him in order to help the villagers out.

He refused the much need money: he did not want it to appear we were paying him for his hospitality.

Our group would experience such kind, generous and extensive hospitality throughout the trip from the tour drivers, guides, and people in leadership working for healing between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

We saw Jesus’ Beatitudes incarnated in the humble poor we visited.

They were humble, yet continue to extend hospitality to the strangers in their midst.

The Spirit of Love lives in and through them.

Those oppressed they reach out in love.

Not only was there unbelievable hospitality but there was also danger.

On the 8th day of our trip we went to visit a Palestinian refugee camp.

Palestinian refugee camps are enclosed; there are slum like building in which only Palestinians live.

An international woman’s group teaches sewing skills to the women in this particular settlement so they can sell their goods.

Two young Israeli soldiers prevented us from getting into the camp at first.

They carried A-k rifles that hung from their shoulders to below their knees.

Upon our arrival several children had thrown rocks at the soldiers and in return the soldiers throw tear gas at them visible for some of us to see just as we arrived.

As we were getting off the bus to enter the area we were instructed to get back on the bus, which of course we did.

Our guide Peter Miano, director for the Society for Biblical Studies, stayed to see if he and the settlement camp leader could change the soldiers’ minds, while we travel a mile up the road before turning around to come back to the settlement.

Eventually we were permitted to enter the camp.

Just as we were approaching the entranceway one of the soldiers stopped us and said we could not enter the settlement after all.

A dialogue/argument then ensued between the leader of the camp and the soldiers with us gathered nearby.

The leader in talking to the soldier emphasized the theme of democracy.

The soldier said he had orders to keep us out, orders that came down from the Prime Minister through his superior to him to us.

Surrounding the leader of the camp while he talked were at least 15 children.

He was a living model of courage to those children as he addressed injustice.

I was close enough I could have reached out and touched both the soldiers and their rifles.

After a back and forth conversation the soldiers who was obviously scared about the impact of the encounter upon Americans let us in.

The  exterior of the settlement homes were drab and ill cared for.

The ground was mucky filled with trash and garbage as it was all over Israel.

Yet the children were friendly and some of the drab walls had brightly painted murals on them.

While this event was unusual for us, Palestinians live with such realities continually.

The hafrada barrier (walls of separation) and the militarized checkpoints are realities that the people in the region live with all the time.

It is difficult for them to manage such activities as traveling to work, attending school and going to church.

The walls of demarcation occupies huge swath of land that block roads, affect agriculture and separate families.

Soldiers with A-K rifles are situation at the walls, all of the checkpoints and on the streets.

The military presence, the occupations and the huge concrete walls stymies efforts made for peace and reconciliation.

None are in best interest of Israel, Palestine or innocent children caught in its midst.

Yes, there is danger in Israel and the west Bank. 

The wounds between the Palestinians and Israeli and Israeli and Bedouins are deep and fester.

Fear, paranoia and concrete walls continue to irate long-standing divisions.

But there are many who are actively trying to build bridges instead of walls between the Israeli and the Palestinians.

Such faith based groups, as the Society for Biblical Studies is one; knowledge is a powerful force as those who go on these trips share our experiences upon our return.

There is a group of Israeli called “Breaking the Silence” who wants and work for peaceful coexistence between all groups in Israel.

There are individuals who go on mission trips to work in the settlements and there are international groups helping individual develop skills necessary for employment.

In London a Palestinian and an Israeli are co-owners of restaurants and delis.

These “poster boys for peace” introduce folks to their land and cuisine.

There are other hopeful souls who continue with great creativity to work for reconciliation and peace.

They chose love instead of force, humanity instead of the parochial and artificial division between community and nations.

They live out of the New Testament injunction to emphasize human obligation to the sojourner, the poor and the stranger in our midst.

There is nothing in the New Testament that speaks of Human Rights, but a lot about human obligation.

I cannot close this sermon without mentioning some overall impression.

It was exciting to view the land and visit the holy sites that impact Christianity and other religions.

It was moving to touch the West Wall and visit site associate with the annunciation, the birth of Christ and to walk the streets that he actually walked.

And while some of the site cannot not be proven to be the actual site they protect the memory of those happens.

It was meaningful to visit other spiritual and historical sites of significance.

It was important for me to visit the Qumran community where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

I made some decisions about my own life style.

I don’t want to give up my way of life, my washer, dryer dishwasher, running water or my T. V.

But I can give up timidity in the face of injustice and speak out more.

I can by the Grace of God try to not feed already existing wounds and forgive more often.
I can listen more deeply to those with whom I disagree.

In our scripture today Jesus reads in the synagogue word spoken by the prophet Isaiah
“ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because God has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.

To proclaim release to the captives, recover of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

This event announces who Jesus is and what his ministry consists of.

The Spirit that descended upon him at his baptism, while he prayed, also led him into the wilderness to be tested and now empowers his ministry in Galilee.

God anointed him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, healing, freedom and justice.

Jesus calls us to bring good news to the poor, work for the release of the captives foster freedom and break down barriers between people and nations.

It needs to be reflected in the church’s mission, commitments, priorities, activities finances and interpersonal relationships.

Let us chose to be instruments of peace, reconciliation and understanding in our families, our church community and the nation.

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