Thursday, June 9, 2011


In our C.S. Lewis reading group we have been looking at The Screwtape Letters and at the end of Letter 8 there is this great line spoken by the Devil's undersecretary, Screwtape, reflecting on the challenges of tempting a human away from the faith. He says, "(Hell's) cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's (God's) will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have fanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." I have read and reread those lines while preparing my Pentecost sermon and it's gotten me to thinking how the Spirit's power is intended to empower our obedience. We don't have the power to obey God's commands. We don't have the power to obediently walk the path he intends for us. But the Spirit does. We are inclined to want the power for our purposes, but God intends it for our obedience to his will and way of life. Only the Spirit can keep us on course while the evidences of God's presence seem scarce. Sometimes our mere "staying the course" is enough evidence that the Spirit is at hand.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Israel Day 8

Back on American soil. Last day in Israel included a walk down the Mt. of Olives following the Palm Sunday processional. We stopped at the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the mountain. Reflected on the great struggle of Jesus to carry out the mission and the great struggle of the disciples just to stay awake. In jesus' greatest moment of need is when he finds himself the most alone. Sometimes you're on your own when God calls you. Bonhoeffer said it well: when Jesus calls us he singles us out and we are on our own to respond. We proceeded to the Old City and walked the Via Dolorosa - the walk to the cross. From there it was to the Upper Room.

After lunch at a nice restaurant in the middle of Jerusalem we went out to the Herodian, Herod the Great's place outside Jerusalem. From the palace walls you can see the town of Bethlehem and the fields of the shepherds. What a juxtaposition! A baby born to peasants in the shadows of the King's palace.

We ended the day with a lovely dinner at the American Colony Hotel.

What do I take away from these days of walking the footsteps of Jesus?

How thankful I am for the chance to step back into the region where God emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. Being there gave me the chance to read and hear so many of the stories again and get connected again to the growing conviction that the mission of Jesus was to reveal the relational core of God by loving the unloveliest parts of us. We know Jesus only as we experience his relational identity and mission.

Ministry is to invite people to be in a relationship with us as we journey with them into a relationship with God. We miss the whole point if we try to bring people into a relationship with God without first seeking a relationship with them ourselves. All people - friends, strangers and enemies. If we can't relate to our fellow human beings, how can we expect them to understand the relational three-person God?

Maybe that's why the Beatitudes spoke to me so much on this trip. Only a relational God would see blessedness this way. Meekness. Mercy. Peacemaking. Poor in Spirit. Mourning. They all speak to our need either to be in relationship with God and/or with others.

Love God. Love Neighbor. Both commandment and commission! This is truly what it means to walk in thee footsteps of Jesus.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Israel Day 7

A day of extremes: began with a walk through the Western Wall tunnel and more interaction with the fevered worship of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Then onto Yad Vashem, the Israel holocaust museum - to be reminded of man's inhumanity to man ... the fevered hatred of one race toward another. Then on to the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. After lunch in the Old City we spent time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (place of Jesus' death and resurrection). From there it was to the home of Caiphas where Jesus was tried and convicted. We ended up at the Garden Tomb where we saw another possible site, though less likely, of Jesus' death and resurrection. We shared communion there amidst the beautuful gardens. Tonight in the hotel lobby we watched a Muslim wedding celebration. Fascinating. To be honest it didn't look too different from most Christian wedding receptions I've been to. Two becoming one and trying to find joy and peace.
At communion I shared the message that without the resurrection, the trip has been in vain. It's the whole point and the lynchpin of our faith. If there is anything to get fevered over, it's that. This should be the core of our message - the blessedness of the resurrection. In fact, I wonder if the blessedness that Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes extends from the blessedness of the resurrection. We live in the new realm of resurrection and from that life takes on a new meaning. We live for something different now. We can wrap ourselves in peace and meekness and mercy and poverty of spirit because we know that's where life is headed. We live for these things out of the blessedness of resurrection.
Why not be fevered over mercy, meekness and peace?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Israel Day 6

Jerusalem and Bethlehem today. Spent the morning on the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Then on to Hezekiah's Tunnell where we waded through a water tunnel 2 feet deep of water. The afternoon it was to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity, Manger Square and the Shepherd's Fields. There is most certainly a spiritual energy that surrounds the Western Wall. Religion at a fevered pitch. In the Holy Land, for better and for worse, it matters what you believe, It involves life and death and conflict. It can be explosive.
The circles I run in tend to spend a lot of time trying to seek common ground and resist conflict. But sometimes to the end that the content of one's belief is inconsequential to the conversation. Relationships turn innocuous.
What matters about what you believe and is it worth potential unrest?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Israel Day 5

Began the day in Nazareth. Then to Acco. From Acco to Mt. Carmel. On the way to Jerusalem we stopped at Megiddo and toured the tel where there are 25 layers of civilizations. Jerusalem at dinner time. A walk into the old city after dinner where we stumbled upon the Jerusalem Day celebration. I've never seen more kids in my life. There were tens of thousands to be sure. They believe in their city!
At Mt. Carmel we read the story of Elijah and the contest with the prophets of Baal. It begins with Elijah's question: How long will you go on limping between two different opinions? Spirituality seems always at a fevered pitch here in the Holy Land. There's little limping between opinions.
What are you certain of in life?