Second Sunday of Advent, 4 December 2016

Tell Out My Soul, by Timothy Dudley-Smith

“Tell out, my soul, the greatness of is name!

Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;

His mercy sure, from age to age the same;

His holy name – the Lord, the Mighty One.”

 

 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;  make his paths straight.’”  

Matthew 3:1-12

Without doubt, John the Baptist anticipated the might, power and strength Jesus will carry through His presence to everyone He encounters.  John called the people to repent, to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight!  He was the prophetic voice that pointed to Jesus;  He was the one who wanted to decrease so that Jesus might increase. John got it right!

In the same manner, living in a highly volatile land, we have no choice but to be the prophetic voice to our communities and churches.  During this advent season and beyond, our hearts are inspired

star-street-advent-2016

Star Street in Bethlehem

to seek peace and justice in every action we do and every place we go.  Our words should be to build, encourage and support and to lead people to draw closer to God exactly like John.  In doing so, we must seek to repent of anything that hinders our relationship with whom whose sandals we are not worthy to carry.

Like John, we ought to ask the Lord for strength to bear fruit in keeping with repentance; for faith to see the hard stones turning into living ones, living stones that witness to the Lord and His work in this land where “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…”  It is Jesus who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” (Acts 10: 38) We can do nothing without God by our side, when God is in our midst, miracles happen, lives are transformed, broken hearts are healed, souls are saved, the good news is being shared; we can then all believe and see for ourselves that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!  This should be our dream and vision; as we lift Jesus up, as we glorify Him, we will advance the work of the Kingdom.  And on that day, when we behold the lamb in all his glory, when our faces gaze upon his majesty, we will know that it was worth it all!

Let us pray, Lord, in our weakness, help us be the voice of change, love, peace and joy for our nations. Use us, transform us, guide us to point people to you; Jesus Christ, the Hope of Glory, the Light of the world and the savior to all.  Amen.

Devotion written by Michael Arteen

General Board of Global Ministries missioner serving as campus minister at Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem, Palestine

Photo Credit:  Star Street is one of Bethlehem’s oldest commercial streets, connecting the northern part of the Old City to the southern part.  As I walk through this street, I am always reminded that as Christ’s followers we ought to prepare the way for the coming of our King.  It is a narrow street, that also makes me aware that following Jesus is not always the easiest path, however, whilst walking our journey on earth; Jesus will always be holding our hand as we follow that bright shining star.  Photo taken by Michael Arteen

Advent Wreath:  Candle holders are olive wood Bethlehem Star, the Candles are placed in tear gas canisters, the olive wall panels represent the wall around Bethlehem and many other areas in the West Bank area of Palestine (available through the YWCA of Jerusalem), the green carpet is made by women from the Negev, and the scarfs represent men and women.  Photo taken by Kristen L. Brown 

First Sunday of Advent, 27 November 2016

Tell Out My Soul” verse 1

“Tell out my soul the greatness of the Lord!

Unnumbered blessings gave my spirit voice;

Tender to me the promise of God’s word;

In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.”

by Timothy Dudley-Smith

Isaiah 2 1-5

1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.  2  Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills;  and all nations shall flow to it.

3 Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob;  He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.”  For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

4 He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Advent Hope is an annual gift as we prepare for Christmas.  The love that led to the incarnation inspires a hope that can triumph over even the mostly bleak of prospects.  This year in the town of Jesus’s birth there is a need for advent-pic-wallthat hope perhaps as much as in any year of history.  Far from “beating their swords into plowshares” the powers plan on how to use 38 billion dollars to buy arms for the Israeli army – while the plight of Palestinians goes unreported.  There is a palpable sense of hopelessness in the West Bank with a sense that there is now even less hope that the conflict will be resolved in a just settlement on a two state basis.  Yet into that situation of despair comes the prospect of a birth.  God has not deserted God’s people, God weeps at the cruelty of “man’s inhumanity to man,” yet still God so loves the world that he gives his Son, God incarnate.  The angels sing of peace and the Shepherds and Magi search for the hope of humankind.  As we begin Advent once more may the thirst for justice be renewed.  Perhaps this year truly peace on earth might be achieved…  “Tell out my soul the greatness of the Lord!”

Picture:   A Children’s Playground in the shadow of the separation barrier.  At a convent on the Mount of Olives there is a nursery serving local families who used to relate to Bethany and to the E-Sheikh area on the Mount of Olives.  The separation barrier was built through the ground of the convent and now the convent uses the wall as a boundary for its children’s playground.  Access from Bethany is no longer possible.  Photo credit:  Revd.  John Howard.

Written by Revd. John Howard.  Mission Partner, Methodist Church in Britain, Serving in the Methodist Liaison Office, Jerusalem.

 

Advent 2016 Devotions coming soon!

Advent 2016 will begin in a couple of weeks.  We are working on devotions.  We will post them here and on Facebook through our “Methodist Liaison office in Jerusalem” page and in other groups.

advent-2016

photo credit to Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Pictured is an Advent wreath… included in this years’ wreath are:  olive wood panels representing the wall of separation in Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza, these particular panels were made by a project of the YWCA of East Jerusalem; Bethlehem Star olive wood candle holders; the candles are placed in recycled tear gas canisters which were collected in the past year and available at Bethlehem Bible College gift shop; the green rug is made by women from the Negev.

We encourage each of you to be creative, your Advent wreath can tell a story of a people… what thoughtful ways can you help tell the bigger story of God in our midst?

A Day to Remember…

19 April is a day to remember… but then, every day is a day to remember, in one way or another.  If one has a connection with Oklahoma, 19 April 1995 is a day not easily forgotten.

It does not take much for the tears toJesus wept okc gather in my eyes.  On other days that happens as well.  Sadly, too often, in too many places, someone does something drastic and horrible that will forever change the lives of people.  Ironically, if one has no connection with a people in a place where tragedy has occurred, we may soon lose the memory of it ever happening.

For some events in our lives, we can clearly recall all the details of a day.  Where were you when…?  For much of our lives… however, we coast through, making connection and memoires that are easily blurred over time.  Family stories and pictures help, although, sometimes family members may not fully agree about all of the details!

Yesterday, another bus was blown up in Jerusalem… the other day 500 or so people’s lives were lost in a desperate move to flea one country in hopes of a better life in another country, and because it happened in the night on the Mediterranean Sea, few people are even mentioning it.  And so it goes on.

The Gospel message, of the risen Jesus, was something that happened, and we continue to celebrate it, and we continue to struggle theologically about it, and yet, we continue to hold on to the message of the risen Lord, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.

As a United Methodist person serving in the Jerusalem area, we celebrated Easter a few weeks ago, meanwhile our Eastern (Greek, Russian, etc.) Orthodox and Armenian brothers and sisters will celebrate Easter in a couple of weeks.  When we gathered in Jerusalem with thousands of Christians from around the world, including some of those living in Palestine who had permission to travel to Jerusalem, to walk the Palm Sunday walk from the Mount of Olives into the Old City of Jerusalem, even though we thought this was the only event happening in Jerusalem that day, the rest of the world may not have realized we were there.

Although there are many more positive and happy things which have happened over the years, 19 April is a reminder for many about the explosion of the Murrah building and the death of 168 people in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; or for others the killing of 70 people in Waco, Texas; and for yet others, the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  It is also the date of the first Boston Marathon in 1897.

It is important to continue to remember events, and it is as important to learn our history, as well as history in the world so that we do not continue to repeat the tragic events.  The scars of our past are very much a part of our lives and our world.

Dates, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures, all contribute to and add flavor to our memories.  Good and sad.

Out of the ashes, the phoenix rises.

Up from the grave our savior rose!

From the tragedy and from the beauty we will rise to find our place in this world.  May we all work together for real peace with real justice for all of humanity!

 

Pictures used were found on the internet, a statue of Jesus Wept, at the Murrah Memorial site in Oklahoma City.

 

Easter

“He Lives”

I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever foes may say.  I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer, and just the time I need him, he’s always near.

He Lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today!  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.  He lives, he lives, salvation to impart!  You ask me how I know he lives?  He lives within my heart.

United Methodist Hymn # 310 words by Alfred H. Ackley

Acts. 10:34-43

“Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.  You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.  You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross,  but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.  He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.  He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.  All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land have been faithful witnesses of the death and resurrection of Christ since the day of Pentecost!  Peter, in today’s reading, could have been speaking to the ancestors of these Christians.  Though many forces have collaborated to snuff out their witness, they remain a precious “gem” that has persevered until today.  This Easter, many in the Palestinian Christian community will commemorate the age-old tradition of the Holy Saturday of Light as they receive the symbolic “holy fire” emitted from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and transmit it to local and area churches via candlelight and processional celebrations in preparation for their Easter Sunday celebrations.  Others will celebrate Easter sunrise services from the top of the Mount of Olives or at the Garden Tomb.  Regardless of their faith traditions, they are steadfast in hope as they believe, proclaim and live the miracle of the resurrection.

Today’s Palestinian Christians, along with their Muslim neighbors, are facing tough times.  Repeatedly misrepresented and discriminated against on the local, international and world scene, they struggle to keep the faith amidst the political challenges of walls, barriers, checkpoints, land confiscations, house demolitions, indiscriminate killings, arrests and imprisonment.  They have been under particular duress in the past five months as they witness the numerous and disproportionate killings and injuries of friends and loved ones.

IMG_1670Please pray for the Palestinian Christian community as they speak out against the injustices of a fierce and illegal occupation and as they seek spiritual as well as political resurrection. Pray likewise for Israelis who suffer from the side-effects of the occupation.  This Easter, let us affirm that we indeed serve a risen Savior and let us rise up to be the resurrected body of Christ promoting acts of mercy, compassion, fairness, reconciliation and cheer for all of God’s children here and abroad who are suffering from discrimination and injustice.

Dear Jesus,

As we look forward to celebrating Easter Sunday and your triumphal victory over death and the grave, we look and we see a land crying out for lack of justice.  We see Palestinian and Israeli blood being spilled, while the world looks away on the other side.  Lord may we be the first responders to proclaim and bring the good news of salvation, peace and justice to your people through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Devotion written by Rev. Alex and Brenda Awad, GBGM missionaries at Bethlehem Bible College and the East Jerusalem Baptist Church for the past 26 years. They are currently itinerating in the USA.

Photographs

 Olive wood representation of the Wall project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, photograph by Rev. Kristen L. Brown.

Women at the empty tomb of the resurrected Jesus Christ, tapestry made by members of Nichols Hills UMC in Oklahoma, photograph taken by Rev. Trevor W. Smith.

Holy Week: Holy Saturday

“Jesu, Jesu”

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.

These are the ones we should serve, these are the ones we should love; all these are neighbors to us and you.

United Methodist Hymn # 432 words by Tom Colvin

Psalm 33:20 – “We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

Isaiah 12:2 – “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.

Easter Saturday.  One of the in-between times that we have in our lives.  We often talk about events by using “from – to” but our lives are really more about “from – through – to.”  We live mainly in the “through” times.  Easter Saturday is one of those times.

The women in Luke’s Gospel (Ch. 12) have just come “from” the crucifixion experience.  Their world has been turned upside-down; they don’t know what lies ahead.  They come to the grave-site expecting to find Jesus’ body, bringing with them the spices that were used after a death.  They were not expecting a resurrection; they had not understood Jesus when he told them that in 3 days he would be raised.  They did not live in hope.  They were just going about their customary caring for a loved one who had died.

rainbow in JerusalemThere is a strong statement in the Palestine Kairos Document:  “In the absence of hope, we cry out our cry of hope.”  Like the women, the people of this land see very little that gives them hope.  They are living in an in-between time, from dispossession, through occupation to… what?  The answer we hope for is peace, liberation, justice, equality, freedom.  But at the moment, we wait in hope, in the absence of hope, in a hope that looks to God, a God who is faithful and who calls us to “trust and not be afraid.”

Lord, Help us to keep our eyes focused on you when we experience the difficult in-between times of life.  When we get discouraged and feel that hope is lost, remind us to put our trust in you.  Amen.

-Tina Whitehead, United Methodist Volunteer in Palestine and Israel

Photographs:

The wooden wall, a project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, photograph taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Rainbow over Jerusalem, photograph taken by Tina Whitehead

Holy Week: Holy Friday

“Jesu, Jesu”

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.  Loving puts us on our knees, serving as though we are slaves, this is the way we should live with you.

United Methodist Hymn # 432 words by Tom Colvin

John 18:1-19:42

“Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity.  So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed.”  John 19:31

20150819_093344As we reflect on the reality of Jesus’ death, we are humbled.  After spending time in the Holy Land, we have learned that this day is referred to as Sad Friday by the local Christian people.

Not long ago, I joined a group of Christians from Bethlehem who had gathered in a field where too many olive trees were being uprooted.  As we prayed, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…” an olive tree was uprooted from the earth.  With tears in my heart, I prayed.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Hebrews 10:23-25

IMG_739420160115_122942We remember that God is present in times of despair.  A few trees remain in this field, though stripped of limbs and branches, new growth is happening.  A reflection of “Sammud” steadfastness of hope is witnessed in the people of this land.  While in our life we may despair, we know that earthly death does not have the final word.

 

Lord, fill us with your love as we seek to faithfully serve our neighbors, both near and far away.  Help us to remain steadfast in our love, hope and faith.  Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, GBGM Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel from 2011 to the present, and by Julie Hartbarger Blacksher, a member of Pathways UMC in Springfield, Missouri.

Photographs:

The wooden wall, a project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, second picture taken in a valley near Bethlehem as a tree was uprooted, third picture one of the olive trees which remained, at least for a short while, fourth picture a drawing of an olive tree,  photographs taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Drawing of the olive tree by Julie Hartbarger Blacksher.

Holy Week: Maundy Thursday

“Jesu, Jesu”

Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.  Kneels at the feet of his friends, silently washes their feet, Master who acts as a slave to them.

United Methodist Hymn # 432 words by Tom Colvin

John 13: 31-35

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  John 13:34-35

IMG_7509 (2)During Holy Week many Christians hold special services to remember the events known as “The Last Supper” when Jesus sat down to share a meal with his friends and disciples before the beginning of Passover.  In the local culture when one entered a home it was a sign of hospitality to provide water with which to wash one’s feet, or in more privileged homes, to provide a servant to wash the feet of a visitor.  This is not simply a gesture toward cleanliness, but symbolizes that the guest is no longer considered a stranger and that the host has no ill-intent for the guest.  In other words, one is now a welcome member in the household and can feel safe and secure.  In addition, the sharing of a meal was more than just the act of eating food. It was another way of providing hospitality and welcoming someone as a member of the family.

footwashingAs people participate in special services where a symbolic foot-washing takes place, and we remember the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples as he broke the bread and passed the cup of wine with them, we sometimes forget the most important message of that evening long ago.  We forget the reason we refer to this day as “Maundy” Thursday.  More important than the foot-washing, even more important than the bread and cup, this was the moment when Jesus pronounced his new commandment or mandate, “mandatum” in Latin, “maundé” in French.  Jesus commanded us to, “love one another just as I have loved you.”

 

 

Gracious and loving God, we thank you for this opportunity to remember your 11th commandment.  Help us to remember this new commandment in all that we do, in all that we say, throughout all our days.  Amen

love one another

Devotion written by Janet Lahr Lewis, Advocacy Coordinator for the Middle East, GBGM, and Peace with Justice Program Associate, GBCS.  She formerly served as a GBGM missionary in 2001 in two positions and then as the Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel from 2006 to 2014.

Photographs:

The wooden wall, a project of the YWCA of Jerusalem,  and two feet in the Jericho spirngs, photographs taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

The “foot washing” relief and “Love One Another” are images shared on the internet.

 

Lent: Week Five

“Ah, Holy Jesus”

There-fore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving.

United Methodist Hymn # 289 words by Johann Heermann

  John 12:1-8

“Mary took a bound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, wiped them with her hair.  The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”  John 12:3

Every Lenten season is an opportunity to recall the great price Jesus paid on behalf of all.  It is a season for prayer and gratitude for the enormous gift of grace.

marymarthawithjesusEven with all my visits to the holy places through the years, I cannot say I have been where Martha and Mary and Lazarus greeted Jesus in their home.  I can imagine a scrumptious meal after Jesus had brought Lazarus back to life.  I can imagine Martha serving and Jesus and a few others gathered at the table.  And I can imagine Mary kneeling to rub Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment….so expensive it cost almost a year’s labor, and the aroma penetrating the whole house.

Mary threw herself in complete abandon before her Savior.  A towel wasn’t good enough.  She dried his feet with her hair because it represented herself.  She offered herself before the one whom she adored.

This Lent perhaps others will be so full of adoration for God that they will forsake dignity to demonstrate that deep love.  Perhaps they will offer themselves in complete abandon.  Christians around the world can join Palestinian Christians in this abandon.

To follow Jesus on the path to life, to live to the glory of God and invite others to do so, to become more perfect in love of God and neighbor, to grow and learn as a spiritual person, this is the purpose of life.  All and everything is about this.

Prayer:  Thank You, Gracious God, for a wondrous love that forgives and redeems.  Thank you for a love that is unswerving even when we do not deserve it.  Amen.

Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, United Methodist Bishop representative on the World Council of Churches

Photographs

Olive wood wall is a project of the YWCA in Jerusalem, picture taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Mary, Martha and Jesus painting in Bethany church, picture taken by Sara H. Dunlap

Lent: Week Four

“Ah, Holy Jesus”

For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.

United Methodist Hymn # 289 words by Johann Heermann

Psalm 63:1-8

“O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”  Psalm 63:1

20151113_150757In a land filled with juxtapositions:  faith; politics; safety; security; water; land; roads; walls; bridges; checkpoints; food; educational opportunities; tunnels; trees; neighbors; refugee camps; settlements; friends; enemies… living in the Judean wilderness/desert, many challenges abound!

Despair and frustration exist amongst all the people living here, (and in the world).  And yet, our call, that which God requires of us, is “to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.”  (Micah 6:8).  This is the hope of people of all faiths, as we strive to live in peace and justice together in this world.  The reality however, demonstrates a world where little trust exists and fear of other predominates.

20151202_103820In the midst of this situation, God brings hope.  As followers of Christ, we must seek this hope.  “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.”  (Psalm 63:7).  Christians, the living stones of the Holy Land, continue to demonstrate their sumud, steadfast hope in God!  May we also seek this hope.

Lord, we pray for atonement, and ask for your intercession in the midst of life’s frustrations and injustices.  Grant us your hope and peace.  –Amen.

Devotion written jointly by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel, a United Methodist Elder serving through the General Board of Global Ministries, and Rev. John Howard, an Elder of the Methodist Church of Britain serving as District Chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury district.

Photographs taken by Rev. Kristen Brown, the first one is with olive wood representation of the Wall project of the YWCA of Jerusalem, the other two from the village of Bir Ouna near Bethlehem where olive trees were uprooted and now a road is being constructed.