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.

Lent: Week Three

“Ah, Holy Jesus”

Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.  For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, God interceded.

United Methodist Hymn # 289 words by Johann Heermann

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

“And God has committed to us the word of Reconciliation.”  – 2 Corinthians 5:18b

peace wall in BelfastI come from Belfast and resulting from “our Troubles” in parts of our city are walls that keep Protestants and Catholic families apart.  In some places a protestant household backs onto Catholic home divided only by a “Peace wall.”  It is a contradiction that since we have had a relative peace the number of peace walls have quadrupled   Why?  Because we have a peace, but not a reconciliation.

Realizing this, a “word of Reconciliation” has come.  A group of Christians called the Peace Pilgrims, have moved into the neighbourhood to live among the divided people to be living examples of the word of Reconciliation.

20141001_080223When I was in Bethlehem late last year the size of the wall of separation around the little town shocked me.  It was the evidence of separation and protection to keep the other away from us, which never results in peace nor reconciliation. Strangely they are regarded as a temporary measure, but from my experience of peace walls they are easy to construct but take forever to knock down.

“The word of reconciliation” is the Cross of Christ.  He speaks to us about breaking down the walls that separate us, with God and humanity.  His self-sacrifice challenges us to break down the barriers of hostility and division as we offer the healing of broken relationships that were based on hostility and alienation now transformed into peace and relationship with God and others, through the Cross of Christ.

Prayer

Lord, the Gospel is reconciliation and reconciliation is the Gospel.  Lord, we seek your wisdom and strength to work on breaking down the barriers that divide us, that we replace them with communities of welcome and tolerance of difference.  Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. Brian Anderson

Photographs:

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

The wall in Belfast Ireland, provided by Rev. Brian Anderson

The wall in Bethlehem near Checkpoint 300 separates Bethlehem from other parts of Bethlehem , the wall was painted over, white washed, in 2014 before the visit of the Pope Francis, photograph taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

 

The Deep love of God for us

Sermon preached at St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem on 21 February 2016 by Rev. John Howard.

The Deep love of God for us.  Genesis 15 1-12 &17-18, Phil. 3 17 –4 1, Luke 13 31-35. Second Sunday in lent.

What is your earliest memory? Mine comes from when I was only about 18 months old. It is of having a pic-nic on a train, my mother, my two older sisters and myself. I know when the train journey took place because we seldom travelled by train, and were only doing so – to get to my grandmother’s funeral, because my father had not been able to get the time off work, and so couldn’t drive the car there. Behavioural scientists investigating early memory say that it is very often associated with strong emotions of love, grief, or anger. I presumably remember this occasion because of the mixture of emotions, the grief at the occasion, the love of our family unit, the sense that we were going together to this important event. I can think back to feelings that must reflect both the love of my mother for myself and her grief at the death of her mother. Being loved makes a deep impact upon a small child.

Its not just humans that have that deep sense of love for our families and offspring. Many animals show similar affection. I remember seeing a wonderful film some years ago of a family of wolves and the maternal love of the mother wolf. In differing ways we see the care of a bird for its chicks in the nest.

20140925_062909Of course there is a deep love that fathers have for their children as well, perhaps different to a mother’s love but still very strong. However I am sure that it is significant that Jesus’ great expression of his love for the people of Jerusalem is expressed in terms of the maternal love of a Hen for its chicks. “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing. It is this deep love of Jesus even for those who act terribly – “killing the prophets and stoning those sent to them.” – that deep love of God, that deep love shown by Jesus is the subject of this sermon. We are very used to the image of God as Father – but here Jesus is not afraid to use the feminine imagery perhaps to make the point even stronger than ever. God’s love for every one of us is not a love that simply rejoices in us when we are well behaved, when we act in ways that are right, according to God’s will, but that deep and unfathomable love of God in Jesus, is a love that cares for us even though we live lives totally unworthy of that love. Like a mother who loves her child no matter who they are or what they had done, so God in Jesus loves us.

Many years ago there were a series of murders in England that shocked everyone. They were know as the Moors Murders. I once listened to an interview with the mother of Moira Hindley one of the two people who committed those murderers. Hindley and her lover had murdered a number of children and left their bodies on Saddleworth Moor near Manchester. In the interview Hindley’s mother was asked if she still loved her daughter. Her answer was quite unhesitating, “Yes I love her – she may have done some terrible things but she is still my daughter. The same is true of God for us – we may have done some terrible things, we may still do some terrible things – but we are still children of God. This Lenten season we are again reminded that Jesus loved us so much that he went to the cross for us, arms stretched wide, as if seeking to bring the whole world and each of us in it, into his embrace, into his protective guard – as a hen gathers its chicks….

The Old Testament lesson takes us back to one of the formative and fundamental ideas of the Jewish faith, the promise to Abraham and to all his descendents, that as a sign of God’s love for them, he would give them a land to live in. To a considerable extent the legacy of that promise is still around us today. It is not the specific promise though that is the most important here, it is God’s dependency and the ongoing nature of God’s commitment to his people. Like the woes of Jesus over the people of Jerusalem, God would come to rue his promise to Abraham’s descendents many times through the course of human history, however that love remained and the commitment to his people, though evolving and different in nature after the life of Jesus remained true, and remains true today. Scripture expresses this commitment in differing ways, and perhaps it’s in the psalms that it has its greatest expression, expressing both the love of God and the failure of the people, yet still more the willingness of God to accept back the people in repentance. Psalm 44 addresses God:

            “We are brought down to the dust;

            Our bodies cling to the ground.

            Rise up and help us;

            Redeem us because of your unfailing love.

Paul writes to his friends at Philippi, expressing his deep love for them, “my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord. He tells the readers of the dangers of being ruled by human desires, he mentions “love of the stomach” which surely includes all of the ways in which our bodies, with their appetites for food, sex, relaxation, and entertainment can deflect us from the important things of life. The American Sociologist Maslow has put forward the idea, now widely accepted that after their basic needs of life have been met, food shelter and security, then other concerns predominate and other aspirations arise, a higher achy of needs. It was a conclusion of many nineteenth century missionaries that before you could save souls, hungry stomachs had to be filled, that is an example of Maslow’s ideas. Many aid agencies today address the higherachy of needs through just such an understanding. It is the second order of needs that Paul is focussing upon in his letter to the Philippians. The instincts that apply rightly for survival can too easily dominate people’s attitudes and aspirations even when those basic needs are already being met. Paul encourages the Philippians to work for and aspire toward the deeper qualities of life described by being “Citizens of heaven,” – peace, love, truth, justice, integrity. Taking his example from the God he serves Paul makes it clear that his love for them is not conditional upon their being like this, he wants the best for them, and the best is of the spirit. Their failure to accept this does not diminish his love for them.

20140925_062824This understanding is of course is the story known as the parable of the prodigal son. The Father’s love for the son is in no way reduced by the son’s actions. Though the son in asking for his inheritance is saying he wants his father dead, it makes no difference to the Father’s love for the son. Though the son takes so much that belongs to the father and wastes it all in profligate living – still the father loves the son. Jesus as he tells the story deliberately describes the love God has for his children. Each of us are truly the prodigal – and God awaits our return to the kingdom of love and truth. We began with the love of a mother for her offspring – Jesus looking lovingly over Jerusalem wanting to protect as a hen does her chicks, we now look at a father’s love for his son, but the message is the same – the deep and unfathomable love of God for us his children. Motherhood and Fatherhood at their best, both illustrate God’s unconditional love for us. Recognising this there is only one response. Like the prodigal son who in the end recognised the need to return and do what he could for his father – so we need to recognise that we need to return to God and do what we can do for him – by responding with love and care in all we do in the service of God’s children around us. Working for God’s Kingdom. Making the world a better place. We should try at all times to live with love towards others – never with a conditional love that says I will be nice if you are nice, but loving even those who despitefully use us.

That is the lesson of Lent. That is our calling as we go through the season that leads up to Good Friday. In the passion Jesus was treated terribly even by those who were closest to him, but in the Garden of Gethsemane and elsewhere he demonstrated that no falling short of love on the part of others around him would allow Jesus stop loving. No injustice would reduce Jesus’ love of Justice. No amount of duplicity on the parts of others around him would lesson Jesus’ integrity. That was the way of the one we follow. As we travel through the season of Lent may we learn from Jesus so that on one part we may recognise God’s deep and unfathomable love for us that is quite unconditional upon our actions, and on the other part – our part, make our commitment to others just as unconditional upon their actions to us. Let us love with open hearts, let us be unstoppable in our quest for Justice – even for those who don’t deserve it – in our eyes. Let us adhere to the truth even when others sit light to it. Let us follow Jesus and live with the deep unconditional love of Christ.

Amen.

Palm Sunday

From Olivet they followed
mid an exultant crowd,
the victory palm branch waving,
and chanting clear and loud.
The Lord of earth and heaven
rode on in lowly state,
nor scorned that little children
should on his bidding wait.

Hosanna Loud Hosanna, United Methodist Hymnal 278, vs. 2

 37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”[a]“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”  40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  Luke 19:28-40

20150329_155527The Palm Sunday narrative sets the stage for the rest of this holy week. The setting is Jerusalem and the characters are introduced – Jesus, the Disciples, the crowd, the religious and political authorities. The key to all dramatic stories is tension and certainly, paradox and tension are integral to the scene on Palm Sunday and the whole Passion narrative.

20150329_150352Moments of tensions and paradox illuminated the Gospel throughout my time in service in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Indeed, tension remains central to Palm Sunday in Jerusalem every year. The very reality of life in Israel and Palestine creates tensions between oppression and celebration. While some of my Bethlehem neighbors and colleagues receive a permit to travel to Jerusalem for Holy Week, they still must pass through a checkpoint. Moreover, many people do not receive permits and are unable to join the sacred parade marking Christ’s Entry in Jerusalem. The injustice of the checkpoint and permit systems collides with the celebration of the day.  Yet, this is the space where life is lived, amidst the tension between the holy and the unholy.20150329_161526

 Lord God, as we enter this Holy Week, prepare our hearts and minds for the tension and drama of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. Open our eyes to the profound truth present in the paradoxes of this week in our ancient worship and in our contemporary world. Through Jesus Christ the Lord of heaven and earth.   Amen.

Devotion written by Grace Killian, Global Ministries Young Adult Fellow who served in Bethlehem 2013 to 2015

Photographs:

Olive wood wall is a project of the Jerusalem YWCA.  Palm Sunday walk in Jerusalem 2015 are represented in the three other photographs, all pictures taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown