Lent Devotion… 12 March 2017…

“All My Hope Is Firmly Grounded” words by Joachim Neander in the United Methodist Hymnal 132vs. 1

 All my hope is firmly grounded

in the great and living Lord;

who, whenever I most need him,

never fails to keep his word. 

God I must wholly trust,

God the ever good and just.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”   Genesis 12:1-3

IMG_9893As a divine act of Grace, God chose Abraham to live as a man of faith.  God called him out of his family and clan so that in him all the nations would be blessed.  As Christians, our testimony is in Jesus that we find our satisfaction and fulfillment.  “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4: 2).  This faith and belief Abraham had, led him to respond in obedience to God’s call; and this meant sacrifice for him.  He sacrificed his land, people, nation and all his belongings to follow God’s greatest purpose for his life.  He started his journey towards the unknown but followed the Lord with all the faith His mind and heart could muster.

Following God’s call on our lives comes at a cost as well; living in the Holy Land today we know that all too well.  It requires faith in God and how God can transform our lives as we work for the Kingdom.  We may not know where God’s call could lead us, but we have confidence in the One who called us; and confidence that where God leads; God will guide and provide.  Without faith, we cannot please God (Hebrews 11: 6).

Yet after this initial call to go to a different place to serve the Kingdom or to remain in our own physical localities, there remains a greater testimony that we need to demonstrate for everyone; to walk faithfully with the Lord and humbly before those we meet day to day.  Life’s many challenges lure us away from our goal, but as Jesus obeyed the God, we should do our best to do so as well!

For me one of the most moving parts of the scriptures is found in Hebrews 12:2, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

As a follower and a servant of Jesus here in Bethlehem, the life of ministry requires that I keep my eyes focused on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith, without whom I can never accomplish anything good.  Jesus is my goal!  Witnessing to people who live in a broken land, where injustices are so clear around me, I have to remember the example of Abraham:  faith, obedience and sacrifice which will lead to God’s abundant blessings.   Jesus endured the cross and all its shame for us; he knew however, that he could trust his Father.  I pray that the precious people living in this land will experience a great resurrection on every aspect of their lives as they learn to listen to God’s voice day by day!

Let us pray, Lord, help us listen to your voice; give us the courage to respond to your call.  May our hearts be willing to always say, “here I am Lord”, and our mouths ready to speak of your amazing love demonstrated to us on the cross.  Amen.

Written by Michael Arteen, General Board of Global Ministries, serving at the Bethlehem Bible College as the campus minister.

Picture of the wilderness taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown.

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Lent Devotion… 5 March 2017

 “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days”

words by Claudia F. Hernaman, UMH 269, verse 3

“As thou dist hunger bear, and thirst, so teach us, gracious Lord, to die to self, and chiefly live by thy most holy word.”

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  (Matthew 4:1)

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Wilderness at Wadi Qelt near Jericho where Jesus was tempted.  Picture by Tina Whitehead.

Temptation and sin.  Perhaps ‘sin’ is not a word or concept that we use much today, but I would suspect that we are all familiar with ‘temptation.’  Television ads constantly bombard us with products to buy that guarantee us a better quality of life; brightly packaged foods lure us away from our resolutions to follow a diet or a more healthy lifestyle.  ‘Opportunities’ to get ahead, to save money, might tempt us to make decisions that may not reflect our values.  Temptation is everywhere!

Some of the temptations we face might seem trivial (Should I have another cookie even though I know it is not healthy?).   But other temptations can be life changing, for ourselves and for others.  What does scripture teach us about dealing with temptation?

In today’s scripture passages, we see two examples of temptation, one in a garden and the other in the wilderness.  In one, the tempter wins out; in the other, the one tempted resists.  The temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden is somewhat troubling.  It seems innocent; they’re tempted to be like God, to know good from evil, to gain wisdom.  What could be wrong with that?  In the wilderness, Jesus has been fasting for 40 days.  He must be hungry, probably wondering how long this will last, or even if he will ever leave the desert.  He is tempted with food and with power.  But he does not give in.

I wonder if his response was as easy as it seems in Matthew’s account.  Was there anguish?  Did he wrestle with whether or not to give in?  It does not seem so here, but then I think of the Garden of Gethsemane and I read of sweating drops of blood as he struggles with, “Let this cup pass from me.”

And then I think of some of the temptations here in Palestine.  A son is in prison and a father is tempted to betray friends and family in order to obtain his release.  A wife has cancer and a husband is tempted to give evidence against neighbors in order to get a permit for her to be able to go a hospital and have needed treatment.  Temptation.  Anguish.  What choice would you make?

And another temptation that is everywhere present here.  The temptation to despair, the temptation to lose hope in the face of everyday realities under occupation.

For me, it is important to always remember that Jesus was fully human.  The anguish that we face, the choices that we are confronted with, were not unfamiliar to him.  He also struggled with temptation, but he trusted in God who is faithful, whose love is unfailing, who forgives us when we fall.  Or, as the writer of Psalm 32 states, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (vs. 8).  And in verse 10, “.…the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”

Prayer Lord, we all know what it is like to be tempted.  Sometimes we feel helpless in the face of decisions that need to be made, other times we are just weak.  We thank you that your loving presence surrounds us and gives us hope.  May we look to you in all the decision that we make.  In the name of Jesus, we pray.  Amen.

Devotion written by Tina Whitehead, United Methodist volunteer in Palestine and Israel.

Ears to Listen…

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Ears to Listen

Sermon by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

Preached on 7 February 2016 at St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem and St. Andrew’s Galilee Church in Tiberias

 

Scripture passages of the day:   Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36; Psalm 99

Many mornings during the winter months, I drive through fog on my way to the office at Tantur.  I live up the hill from Bethlehem, at the very top of Beit Jala, one of the highest points in the greater Jerusalem area.  On clear days, I am blessed with amazing views of Bethlehem, Jerusalem or even the Judean hills to Jordan, depending upon the direction I look, however in the winter some mornings are very foggy, and vision is limited.

 As I drive to Tantur Ecumenical Center where our offices are located, very close to the Bethlehem Check Point 300, on foggy mornings, by the time I have driven through two tunnels and on over to Tantur, the fog has cleared, or I have driven out of the fog!

 What might it have been like for the disciples of Jesus to hike up one of the mountains in the Galilee area?  (When preaching in Tiberias, I was able to motion to the area, not that far from the Sea of Galilee!!)

 So, what we know from reading the Luke passage is that Jesus invited three of the disciples to join him, in order to pray on top of a mountain in the Galilee area.  Having been in that area, I know it was not an easy walk, more of a substantial hike.

 On some occasions when the disciples prayed with Jesus, they fell asleep.  When the three disciples woke up, they discovered some strange things!  Jesus’ face appeared to change, his clothes became dazzling white, and they saw Moses and Elijah!!  (Any of these things would be shocking enough on their own!)  They respond in a very human way… “Let’s build three dwellings… and stay here!”  And then, (as if things could not become stranger!) the mountain top was covered by a cloud or a fog and they heard the voice of God, for the second time, (the first being at the baptism of Jesus), “This is my Son, my chosen, listen to Him!”

 We were reminded in the Exodus passage that after Moses encountered God, he went back down the mountain to the people, and his face was veiled because it shown brightly.

 In this encounter on the mountain top with Jesus, seeing Moses and Elijah and hearing God’s voice, a veil is not mentioned; however the cloud or fog may have acted like a veil.

 Prior to going up the mountain with Jesus, according to Luke chapter 9, the disciples had participated in a short mission in the region, they experienced the feeding of the five thousand people and had been asked by Jesus, “who do people say that I am?”  After they replied that some say “John the Baptist, or Elijah” Jesus asked, “and who do you say that I am?”  It was Peter who replied, “You are the Messiah!”  They passed the test!  (But, I wonder if they truly knew what that fully meant?”  Following the questions, Jesus told them about the events which would take place soon in Jerusalem, his upcoming death and eventual resurrection.

 I can imagine the minds of all of the disciples were on overdrive when Jesus asked three of them to go with him to pray.

 The mountain top experience ends with words stating that they told nothing to anyone.  The other Gospel writes express that they were told not to say anything to anyone. 

 Some biblical scholars explain the reason the disciples do not share about this experience is because they are afraid.  Fair enough, however, what if it is more than that?  What if they chose instead to be obedient:  to be silent in order to listen?

 In our world today, there are so many voices and too much noise and chaos.  Words and rhetoric are shouted with impunity stirring up fear and angst.  How can we listen to the Lord with all the noise?

 Are we able in our daily lives to find quiet places in order to listen?  Are we able to listen in the midst of the chaos in order to discern God’s voice?

 “Imagine for a moment, what the world might look like if we listened—not in preparation to respond, but in order to understand.

“What might (our world,) our politics look like if we listened more and argued less?  What might our schools look like if we taught our children how to listen as intently and deliberately as we taught them how to speak and to write?  And what might our churches look like if we listened intently for the voice of God from those who differ from us?”[i]

No matter where in the world we live, there are political challenges, human rights issues and challenges.  Justice issues abound, do we take the time to truly learn in order to respond in a peaceful, justice filled manner?

 One of my favorite Catholic priests and theologians is Henri J.M. Nouwen, in his book, “Bread for the Journey” he writes the following about listening.

          “To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations.  True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known.  They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept…  The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves.  Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”

 As our Lenten journey draws near, and the chaos of the world presses in and challenges us with voices of despair, fear, and sometimes hate, clanging in our ears, may we remember how to truly listen.  For it will be by listening that we might truly hear one another.  Only by listening will we hope to hear the voice of God.

During Lent, many people give up certain things or take on special practices in the hopes of drawing closer to God. 

 What if this year, we do not tell people the thing we give up, or the practice we take on?  What if instead, we also become more conscience about listening to God and listening to the world around us?  What if we take action only after quality time in prayer by listening to God?

 What if…  What if the message of encountering transfiguration Sunday, we both as individual and as the church become more aware and intentional about prayer, listening and opening our eyes?

 Perhaps when we see in the clouds, the fog – we can become intentional in our responses?

 One of my favorite places to be in the world – no matter where I am, is in nature, on a mountain or by the sea shore with the opportunity to spend quality quiet time, listening!  Only then will I be able to hear the still small voice, or more importantly, the sheer sound of silence.

Listen.

May our eyes be opened and the veil lifted.

May our ears to open – that we might listen for the voice of God!

Listen!

Amen.

 

[i] From the notes of the Rev. Marshall A. Jolly in preparation for his sermon “Last Sunday of Epiphany.”

Pictures taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, hills of the upper Galilee