Lent Devotion… 26 March 2017

“My Song Is Love Unknown” words by Samuel Crossman

Why, what has my Lord done?

What makes this rage and spite?

He made the lame to run,

he gave the blind their sight.

Sweet injuries!

Yet they at these

themselves displease

and ‘giants him rise.

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

1 Samuel 16 v 1.

camel in desert 2Lent is not just about resisting temptation – it is about repentance, making ourselves ready for the future. The spiritual discipline of Lent, as we look to mature in our spiritual lives will, if it is real, be made clear in the way we lead our lives. There is a sense in which Lent is about preparing for the future, the resurrection life and the salvation acts of God. Samuel Crossman’s great hymn “My song is love unknown,” of which the verse above is verse 4 – ends with the words, “This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.” The hymn that reflects upon the story of Jesus’ passion ends by affirming the sustaining joy of a future in fellowship with the Saviour.

“Look to the future” is also the message of the biblical passage quoted above. God challenges Samuel no longer to grieve over Saul and his failings, Samuel had seen in Saul a person who could lead and inspire the Israelites – but as time went by his corruption and psychological demise became clear for all to see. Samuel looks back with acute sadness. But God is saying to Samuel look ahead. I am doing a new thing. Christians when gathering together can too often be looking back with a sense of sadness that things are not as they were. But the challenge of mission is to see how, in God’s name, we can change the world. It is therefore always forward looking.

I perceive a palpable sense of hopelessness especially among the young here in the West Bank. Many are finding it hard to look ahead with any sense of hope. It feels to many that they are in a desert, the heat is on, the water is short, the way ahead looks difficult and uncertain. There is a Christian message of hope that needs to be communicated – in the end Justice will triumph, in the end the ways of God will win through. That can though be a very hard message to communicate in the context we find today in the West Bank and Gaza. It is also a very heard message to hear.

As we progress through the weeks of lent, increasingly considering the passion of our Lord in the days leading up to Good Friday, may we be ready to hear the resurrection message of Easter, – nothing is beyond the capacity of God. The God who raised Jesus from the dead is more than capable of resolving the problems that seem intractable to us – even the conflict between Israel and Palestine. May our faith shine forth with hope for all God’s world.

Let us Pray,

Holy God, sometimes it feels as if the problems we face in life will never go away. Some of the political conflicts of the world seem intractable. Yet nothing is impossible to you. Help us to remember that there is always hope when we hope in you. This prayer we pray in the name of Jesus.

Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. John Howard, Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel, from the Methodist Church in Britain.

Picture: camel wandering in the wilderness, taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown

“My Song Is Love Unknown” words by Samuel Crossman is in the Methodist UK Hymnal in “Singing the Faith” number 277 vs. 4 or in the UMC Hymnal supplement  “The Faith We Sing” number 2083 vs. 4

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.

Fourth Sunday of Advent 18 December 2016

“Tell Out, My Soul” verse 4

Tell out, my soul, the glories of God’s word!

Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure;

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord

to children’s children and forever more!

By Timothy Dudley-Smith

 

Matthew 1:21-23

“‘She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’  All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:  ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’”

Promises, promises!  How many promises have been made to the people of this land?  Promises of good will, promises of return, promises of peace.  And how many of these promises have been kept?

advent-pic-treePalestinians were forced out of their homes in 1948, many with the promise that they would be allowed to return within a few weeks, but almost 70 years later there is still no return.  Oslo promised a Palestinian state in 5 years, and yet, 23 years later, the people are still longing for a state of their own.  How easy it is to become cynical when we hear another promise being made, especially when we look back at all the broken promises that we have experienced.

But the hymn above tells us, “Firm is the promise and God’s mercy sure.”  Why should we believe that?  I remember a professor of mine, a Catholic priest, who taught us about “memory, imagination and anticipation” as a way of living and practicing our faith in God.  Memory – recalling how God has acted in the past; Imagination – trusting that the same God is acting in the present moment; Anticipation – believing that this same God will be with us in the same way in the future.

The Christmas story is one of great promises, beginning with promises to the prophets of a coming Messiah, then of a child to the virgin Mary, and to the shepherds a promise of peace and goodwill to all people.

The promises of God are firm and sure.  They are not like manmade promises.  They can be trusted.  God’s promise came to us at Christmas in the birth of a baby in Bethlehem.  His promise is one of peace and goodwill for all people.  Let us work together with God at making this promise a reality.

Lord, help us to trust you as we look around and see a broken world.  May your promises strengthen our faith and give us hope.  Amen.   

 

Devotion written by Tina Whitehead, Member of the Western Pennsylvania United Methodist Conference, Individual Volunteer serving in Palestine and Israel for 10 years.

Picture:  An olive tree coming back to life in the midst of a demolished village. The promise of hope.  Picture credit:  Tina Whitehead.

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 

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 

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

 

Lent: Devotion reflection from the Holy Land, Week Two

“Ah, Holy Jesus”

Who was the guilty?  Who brought this upon thee?  Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!  ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.

United Methodist Hymn # 289 words by Johann Heermann

Scripture for the day, Philippians 3:17- 4:1

“Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.” – Philippians 3:17

wall photo to exist is to resist

A Palestinian friend of mine had in his car a small poster which said “To exist is to resist.”  It picked up the Arab concept of “Sumud – which translates as “Steadfastness.”  It means rather more than the English word does.  It has an active sense alongside the sense of placid stillness.

St. Paul says, “And we eagerly await a saviour from there (heaven), the Lord Jesus Christ.”  We are called to wait – wait in expectation for our Lord.  But Christian waiting is not a passive thing.  While we wait we serve, while we wait we witness, while we wait we seek to guide others too, to know the love of God that knows no bounds.

Lent leads us to the death of Jesus on the cross.  “Twas I Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.”  The realisation that our sin has offended God, that our sin has led Jesus to the cross, forever reminds us of how little steadfastness we show in our lives.  May the example of the Palestinian people confronted by so many problems, yet remaining steadfast, inspire us to have that spiritual steadfastness that sustains our hope in the coming of the Kingdom, in every moment, in every day – no matter what we face.

Lord Jesus Christ, give to us that steadfastness of spirit we see in Jesus.  Even when we face struggles and seemingly hopeless problems may we follow the example of Jesus as he travels to Golgotha.  Amen.

Devotion written by Rev. John Howard, The Chair of the Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury District of the Methodist Church in Britain.  Rev. Howard also participated in a special program in Palestine and Israel for three months in 2012 with the EAPPI program of the World Council of Churches.  He has lead multiple groups to this area over the years.

Photographs:

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

The graffiti on the wall in Bethlehem near Checkpoint 300, the wall was painted over, white washed, in 2014 before the visit of the Pope Francis, photograph provided by Usama Nicola