Tag Archives: Holy Land Pilgrimage

Boating with Jesus

A Sermon for 24 June 2018

 

A reading from the gospel of Mark 4:35-41.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  Other boats were with him.  37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.  38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”  Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.  40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

A few years ago, I was on a boat.  Growing up on Lake Michigan, I’d often been on our boat.  Fishing with dad.  Messing around summer afternoons with my sister as we rowed out beyond second sandbar.  Relaxing with friends in the quiet offshore.  Boats are nothing new to me – likely they’re not to some of you too.  Canoes.  House Boats.  Ocean liners.  I’ve pretty much experienced them all.  The boat I was on in 2014 was not only unexpected.  It ended up to be kinda ironic.  I was on a pilgrimage as the culmination of my work for a Certificate in Christian Spiritual Formation through Columbia Seminary.  We were in the Holy Land.  Staying in a wonderful inn in the city of Tiberias.  When we loaded the bus one morning, we drove north then east to the entrance of a boat launch.  We walked through a museum housing the remains of a First Century fishing boat which at last was recovered from the sea in 1986.  Finally, we got ourselves on board the much sturdier, modern tour boat.  The captain powered up the motor.  And away we went for a ride on the Sea of Galilee.

Never before had I been to the Holy Land.  On the other side of the world.  Reflecting with every step upon story after story I had known since I was young.  It was amazingly eye-opening to actually see the places the stories mentioned:  Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Jordan River, Jerusalem, and, of course, the Sea of Galilee around which Jesus spent so much of his ministry.  I’ll never forget that Galilee boat ride.  Because no sooner did we get out into the middle of what seemed to me to be a pretty small lake; after all, it’s nothing like Lake Michigan where all you see is sandy beaches and blue water the whole way to the horizon.  But there we were.  In the middle of that eight-mile-wide lake alongside Tiberias when the wind switched.  Dark clouds rolled in.  And a storm overtook the sea.  Moments before my fellow pilgrims had been standing at the boat’s edge, looking to Tiberias on one end of the sea, Capernaum on another, the southern side of the lake from which the Jordan River flows, the eastern cliffs believed to be the spot the demon-possessed pigs jumped off into the sea.  Then suddenly the wind whipped up.  The waves thrashed about.  The rain pounded down upon us and that little boat.  The captain was panicked.  Barking orders for us to sit down fast.  He did a 180 to promptly cut our sea cruise short – worried not so much about our safety, but of the fate of his livelihood; his precious touring boat.  Inching ever so slowly through the chopping water in hopes we’d make it safely back to shore, we were presented with a few moments to ponder just what it must have been like to be out there on a boat much smaller and more fragile than our captain’s sturdy vessel.  According to the story as record in the gospel of Mark:  in the middle of night.  After a long day of hearing story upon story about God’s kingdom.  Only to find Jesus – the charismatic teacher who had been inspiring his little ban of followers – snug in the stern.  Asleep in the back of the boat!

Boats offer intriguing experiences, wouldn’t you say?  What could be better than speeding across the water, skimming the wake, escaping the heat of summer – good friends and family all around?  Boats offer the tranquility of lazily floating down a river.  Or cruising a mighty ocean.  Boats can be as simple as a single-person kayak, as tough as an industrial barge, or as sleek as an elegant yacht.  It’s hard to escape others once you step foot upon a boat.  From the steadiness needed by all in a little row boat to the teamwork it requires to sail one from shore to shore.  Even the largest ship reminds we’re all in it together if suddenly something like an iceberg buckles the starboard side.

Almost from the beginning, boats have been a symbol of the church.  Perhaps you’ve seen sanctuaries built to the glory of God with rugged vaulted ceilings made of exposed wooden beams, intentionally fashioned to resemble the reversed look of a boat’s keel.  The architecture of many cathedrals contains what’s called transepts – the part of the building extending north to south like the horizontal beam of the cross.  The transepts run between the parts of the building called the chancel area and the part of the building called the nave, from the Latin word navis.  As in navy, naval.  Ship.  Some liturgies for baptism even include these words:  “’Received into the ark of Christ’s Church . . . may’” (the baptized) “’so pass the waves of this troublesome world’ as finally to ‘come to the land of everlasting life.’  . . .  It’s been written that “The nave, then, (represents) the Church into which God, in (God’s) love gathers us together in order to bring us in safety through the storms of life” (http://biblehub.com/library/regester/the_worship_of_the_church/symbolism_of_the_church_building.htm).  Like Noah and the two-by-two animals that made their way into the big boat right before the rains began.  The Church is the boat of God that holds us all.  And like Noah and all the animals in the big boat, it’s important to remember.  It might get a little stinky inside; but it sure beats drowning outside the ark alone in life’s flood waters.  One source writes of the boat of the Church as “tossed on the sea of disbelief, worldliness, and persecution but finally reaching safe harbor with its cargo of human souls” (Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, http://www.jesuswalk.com/christian-symbols/ship.htm).

It’s been an interesting week to be reflecting upon the story of the boat that holds the sleeping Christ.  How often do we feel like the battered little boat of disciples wishing Jesus would wake up to save us in the churning sea of today’s world?  It might be helpful to know one commentator’s take on why Jesus was able to sleep through the storm on the boat.  In Feasting on the Gospels, Thomas D. Stegman, writes:  “Jesus’ untroubled sleep shows forth his deep, abiding trust in God’s power and protection.  It also recalls the sleep of the farmer in the parable Jesus just told (4:26-29), the sleep that faithfully awaits God’s creative work of nurturing the growth of the field and bringing it to harvest” (Feasting on the Gospels:  Mark; Westminster John Know Press, 2014.  p. 143).  Might we too be a little boat of disciples, holding the sleeping Christ?  Untroubled, he is with us amid the storm.  Awaiting God’s creative work.

It certainly seemed like it when I read this week of the work of the part of God’s boat called the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Perhaps you followed along too.  As the biennial gathering of our national governing body, the General Assembly, met in St. Louis; I was in awe to see what the part of God’s boat called the PCUSA has been up to.  Of course, the week included vigorous debate like that over whether or not to charge the Board of Pensions to stop investing pastor’s pensions in companies who knowingly are doing further harm to the environment.  It also included money of the church being restricted to help repair Native American churches.  And passing an overture about possibly adopting as a confession to be added to our Book of Confessions Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham City Jail.”  At one point in the week, a young adult attender rose to tell the whole assembly how proud he is to be a part of a denomination that has been becoming more welcoming and affirming for all.  Then, in the very next breath; he came out to everyone there only to be immediately swarmed by a huge group hug (https://marciglass.com/2018/06/21/proud-to-be-presbyterian/).  The week also included something I’ve never before seen reported from GA.  On Tuesday about 400 Presbyterians left the convention hall in St. Louis to march over to the Justice Center with an offering of $47,000.  The money was raised to pay the bail of nearly 3 dozen non-violent offenders charged with things possession of marijuana and public disturbance.  Some have been held for up to a year because they have not been able to scrape together the cash-only required bail needed to release them from jail.  Presbyterians not only gathered to worship and study and debate.  We gathered to serve, as did high schoolers of the Hands and Feet initiative who tagged along from their Presbyterian Churches in Kentucky and Arkansas to do mission work in Ferguson.  The trip was planned in conjunction with the General Assembly gathering so Presbyterians intentionally would bring a positive impact to the St. Louis area (p. 5 of https://issuu.com/pcusa_oga/docs/ga223_news_day_6?e=33600028/62576572).  We gathered to serve the underserved in a racially torn town and ensure the release of captives.  We gathered to amend wrongs of the past and embrace a hopeful future for the least and lost among us.  Somewhere I read of a charge from the General Assembly for all Presbyterians to “live up to the qualities reflected in the PCUSA’s acronym:  Prayerful, Courageous, United, Serving, and Alive” (p. 3 of https://issuu.com/pcusa_oga/docs/ga223_news_day_6?e=33600028/62576572).  At work today!  Members of God’s boat with a trusting Christ asleep among us.  For he already sees in action God’s creative work!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

 

Holy Land Pilgrimage Remembrance # 6 (#5 is yet to be posted!)

Friday, March 14, 2014: Jerusalem.

View of the Old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

Old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

Wow!  Friday, our first day in Jerusalem, was exhausting! Lots of walking for our pilgrimage sites, followed by heading back out to the Wailing Wall at sundown to begin Sabbath in Jerusalem. I LOVED being on the Mount of Olives. We were taking the walk down the Palm Sunday Road into Gethsemane.

The Palm Sunday Road from the Mount of Olives into Old Jerusalem.

The Palm Sunday Road from the Mount of Olives into Old Jerusalem.

Of course, we know that’s not entirely how it happened – he didn’t go down from the Mount of Olives right into the fateful night in Gethsemane. Even if the story was being experienced a bit out of order, I could imagine his followers super excited. Making a big deal out of his entry into Jerusalem! Maybe lots of them thought he’d come out of it all triumphant. Over-turned all of Judaism and Rome before he even got there. Certainly his closest friends knew otherwise: Peter, James, John, his mother, Mary Magdalene. I’m not sure they would have been all that excited about his entry into Jerusalem the week of the Passover Festival.

We had lunch Friday somewhere that seemed like an upper room – a beautiful space to relax and reflect and rest after the hustle and bustle of the busy Jerusalem streets. I found the Via Dolorosa more moving than expected. But before that part of the story and of our pilgrimage was that rock of agony in Gethsemane.

The Rock of Agony in the Church of All Nations, Gethsemane.

The Rock of Agony in the Church of All Nations, Gethsemane.

What a beautiful sanctuary there – the Church of All Nations! And in it, what an immense rock upon which Jesus most probably threw himself trying to come to terms with the road ahead! I’m sure it was a struggle because he certainly knew Rome’s power. He knew how upset the other Jewish teachers were becoming with him. You can feel it when the pressure’s building and folks are ready to get you. And yet, he knelt on that rock . . . I like that it was a rock: the foundation. The solid base upon which we can stand. He was able to get up from that spot trusting his father would get him up from another rock just a few days thereafter.

From that rock of agony, he was taken to a place we saw on Saturday (the day I’m actually writing this reflection). To the house of Caiaphas, the Chief Priest. We saw the stairs. The Golden Stairs they are called, which he walked down in order to get from the Upper Room of Maundy Thursday through the Kidron Valley to the garden of Gethsemane.

The Garden of Gethsemane.

The Garden of Gethsemane.

As they snatched him out of the garden that night, they led him bound back up those stairs. Then down them again in the morning as they tossed him between Pilate and Herod in the city. By that point of his last day, he’d been in that pit – another rock. A pit in a massive rock where they would have lowered him for the duration of that one last night after binding him in the garden. The way the archeology tells the story there, the free Spirit of God-in-flesh was tied up. Locked down and lowered into the earth to await all that would happen. Our pilgrimage leader read Psalm 88 while we all were in that pit. When he was waiting there, I can imagine him wondering if Peter was out in the courtyard. In those very moments, three times denying him. Three times saying he never knew him. As I sat in both places today – the courtyard and the pit – I felt sympathy for Peter. At least he had the courage to follow his bound Lord there. Even if he said NO when asked his allegiance to him.

The Golden Stairs near Caiaphas' House.

The Golden Stairs near Caiaphas’ House.

And in that pit. I can imagine it dark. Cold. Terrifying waiting for it all to unfold. Pain in his body. Trouble in his soul. I hope that rock reminded him of all the other rocks. The place on which his soul was strengthened just a few minutes prior in Gethsemane. The rocks all over Galilee upon which he promised Peter he’d build his church. The rocks and falling waters of Caesarea Philippi: the Source from which he was to draw strength. In those moments, I hope he trusted that the rock of the tomb upon which his broken, life-less body would be placed, would NOT be his end! I hope he was able to lay aside any of his fear to hope and trust and be assured of the miracle that lie ahead!

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The Pit at Caiaphas' House.

The Pit at Caiaphas’ House.

From that pit he was dragged to the site of his conviction and flagellation under Pontius Pilate. BTW: We couldn’t go into that first site on the Via Dolorosa. But how I wish we could have. To see and feel it for a moment: the passive work of our Lord – letting it all happen to him.

Bound Lord up the Golden Stairs.

The bound Lord being taken up the Golden Stairs.

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His ego was a true, whole self. For he was willing to let it all come. No stopping it. And each of those spots along that road, until, at last, the Skull.

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Stations of the Via Dolorosa.

Stations of the Via Dolorosa.

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It ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – though I find The Garden Tomb and Place of the Skull behind the old religious stoning site just outside the Damascus Gate much more probable. The Garden Tomb was the kind of holy place I need yet today: a simple, yet abundant garden. He was killed, not for religious reasons, but politically motivated – at least according to the Jewish law we were reminded of today.

Site of the Crucifixion at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Site of the Crucifixion at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

According to our pilgrimage guide, execution for religious reasons in those days required four things: no arrest at night, 24 hours held in prison, witness before the entire Sanhedrin (of 71), and no religious execution on a Holy Day. It certainly seems as if the plan from the start was to get Rome to do the dirty work.

The Servant of the LORD,

     The Servant of the LORD.

Whatever the scheme, as the statute of The Servant of the LORD in Caiaphas’ House reads: “He surrendered himself to death . . .” (Is. 53:12b). Down deep in that pit on the grounds of Caiaphas’ House there no longer was anyway out. Now that’s commitment. . . .  A total surrender of self that somehow would change all the world.

The Place of the Skull at the Garden Tomb.

The Place of the Skull at the Garden Tomb.

Allelu!

Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)

Pilgrimage Remembrances #3

And on the third day touring the Holy Land . . .

10 March 2014 – Megiddo or Armageddon as we hear it called by some today: the site of the final battle envisioned in Revelation (16:16) when good finally will triumph to bring an end to all destruction.

A model of the walled city of Megiddo.

A model of the walled city of Megiddo.

Which makes some sense because in 7,000 years, this place has been conquered and rebuilt over 25 times. It’s unfortunate that the geography makes this the path for travel between such ancient superpowers as Egypt to the south, and Syria and Mesopotamia to the north. Set at the south-central edge of an incredibly fertile valley (the Jezreel Valley, which is known as the breadbasket of Israel), the inhabitants of Megiddo hardly had a chance! Nazareth can be seen in the distance northeast of Megiddo – just on the opposite edge of the valley. In other words, a young boy growing up in Nazareth certainly would have known and remembered the bloody history of Megiddo.

Ruins on Megiddo.

   Ruins on Megiddo.

Vertical Shaft inside the walled city leading down, down, down 120 feet to a water spring 215 feet through a tunnel -- an ancient way to get fresh water!

Vertical Shaft inside the walled city leading down, down, down 120 feet to a water spring 215 feet through a tunnel — an ancient way to get fresh water!

In our time of silent reflection on Megiddo, I wrote these words: Twenty-five times this little city has been conquered. I can’t imagine! How do you make a life in the midst of such a history when the very land under your feet runs red with the blood of so many others who tried to make home in the very same spot under your feet? How do you ever feel secure? Safe? Fearless? God really is their only hope. Their only security. And yet again we choose to secure ourselves. To allow might to be our fortress – no matter how many times that experiment fails. Jesus grew up not far from here. Which means he knew well how vulnerable his people – all people – were. How fragile their history. How often their choice to defend themselves with the very tools of force used against them. It would never work. It will never work.

Peace. How do we have peace in the midst of our violent, ready-to-fight history?

LORD have mercy. Christ have mercy. LORD have mercy upon us all.

A view from Megiddo of the Jezreel Valley.  10 March 2014.

A view from Megiddo of the Jezreel Valley. 10 March 2014.

On to Nazareth: The childhood home of Jesus.       

A remaining ancient manger (for feeding horses) on Megiddo.

A remaining ancient manger (for feeding horses) on Megiddo.

Jesus, we’re stuck in a traffic jam in Upper Nazareth. And down below I can see the house of Mary and the house of Joseph – which of course confirm that Mary and Joseph were neighbors. The boy next door. It was meaningful to be at the Greek Orthodox Church of Mary’s Well. I like the tradition that she was drawing water from the well the first time the angel visited. Supposedly she was so afraid, she ran all the way home! It was a long way actually as we discovered when we were walking to it in the rain. . . . The Church of Joseph’s house was amazing. Ruins from the house of Joseph, which most probably were where Jesus grew up. How very cool to see what very well was Jesus childhood home.

Ruins in Nazareth believed to be the Holy Family's home.

Ruins in Nazareth believed to be the Holy Family’s home.

A carpenter shop in the front and the home in the back of it, if you have enough money and land. Which they supposedly must have according to the ruins. . . .

The Holy Family's mikvah.

The Holy Family’s mikvah.

To imagine the spot in Mary’s house where the angel visited – AGAIN, or for the first time if you don’t go with the tradition of the well. Courage certainly was the word that kept coming back. That must have been her trek from the well back to her home. Fear turned to courage with every step. . . . Courage overcoming the fear. Courage to say let it be. Courage to go along with God’s big dream for her life – and for the life of the world! . . .

The well of Nazareth (the believed site of the messenger's first visitation).

The well of Nazareth (the believed site of the messenger’s first visitation).

Icon of the Annunciation.

Icon of the Annunciation.

The site believed to be the spot of the 2nd visitation to young Mary (in her house).

The site believed to be the spot of the 2nd visitation to young Mary (in her house).

Our visit was a bit rushed, but so incredibly beautiful. I especially loved the family portraits of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. You don’t see all three of them together very often in the art.

Photo of the Holy Family Icon.  Taken by JMN.  10 March 2014.

Photo of the Holy Family Icon. Taken by JMN. 10 March 2014.

I love that one that looked Middle Eastern – more true to life. That one was great because it showed a whole family – the importance of each one of them in the story. . . . The importance of each one of us in the story. . . . It looked to me like such love. Such joy. Such laughter in their family. But such seriousness too. Growth. Learning. That very same courage both Mary and Joseph had – they passed it on to him. I guess for such a big dream, you needed two who were brave, despite their fear. Two who would say “let it be so with me as you desire!” Two who could build a foundation of courage and hope and obedience. . . . God, won’t you increase in me my courage and hope and obedience? . . . Let us all hear the voice of whatever messenger you send. Give us courage not to run away. But to sit. To wait. To listen. To allow a space in each one of us to open up from the fear into singing a song of the praise of God! Let us sing out to glorify the LORD who sets us free!

Statue of the Holy Family outside the Church of St. Joseph.  Nazareth.

Statue of the Holy Family outside the Church of St. Joseph. Nazareth.

Late afternoon, 10 March 2014: Stopped in Cana, I decided to re-read the story while I waited for the group that went to see the holy site. John 2:1-11: Jesus, his mother, and a few first followers attend a wedding feast a few miles northeast of his hometown. If you don’t know the story, read it. The gospel of John records it as the first of many of his great signs: unexpected abundance! In that spot, my reflections on the story were these: So clearly Jesus says to his mother, don’t push me! And yet . . . Mary, still the agent of God’s Spirit, persists. Lovely!

And the story goes that his first disciples believe because of this first amazing sign (turning LOTS – about 150 gallons so – of water into LOTS – about 150 gallons so – of the finest wine! Six huge vats full of the most amazing fruit of the vine – like the yield of a whole vineyard suddenly in their midst!) It was ABUNDANCE! An unexpected gift!

Which leaves me wondering what signs I’m given each day.

The sky over Cana in Galilee.  10 March 2014.

The sky over Cana in Galilee. 10 March 2014.

This gorgeous blue sky of Cana as the backdrop for beautiful, wispy clouds – the very same patch Mother Mary watched that day she first was visited.

Ru (my lil spirit dog): my experience of resurrection after putting down the last one on Good Friday. When my heart was broken in two, this sweet lil puppy was the gift to me that I would stand back up again. I would love and live and carry on – not because of me. But because of the Holy One. The One that is Life, that rises again and again and again.

Baby Ru!  1 August 2013.

Baby Ru! 1 August 2013.

Unexpected kindness and compassion in the midst of struggle and difficulty. Everything eventually working out. It always will. ALL always shall be well!

The cosmic pattern, the Way: living, and dying, and living again. If only we finally would learn your Way, O Mysterious Force.

All these signs of amazing abundance surround us every day!

Three favorite signs of unexpected abundance: 

a stick bug in my lavender, my beloved climbing rose, and my first-fruits of raspberries!

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© Copyright JMN – 2015. All rights reserved.