Tag Archives: Nazareth

Belief Beyond Expectation

A Sermon for 8 July 2018

A reading from the gospel of Mark 6:1-6a.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.  On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded.  They said, “Where did this man get all this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

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

 

Who do you call when your air conditioning goes out on the hottest day of summer – as mine did this week?  An HVAC technician, right?!  Where do you turn for help with a pain in your chest that squeezes tighter and tighter and tighter?  If not the ER, then at least your doctor!  What if you have quandaries about the Divine?  You might expect a pastor would be your best bet or an older, wiser friend in the faith.  . . .  Whether we realize it or not, we live according to a lot of assumptions.  We suppose particular people are best suited to help us with certain things.  We wouldn’t want a lawyer doing our open-heart surgery.  Or a plumber pulling our teeth.  How about a carpenter opening us to the mysteries of God?  It doesn’t quite fit with our expectations of the expertise required.  But sometimes the most unlikely of candidates can turn out to be the exact ones needed.

Early in my ministry when we were having a baptism in worship, sweet little Caitlin was being brought.  And man did that kid have lungs!  From the moment her parents got her from the nursery to be baptized until the moment they took her back out, that child was NOT happy!  She screamed throughout her entire baptism.  During the sacrament, we did all the usuals – including asking members of the congregation “do you promise to nurture this child in the faith?”  In that church, all the children were gathered up front for baptisms so we asked them to make promises too.  We questioned the peering children:  “Do you promise to be good church friends, loving Caitlin, and teaching her about Jesus?”  . . .  Well you know how it is when questions like that get asked in worship rituals.  We say aloud the words printed in the bulletin whether or not we whole-heartedly commit to nurturing the children of God.

The baptism proceeded.  Still screaming, baby Caitlin was handed over.  The water trickled down her brow.  The prayer, the blessing, Amen.  Caitlin’s parents and all the church’s children were released from the font.  . . .  Each week in that congregation, children didn’t stay in the sanctuary for the rest of worship but went to their own children’s worship in a classroom.  When the baptism ended, a stampede of about twenty three through eight year-olds was underway.  I went along, trying to wrangle the running children.  Outside the sanctuary door, I nearly knocked into 8 year-old Christopher.  He stood motionless, his back to me.  Heading down the hall, I instructed, “Come on, buddy, let’s go.”  He didn’t move.  “Christopher, come on,” I insisted.  Still no response.  I finally returned to where he stood, face to face with him.  His eyes were closed – nothing.  I stood there in front of him for a moment, preparing myself to have to handle some sort of excuse about why he didn’t want to go to Children’s Worship that day.  At last his eyes popped opened.  I asked:  “Christopher, are you okay?  It’s time to go to Children’s Worship.”  By that time, he and I were the only ones left in the hallway.  He finally said:  “I know.  I was just saying a prayer for that little baby.  She was crying so much I thought she needed a prayer right now.”  . . .  And a little child shall lead them, Isaiah records.  . . .  No sooner did Christopher tell me what he was up to, than he took off to Children’s Worship.  Meanwhile, I was left standing astonished by his instantaneous commitment to baby Caitlin.  He definitely took his “I do” seriously!  In my haste to smoothly chorale all the kids back to their classroom, I nearly missed it.  I wasn’t expecting such profound wisdom from one so fresh in the faith.

That’s kinda how it was another day long, long ago when folks had gathered for worship in Nazareth.  It was Sabbath rest in the synagogue.  Perhaps they were hoping the rabbi would have a reviving lesson that day.  But they didn’t quite get what they were expecting.  Instead their neighbor, Jesus, got up.  We have to remember that they knew him well:  the little boy who grew up down the street.  Mary and Joseph’s kid – the eldest of their clan.  According to the gospel of Mark, they were five boys and who can remember the scads of sisters.  Certainly, visions of the boy Jesus playing with other neighborhood children ran through the worshipers’ minds.  Some remembered the time the child got lost on the trip back from Jerusalem.  And likely other memories from Jesus’ childhood, his teens, and his twenties before the day Jesus went off the deep end.  Everyone back in Jesus’ hometown knew that not long ago, he ran out on the family.  Left his carpentry work to meet up with that rabble-rousing John the Baptist.  Out yonder in the wilderness John was stirring up a heap of trouble.  Proclaiming folks needed to repent for sins to be forgiven.  Even though they all knew that wasn’t the way sins got cleansed!  The gathered synagogue-goers knew that the Jerusalem priests make their sacrifices.  Their take on the situation was that Jesus had gotten messed up with that John guy and the next thing you know, he too was out shouting all sorts of stuff.  Like the kingdom of God being near.  Jesus had become a disgrace to his family – not to mention an embarrassment to his hometown, because, you know, no one wants to get on the map as the generators of the latest lunatic!  Those in the synagogue that day believed that Jesus had denounced his family that time they tried to take him home – away from crowds that believed he had gone mad.  He said his mother and brothers were the ones gathered with him – the ones doing the will of God (Mark 3:34-35).  Now here he was back in town.  Joining in Sabbath worship.  Yet, it wasn’t just some announcement about the up-coming mission project that he stood to make that day.  Rather, this lowly, un-trained carpenter got up to unlock ancient mysteries about God.  Indeed, no one expected that!  After all, assumptions about who does and who doesn’t know what run pretty deep.  If some completely unqualified handyman gets up to start teaching something new about God – something never before named – something revolutionary, like say a kingdom in which all the tables are over-turned.  Power, prestige, and privilege completely reversed!  Well, we might not be too keen on listening either.  . . .  Homeboy Jesus doesn’t fit their expectations.  So they shoo him off center stage.

How often do we do it?  How often do we miss the marvelous lessons of God because our minds already are made up?  We can’t imagine anything good coming from that kind.  So, instead of listening, we walk away.  Mumbling, “what do they know anyway?”  We keep ourselves comfortably in our pre-conceived worlds.  Not having to stretch too far.  Not opening ourselves to something different.  Because it’s scary, and it’s challenging, and to be honest:  too often, we’re too tired to try.  . . .  But faith requires openness.  Did you catch the chilling words at the close of the reading we heard today?  What a shame it would be if those words from Jesus ever found themselves pointed in our direction.  Mark 6:6a reads:  “And he was amazed at their unbelief.”  In fact, the gospel records that due to their unbelief, Jesus “could do no deed of power there” (Mark 6:5).  Human beings have rebelled against the unexpected since the beginning of time.  All the while, at least according to what we learn from Scripture and from our own lives too if we’re paying attention; all the while, God has been using the unexpected to do the most marvelous of things.  From Father Abraham and barren Mother Sarah, to the scoundrel Jacob who becomes Israel, to that little exiled nation, to a child miraculously born to a betrothed young lady, to first followers who were totally unqualified in the eyes of the world.  Right down through history to you and me:  regular ole’ people who come together to worship the God whom Jesus embodies.  . . .  The double-edged, good news for us is that God does use the most unlikely of candidates.  The Apostle Paul once reminded that it’s the best way to see the unleashed power beyond us:  the strength of God, who always makes something out of what seems to be nothing.  Who turns death into new life.  And makes a way where there seems to be none.  For our part:  we’re asked to believe.  Which isn’t about accent to a certain set of facts.  We’re called to believe.  To trust.  To keep ourselves open to God.  For then, we just might have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the marvels of the God who works beyond all our ingrained expectations.  Changing the world of our lives one powerful deed at a time!

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Discerning the Spirits

A Sermon for 10 June 2018 – 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

A reading from the gospel of Mark 3:20-35.  We continue to hear about the early days of Jesus’ ministry according to the gospel of Mark.  Listen for God’s word to us.

The words right before verse 20 read:  “Then he went home;”  and beginning at verse 20:  “and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat.  21 When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”  22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”  23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?  24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.  27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.  28 Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”  31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’”

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

 

The novel The Girl Who Could Read Hearts:  A Family and the Power of Intuition is about six-year-old Kate.  Primarily written from Kate’s six-year-old point of view, the author records in the Afterword that while Kate and her family are fictional; the story is inspired by a vivid dream and influenced heavily by experiences the author has had throughout her life.  It all starts on Kate’s birthday when she accidently puts the candles of her cake too close to her beloved angel doll Etta Ebella.  Given to Kate by her dear grandmother who mysteriously has been left fully paralyzed and unable to speak, Kate knows what her grandmother too knows but no longer can communicate.  That Etta Ebella isn’t a typical childhood toy.  Which is kinda perfect because Kate isn’t a typical child.  The doll is an actual angel whose heart space sometimes turns into sparkly diamonds and whose topaz eyes captivate those in need of help and whose angel wings flutter every now and again to remind Kate to listen to what she hears with the ears of her tummy.  To trust her vision-like dreams.  To pay attention to what she sees when she looks out from the eyes inside her chest.  For Kate has the seemingly miraculous ability to read people’s hearts.

The description of what she sees when Kate looks at people is fascinating.  Like when her favorite Uncle TT takes Kate to the house of a woman friend she didn’t even know he had.  Kate is surprised to see beautiful little sparks coming out of the hearts of both Uncle TT and Dr. Angelique.  As she watches them animatedly talk, Kate sees the firefly-like sparks circling in one between their hearts.  . . .  When Kate looks at her mean-spirited Uncle Vaynem, she sees something else altogether.  There where his heart should be, Kate sees an ugly color.  A hole stockpiled with weapons that are just waiting to be used in stealth against his next target.  . . .  When Kate looks at the sneaky, bigoted nurse at the hospital, Kate sees the color of greenish-grey-black storm clouds.  A heart filled with bumps like warts on a toad.  Kate doesn’t want that nurse to come anywhere near her with her stone-cold, hard as ice eyes and her nasty, pitted heart.  Kate’s angel doll repeatedly tells her to note the gift of her amazing ability to read hearts.

It might be just a fictional story, but it’s remarkable that lots of people similarly see.  Sometimes referred to as empaths; all sorts of people today are paying attention to their ability to see or feel or intuit – as Kate would say:  with the ears of their tummies and the eyes of their hearts.  Thereby knowing just what is inside another person.  The gift might seem as much a curse as a blessing.  True empaths literally feel what others are feeling – often times taking in another person’s emotional energy (Empaths:  16 Simple Habits to Protect Yourself, Feel Better, and Enjoy Life Even If You are Highly Sensitive, Vik Carter, 2017, p. 5).  While it leads to an astounding ability to be extremely sensitive to other people’s pain, being an empath can be totally draining – especially for those who are unaware they are taking in other’s emotions.  Those with such intense empathy can be incredibly generous.  They want to help others, which at times leads to problems.  ‘Cuz empaths can over-give, while others can over-take until there is such an imbalance between two people that one ends up completely empty while the other never can get their fill.  In the story of The Girl Who Could Read Hearts, it’s helpful that little Kate has her Uncle TT with the very same gift, her similarly-gifted grandmother – even if she is incapacitated, and her angel doll Etta Ebella as her guide.  All helping young Kate to make sense of how valuable it is for her to listen to, and act upon, what Etta Ebella tells her are “the whispers of God,” there to guide her so she will “make choices based on what (she) hears and sees with (her) special ears and eyes” (The Girl Who Could Read Hearts, Sherry Maysonave, Balboa Press, 2016, p. 318).

Jesus is talking about the very same thing.  The gospel of Mark records that Jesus goes home – seemingly back to Nazareth – for the first time after he had set out to find John the Baptist at the beginning of his ministry.  No sooner do people crowd around him than his family hears he’s back.  It’s noted by the gospel that they’ve grown worried:  Jesus’ momma, brothers, and sisters.  They’ve been hearing the rumors.  They see the mounting fear.  Scribes come poking around from Jerusalem, which can’t at all be good!  Attracting the attention of the spiritual authorities all the way up in Jerusalem means there’s bound to be trouble!  He’s been all over Galilee accomplishing miraculous cures, exercising a new kind of power, making pronouncements that ruffle the feathers of the religious and political leaders of his day.  We have the benefit of the full story as we read of Jesus.  We already believe him the mysterious mix of human and Divine.  His contemporaries did not!  They wanted to know just who he thought he was!

It’s fair to say Jesus was the quintessential empath – with a very special gift of reading the hearts of others.  Certainly, he was expert at listening to the whispers of God.  Paying attention to his vivid vision-like dreams.  Listening with the ears of his tummy and seeing with the eyes of his heart.  People couldn’t understand how he knew what he knew.  It didn’t make sense to them where he got what he taught and how he was able to heal as he did.  They claimed he drove out demons – unclean spirits that might have looked just like six-year-old Kate’s Uncle Vaynem’s ugly-colored, weapon-stockpiling heart; or like what Kate saw when she met the conniving, small-minded nurse with her storm-cloud, wart-bumped heart.  Somehow Jesus was able to discern the spirits of those who came to him.  To cast out the parts that were making the person ill and cure parts of bodies few others dared to touch.  He clearly knew what was of God and what was not.

What’s more, he proclaims that discerning the spirits is key for any who would be his followers.  All his talk about “Satan casting out Satan,” a “kingdom being divided against itself” never being able to stand (Mark 3:23-24).  Jesus knew the difference between that which was of the Holy Spirit and that which was not.  Messing up the difference between a spirit that was contrary to the Spirit of God would have eternal consequences, Jesus taught.  Trying to silence what was of the Spirit of God, as Jesus’ family intended to do to him on his first trip back home, would show one’s real allegiance – would reveal what really was within another’s heart.  Jesus would have none of it.  In word and in deed he proclaimed that being about the will of God shows the contents of a person’s insides.  Jesus teaches that if we want to discern the spirits, all we need to do is look.  . . .  Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul would give the helpful reminder to look for the fruits of the spirit.  We can distinguish between the Holy Spirit of God and that which is not when we see evidence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).  The nine signs that the one we’re looking at is under the influence of the Holy Spirt; is up to the will of God.

It might be easier if we all had Kate’s remarkable ability.  Literally to see the colors and shapes emanating from hearts – our own and others.  It might be a welcome gift to be able to notice when fireflies are dancing or jagged ridges are shooting.  When the emotions of another look like turbulence or feel as delightful as a soft breeze caressing our cheek.  Surely then we could rightly see – clearly distinguishing so we’d repeatedly be on the side of God’s Spirit.  Nonetheless, even if all we have are the eyes on the front of our face; our Lord expects us to look.  To discern between the spirits.  To be sure we don’t mistake the work God is up to in the world today, be it different than what we’ve seen before.  So that when authorities question motives.  And families fear for lives; we are not deterred.  With the clarity of those who really know, we follow where blessed fruit grows.  Welcoming in our lives and others’ the evidence of the Spirit, wonderful signs, God’s whispers come to be our special guides.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (All rights reserved.)

Love Lessons

A Sermon for 6 May 2018 – 6th Sunday of Easter

A reading from the gospel of John 15:9-17 (NRSV).  This reading picks up right where Jesus left off with his disciples at their last meal together before his arrest and crucifixion.  Remember that he is not only seeking to comfort them in all that lies ahead.  He’s also charging them one last time before his death and resurrection with how he expects them to live.  Abiding in his love, he knows:  he will live among them forever.  Listen:

“’As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.  10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.  12 This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.  15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  16 You did not choose me, but I chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.  17 I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’”

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

 

In Nazareth, the Church of the Annunciation (to Mary) stands adjacent to the Church of St. Joseph.  Below the Church of the Annunciation, it is believed that the remains of Mary’s family home lie near the believed remains of the home that may have belonged to Joseph’s family – as if to tell the world through archeology that Joseph grew up alongside young Mary as the boy next door.  Childhood sweethearts destined to be together.  Other traditions tell that the remains in the cave under the Church of St. Joseph are where Joseph had his carpentry business – the holy family either living behind it, or in the home next door where the annunciation to Mary is believed to have taken place.  Whether the remains of either edifice are the exact spot where it all happened, Nazareth today tells the story of a unified, devoted family.  Even the art on display depicts a happy little three-some:  Father Joseph, Mother Mary, and the radiant child ever between them.  From icons to sculptures to massive wall paintings, Nazareth portrays the importance of each role.  The care needed from a willing mother.  The mastery taught from an industrious dad who passed on the family trade and faith to the child he took under his wing to raise as his very own son.  Believing the angel’s insistence that the child growing in Mary’s womb was the Spark of the Divine – the son of the Sovereign of the Heavens and Earth, the art of Nazareth shows that between the three – father, mother, and young son – infinite love flows.

It’s a good reminder that love has to be learned somewhere.  We enter this world as infants with such amazing capacity.  When greeted warmly – especially given skin-to-skin contact with our mother in the very first hour after birth, we have the greater ability to attach, have optimal brain development, and avoid separation anxiety which promotes healthy self-regulation as we grow (https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/806325).  Trust develops as we cry out when in need only to find the tender hands of a mother or father responding.  When we are held close as babies – able only to see as far as the smiling face gazing back at us, we learn our worth.  We know we matter.  As we physically grow, our little bodies allow us to explore a great big world that is totally new to us.  When encouraged within appropriately safe settings, fear subsides.  We learn to delight in the amazing creation all around.  Hopefully our homes are filled with kind voices.  Reassuring words.  The presence of peace in big people who pay attention to us because they really want to – not merely because they feel obligated.  Hopefully we’re surrounded by parents and siblings and grandparents too who cheer us on as we develop and are there when we fall to pick us up, dust us off, and love us back into trying again.  The lessons of love are meant to start at home.  But they don’t stop there.

According to the gospel of John, as Jesus is with his followers for their last meal together before his arrest and crucifixion; Jesus repeatedly tells them to love one another.  This is the way others will know they belong to him – have been schooled by Rabbi Jesus in his Way.  “Love one another,” Jesus persists, “as I have loved you” (John 15:12).  . . .  It’s such a gift to have the presence of love in our lives.  What a joy, even when we are grown, to have those alongside who greet us warmly, and respond to our needs when we cry out, and gaze upon us with a great big genuine smile.  Life would be hell on earth without heart-felt encouragement, unmerited kindness, and reassurance that we really do matter – at least to one or two people in this world.

Other than saying that no greater love exists than laying down one’s life for one’s friends – and enacting that truth in everything from getting down in the dirt to wash his disciples’ feet to willingly going to his death on a cross, the gospel of John doesn’t give a lot of words to describe love.  The Apostle Paul does in his infamous words to the Christians in Corinth when he writes:  “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:4-8a).  No matter what might be going on in the world around; I wonder how many of us enact in our homes, in our lives, in our dealings with each other as a church:  patience.  Kindness.  Lack of envy.  No boasting.  No arrogance.  Never rude.  How wonderfully freeing does it feel to be in relationships where it is not about someone always insisting on their way or the highway?  Who wants to be around those that are irritable?  Who wants to let into their lives the poison of resentfulness?  Not even children really like the sibling who’s always excited when they mess up.  Wouldn’t we all rather have someone celebrating goodness.  Being with us through great challenges – believing in us and hoping the best for us and sticking with us when the rest of the world runs away?  . . .  Sum it all up in the word L-O-V-E.  But don’t forget the texture of love – the key components.  The grit of love and the grace.  The lasting nature of relationships built upon and filled with mature love.

In her new release called Grateful:  The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks, Diana Butler Bass eloquently reminds that gratitude, like love, is not just a feeling.  It is an ethic, she says.  A practice.  When chosen routinely, it becomes a habit – which in turn creates a habitat.  So:  a practice of giving thanks – enacted routinely, leads to a habitat of gratitude – a person who lives thankfully – filled with grace; for they know “every hour is a grace” (Elie Wiesel quote in chapter 2, Grateful).  . . .  Likewise, a practice of loving – which routinely enacts patience, kindness, humility, modesty, civility, collaboration, contentment, and forgiveness – creates a habitat of love.  Beautiful lives for all.  Love in action – not just a warm feeling inside.  But sustained, chosen acts.  Like the kinds we see when the early church was at its best – ensuring those in deep need were tended.  Sharing what they had with each other.  Speaking the truth in love in trust that God would take care of the rest.  Living humbly, with humility – not trying to draw attention unto themselves as they spread the message of God’s love far and wide and accomplished amazing feats by the Holy Spirit.  In their finest hours, those Jesus called his friends went forth from his death and resurrection to keep their focus on the transforming love of God for the sake of all the world.

Certainly, we know that the practice of love can be complex.  Recently, a devoted grandmother was telling me that upon just returning from a week with her daughter and grandchildren, she was trying to determine whether or not to say yes to her daughter’s request to please make the 10-hour car trip again – twice more in the next month for week at a time to again babysit the three grandchildren while their mother worked.  I wouldn’t tell the grandmother what to do – how could I?  I hardly knew the ins-and-outs of the family’s dynamics even to give good advice.  But I was reminded that true love is not always easy.  Depending on the situation, sometimes the most loving thing we can do in relationships is tell another person:  “No.  This is acceptable, loving behavior; and that is not.  This is the proper boundary between what is me and what is them.  And that is not.”  Other times, our yes is exactly what is needed.  Freely chosen, we give witness to the kind of love Jesus was commending.

“Love one another,” Jesus commands.  “As I have loved you” (John 15:12).  Live in that amazing flow – the life-giving habitat of acts freely chosen.  Practices that are routine so that it takes less effort the more we do them.  Schooled in this Way, as Christ promised:  great joy will be in all.  Indeed, our lives will show infinite love still flows.

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

© Copyright JMN – 2018  (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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