Benediction Online

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

What do you think of when you think of Jerusalem?
  • Conflict
  • Jesus
  • Ancient city
  • Weeping Wall…
There are many different images – but most of us don’t immediately have Jesus’ response of wanting to gather its children under our wings!

Jerusalem has a long and violent history - a holy city for all three Abrahamic traditions, it was first settled during the Bronze Age, 6,000 years ago. Caught between powerful forces in the north and south, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Part of its name comes from the same root as shalom or peace, so despite its history of conflict it has been called the City of Peace.

Jerusalem is important for Christians as the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as the home of the first Christians. From 66-70 a rebellion against the Romans led to the destruction of the second Temple which was devastating for religious Jews. The conflict and the destruction and chaos it brought added to the migration of Jewish Christians throughout the known world. When the apostle Paul began to evangelize the Gentile world, he encouraged the new churches to send financial gifts to Jerusalem to support the mother church.

In the Middle Ages, the Crusades brought religious war and mayhem across Europe and the Middle East as Christian armies were sent to retrieve Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Islamic rulers who had started to prevent Christian pilgrimages to our holy places. The plunder, slaughter and destruction carried out by the Crusaders in the name of Christianity is shocking to our modern sensibilities. Once again, Jerusalem was hardly a City of Peace.

But in Jewish and Christian imagery, peaceful Jerusalem is an image of God’s blessing. John, the writer of Revelation, saw a New Jerusalem coming down from heaven. This New Jerusalem is a wonderful description of the kingdom of God. There is no need of sun or moon because God’s light fills the whole city. A river running through the middle of it provides water for the trees of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. So in Christian imagining, the city of great conflict is transformed into the City of Peace and healing.

In today’s reading, I am struck by the tenderness with which Jesus views the city. He is looking ahead to the end of his bodily journey and knows that when he goes to Jerusalem he will be going to meet his death – yet he says it is fitting that he should die in “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.” Our Lenten journey walks us through the wilderness to the darkness of Holy Week and the via dolorosa as Jesus’ death becomes inevitable unless he allows himself to be pulled in by the sin matrix and counters violence with violence - which we know that he does not.

So Jesus is looking in his mind’s eye at the city which will see his crucifixion but instead of anger or fear he looks at it with love and compassion. Let’s hear that again, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

I wonder whether as the followers of Jesus, we too are called to look at Jerusalem with eyes of tenderness and compassion.

Psalm 122 tells us quite simply, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” It goes on, “For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say “Peace be within you”. I wonder how it would be if there were truly peace in the City of Peace.

I want to suggest to you this morning that we are called to work for peace in that historic city. Peace in Jerusalem would mean peace between Moslem, Jew and Christian. There are many reasons for war and most of them are about scarce resources and access to power, but many of them are fuelled by religious hatred and the mis-use of Holy Scriptures. Peace in Jerusalem, real peace in Jerusalem, not just a cease-fire or an artificial separation of the three religions would mean that humanity had reached a place where religion was no longer a cause for hatred.

Let us pray and work for the peace of Jerusalem.

About eighteen months ago I was in Washington to lobby for gay rights. It was the same day as a big pro-Israeli lobby and I found myself in a long line at a security checkpoint next to some young Jewish people. They argued passionately that the information we were getting from the press was inaccurate and that guns were being smuggled into Gaza in the guise of humanitarian aid. There was no way, standing there in Washington, that we could verify their opinion - or my different one.  I don’t think we can know what is really happening in Israel and Palestine and any judgment is made more difficult by the legacy of anti-Semitism. But that need not paralyze us.

Christians are in a minority in the Holy Land. There is an Anglican diocese of Jerusalem which covers a much wider area than the city – it ministers in five countries through twenty-seven parishes – that’s a little more than half as many congregations as we have in this diocese. In addition to churches, the diocese provides education and medical care with a total of 6,400 students in its schools and 200 hospital beds.

The Diocese of Jerusalem works with Moslems, Christians and Jews. Its programs foster understanding and cooperation through its education and healthcare programs as well as participating in inter-faith dialogue and providing opportunities for Israeli and Palestinian families with children to meet and connect beyond the political differences. This Lent, Jill and I will be giving the money we save through our Lenten practice to assist people in Palestine. I invite you to consider doing the same.

Although Jesus had every reason to dread and avoid Jerusalem, he loved it and its people. I wonder where the places are in our lives that we avoid? They may be ideas and feelings that we push away or people we don’t want to see or literally places we don’t want to go. I invite you to start forgiving and praying for those places.

That is part of praying for the peace of Jerusalem. We are privileged to live in peace and to be part of a nation that wages war in other peoples’ homes and countries. Yet we contribute to war by the thoughts of anger and hatred and fear that we harbor. On a large scale, it is those feelings that lead us into war. It is those feelings that keep erecting walls between Christian and Moslem, Moslem and Jew, Israeli and Palestinian, American and Iranian.

This Lent, let us make it a practice to pray and work for the peace of Jerusalem.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

God, unveiled

Paul, the author of today’s second reading, often compared Christianity to the Judaism of his day. He was a highly trained and zealous Jew who experienced the risen Christ in a personal revelation which led him to become one of the leading teachers of the Christian path. So it’s not surprising that his understanding of what Jesus was all about draws heavily on Jewish teaching and history.

In today’s passage from 2 Corinthians, Paul is referring to the story we heard in the first reading. Moses came down from the Mount Sinai having met with God, and his face was glowing. It was so bright that other people found it uncomfortable and so he wore a veil. According to Paul, the Jewish people had continued to see God through a veil ever since. But in Jesus we get to see God unveiled. Jesus, Paul says, is the mirror image of God, and we can be too.
He writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

It was thought that to see God face to face was to risk certain death, just as a moth flies into a flame and is incinerated. So Paul explains that Christ the God-human now mediates between us and God. We no longer have to look at God through a veil because now we see her mirrored in Jesus. We no longer run the risk of frying on contact. So we can have an intimate relationship with the Great High God… we know what he’s like because we see him in Jesus, and because Jesus has freed us from the sin matrix we can have the co-creative, deeply transformative relationship we were created to have.

“All of us,” says Paul, “with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

God is unveiled. At Jesus’ death the curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn, from top to bottom. The curtain, the veil is gone. But what about us? Are we unveiled? Or do we peer at God through a veil of our own making, unwilling to see her glory, unwilling to be transformed by the encounter? God never forces himself on us – if we want to wear veils then he will let us… but what are we missing?

My favorite story from the Desert Fathers and Mothers is when the young Abba Lot goes to his elder Abba Joseph and says, “Brother, I have sat in my cell and said my prayers and kept the fast and done everything I was told to do. What else is there?” And Abba Joseph holds up his hands, and as he does so, flames spring from the top of every finger, and he says, “Why not become entirely fire?”

Why not become entirely fire?

What is stopping us from becoming so full of God that we become entirely fire, that we are transformed and even transfigured? What is causing us to veil our faces in fear and hide from the process of being transformed from glory to glory in his image?

“All of us with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

When we dare to approach God unveiled in the confidence of our safety in Jesus, confident that God’s unconditional love is fully ours…when we dare to approach God unveiled then we too are transformed into the same image – the image of God – we too are being transformed into the Christ-like beings we have the potential to be.

The light of God’s glory which transforms us is not ours, anymore than Moses was shining with his own light. He was shining with the light of God. It is the same light of God which transforms and transfigures us. Not “this little light of mine” but “this gargantuan, gi-normous light which is God is becoming reflected in us just as it was reflected in Jesus the Christ.

When Jesus was transfigured, his face burning with the light of God, the voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen.” We too are God’s chosen, God’s daughters and Sons, God’s beloved, chosen people. We are the ones who have been chosen to shine with God’s light. This does not give us any reason for pride, because it is entirely God’s free gift, offered to all humanity.

But it does require a response from us.

A response which is best summed up in Dag Hammarskjöld’s words, “For all that has been — Thanks. For all that shall be — Yes.”

In order to be transformed into the beautiful children of God, glowing with the Christ-light that we were intended to be our lives must be filled with thanksgiving and praise – the basic energy of the Universe – thanksgiving and praise to the God whose train fills the temple and before whom the angels and archangels constantly give praise, singing Holy, Holy, Holy. And even as we look backwards with thanksgiving and live in the present with praise, so we look to the future with assent.

Saying Yes to God. Saying Yes to our calling. Saying Yes to being transformed into the light of the world.