"We have arrived in Jerusalem in time to hear the call to prayer. Long flight but glad to be surrounded by Beginnings."
- Bishop Morris Thompson, Diocese of Louisiana
"This Christmas will be even more meaningful for me as a result of our experience walking in the places where Jesus walked."
- Pilgrim: Tom Hoffacker
"Being able to read the Christmas scriptures at the place of Jesus' birth was incredibly moving. "
- The Rev. Adam Trambley
"As I returned to the US and listened to friends and family stress about the “danger” of life in Israel, I had to hold back my chuckle. I never once felt endangered or scared. I was too busy soaking up the depth and width of God’s love for the world and for me. There was nothing to fear, nothing to fret, nothing to worry about. I was walking in the footsteps of Jesus, surrounded by millions of God’s fellow precious children. "
- The Rev. Adam Trambley
I was glad when they said unto me,
"We will go into the house of the LORD." Amen.
Sermon Preached by Scott Street
Parish of the Epiphany
May 6, 2015
1 I was glad when they said to me, *
"Let us go to the house of the LORD."
2 Now our feet are standing *
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem is built as a city *
that is at unity with itself;
4 To which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the LORD, *
the assembly of Israel,
to praise the Name of the LORD.
5 For there are the thrones of judgment, *
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: *
"May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls *
and quietness within your towers.
8 For my brethren and companions' sake, *
I pray for your prosperity.
9 Because of the house of the LORD our God, *
I will seek to do you good."
If that reading from the Gospel of John sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because we just
heard it read last Sunday. Thomas chose not to preach on this text; following his lead, I have
Instead, I am preaching on today’s psalm whose poetry evokes the lure and sacredness of
Jerusalem. Whether by chance or the Holy Spirit, Psalm 122 is assigned for today, and so am
I, and the moment I realized this, I knew what this sermon would be about. I have always
loved this text, especially singing it, which I had the joy of doing at Brett and Dave’s wedding
almost 15 years ago. And the psalm has gained added meaning for me since my pilgrimage
to the Holy Land last January. For in Jerusalem, I met the Word made flesh dwelling among
When we arrived at St. George’s College in Jerusalem, each member of our pilgrimage group
was asked to name one thing we were hoping to get from the trip. I said I was hoping to meet
Jesus. I was kinda hoping I’d meet him in bodily form like the Apostles did after the
resurrection, but I figured it probably wouldn’t happen quite like that. If it happened at all.
The following two days were jampacked.
On our first full day, we took a quick bus trip that oriented us to the city, and we then walked to a number of important sites to learn our way around old Jerusalem. Our various stops were highlighted by Iyad, our Palestinian Christian guide, reading scripture passages that gave us a biblical context for what we were seeing. We met with Archbishop Duwani, bishop of Jerusalem, who spoke eloquently of the challenges of being a tiny minority religion in a very complicated situation. He spoke without rancor, and his message was one of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. We also heard from Dr. Amad, an Arab Muslim Palestinian who earned his PhD at Duke. He described the challenges he faces as a nonJew living in an occupied land, and he spoke with warmth and humor, sometimes tinged with sadness. He said, rather matteroffactly, that he was hopeful that the current stalemate between Israel and Palestine could be resolved with the twostate solution sometime in the next 150 years. 150 years! That’s forever in my mind, but a mere blink in a land that measures time in increments of millenia.
On day two, we went to Bethlehem, and, as you may have heard at adult class on Sunday, it
was a bittersweet trip for us. We saw the place where Jesus was born, and we worshipped
with the Franciscans in the lower reaches of the Church of the Nativity, scant feet from the
place where baby Jesus laid; for me, it was beautiful, spiritual, otherworldly. It was holy.
My mood changed abruptly when we saw a different view of Bethlehem. Iyad, standing
beside a fence with barbed wire above his head, spoke about the concrete Wall that
separates Palestinians from Israelis and which loomed before us. He told us the truth of
Bethlehem today: it is a prison whose walls surround the city and imprison its nonJewish
citizens. Iyad expressed pain, anger, determination, and also hope. He was talking about his
land, his home, his people, being treated in this way, and the depth of his feelings touched the
depth of mine. After this rollercoaster day, my heart and mind were swirling, and perhaps my spirit was sinking a bit.
On the third day, we rose early to go into the old city to visit the Western Wall and the Temple
Mount. Sharing perhaps the single most sacred location in the world, these two places are
held holy by Jews, Muslims and Christians alike; they are places where God is sought and
found. I was anxious for a connection with God, a spark of contact that would energize my
spirit. Maybe this was where I would meet Jesus? Alas, these places did not provide that
spark for me.
Then we walked a short distance to the healing pools of Bethesda, a place where Jesus cured
a man who had been ill for many years. Here we held our own healing service in a beautiful
courtyard adjacent to the ancient pools. We sang a simple chant as we awaited our turn for
the laying on of hands. When Mary and I approached our healer, Thomas, he asked quietly
what we would like to pray for. I said, pray for the Palestinian people and pray for the peace
of Jerusalem. And so he did. Though I don’t remember exactly what he said, at one point, he
used the word “hope,” and at that very moment, I got the message, I made the spiritual
connection: Jesus was a Palestinian, just like the people we were meeting. Jesus came from
the same land as they, the same culture, the same roots. And God’s great gift of hope is
deeply instilled in these people, just as it surely must have been in Jesus. John writes in his Gospel that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Here, in Jerusalem, the Word of God had come alive for me.
I came to believe that to get to know the character of the Palestinians was to get to know
something about the character of Jesus, and vice versa. Here are some examples:
Iyad is a teacher and leader who speaks with authority and quotes scripture freely and
movingly. You get the message when he speaks. Many times, when we needed it most, he
miraculously found bread for us, broke it, and shared it with us. He had two phrases that he
used frequently during the pilgrimage. “People, have I told you today that I love you,” he
would ask, often with a laugh. In one sense, it was a running joke, but it was also much more,
and it always buoyed us. His other phrase was: “Yallah, let’s go!” Yallah is Arabic for:
enough sitting on the bus it’s time for action. Yallah! Iyad is not Jesus, of course, but because of him, I now have a sharper image of what it might have been like in Jesus’s day. I can better picture Jesus teaching with authority, quoting scripture, breaking bread, telling his disciples he loved them, and sharing with them the message of hope. And when Jesus said to the Galilean fishermen who were mending their nets, “follow me”, I now think it might of been less a gentle invitation and more a case of Yallah! Let’s go!
In another parallel, Palestine today is an occupied territory, as was the case in Jesus’s day
when the Romans were the occupiers. Palestinians then and now had their land and their
rights systematically taken from them, without compensation and seemingly without
compunction or compassion. Some Palestinians respond to the occupation with violence, but most do not, and I witnessed no violence during our stay. What I did witness was the anger, frustration, pain and sadness of those who spoke with us. Yet though I listened intently for it, I never heard any bitterness from them, and that amazed me it would be so easy for them to become bitter and utterly discouraged by their situation. Instead, their’s was a witness of hope, the hope for a better future, the hope expressed by Jesus and quoted by Iyad, that “with God, all things are possible.” It is this very hope that sparked my spirit when I was healed at Bethesda, when I learned that Jesus, God’s incarnate Word, is both alive in and revealed by these Palestinians.
And so, my friends, let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May we, Palestinians, Israelis,
Jews, Christians, Muslims, may all of us prosper who love you. Amen.