Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why Israel?

Just about everyone we know seems to have asked us how we liked our recent trip to Israel and, on the odd chance that we might have missed someone, I thought that I would attempt to explain it here.  Usually, when I have been asked, I just say that it was amazing or fantastic.  In a deeper conversation, I admit that I will require some time to fully digest and process what we saw, heard, learned and experienced.  This is all true.  I think about our trip regularly and every time I open the scriptures to study, or to prepare the next Sunday sermon, I reflect on how what we saw interacts with the passages that I am reading.

On our trip, we visited places that are part and parcel of the Bible almost from beginning to end.  Admittedly, the story of Adam and Eve begins in an area that is most likely now a part of Iran and Iraq but by the time of Abraham, most of the story shifts to places in, around, or near what is now the nation of Israel.  Indeed, virtually all of the New Testament takes place in Israel (and possibly Jordan) as well as the events of Revelation and the “End of the Age” or, the end of time.

That means that almost every time I share a passage of scripture that talks about simple things like Matthew 4:21 which says, “Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets,” or any time people are travelling from one place to another, I now have a mental picture of what that means.  I understand better what it means because I’ve been there and because I understand better, I can communicate the meaning better.

But interpreting and explaining the scriptures to my congregation, blog readers, and friends is only a part of the equation.  I often read political commentary, news stories, blogs, and Twitter posts about the political situation in Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and the nations of the Middle East (and Near East).  But having been there, passed through the checkpoints, heard from citizens of Israel and the Palestinian Territories (who are not Israeli citizens, sort of), and shared a meal in Bethlehem with Palestinian Christians, I understand the struggle of both sides better.  I’m still no expert, but our experiences there help us to have a better grasp of just how complex the problem really is.

Baptism at the Jordan River
Yet another layer in this equation grows out of our experiences in other ways.  I can’t say that some of these experiences necessarily inform my interpretation of scripture or increase my understanding, but they have changed me.  Together with a group of believers, I shared worship in the still and quiet of morning, sitting in a boat on the Sea of Galilee, I enjoyed the stillness and quiet of seaside hills overlooking that same body of water, places where Jesus and his friends might well have sat, thought, and taught.  We worshipped in Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethlehem, we drank from the well that was first dug by Jacob, we prayed at the Temple Mount, walked on stone sidewalks that were there in the time of Jesus, touched the walls and
The Western Wall
stairways that were built by Herod the Great and were places that Jesus and the Disciples knew and visited, and we renewed our marriage vows in a church in Cana of Galilee near where Jesus performed his first miracle.  I cannot begin to describe all the ways that these experiences have changed me but all of them will undoubtedly change the way that I understand, teach, feel and communicate.  These experiences may not directly change what I know, but they make enormous changes in the passion that I have for doing everything that I do.

So yes, our trip was amazing.

And yes, I will be digesting and processing what we saw, heard, learned and experienced for some time to come.

But in the end, I think that this experience will, and has already, make me better at communicating the message of scripture.

And so yes, we had a great time. 

And yes, it was good for us.

But ultimately, it will be good for all of us.

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