Devotion by Pastor Shirley February 1, 2024
“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. Then what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:16-18
The blessing of the Magi’s visit is brief for the young family. Soon after the Magi’s gifts are given to Jesus, Joseph is warned in a dream to flee, for Herod is searching to kill the child. This is no small threat, with Herod’s history of killing even family members to protect his position.
Mary and Joseph with the child Jesus, quickly head towards Egypt, searching for safety. What they most need for Jesus is a safe place to raise him. A place where he will be protected from those who would do him injury and harm.
Today, the search for safety is recreated throughout Gaza, as bombs rain down on that small strip of land . . . where safe zones constantly change, and often are not safe at all. Rev. Munther Isaac, of Bethlehem Christmas Lutheran Church, powerfully spoke of Jesus in the rubble during his Christmas service.
“In these last two months, the psalms of lament have become a precious companion to us. We cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Gaza? Why do you hide your face from Gaza?”
In our pain, anguish and lament, we have searched for God and found him under the rubble in Gaza. Jesus himself became the victim of the very same violence of the empire when he was in our land. He was tortured, crucified. He bled out as others watched. He was killed and cried out in pain, “My God, where are you?”
In Gaza today, God is under the rubble. And in this Christmas season, as we search for Jesus, he is not to be found on the side of Rome, but our side of the wall. He’s in a cave, with a simple family, an occupied family. He’s vulnerable, barely and miraculously surviving a massacre himself. He’s among the refugees, among a refugee family. This is where Jesus is to be found today.”
The trauma visited upon Gaza’s children will have sweeping repercussions in the years ahead. The world is aghast at the number of children dying in this horrific war. There have been no winners, neither in Israel or in Gaza.
I continue to pray for a just and lasting peace. I pray there may one day be a place of freedom, justice, safety and security for all people, who live in a land we call Holy. I pray for a day, when Rachel no longer weeps for her lost children, but finds joy as her children live in harmony, with each of her neighbors.
Devotion by Pastor Mike December 8, 2023 The recent negotiations and consequent hostage/prisoner exchange in the Hamas/IDF war caused me to wonder: “If I had the chance to speak directly to Netanyahu and the designated leader of the Hamas movement for 7-10 minutes without interruption – what would I say,” recognizing that I have no diplomatic negotiating experience or knowledge, other than being the parent of three very independent daughters. It would be a kind of elevator speech with no bargaining chips, just a statement of conviction. After pondering this for several days I decided I would start with a brief story from the Rabbinic, teaching tradition which gets to the heart of the matter.
“An old rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun. “Could it be” asked one of the students, “When you can see an animal in the distance and can tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?” “No”, answered the rabbi.
“Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it is a fig tree or a peach tree?” “No” answered the rabbi.
“Then when is it?” the pupils demanded.
“It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”
And then, I would pause for a moment or two for the story to be considered, hoping in the silent thoughtfulness that somewhere in the land of Israel, there is at least one Rabbi still telling this story to their congregation or students, encouraging them to practice reconciliation and healing.
And, since I would have a couple of minutes left on the clock, I would encourage both Israeli and Hamas leaders to look directly into the eyes of one another as I remind them to consider the long history of hurt and pain which has caused both of them, Israeli and Palestinian, deep emotional wounds still carried on their shoulders and in their hearts from historic discrimination. I would ask them to reflect first on the senseless deaths of the Jews by human beings who herded them like cattle into the gas chambers of Europe. And I would ask both of them to acknowledge the long history of anti-Semitism directed at an entire group of people for hundreds of years.
As they continue to look into the eyes of their wounded neighbor, (too often seen as enemy) I would challenge them also to consider the pain and anger caused by the acts of Colonialism, resulting in the Nakba and the hurt caused by an intentional effort to eliminate a culture that existed for generations in this now occupied land, as the newcomers methodically erased homes, villages and a proud culture to present a new narrative about their right to settle in this place. I would ask them to consider the emotional and physical impact experienced due to the loss of ancestral land, accompanied by the loss of dignity by the advancement of the stereotype of Islam-a-phobia, and the seeming, casual entitlement that the settlers exude toward those who claimed this land as their ancestral home long before the Zionists arrived.
And if I had one more minute, I would urge them (Israeli and Hamas of Gaza) to create a circle of listening and speaking, a circle that welcomes tears and pain, a circle that invites anger and forgiveness. Only then will we see the light of a new day.
And with that I have run out of time with my elevator speech. I pray there would be silence and reflection, giving birth to a deeper awareness of one another. Could it be?
The Rabbi’s story of night and day brings to mind the familiar MLK quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” His powerful words pull me back to the center of my conviction and the source of light which John’s Gospel announces with confidence and hope: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
This light eternal which we remember and celebrate during Advent, Christmas and Epiphany is the word of God manifest in human form. The light of peace and reconciliation, given to the world by the eternal God is made known to us, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And it is this Jesus, the Word Made flesh, who invites us to give birth to this eternal light, through acts of justice, reconciliation and compassion. The words of John’s Gospel bring to mind the wisdom of Meister Eckart a 15th century Dominican monk who said (and I paraphrase), “What good is it if Mary gave birth to Jesus in her time and I do not give birth to him in mine?”
Some days I think what we are trying to accomplish through the work of the Palestine Israel Justice Project group is so monumental and overwhelming I am tempted to give up. But I keep sticking with it because I believe we are in some way giving birth to the light of justice and reconciliation by our steadfast determination to advocate for the downtrodden Palestinians.
Several years ago, another member of this committee and I met with a ministry team of a local church to discuss the possibility of doing a presentation for the congregation. There was polite interest but limited enthusiasm. We felt we had hit a wall. Then in July I was a guest pastor at this church to lead worship while the regular pastor was on vacation. My sermon focused on the injustice experienced by Palestinians, comparing their plight to the colonialism of the methodical U.S. land acquisition and the way it was accomplished by the homestead act. All legal according to U.S. policy, but the wounds and damage done are still not reconciled. As I drove home after worship that day I wondered if I made any impact or difference. Then, about a month ago, I got an email from someone in the church asking if I could meet her and a friend for lunch to talk about the current war in Gaza and the probable cause of the deep resentment and anger on both sides. Now it looks like the door to further conversations might be opening for the church. It was for me, glimmer of light and hope in the current darkness of war and hatred toward Jews as well as Palestinians
As I consider the possibility that something could actually happen with the congregation, I remember the wise words of a young woman (Amanda Gorman) who read the poem she had written for the Inauguration of President Biden in 2021, which ended with this hopeful conviction:
“For there is always light, If only we are brave enough to see it.
If only we are brave enough to be it.”
It is my prayer that we will continue to be guided and energized by the Holy Light that overcomes the darkness of the world. May we be brave enough to see it and brave enough to be it in this troubled and painful time.
I end this reflection with a prayer written by Wissam Khoury, a third year Biblical Studies student at Bethlehem Bible College: Each week, since the war began, the college has sent an email update on the war from the perspective of the Palestinian Christians, which includes a printed prayer written by one of the students as they face personal difficulty and fear in the West Bank and express care for their fellow students who are in Gaza. This is what he has written:
“Lord be with us in these times of travail
Please walk with us in the darkest valley that we are living in.
Let no soul suffer in Gaza, please deliver us!
Let the hungry be filled.
Let the poor in spirit be rich in your love and mercy.
Let the meek be strengthened by your power. Amen.,”
May it be so.
A Prayer for Peace in a Time of War by Pastor Abigail 11/13/23
God of Peace, we need you now. As tanks roll and convoys crawl and bombs burst and nations arm for war, it is hard to be hopeful of peace coming soon. We fear what comes next. As people are kidnapped, arrested and detained, unable to go home and afraid to venture out, the suffering only grows. As people die for lack of medical care and starve for lack of food and the water runs out, the death toll only grows. Our hearts ache as we witness the destruction and suffering, the loss of human life, and know that there will be more to come. Help us to avoid hatred, to remember that people can do evil but no one is evil. Turn those bent on violence and hungry for power to your will and your way. Guide all your people around the world to work for peace.
Loving God, we think of all the places of violent conflict in our world, especially of the people of Israel and Palestine, and pray for an end to the suffering. Lead us to do what we can, in whatever way we can, wherever we can, to work for the flourishing of all your creation. May our eyes remain open to the truth of what is happening. May our ears hear the cries of our siblings around the world. May our voices speak for justice. May our hands offer welcome to the refugee. May our hearts break for the things that break your heart, O God. And may there be peace. Amen
A Prayer for Peace with Justice for Israel and Palestine Prayer by Pastor Abigail 11/13/23
God of peace and justice, there are things I know in my bones, O God, that bring me to my knees in prayer, that cause my heart to ache and break and the tears to flow. For a few brief months, I have lived the injustice, fear, war, violence, and oppression of life in the West Bank. I was there during part of the 2nd Intifada. I have stood in a hospital in Gaza, held in my own hands the shattered pieces of glass from when a U.S.-made weapon hit the building. I know that life has only gotten harder since then. I have felt the grinding of injustice that wears one down, that breeds anger. I know what it is to be stopped, detained, required to show ID and wait just to get from one part of a city to another to visit a friend or buy bread. I know what it is like to close one’s eyes at night and see only soldiers with guns. I know that this is only a fraction of the suffering of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation. I know this is only a sliver of the violence witnessed by soldiers and civilians alike in war.
I pray for the children. I think of the children of Gaza growing up generation after generation in refugee camps, living in a giant open-air prison, subject to injustice, violence, fear. I think of the children of Israel growing up generation after generation in fear of terrorist attacks, where a trip to the mall can be deadly, with mandatory military service to look forward to after high school. I think of the children of Gaza: hungry, displaced, afraid, surviving bombings and random detention and imprisonment. I think of the kidnapped children of Israel, terrified and terrorized, of their families desperate for news and yet wanting to hold on to hope. I hear an official of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency call Gaza an open-air death camp. I watch the death toll rise as lives become statistics.
Where do we find hope? Where do we see the signs of your kingdom and your peace? We find it in the many people working for peace with justice, in the Israelis and Palestinians who join together to resist injustice and create change. Help us to hold on to this hope, to trust in your ability to bring good out of even the worst circumstances and to work to bring your rein here on earth. Amen
Post by Pastor Shirley January 30, 2024
“When Jesus came in sight of the Jerusalem, he wept over it and said, ‘If only you had known this day the way that leads to peace! But it is hidden from your sight.’”Luke 19:41-42
Not much has changed in the two thousand years since Jesus wept over Jerusalem. The way of peace is still lacking. There is little evidence humanity has matured. And while Jerusalem lives with heartache and anger over the attack by Hamas . . . Fifty miles away, people in Gaza, daily bury their children.
For the children just keep dying. One. After. Another.
I probably read too many news stories coming out of Israel, Gaza, and the West bank. Stories that can break a heart
Anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 children have died in Gaza, since the war started on October 7. Thousands of other children have lost an arm or a leg, forever changing the projectory of their lives. Today, children are starving.
The devastation in Gaza makes my heart hurt. Hamas’s horrific attack on Israel set loose the barrage of vengeance by Israel. There are no innocents masterminding this war.
How God must weep for those precious, dead, and broken children . . . At hardened hearts, unwilling to seek peace with justice . . . A way of compassion instead of hate.
How God must Weep, that we have yet to find a way of peace, instead of war.