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The Jordan to Jerusalem

Sunday started with morning worship on the banks of the Jordan River.   We thought of where we would normally be on a Sunday morning and offered prayers for the church and family back home.  

Our first impression of the Jordan was that it is neither deep nor wide as the song of Michael rowing his boat has always suggested.  When we read the story of the children of Israel crossing the Jordan to enter the promised land we were nonetheless grateful that they had passed through on dry ground because, honestly, who would want to touch the water?  The water was green and uninviting and so as we read the story of the leper Naaman being instructed by the prophet Elisha to dip himself in the river seven times we understood his reluctance.

Then of course we read a text  concerning John the Baptist immersing great numbers of people in the Jordan River as witness to their repentance and faith.  They too must have faced the dirty water Naaman resisted, but they swallowed pride and surrendered their guilt and fear and everything else that stood in the way of a new life in God's promises.  And as a sign of our identity with our own baptisms we sang the baptismal hymn, 'Just as I am.'  

A few hours later we arrived in Jerusalem and looked over the city from the Mount to Olives from which Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Our  arrival in the city coincided with Jerusalem Day when some ultra-nationalistic Israeli Jews remember the conquest of east Jerusalem in 1967.  It is not a day of celebration for all and so there was great tension in the city when we arrived.  Roads were closed, helicopters were buzzing overhead, and soldiers were on the lookout everywhere even in our hotel. 

Our day ended in evensong at the Anglican Cathedral adjacent to our hotel. Even there Jerusalem Day with all its tension was the subject of the homily, but it ended with a warning not to jump to conclusions.  The presiding priest cautioned us saying that those who come to Jerusalem for a week are ready to write a book on how to solve the problems, while those who stay a month write an article and those who stay a year have no idea what to say because they have come to realize how deeply complicated the issues in Jerusalem are. 

Even in church we could hear the helicopters buzzing overhead and my mind went back to the quiet spot where we began the day on the Jordan River.  Perhaps the secret to at least beginning to solve my own problems lies buried in the Jordan River - a place of humility, penance, and grace.  I wonder if others might see the wisdom of beginning a day in such a place.  

Grace and peace,

Peter

p.s. At all times all day Sunday we felt very safe and Monday was a day of real peace in the city.  All is well.  

Tabor - 'Tis good Lord to be here

The Church of the Transfiguration sits atop Mount Tabor, the location which the church father, Origen, identified as the site of the transfiguration in the fourth century and has been a destination of Christian pilgrims ever since.  Other traditions have suggested Mount Hermon, but through the ages churches have been built atop Mount Tabor.  Today there is both a Greek Orthodox church and the Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration. 

Antonio Baruluzzi designed the Franciscan church which was built in 1924 atop the ruins of two earlier churches dating back to the 4th and 12th centuries.  The porches of the church offer such spectacular vistas of the surrounding territory that one could almost forget to enter the church, yet the Sanctuary is no less impressive.   

The vistas and viewpoint however came at a cost.  In reading the text I have always wondered how the nine disciples who were not invited to come up the mountain with Jesus felt at being left behind to do his work on the plain.  Remembering how the disciples argued about who would be the greatest, it  seemed to me the nine left behind might have been resentful, but after our  vehicle climbed the endless hair pin turns on the ascent one could only wonder how long it must have taken to make the climb and how tiring it must have been.  It would have been nothing less than exhausting and the three chosen for the ascent must have had their moments on the way up when they envied those left below.  And perhaps those left behind considered themselves blessed.  

But for the disciples it wasn't the vistas they discovered at the top of the mountain that would sustain them, but the vision of Jesus with Moses and Elijah - the law and the prophets - and above all the voice of God identifying Jesus as the beloved Son and instructing them to listen to him.  It was only right to build churches atop the mountain through the ages for pilgrims to enter in search of the Word that rises above even the wonder of creation, and to encounter the light of God's redeeming love in Christ.  

Long after the mountaintop experience at Tabor I still found myself singing the old Transfiguration hymn, Tis good Lord to be here.  

1 'Tis good, Lord, to be here!

Thy glory fills the night;

Thy face and garments, like the sun,

Shine with unborrowed light.

2 'Tis good, Lord, to be here,

Thy beauty to behold

Where Moses and Elijah stand,

Thy messengers of old.

3 Fulfiller of the past

And hope of things to be,

We hail Thy body glorified

And our redemption see.

4 Before we taste of death,

We see Thy kingdom come;

We long to hold the vision bright,

And make this hill our home.

5 'Tis good, Lord, to be here!

Yet we may not remain;

But since you bidst us leave the mount,

Come with us to the plain.And our redemption see.


Grace and Peace,
Peter

The Hidden Waterfall

About half way between the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum sits the tiny church of St. Peter's Primacy in the same spot it is believed a stranger once called from the shore to a dejected band of fisherman who had been out all night with nothing to show for it.  The group truly were disheartened having returned to the very things they had once left in order to follow Jesus.  As wonderful as the resurrection was, Jesus was no longer with them 24/7, nor they with him, and so what else were they to do than what they had always done?  

In fact the chief fisherman may have been wondering if he had truly been with Jesus at all having professed to be the one would never let him down, only to have denied him three times.  But of course the stranger was the Risen Christ and he had come to restore Peter and to renew his call.  

Here we were reading again the account of John 21 in the very spot where it is believed they came ashore with their nets filled to overflowing.  Our guide told us one of the primary reasons this is believed to have been the site is because of the seven springs that surround it.  One of them is known as the hidden waterfall - called such because the spring bubbles up several feet making it the natural place for fisherman to come ashore and wash their nets.  Perhaps it was near this exact spot that Peter felt his own soul cleansed by Jesus' call to feed his sheep.  

The thought that Peter had found his way home to the Risen Christ in the vicinity of the hidden waterfall couldn't help but bring to mind the words of the poet, T. S. Elliot from his poem Four Quartets.  

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea...

Here was Peter and here were we arriving where we started and knowing it for the first time.  Our pilgrims one by one, instinctively and without instruction started taking off their shoes to step into the Sea of Galilee.  Deep down we all knew it was holy ground.   

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

The Beatitudes In The Wind

Within a short distance of Capernaum we visited three sacred sites associated with Jesus' life and ministry and in each place there was a church or chapel in which to pray.  At the Mount of Beatitudes is a beautiful Franciscan church on the hilltop looking down on a natural amphitheatre and beyond it to the Sea of Galilee at the bottom of the hill.  

The lush garden lined with date-palms and cypress trees was alive with colourful bougainvillea and the fragrant crown of thorns.  Our pilgrims stood on the porch of the church where we read the Beatitudes, sang a hymn and prayed before entering the church to meditate and pray.  

As we stood on the porch we were aware of a tremendous wind from the Sea of Galilee.  It was only natural that someone asked how thousands of people could possibly have heard Jesus without a loud speaker?  And learning the wind was not so unusual in these parts the question also arose about the effect of such a wind on the acoustics.  It made it hard enough for us to hear each other on the porch.  Of course it is entirely possible that before he addressed the thousands in the amphitheatre Jesus had a little conversation with the wind saying, "Peace, be still." It wouldn't have been the first time.  

It is hard to hear the Sermon on the Mount on the calmest of days.  The Beattitudes all but turn the world upside down - our world - my world.  It is counter-intuitive to suggest the poor are the blessed ones and along with them those who mourn and even the meek.  Perhaps we can't hear it without the wind, at least not without the Holy Spirit..  And when we truly listen and let Jesus' words speak to our hearts we too will know the peace of Christ whom even the wind and the waves obey.  

Grace and Peace,
Peter 

Capernaum - Lost & Found

We were among the first to set foot in Capernaum this morning.  The town on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee that Jesus called home had been lost for many centuries until the last when archaeologists unearthed an ancient church beneath which was evidence of yet an earlier church and then finally the floor of a home.  Whose home might have made a good foundation for a first century church?  

In Mark chapter one we read of Jesus visiting in the home of Simon and Andrew, two local fisherman.  Simon's mother-in-law was very sick and Jesus healed her.  By the time supper was over they ventured out only to discover a world of sick and infirmed at the doorstep longing to be healed.  Surely this was the house where the first house church met and upon which the later churches were built.   We know not her name, but it is referred to as the home of Simon's mother in-law. 

Out the door and up the street lie the ruins of an ancient synagogue, undoubtedly the very place where Jesus cast out a demon in Mark chapter one.   And somewhere nearby is the house where the paralytic was lowered through the roof to be declared forgiven and cleansed by Jesus before being instructed to arise, take up his mat and walk.  Somewhere along the same shore Levi the tax collector was invited by Jesus to come and follow and he was given a new name for the venture - Matthew. 

In this very place, Christ made his home in the world.  There is nothing flashy about it and there probably never was.  The people were weary and broken each in their own way, which is why he came.  For in chapter two when the religious leaders questioned why a so called 'prophet' would be eating and drinking with sinners he replied that the physician comes to heal the sick not those who are well.  And so it was Jesus came to heal the sick and forgive the sinners.  

I sometimes wonder if I don't lose sight of this great truth just as the ruins of Capernaum had been lost sight of for many centuries.  Jesus came to mend and forgive a broken and sinful world and he is still among us longing to do the same through our witness and service in love.    

As we left I found myself quietly singing, "My Lord, you wore no royal crown..."  It was the third verse that truly spoke to me,

You did not live a world away

in hermit's cell or desert cave,

but felt our pain and shared each day

with those you came to seek and save.

I love going to  Capernaum and I am glad it was found, but perhaps it was meant to be lost for a time so that Christ might be found in our cities and in our hearts bearing witness to the forgiveness, mercy and grace of the Kingdom of God through our lives.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter

Calm on Galilee

The boat stopped in the middle of the Sea of Galilee and we sat in perfect silence.   The Galilee can kick up quite a storm when the winds descend upon its surface causing the waves to rise up several metres, but not on this day.  Here there was a wonderful peace.  

In the silence of the calm we read the account of Jesus sleeping through the disciples panic in the midst of a storm only to be accused of not caring and how they marvelled when Jesus rose up and spoke peace to the storm and the wind and the waves obeyed him.  They were still obeying him on the calm of this day as we sang, Jesus Saviour Pilot me.  

One remembered it as the hymn her late father played on the piano and where once the storm of grief had blown there was now a perfect peace.  Another remembered it as the hymn sung to her by her home congregation as she left her homeland and immigrated to Canada many years before and how the great pilot of the sea had stayed with her through many a storm since.  And then there was silence.  

Soon the boat's motor was started up and the journey to the other side begun but it was the calm and the peace on the Sea of Galilee - the very peace of Christ's presence that does remain with us forever.  

Grace and Peace,

Peter 

A Prophet for our Times

Ten years ago on May 30, 2015, Yorkminster Park received a visit from a most remarkable man, Abuna Elias Chacour.  He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times on account of his work to promote peace in the Middle-East through education.  He was a village priest perplexed by the inability of communities to find peace.  

On his visit in 2005 Abuna Chacour spoke on a Wednesday evening with incredible passion about the Mar Elias school he started where Christian, Muslim Druze, and Jewish children are educated together.  It is a Christian school unapologetically, yet it is a school where old hostilities and fears are laid aside and students of all faiths are invited and empowered to love God and love their neighbour.  

Ten years ago Abuna Chacour was sixty-five and full of fire and faith.  When he finished speaking he made it very clear that he wanted me to visit him one day in Ibillin, Israel.   Since that time he has served as Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church, Israel's largest Christian group. 

I am embarrassed to say it took me ten years to get there, but on Wednesday afternoon I finally arrived and not alone.  I was with a group of thirty-eight pilgrims weary and exhausted having disembarked only sixteen hours earlier.  I was delighted to discover that the fire in the Archbishop had not gone out.  The passion for peace in the Middle-East continues to burn in the man and his faith in the Risen Christ has given him an undying hope that speaks of God's Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.  

His idea of loving his neighbour comes not without a longing for justice for his Palestinian family, but it is both open and frank in its desire to listen and learn and in its insistence that love have the last word.  He related many remarkable stories to us about the school and its students as well as tragic tales of young lives lost.  

According to Wikipedia the Mar Elias High School is ranked as the fourth best high school in all of Israel.  It is ironic that while the archbishop has given his life to building peace through education, he said he had to unlearn everything he learned in seminary wight the exception of two great truths.  The first truth he clings to is that God does not kill and the second, that God is love.  He has spent his life not only unlocking the wisdom or those truths, but putting them into action.  If even half the students in his school can get it half right there is indeed great cause for hope and celebration.  

Shalom,

Peter

A Prayer for Nepal

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;  and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  (1 Kings 19:11b-12)

Almighty and Eternal God, your ways are not our ways, nor your thoughts our thoughts.  They are higher and greater than we can begin to even imagine and yet O God you come to us not in power but in the whispering presence made known to Elijah of old, and the gentle touch of the Good Shepherd who enters our world of catastrophe and grief to find your children and carry them home to the safety of the fold. 

O God, we pray for the mountainside villages of Nepal that are now cut off from the outside world by earthquake and avalanche, and for the cities where some may still be struggling for breath beneath the rubble.  We pray they may hear the Shepherd's voice whispering upon the wind telling them they are not alone.  Guide the hands and feet of rescue workers and bless the aid that pours in from the four corners of the world that it might soon reach those people whose need is great.  Bring healing and prevent disease through the work or doctors and nurses and feed the hungry and shelter the homeless through community support systems and aid workers, but above all O God shelter these people beneath your wings and give to them the touch of the Great Physician.     

O God, touch also the hearts and minds of those who wonder where you are in such times. May they discover that you are not always in the great wind, or the earthquake or the fire.  So often yours is the still small voice of peace that speaks tenderly to this world seeking to bring an end to suffering and fear.  Speak tenderly now O God and bring relief from the devastation of this quake.   As aftershocks intensify the fears of the people, may there be a growing awareness of the hope and life that comes from the One who endured the trembling of the earth beneath the cross to give us that peace which passes all understanding.  May the gifts that come from our citizenry and the kindness of those who have left this land to aid in the rescue and care for the wounded bring the human family closer together to your honour and glory O God, whose love for this world was poured out through Christ our Lord in whose name we pray, Amen.    

NEPAL EMERGENCY RELIEF


CBM_Logo_Center_CMYK_CoatedCanadian Baptist Ministries is partnering with BMS World Mission and Transform Aid/BWAid Australia to provide relief and assistance in Nepal, following the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck in an area between Kathmandu and Pokhara early on April 25. Thus far, over 5,000 deaths and 6,500 injuries have been reported.  The Nepal government has declared a state of emergency in affected areas. Massive damage has occurred at the epicentre. The full extent of damage is still being assessed.  BMS, (UK Baptists), has 19 mission personnel on the ground working with our in-country partners in to provide assistance during this crisis.  To give to the relief effort through Canadian Baptist Ministries, please make your cheque payable to Canadian Baptist Ministries, indicating that it is for Nepal Emergency Relief on the "memo" line, and place your gifts in an envelope which will be forwarded to Canadian Baptist Ministries, or do so directly through the Canadian Baptist Ministries website http://www.cbmin.org/nepal-emergency-relief/  All individual gifts so designated and received before May 25 will be matched by the Canadian government.  


Prepare Ye The Way!

Yorkminster Park has made formal application to sponsor two sisters aged 23 and 16 who have been living in Krisan Refugee Camp in western Ghana for over a year. These two Christians fled from Central African Republic in order to escape horrific abuse and suffering at the hands of Muslim extremist forces.  Their trek to freedom took them first to Cameroon and then Benin and finally Nigeria and Ghana.  We pray for their health and safety in the ca mp and we pray too that the necessary doors will open for them to accept our invitation to Canada.  

To learn more please visit the YP Refugee Sponsorship Committee website  http://refugeesponsorship.blogspot.ca  A fund has also been established to assist the committee in this important sponsorship.   One young man in the church is offering ballroom dance lessons on Monday evenings to help raise the necessary.  Perhaps others will show creativity in the exercise of their gifts to support these two sisters.  

It may seem like a long time before the sisters arrive, but the real wait will be on their side.  Let us pray for them in these days of waiting on the Lord.   

Grace and Peace,

Peter

Earth Day

I headed out very early this morning just as the light was bursting onto the Alexander Muir Gardens across the street from the manse.  As I walked in the garden and down through the valley I was surrounded by a carpet of blue cilium with a handful of crocuses and daffodils joining the chorus.  The fresh rain had left a shower of maple blossoms on the ground and trees overhead ready to join in the greening of the earth.  Cardinals here and there were calling for mates and as the last of the racoons was clamouring out of sight squirrels were starting to scamper into the valley.  Spontaneously I burst into singing a glorious old hymn, 'For the Beauty of the Earth.'  It was only when I arrived home I was reminded that today is Earth Day. 

Earth Day of course is more than a day to give thanks for creation, though that is a good place to begin.  It is also a day to examine our stewardship of the earth.  Peter Jones is a member of our church family whose grandchildren inspired him to start an environmental organization called For Our Grandchildren.  It is his desire to help preserve the earth for the sake of his grandchildren.  You can find his frequent and inspiring blogs on the organization website at  http://forourgrandchildren.ca

As the day comes to an end I am still singing For the Beauty of the Earth.  I find John Rutter's version particularly inspiring. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaMkj4_H8WM 

Grace and peace,

Peter

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Rev. Dr. Peter Holmes

Peter Holmes, BA, MDiv, DMin is the Minister of the Congregation at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church

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