“Here in Our Midst… Drops of Water in the Ripple of Life”
All Saints Sunday 5 November 2017
St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
“Here in Our Midst… Drops of Water in the Ripple of Life”
Our God is bigger than we can ever imagine.
The Matthew text for today is the beginning of perhaps one of the most well known sermons of Jesus, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.
The end of Matthew 4:23-25 shares that Jesus is preaching to great crowds and healing the sick. People were changed by his actions of compassion and healing. Jesus not only spoke the words that touched the hearts of people, but he also responded with actions of compassion and healing.
Those of you who know me, have heard me talk about one of my mentors, Abuna Elias Chacour, now retired Archbishop of the Malachite or Greek Catholic Church in the Galilee. He is often referred to as another man from Galilee.
I first met Abuna Elias Chacour 21 years ago, on my first visit to Palestine and Israel. I had joined a Volunteer-in-Mission team from a United Methodist Church in Oklahoma, with a group of people primarily from the congregation where I served as an associate pastor, in my first appointment.
We stayed at the Mar Elias School in Ibillin, Israel, not far from Nazareth. Each morning at the beginning of our work day, Abuna Chacour joined us as we planted trees in a very rocky area, or laid grass at a kindergarten in the town, or what ever the task of the day was, he “got his hands dirty” with us. He then continued his work at the school, but wanted us to know that we need each other, and that it is important to work together, no matter the task.
In the afternoons, we had the opportunity to visit churches and holy sites in the Galilee area. Then, in the evenings, after dinner, Abuna Chacour joined us during our group reflections. These evenings were special, and impactful, especially to me, a recent graduate from Duke Divinity School (seminary). I knew I had a solid education, but being able to sit at the feet of another pastor, who has become a mentor, became invaluable to me over the years. It is very different to read scripture in our churches in the USA or UK or else where in the world, these very same scriptures sound so much different when you read them in the area of the place where these events happened. The insight and deeper meaning of the Gospel in the teachings of Jesus have forever changed my understanding and connection.
Tour guides will tell their pilgrims that the land is the fifth Gospel. Seeing the landscape, interacting with local people, experiencing extravagant hospitality, and walking in the footsteps not only of Jesus and the disciples, but the millions of pilgrims over the past 2000 and more years is so powerful and humbling. Seeing the terraces in the land which were built 4000 plus years ago is awe inspiring and impactful. We are here to take care of God’s earth, wherever we live.
The day that we visited the Church of the Beatitudes, by the Sea of Galilee, the place where it is believed that the Sermon on the Mount was given, Abuna Chacour shared that this is not the “Be Happy Attitudes,” it is not a passage written in a passive voice, but rather an active voice, as in, an action is required of us. Ashrey has been translated as blessed… are… but the original sense of the word has a greater active voice meaning.*
What would it look like if we read this passage in this way,
Get up, do something, you who are poor in spirit, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Get up, do something, you who mourn, for you will be comforted.
Get up, do something, you who are meek, for you will inherit the earth.
Get up, do something, you who hunger and thirst for righteousness (and justice), for you will be filled.
Get up, do something, you who are merciful, for you will receive mercy.
Rise up, do something, you who are pure in heart, for you will see God.
Rise up, do something, you who are peacemakers, for you will be called children of God.
Rise up, do something, you who are persecuted for righteousness (justice) sake, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.
Rise up, do something, when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil agains you falsely on my account.
God through Jesus calls us to action, not passivity.
The more Jesus spoke, the more people came to hear him. The more people were healed and transformed by him, the more compassion Jesus had. Jesus was a man of action.
We are reminded today on All Saint’s Day, that our lives are transformed through Jesus Christ, and through the active response of all followers of the way. People throughout history who have dared to live and follow the teachings of God, these are the Saints of the Church.
People who rose up, did something, got their hands dirty in caring for others, in working for justice and peace, these are the ones who have impacted our lives. Even if we do not realize it.
Candles have been lit today as a visible reminder of those who have touched our lives, many more could have been lit for those we do not know, who yet also responded and touched the lives of others.
This year we remember children of all ages. Our congregation never met Kai a 2 ½ year old boy from Oklahoma who had cancer and loved life to the fullest in his short life, however we grew to love him and supported his family in prayers. Ilja Anthonissen, a fellow missionary from the Netherlands, whose heart overflowed with compassion for others. Sadly his life on earth ended a couple of weeks ago, his witness and grace impacted our lives and the lives of many. My dad, Dudley Brown, who was a teacher, taught students around the world to love the joy of words, music, drama, building, farming/gardening, and much more.
The saints of the church are like drops of water in the ripple of life… throughout the ages, people who have responded in love, grace, compassion, mercy and justice have added drops along the way.
We are God’s beloved children, we are called to action. Yes, we need time to heal and grow, to pray and learn, in order that we serve, show compassion, love our neighbors and work for justice and peace.
On Friday, I attended a book launch for Rev. Naim Ateek’s new book, “A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict”. He ends the book with the following words:
“We Are Servants of God’s Kingdom
“In order to be servants of God’s kingdom in the twenty-first century, we need to keep in mind the following:
- Remember to stay connected with the source of your faith.
- Remember to practice your faith through the love of God and the love of neighbor.
- Remember to work for the liberation of all oppressed people, including the Palestinians.
- Remember to commit yourself to the use of nonviolence. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., ‘Means and ends must cohere because the end is pre-existent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends…. The means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.’**
- Remember to imitate Christ in your life.
- Remember to pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
- Remember that the kingdom of God is justice and peace.
“Taize is a French ecumenical monastic community whose worship is marked by song, simplicity and silent prayer. One of the many Taize choruses that we sing is, ‘The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ As in the final words of this chorus, let our active prayer be:
“‘Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.’”***
Beloved, to love God is to serve and love all of God’s children.
A drop of water in the ripple of life…
Amen and ameen.
Sermon preached by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, serving as a Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel
*Elias Chacour, notes taken from his talk. Can also be found in his book, Blood Brothers, and in a Sabeel publication of Reflections on the Galilee
**Alex Ayers, ed., The Wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Meridian, 1993), 150-151.
***Naim Stefan Ateek, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict, (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, 2017), 150-151.
Pictures taken by Rev. Kristen L. Brown, first one is a post card of drops of water, the 2nd one is of candles lit at St. Andrew’s Church in Jerusalem on All Saints day, and the 3rd one is of candles lit at the Nativity Church in Bethlehem as we offered prayers.