Good and blessed morning. This will be a long post so please take your time. It is 3:30 a.m in Nazareth as I continue the Anglican Communion pilgrimage. The Holy Land awakens hearts and minds to the presence of Jesus Christ, and it is often beyond description. As I mentioned in my last post, our schedule is long and detailed. The day usually begins at 5:45 a.m. and continues until at 9:30 p.m. Prayer, briefings and in-depth discussions frame the themes of the 2020 Lambeth Conference. While out in the Holy Land, we center our work on the sacred sites and discuss scripture at each of the sites.
Throughout my ministry, I have attempted to emphasize the importance of relationship building. While not always successful due to my own ego, false assumptions, and constant failures, I strive to know people on a deeply personal level. I pray to see all people as God’s beloved. During this pilgrimage, I have come to know my fellow pilgrims on a profoundly personal level. I am struck by their love of Christ and their love for their people. I am comforted by our everyday challenges and hold a sense of joy for the opportunities to work, strengthening the Body of Christ.
Each day, I see my new sisters and brothers not as Bishops, but as friends and family and feel a divine connection. With each step, we have become closer. I tend to tire of the facades of title power, glory, and grandstanding. Walking in the footsteps of our Lord, one tends to remember why we are called to serve. With each conversation, meal or prayer, I do not view my friends as South African, American, Chilean, African, conservative, liberal, black, indigenous or any temporal title that we place on one another. We are one in Jesus Christ.
In numerous conversations, I have been asked about the problems facing the United States. These pilgrims are concerned about the sins infecting our country. Specifically, mass violence, racism, and the deep divisions apparent in our country. One Bishop observed that the current problems in our country reminded him of the war his country had endured in the ’90s. His words “the level of violence is similar” caused me to hold their impacts as we visited the Church of the Annunciation. The words of Gabriel to Mary:
‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
Her response must be our response:
‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’
As disciples, we need to embody and carry Jesus through every word, action, and prayer. Our faith must not be merely temporal or transactional. Our lives must reflect His power and transformative hope. Do we as Christians in the United States simply follow and or do we fully embody Jesus Christ? Is Jesus our identity, or is he an afterthought to be encountered one hour of the week? It is my prayer that we go deeper in Christ and focus on discipleship.
As for the sacred sites, I would like to highlight two places we visited. We visited Sepphoris and explored this ancient Roman/Byzantine city. This center of power and commerce was constructed when Jesus was a child. Being less than four miles from Nazareth, Joseph most likely assisted in the construction of the city. Walking through the ruins, it is easy to imagine Jesus walking the streets with his father and observing the worldly power of Rome (finance, military, dominion) all while knowing it is temporal. Our beloved Savior, holding in his infinite wisdom that only the Kingdom of God is the eternal and lasting Kingdom. I kept remembering my own pledge: I pledge allegiance to the Lamb and to the Kingdom for which it stands.
As I walked these ancient Roman roads and ruins, my feet following the ruts of the chariots worn into the stones. I kneeled down and felt the grooves. I thought, “where is their power now? “Where are they?” I was looking at the past; an archeological site. The power of Rome with the grand armies, false gods, and the wealth have faded into these stones. Yet, we as His followers are still here. Jesus has Risen. His followers are learning how to continue his message, his life, his hope, and his love. Yes, we are here, and the Lord’s power never fades into oblivion. These ancient stones where Jesus walked speak, and they say - He is present.
Yesterday, we drove to the Golan Heights to visit Caesarea Philippi. These ruins are on the border of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. As we drove through the mountains, you cannot help but notice the numerous yellows signs warning about the land mines in the fields. There are walls that separate people, and they are stark reminders about the intentional separation of people. Yet, the beauty of the residents overcomes all our own constructs of hate. Faces that are Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. There is a holy beauty in their skin tones, clothes, and features. I can imagine how God looks upon their faces, and God sees not the differences but one family.
Thee human devices that hurt and separate must cause God pain. We stopped and ate lunch at a Druze community. Children ran up to us at a restaurant and asked to have selfies taken. I could not help but laugh when an elderly lady of 90, dressed in regional clothes made hand motions to have her picture taken. In each store, we are greeted by smiles and “welcome, welcome.” We are all God’s people, and visiting with them is truly a list to God's most sacred site.
As we entered the ruins of Caesarea Philippi, I felt chills running down my back. This is where Jesus stood in front of the Temple of Pan and asked His disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’” I was filled with the knowledge that the Holy Spirit was present, and I was uplifted. This is the setting for one of my favorite Gospel passages. I use this passage often in teaching, and here I was, standing at the exact spot.
“Who do you say that I am?” Once again, the realization that Jesus intentionally went beyond all expectations. He crossed human constructs of separation and challenged those false Gods, powers, opulence, and destruction. Jesus is asking is asking us: “who do you say that I am?” How do we answer that question? Who is Jesus for you? As emotions were bubbling up, my only response was “my savior, my life.”
As we were leaving (and it is brutally hot in the Holy Land in August) I prayed next to a stream. One cannot be struck by the realization that Jesus traveled a long distance to Caesarea Philippi (2 hours by bus from Nazareth). He went beyond the borders of Israel and the Jordan River to ask this question of his disciples. Nothing could contain him; not distance, governments, hate, or our own ideas of division. Combine this knowledge with the realization that God also moved beyond the realm of heaven to enter into humanity. How then can we argue about immigration, deportation, and separation? Jesus intentionally came into to Caesarea Philippi and our humanity to proclaim a different world. One word was spoken into my prayers - unity. We must seek unity with God and one another; it is holy. Jesus is the water of life.
We are off on another day. I keep you in my prayers as I take each step. Pray for me and please let us pray for one another. God is calling us into the world. Hold unity in your prayers. Let us seek union with the Holy One. Let us pray for unity in our diocese and pray for unity with one another. Let us love with the same love as we are loved by God. As I write this last sentence, I hear the Muslim call to prayer in the darkness of the morning. God is speaking through different voices. God is calling us. God bless you and know that I love you.