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Jerusalem is real. I keep having to tell myself that. I am really here. I’ve spent the past several years learning about this place, and I’ve spent my life hearing stories that happened here. If you can say anything about Jerusalem, it is real.
I keep having the experience of reality, stark and undefinable. I wrote to a friend the first couple of days in the country that the experience is “spooky powerful.” I had that sense when I stepped in front of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus rose from the dead. It was that it happened, here, it was real. I had the experience again today stepping into the church of the nativity. The world stopped making sense, it just was. Even with Nigerian and Russian pilgrims jostling each other in the line to walk into the cave where Jesus was born, even with the hubbub of cameras and Greek Orthodox chant, something was very real.
We followed the monophysite Armenian patriarch’s parade through the streets and ended up at the Wailing Wall last night to watch the gatherings for the beginning of Shabbat. As the Jews were roaring their songs and dancing in circles, the call to prayer sounded from the Al Aqsa Mosque right above them, up on what the Jews regard as the temple mount and signs in the area declare that Israel will one day rebuild the temple. (Muslims revere the place as the site where Muhammed ascended to heaven and brought back holy revelation from God about how to pray, so they aren’t really enthused about the Jews wanting to knock down their shrines to build a temple.)
It was so beautiful, and sooo sad. There is so much tension and power struggle between these traditions, and so much deep faith. It’s moving and maddening. Religion is a mess, and to come to a place that is fought over as the holy site by three religions just hurts and brings profound joy.
Today we went to Bethlehem. In order to do so we had to leave Israel and enter the Palestinian West Bank. The experience was eerily familiar after years of crossing the San Diego border into Tijuana, Mexico. I found it incredibly appropriate that Jesus was born outside the walls and announced to outcasts. The walls only went up a few years ago, and the distinctions they enforce are stark. Palestinians live in rather extreme poverty compared to the wealth of the average Israeli. Many are not allowed to leave the city in which they live because they are cut off by the wall. Without any recourse to trade, and scarce jobs in Bethlehem, the economic situation grows worse. We saw a large settlement camp just inside the Palestinian area, with its own fenced off road only for Jewish settlers.
This is a photo of a mural on the separation wall.
I of course love the Spanish, which translates. ”Viva Free Palestine, even under the fascist wall!”
Jerusalem is very real, the beauty and the conflict, the pain and the joy. I feel incredibly luck to be here, to walk in these spaces, to feel the reality. I also feel overwhelmed and unable to process it all.
Well, the call to prayer I’m hearing out the window means it is close to dinner time. I hope this finds you all well. Feel free to leave me some love on the comments board.
Spoiler alert: I’m preaching on May 18, Trinity Sunday, at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. and this post is a preview of my sermon-in formation.
A couple of weeks ago The Rev. Chris Chase preached about Ascension and referenced a commercial for iPods. It features dancing figures with the iconic white headphone cord and a song by the Ting Tings “Shut up and let me go.”
Far be it for a visiting preacher to critique the rector’s sermon…but I do have some serious qualms with this ad. (In Chris’ defense, he was referencing the images of dancing, rather than the lyric.) This sentiment, “Shut up and let me go,” repeated over and over again in the ad, is becoming a central sentiment of our culture. “Shut up and let me go.” The message is conveyed on campus every day by those white iPod headphones worn as students walk around in public spaces. They say, “I am busy and I can’t hear you: Don’t Bother me.” Those white cords function as a wall.
I confess, I LOVE my iPod, and I have used the headphones on bad days to quiet the noise of people I don’t want to hear, my parents or siblings on long trips. My most frequent use of headphones happens on airplanes where I resonate with Anne Lammott when she says, ” My idea of everything running smoothly on an airplane is that A) I not die in a slow motion fiery crash, and that B) none of the other passengers try to talk to me. I use my white iPod headphones to shut people out: “Shut up and let me go.” This is something we say over and over again in our culture, with gated communities and a wall between San Diego and Tijuana. “Shut up and let me go.”
This however is completely antithetical to what we learn about God as Trinity. The Orthodox Christians talk about God’s inter-penetration, God’s three-in-one-ness, as a dance. The one-ness of God is the dancing, the RELATIONSHIP. In the Gospel for Trinity Sunday, Jesus uses the standard formulation of the Trinity “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Another rendering of Trinity that goes all the way back to Augustine, speaks of the Trinity as “Lover, Beloved, and Love Itself.” God bridges the gap of difference: God’s very one-ness is a RELATIONSHIP.
Here is the scary part. In the face of that world that says, “shut up and let me go” God is inviting us, God is inviting you, here, this morning, into relationship. You see the relationship of the Trinity wasn’t enough for God. It isn’t by coincidence that we also hear the creation story this morning. From the beginning, God has desired relationship. We are created out of God’s desire for relationship. The dance of the Trinity, the community of the Lover, the Beloved, and Love itself results in SO MUCH LOVE, that it cannot be contained and spills out into humanity, into creation. God creates our world, God comes among us in Jesus, and God comes as Holy Spirit to never be apart from us. The God who is Relationship, reaches out, bridges out, for relationship with us.
And it doesn’t stop there. 1 John 4:11 “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” God calls us into relationship with one another. Again in the Gospel, Jesus calls his followers into relationship with “all nations.” God calls us to build bridges.
And yet we throw up walls. The same society that teaches us to put on our iPod headphones, builds fences to exclude our neighbor, causes us to fear others and shut them out because of differences of race, of gender, of political party, of religion, of orientation. We live in a world that excludes and builds walls. We have a God builds bridges.
This Church is working with God to build bridges. By inviting a group of students from UCSD into this space to worship, by naming campus as a mission priority for this parish, you are bridging a barrier that has separated you from your neighbors. By inviting Roman Catholics to share your space, you are bridging religious divides.
And you helped to send a group of students to El Salvador crossing barriers of class, race, and nationality. There they built a bridge. Literally, they built a bridge. There is now a bridge to a community called “El Carmen,” a community which during the rainy season was often cut off by flood waters from food and health care. Children often missed school. Now there is a bridge. You can see a picture of it.
God wants us to build bridges. Over Spring Break, with your help, we got to take God literally. Where in your life is God calling you to build bridges?
Our God reaches out beyond the self. Our God demands that we take off our headphones, we cross over the walls that our world creates to separate us from one another. We need one another. If we are to be whole people, we cannot go it alone. That is the take home of this sermon friends. We live in a deeply troubled world. The economy, the price of oil, the price of food, terrorism, war, racism, sexism, poverty, depression, anxiety, none of these things can be solved by saying, “Shut up and let me go.” We need each other. We need God, and God needs us to build bridges.