We're back in Florence and it's good to be home. And while we're still jet-lagged, there's much to do. Feeding Florence is today at noon in the Davis Christian Life Center. Briggs Elementary School clean-up day is tomorrow at 8:00 am. We will also be "Digging Deeper" as we head out to do a little yard work and general clean-up at two of the Pee Dee Coalition sites, bag lots and lots of lunches at the Help4Kids offices, put together picnic tables and benches for Briggs Elementary, and paint signs for All4Autism this Sunday morning after an abbreviated service in The Well. Please join us at one, two, or three of these service projects. Learning from Jesus, we know that feeding the hungry and helping vulnerable children and adults are primary ways to honor God.
As we finished our pilgrimage with Communion together, we thought about Jesus' continued presence with us. He has promised to remain with us. Receiving signs of that presence, his body and blood given for us, is an indication that his love never ends and that a relationship with him is possible whenever and wherever.
A day trip to Jericho put us in the oldest continually inhabited city in the world at over 11,000 years old. You’re familiar with the walls that came tumblin’ down (Joshua 2 and 6), but it’s also the location where blind Bartimaeus was healed (Mark 10:46-52) and where Jesus showed interested in wee Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-11).
Today was like having Holy Week in a day. We visited the Western Wall (or "Wailing Wall") of The Temple Mount. People pray there night and day, as some of the foundation stones of the 2nd Temple are exposed. Some are there wailing over the destruction of the first two temples. Others are there praying for other matters. It's a tradition to write your prayers on a small slip of paper and place it in the cracks between the huge foundation boulders.
Much of today was spent on the Mount of Olives. Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday from the east, from the Mount of Olives. He crossed the Kidron Valley and went to the Temple.
Included in our time on the Mount of Olives was a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane. Some of the olive trees there are said to be 2000 years old. We pictured the area Jesus shared time with his disciples, where he prayed for the cup to pass from him, and where he was arrested (John 18-19).
Today included a visit to Masada, Herod’s fortress in the wilderness and site of an inspiring act of resistance from 1st Century Jews when the Romans sought to capture them (circa 70 AD).
We also visited Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. These ancient scripture scrolls were discovered beginning in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd boy.
When the Sabbath begins this evening, we'll be at a resort by the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on the earth's surface (1350 feet below sea level) and is rapidly shrinking. There is an effort to bring water from the Red Sea to restore it, but they'd better hurry. Aerial photography clearly shows new islands being formed as the water evaporates and the northern supply waters are being siphoned off for other uses.
Today we're taking day trips to areas near the Galilee: Mount Carmel (where Elijah triumphed over the priests of Ba'al - 1 Kings 18:20-40), Megiddo (a valley that was part of a trade route connecting northern Africa to Asia and in which many battles were fought, thus Revelation's description of the battle of Armageddon being waged there - Revelation 16:16), and Nazareth (hometown to Joseph, Mary, and Jesus - Luke 1:26-38, Luke 4:16-30).
We are in the Galilee region now. You might know it by other names, too: Tiberias, Gennesaret. For some reason, Galilee was thought of as a sea - it’s not, quite small - you can see across the width of it easily. It was also known as Tiberias for a city that rests on its shores. And, it was called, at times, the Lake of Gennesaret. All the same body of water.
Since we’re somewhere between Newark and Tel Aviv right now, there isn’t much to say (I hope) about today’s Holy Land adventure. Instead, let’s think about why we’d make such a pilgrimage.
A pastor I knew used to push back against the moniker “Holy Land.” “Isn’t anywhere that God is present holy land?” he asked. He was right - and wrong.
Approximately 2000 United Methodists are in Greenville, South Carolina, for our Annual Conference gathering this week. At 7:30 tonight we will celebrate ministry, including commissioning and ordaining deacons and elders. You can watch via livestream by going to: http://www.umcsc.org/home/resources/2017-annual-conference/.