(Most of this post was printed in this week’s First Words.)
The first time I traveled to the Holy Land was in 1987. I went with a group led by Bishop Bevel Jones, and it was an amazing experience for me. After I returned, when I read a story in the Bible—like last week’s story of Jesus appearing to the disciples at the Sea of Galilee—I had a mental picture of what that looked like. By the way, I think the Sea of Galilee is the most beautiful spot I’ve ever seen on earth! I also remember that boat ride that took us across the lake from the town of Tiberias to the ruins of Capernaum, Peter’s hometown, which we know Jesus made the home base of his ministry. I still have those mental pictures, and can also envision other key spots around the Sea of Galilee, or Tiberias, which is, in reality, a large fresh water lake.
There are other mental images, too, of course…from the plain of Meggido (Armageddon) to the amphitheater at Caesarea by the Sea (the Mediterranean) to the Dead Sea (Dead Sea scrolls, Masada) to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to Jerusalem, holy city for the three monotheistic faiths, which has many sites of importance for us.
The last time I went to the Holy Land was with my wife Susan and 12 church members. We began making plans in early 2000 when many people were going for the millennium and it was peaceful there. That changed in September of 2000 with the Second Intifada, and there was violence between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. We talked and prayed and talked and prayed some more and our whole group decided to go ahead with our trip in early 20001. Here’s what happened—nothing frightening, nothing threatening. Fewer people made the trip then, we had no lines to wait in at any of the sites, and we had Israelis and Palestinians alike thanking us for coming. And I had church members coming up to me with tears in their eyes thanking me for taking them there. That’s why Susan and I are leading another trip…because I know there are some of you who sincerely want to go to see those holy sites and gain for yourself mental pictures of the places so that the stories of our faith will become more alive for you.
I understand that some are concerned about safety. So am I. I’m always concerned about safety. And I think we will be much safer there than most people realize. I have followed news from the Holy Land for many years and have never read or heard of a Christian pilgrim being a victim of violence. Jane Wood reports on a trip that she took there last year, what it means to her and how safe her group felt. My friend Matthew Burton, pastor at Clemmons UMC, recently took a group there and had no fears or worries. In fact, he has more people wanting to go, so we will team up with the Clemmons group to fill a bus. They will be great traveling partners! Matthew has secured a trusted guide, and the itinerary includes many, many sites of interest, some of which are usually optional. Some of us will spend a couple of days in Jordan visiting Petra before returning home.
If you have any interest whatsoever in going, I encourage you to attend an informational meeting this Sunday, April 17, at 4:00 p.m. in the Next Classroom (adjacent to gym). Bring your questions, including your concerns, and Susan and l will give you more information. Brochures are available at the Connection Points and on the church website.
We announced recently that our part-time associate pastors Wilson Strickhausen and Hardy Tippett will be retiring or “re-retiring” at the end of June. Some have asked where they are moving, and the good news is, they aren’t! They will continue to live here and be part of the First Church family, just not as staff members. Wilson will be preaching for us 3 more times before the end of June, the first of which is this Sunday. We look forward to being once again inspired by his wonderful preaching as we continue our celebration of the Great Fifty Days of Easter!
See you Sunday at the Holy Place called First Church!