Holy One, for all that has been, thank you, for all that will be, yes!

Many of you will know that Olivia and I returned a couple of weeks ago from a pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine and then to England. It was a profound and provocative trip. We were taking a course and stayed at St. George’s College, in the Cathedral Close in East Jerusalem and I commend St. George’s College to any and all of you. There is a course coming next year, called Women in the Bible, and I think The Mens’ Breakfast group here at our cathedral should go, in fact, let’s all go!

As I was reflecting on today’s readings, a few stories from our trip kept popping into my mind. I’d like to share a few of these stories, and connect them to the Hebrew Text and the Gospel for this morning. There is a line towards the end of our Hebrew text where Jacob says, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”.(Gen 28:16) I was surprised by my encounters with the Divine as well. My journey wound around the question, who am I called to be, in these challenging and difficult days. Who are you called to be, in these difficult and challenging times? Where do we find God in the places you and I have responsibility? 

Early on in the St. George’s course, we were in the Judean Wilderness; the part of the land where we believe Jesus met and was tempted by the Devil. I found a quiet rock on the hill and listened to the birds and bugs. But for a camel grazing on a hill behind me, I was for all intents and purposes alone. After some prayer, I was settling into quiet proximity with the land, the air, and with The Divine. My quiet solitude was connecting me with relative ease with the love and comfort of God. It was a wonderful and profound moment. “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did know it!”

I was thinking how easy it was for me to connect with the Divine, to listen for the still quiet voice of God, to feel the connection between me, land, air and God when I was sitting on a mountain top, alone, looking out at the wilderness. I can really relate to Jacob, resting on a stone and having a dream about angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. I don’t know about you, but solitude, especially in wild places is an important part of my spiritual life. 

And I think as much as Jesus honoured and practiced quiet contemplation and solitude in his journey, he was also calling us to find the same connection between the land, the air, God and other people. Thinking about our Gospel, we must live together, wheat and weeds. 

A few days later, we were in Bethlehem. Now, one of the surprising things about Bethlehem is that to get there from Jerusalem, you go through a check point through what the Israeli government calls “a security barrier,” and what the Palestinians call an “element of racial segregation.”  This holy land, so sacred to all three of the Abrahamic traditions is at best a police state and at worse, at war with itself. As wonderful as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is, we were moved by our lunch in a refugee camp. Lunch prepared by a group of Palestinian mothers of developmentally challenged kids, who have a business to generate income for healthcare and education for their kids in the camp. Three generations have lived there since 1948, and the numbers of developmentally challenged kids has been growing due to a number of factors, not the least being access to pre and neo-natal care and other health care services hindered by the checkpoints. I was struck by the imagery of the wheat being limited by the weeds in today’s Gospel reading. And, God was in that refugee camp, and I did not know.

We journeyed through the Galilee. We walked through archeology in Nazareth. So many memories, so many moments; I prayed for us all at the Western Wall, we were invited into the mosque in the Dome of the Rock. We engaged with a panel discussion with an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man. Our homebase was in East Jerusalem; in the midst of the Palestinian part of Jerusalem; the Israeli army and police a constant presence due in part to the District Court across the street from the college. And, God was in those places and I did not know.

Our last full day in Jerusalem found Olivia and I at Yad Veshem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Centre. It was just the two of us, and we walked slowly and silently through the exhibits; the shoes, the train tracks, the stories, and the last exhibit, the Hall of Names. 

There are presently 2 million names in the Hall of Names, with room for 6 million. I wept as we entered this sacred hall; a massive cone rising up, onto which are projected the names and photos of the dead. A line from one of the victims; “Remember only that I was innocent and just like you, mortal on that day. I, too, had a face marked by rage, but pity and joy, quite simply a human face!.” Benjamin Fondane. Murdered at Auschwitz , 1944

We walked out of that space in shock, and walk through a door, and there, a huge view from a balcony, Israel, the Promised Land. 6 million people did not get there. God was in that place, too, and I, did not know.” 

And herein lies the challenge for me, as a well intentioned white liberal; how do we reconcile with each other out of such history? How do we find God in the face of such histories? If I were a Mum with a developmentally challenged child, and I was forced to live in a camp, while “settlers” sit comfortably in the home that had been in my family for generations, how do I reconcile with those settlers? Or if I were the grand daughter of a woman, having lost all of her family in the Holocaust, walked thousands of kilometers to reach Israel, and said, ‘here I stand, this is our home, and no-one will ever take it away.’ How do I reconcile with the people launching rockets, and grenades at me. How do I do that?

And, when we Canadians are talking about another attack from either side in Israel/Palestine, and ‘how someone should do something,’ we need to remember, we are the settlers here. We are not able to speak about possible solutions for reconciliation in Israel/Palestine, until we settlers have reconciled with ourselves, with God and with the indigenous peoples we have put into camps and built our own kind of apartheid. Are we settlers not the weeds in the wheat of First Nations in Canada?

Enroute home, we stopped in England. We had a hotel at Heathrow and had a day planned in London before a family visit. What we had not understood was that day London was celebrating Pride. Yes, we found ourselves trying to ‘sight see’ in London in the midst of the London Pride Parade. We were 2 of about 1 million people there. There were 30,000 people in the parade alone. The parade snaked around the streets, so much so that marshals would open passage ways so people could cross streets in breaks between floats. Olivia and I were crushed in a crowd at one such crossing, waiting for the passage way to open. A float from the National Health Service going by blared the song Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. You know the one;

Hands, reaching out, 

Touching me,

Touching you,

Sweet Caroline Ba, Ba, Ba!

Now, there were a few thousand people at this one intersection, all singing. People of all shapes and sizes, genders, sexualities, creeds and colours, all of us singing together. I was standing beside but a little behind Olivia, so I couldn’t see her face. I noticed that one of the women standing just to her right, was nodding at her, reaching out with her hand to squeeze Olivia’s shoulder as if to say, “I know”. Olivia turned to me and I saw she was crying. She got it, God was in this place and she knew it. And so then did I. God was indeed here, in the heart of the woman reaching out to Olivia, in the hearts and voices of the thousands singing, in the hearts of the million people gathering to celebrate Pride. God was at Pride in London, and we knew it!

Remember we had just been in Jerusalem. God was there too, but with all the pain, all the history, God was more difficult to discern. For many of us, God is easy to experience alone on a mountain, or even singing together and celebrating love. And my friends, my big insight has been, we are to remember that God is most especially present in the turmoil, in the grief, in the anger, in the terror we experience in our lives as well. God is in those places, even if we do not know. God is sending healing love.  Hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you.

So please remember, after our sharing of Love in bread and wine, to go to the places where God has given you responsibility. You and I are called to remember the peace and love we have celebrated. We are called to show to all people the new life that is already among us. We are called to have courage, to hold on to what is good, to return no one evil for evil, strengthen those who fail, support the weak and honour all life. And in doing so, find that God is in this place, because you and I are in this place. Amen.