Friday, September 17, 2010

Soaking Up Hope in Palestine

At the end of May I traveled to Israel and Palestine for the fifth time….in as many years. Having heard about the region on the nightly news, people might assume that I go to help people who are suffering. Now, make no mistake—there is great suffering behind Israel’s security wall, but I cannot fix what is broken there (or anywhere).

I keep returning to this troubled part of the planet because I want to soak up some of the radical hospitality, reconciliation and hope I experience every time I visit. If you know me well, you know that I love the sun! When everyone else is standing under the trees, I’m fidgeting toward the edge of the shade to let the warmth soak into my muscles and down to my bones. Now, in Israel/Palestine I get plenty of this physical comfort, sometimes way too much! But, like the soothing warmth of the sun, easing tired muscles, the hope I soak up while I hang out with these courageous Palestinians feeds my spirit.

In a world groaning with pain and suffering, I need to rub shoulders with the hope of the Palestinian people. Their joy and hope for the future in contagious; they have something I desperately need. It is not a hope that depends on the success of the peace talks between Prime Minister Abbas and President Netanyahu in Sharm el-Sheikh this week. Their hope does not depend on ending the occupation, lifting travel restrictions or keeping Israeli soldiers out of their towns.

For both Christians and Muslim Palestinians, the hope they carry is grounded in their faith—in a good and gracious God who cares about their suffering. Children may be dying of gunshot wounds, brothers may be languishing in Israeli prisons; there may be no permits for visits to the hospital……but Palestinians know God’s promises. In God’s Holy Land, they trust that God, who has promised good things, will be faithful to them. Photos are from the wall in Bethlehem

Next week, September 21-24, Pastor Mitri Raheb will be in Denver and there will be three opportunities to hear his story of hope from behind the 24-foot high wall that surrounds Bethlehem, stories of a people who resist their occupation by living rich and fruitful lives in the lands of their ancestors. I hope you can come hear him and catch some of the hope:
• Tuesday evening, September 21, 7:00 pm - community and interfaith gathering, open to the public, at Montview Presbyterian Church, 1980 Dahlia St (at Montview Blvd).
• Thursday evening, September 23, 7:00 pm - presentation of all the ministries of the Dyar Consortium, including the building of Dar al-Kalima College, the first Lutheran College in Palestine at the Doubletree Hotel DTC, 7801 E Orchard Rd, Greenwood Village.
On Wednesday morning September 22, 9 am, he will lead a discussion of a letter from Palestinian Christians to the churches, “Kairos Palestine, A Moment of Truth.” The letter calls on churches in the international community to address the suffering of Palestinians. The discussion, especially significant for pastors and other church leaders, will be at Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave., Cherry Hills Village.

If you’ve read this Sunday’s gospel (Luke 16.1-13—read it!), you know it is quite a puzzlement and a challenge. This is no gospel of good and evil, dividing holy from unholy. Pastor Mitri has learned well the lesson Jesus teaches. He does not let battles between “good” and “evil,” “Us” vs. “Them,” stand in the way of God’s good news for all the people of the earth. Jesus came to break down walls of separation, and the work of the Lutherans in Bethlehem carries on Jesus’ work—dismantling barriers of religion, nationalism and political loyalties. Come hear Pastor Mitri’s witness to the gospel!

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