Right here!

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
1 John‬ ‭1‬:‭1-2‬ NIV

One of my favorite memories of my last trip to Israel is seeing my friend Doug Rollwage exclaim “Right here! Right here!” while practically hopping with excitement. Today was a day filled with “right here” moments as we visited the Mount of the Beatitudes (where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount); sailed on the Sea of Galilee; ascended to the top of Mount Arbel (the view was astounding!); visited Tabgha (where the miracle of the loaves and fishes happened); and walked through Capernaum (Peter’s home town and the place that Jesus used as a home base after leaving Nazareth).

“Right here” moments are a powerful thing. To stand where Jesus stood. To walk where he walked. To gaze out at the shores of Galilee and know that you are seeing the same hills that he saw. This experience is not easily explained and it will never be forgotten.

“Right here” moments are possible because God loves us enough to send Jesus. Jesus loved us enough to step out of Heaven – perfect joy, peace and love – into our messy broken world. Jesus loved us enough to walk down the dusty pathways all along the sea, teaching us how to live as God would have us live. Jesus loved us enough to take our brokenness into himself, to heal it through the power of a sinless life and a sacrificial death.

And because of a that, two thousand years later a group of Canadian pilgrims can stand in awe, whispering “right here, right here” in our hearts.

What joy! What blessing! What a gift from God whose love is abundant and abundantly manifest in Jesus!

Amen and amen.

IMG_6077-0

Dad reading the Beatitudes on the Mount of the Beatitudes, just as I did on my first visit.

IMG_6034

Kim Shepherd and I enjoying the experience of sailing on the Sea of Galilee.

IMG_6065-0

Luke enjoying the amazing view from Mount Arbel.

IMG_6072

Regan reading scripture in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Unexpected…

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.
‭John‬ ‭1‬:‭16‬ NLT

Today we travelled to the ancient ruins of Sephorus/Zippori (most likely where Joseph and his apprentice son, Jesus, would have plied their trade); hiked the Tel Megiddo (21 layers of civilization and the place named in the Bible for the final spiritual battle to end everything…Armageddon in English is “Har Megiddo” – hill of Megiddo – in Hebrew); toured the farm of Nazareth Village (a live museum, if you would – a working farm using first century tools and methods); wandered through the Church of the Annunciation (built on the ruins of the house where Mary would have been living when she was visited by the Angel, Gabriel); and stopped in Cana (the site of Jesus’ first public miracle) to purchase wedding wine.

The wonderful thing about today for me was the unexpected. Both the trip to the Church of the Annunciation and the stop in Cana were not on our itinerary. But because our guide is amazing, he made the suggestion of the trip to the Church of the Annunciation and was happy to oblige my Dad’s request to stop in Cana.

Both places turned out to be wonderful additions to our day. In the lower level of the Church of the Annunciation is the grotto with the ruins of Mary’s house. While we gazed at the ancient ruins of her home in Nazareth, there was a Catholic service taking place upstairs in the sanctuary of the church. We were surrounded by worship music (albeit in a different language!) as we marveled at the ruins. We couldn’t have planned that if we tried. It was an unexpected blessing – a gift from our abundantly generous God.

When we stopped in Cana we got to taste the wedding wine before purchasing it, if we wished. And in the way of Christians everywhere, we found ourselves sharing a moment of community and fellowship in the midst of what was otherwise a tacky souvenir shop. It’s astounding how God’s people gathered together can transform a place. In some ways it was a silly little stop. But seen through what one of my friends calls a “baptized imagination,” it was another unexpected blessing.

God is good. All the time.

IMG_6006

My Dad at the shop where we picked up wedding wine in Cana.

IMG_5999

The altar places in the ruins of Mary’s house in Nazareth.

IMG_5996

The front of the Church of the Annunciation.

And it begins…

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.
Proverbs‬ ‭16‬:‭3‬ NIV

I always knew this tour of Israel would be different from the last one. For one thing – I am one of the people leading this group of pilgrims. Geoff is leading as well and as in all things to do with St. Andrew’s, I am deeply thankful to be part of a team instead of “the sole person in charge.” We also have an amazing guide, Aarhon (who has already impressed us all with his knowledge) and a bus driver, Benny (the bus drivers are my heroes – they can maneuver those vehicles along winding roads and into tight spots that would give me nightmares!).

But the thing that really makes this trip different, is the group of pilgrims that have gathered to have this experience together. Some are family (Hi, Mom and Dad), some are friends, some are members of St. A’s and some were complete strangers a few short hours ago.

I have to admit, what I have enjoyed most about today is seeing the look of awe in my Father’s eyes as we came to places he has spent more than 40 years preaching about, but never before laid eyes upon. His jaw dropped when he saw the little “creek” that is known as the Jordan River. He got choked up upon seeing Pontius Pilate’s name carved in stone. He gazed in amazement as we caught the first glimpse of the Sea of Galilee.

To be able to share this experience with my Dad – who has also, always, been my spiritual parent as well as my biological parent – is treading on truly holy ground. What a blessing. What a dream come true. What a gift from God.

IMG_5936-0

IMG_5928-0

IMG_5931-0

It’s. All. Happening!!!

Right now we are cruising at 39,000ft. outside our aircraft the air is a brittle -46c/-51f. We have about 5232m/4802km to travel until we land in Tel Aviv.

I’m not a good flier, and this part of traveling is difficult on me. But at the same time, I am so excited. We are on our way. Months of planning and prayer and hope and anxiety and joy are culminating into an experience that I and 21 other travelers will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Right now, in this aircraft, a dream of mine is taking form.

And it is worth it. Worth 10.5 hrs in the air. Worth traveling with a cold. Worth the exhaustion. Worth all of the work that has brought us to this moment and all of the work still to be done once I am on the ground.

Our clerk of Session, Molly Harvey, sent a small gift for each of our travelers. On it was the symbol of a fish (the icthus – an ancient symbol by which Christians would identify themselves and declare their faith), and an encouraging verse from the Bible. Molly chose this verse for me:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

Molly knows that I find flying difficult, and that I believe in trusting in the Lord. Sometimes the smallest word of kindness means the most. I am thankful for this word of encouragement, which will travel with me throughout this trip and for all of the other words of prayer and encouragement that friends, colleagues and congregants have spoken directly to me or on my behalf to God.

I carry you with me, as the poet said, I carry you in my heart. And my life is made better, brighter and stronger by your presence in it.

I can’t stop thinking that it’s all happening. The trip is finally here, and I couldn’t have made it here without you. You are a blessing which I trust the Lord to provide.

Chances are, there are people in your life that you feel that way about. That you know you couldn’t have made it this far without. Take a moment and let them know – you will be honoring God as you honor them.

Let the Holy Land blogging begin!

IMG_5924-0

IMG_5923-0

IMG_5926