Sermon for 2nd Sunday after Epiphany
20 January 2019
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Jerusalem
The Rev. Carrie Ballenger
|Wedding at Cana by He Qi|
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
On Monday evening here at Redeemer Church, Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions gave a talk to a packed house. The title of his presentation was “One Democratic State Campaign: It’s Time.” In a little over 45 minutes, he outlined the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how we got to the situation we’re in today. He described how the two-state solution is effectively dead and has been for a long time. And then he laid out the two options he sees for the future of Israel and Palestine:
|Jeff Halper speaking to a packed house at Redeemer|
One is entrenchment and validation of the apartheid and imprisonment system we have today, in which everyone keeps talking about two states, but one people is effectively dominating the other. Jeff says this is (or should be) unacceptable both to Israelis and to the international community.
And the other option Jeff proposed is one state, a constitutional democracy between the sea and the river, including the right of return. This would mean a process of decolonization of minds and hearts as well as decolonization of Israeli culture and systems of government.
It was a fascinating proposal, with some very good practical ideas and strategies for helping such a solution take hold in the grassroots and among important powerbrokers. The room was clearly riveted throughout the talk.
But the problem is: standing up in Jerusalem and challenging the two-state solution is a lot like standing up in church on Sunday morning and challenging the concept of the Trinity. I mean, truthfully, most of us aren’t eager to explain Trinity and how it works even if we’ve been to seminary (or maybe even less so if we have been to seminary!) Nevertheless, we BELIEVE in the Trinity. We are committed to it. We can’t imagine how we would “do” church, “do” theology, or “do” our Christian faith without it.
And so, when Jeff stopped speaking, things in the room got a little heated. Guests stood up to stay things like:
“well I’m in support of peace and democracy but you can’t call me a settler because I was born here”,
and “well that sounds nice but no one will ever support it”
and “Well, I’ve gotten behind every new peace initiative for the past 50 years and nothing ever works.”
In other words: “Well it’d be nice if the party could continue, but there’s no more wine.”
The wine jugs are empty. Our hope is gone. Our imagination has run dry.
There’s nothing we can do! The party is over. Let’s go home.
I must say, after 5 years of living and working here in Jerusalem, I get it. I understand where that cynicism comes from, and I’m neither Israeli nor Palestinian. I can leave anytime I want. My blue passport affords me the privilege to live in the midst of conflict, and at the same time to float above it, rarely touched by the measures of occupation, except as an annoyance in my day—or as a heart broken over the struggles of my colleagues, neighbors, and friends.
Nevertheless, I get why so many Palestinians and Israelis alike look at the current situation and see only empty jugs of wine. Those empty jugs are real—as the occupation is real, the checkpoints are real, the periodic violence is real, and the tragedy in Gaza is real. When the wine’s run out and the wedding’s still on (or when there’s no peace process, and the two-state solution is all but dead, but life still must go on in Jerusalem, in Bethlehem, and in Tel Aviv) nobody has time for foolishness.
Nobody has time for false hope.
Nobody has time for miracles.
Nobody has time for miracles, and yet as Christians, we believe in and are committed to Jesus and to miracles!
I was sitting in a meeting with a group of Israeli and American Jews and Palestinian and German Christians a few years ago in Beit Jala talking about ways to create change. We talked about incremental change, and transformational change, and strategies for moving things forward towards peace, justice, and reconciliation. It was a good and friendly discussion, although at some point it felt (as it often does in such meetings) that the only thing we moved forward was the date of the next year’s conference, where we would continue to talk about incremental change, and transformational change, and strategies for moving forward towards peace, justice, and reconciliation…
But an interesting thing happened when, at one point, a Palestinian Christian colleague spoke up and said, “You know, I think it’s great for us to talk about all these strategies and types of change. But at the end of the day, as a Christian, I also believe in miraculous change. I believe in Jesus who turned the water into wine, and in Jesus who multiplied the loaves and the fishes, and in Jesus who himself was raised from the dead on the third day. And I believe we will have peace—maybe sooner than we can imagine.”
You can imagine the hush that fell on the room after that! I mean, we all want to believe in miracles, don’t we? But sitting in that conference room, I’m sure there were many who wanted to say to my miracle-believing friend:
“But those empty wine jugs are right here. They’re impossible to miss. Have you seen the checkpoints? Have you heard the stories of young people killed, of homes demolished, of children held in detention, of settler violence, and of the stabbing intifada?
Can’t you see the people are thirsty and the dancing has all but stopped?
Can’t you see the party’s over? Who has time for miracles?”
But Mary, the mother of Jesus, said to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”
And Jesus said, “Fill the jars with water.”
So the servants filled the water up to the brim, and some was taken to the chief steward. And as it is written, the steward tasted and saw that it was good. He tasted that the water had become wine. It was good wine! Abundant wine! Yes, there really was enough for all!
Dear friends, Jesus’ first miracle—providing abundant wine for a wedding party—is but a foretaste of the abundant grace, love, mercy and forgiveness he pours out for us on the cross. It is a foretaste of the miracles we can expect in our lives, in our nations, and in the world. Thanks be to God, even on Good Friday, the party is not over! Amen!
When I think about our situation here in Israel and Palestine today, it seems to me we get stuck staring at empty jugs of wine. We get stuck in a way of thinking which says, “well, this is just the way it is.” So we defend dead solutions. We engage in dialogue that goes nowhere. And while we’re busy clinging to what seems like reality (because it’s all we know) we just might miss the miracles happening all around us.
Now, I’m not saying that my friend Jeff’s one state solution is a miraculous. And, officially, both the ELCJHL and the ELCA still support a two-state solution, with 1967 borders and a shared Jerusalem.
But you know what is a miracle? The fact that there are still Israelis and Palestinians (and international allies like you here today) who look at empty water jars and can still see the possibility of wine. And not just any wine! Good wine. Abundant wine. Enough for all – enough peace, enough justice, enough land, enough dignity, enough safety for all the people of the land.
Dear siblings in Christ, some of you have been here for one week. Some have been here for one year or much, much longer. However long you’ve been in Israel and Palestine, I hope you are still able to see not only the empty wine jugs in our midst. I hope you also see the many massive water jars, ready to be filled with a miracle.
I hope you see the many Israelis and Palestinians of good conscience who should be running on empty after more than 50 years of occupation, but who remain steadfastly committed to a future of peace based on justice for all the people in this land.
Like me, I’m sure you’ve had your hearts broke in this place. Nevertheless, I still believe in miraculous change—for your life, for your family, for this land and its people—in fact, for the world and all people! For Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord, is always revealing his glory, and always manifesting God’s love, in ways big and small. The party is not over! Thanks be to God.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.