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Sermon for Lent 2 Year C Jesus weeps over Jerusalem

January 28, 2016

D FlevitJerusalem……How often have I desired to gather your children together – words from today’s gospel

In the name…..

On the two occasions when I have visited Israel/Palestine, one building never fails to impress. On the western slope of the Mount of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem, sits a small chapel called Dominus Flevit. – The Lord wept – built on the spot where tradition holds that Jesus wept for the city.

Over the altar is a high arched window giving visitors a splendid view of the skyline of Jerusalem.

The skyline which Jesus saw as he wept. Iron grillwork divides the view into sections, so that on a sunny day the effect is that of a stained-glass window. The difference is that this subject is alive. Not some artist’s rendering of the holy city but the city itself, with the Dome of the Rock in the bottom left corner and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the middle. Two-thirds of the view is the cloudless sky above the city which the grillwork turns into a quilt of blue squares. Perhaps this is where the heavenly Jerusalem hovers over the earthly one, until the time comes for the two to meet?

But it’s also a meeting ground for two groups: Israelis and Palestinians. From that window one can also see bulldozers Israelis insist they have a right to expand there. Palestinians see this as theft of the land where they have lived for centuries. And there are plans to build a military college on the Mount of Olives itself. Jerusalem, the “City of Peace,” is a source of conflict and disharmony. Israelis insist that Jerusalem should remain the unified and eternal capital of Israel under the absolute sovereignty of Israel. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a Palestinian state.

I wonder what Palestinian Christians are making of today’s first reading. Professor Phyllis Trible wrote a book called Texts of Terror, about how the Bible is often used to oppress women. Our Genesis reading is a text of terror for Palestinians.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. A smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between the carcasses of sacrificed animals and God made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,

This ritual is found elsewhere. There are curses attached to a Sefire treaty, from the 8th century BCE:  “Just as this calf is cut in two, so may Mati`el [one of the kings involved in this treaty] be cut in two, and may his nobles be cut in two.”

In Genesis, God invokes upon himself a curse in order to make his promise credible:  “May I the Lord be cut in two if I do not carry through on my promise to Sarai and Abram to give them the land.”

The extent of the territory named vs.18 included the whole of the Fertile Crescent from the Nile to the River Euphrates and on both sides of the River Jordan., which far exceeded anything Israel actually controlled at any time. This part of Genesis was written up when the Jews were exiled in Babylon. It is harking back to the good old days – an imaginative claim by an enthusiast for the Davidic monarchy that had been extinguished.

Abraham is never mentioned by the prophets before the exile. (The books in the Hebrew Scriptures weren’t written in the order in which they appear in our Bibles.) It is only when Israel was in danger of dying out as a people that it remembers the number of descendants promised to Abraham It is only when Israel no longer has its land that the promise of land is remembered.

So who owns the land now? Israelis or Palestinians? People use the Bible to justify all sorts of things. According to Leviticus, God owns the land of Canaan 25:23 and He lets it out to those who will live according to righteousness. According to the Chronicles, when Israel forgot their God II Chronicles 28:3, 33:2, God put them out of the land also. In the light of the present debate over who has legitimate claim in the land of Israel, remember it is God who owns the land, not the Jews, nor the Arabs. God will not allow the Jews to possess the land and live wickedly any more than He will the Gentiles.

Jesus wanted to gather Jerusalem’s children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings – gathered – the Greek word for gathering is episynago— “synagogue” Wings – Seventy six times in scripture, the word for “corners” (the four corners of the Jewish prayer shawl) is translated, “wings”.

tallit(Demonstrate tallith – Those of you who go to Friday Compline might recognise the words of Psalm 91:about dwelling under the defence of the most high and being safe under his wings and when the four corners of the shawl are gathered together in the synagogue it’s about the Lord God being one. This is about PRAYER! NOT POULTRY! One God, one people)

(Some Christians uncritically defend Jewish control of Jerusalem because it fits their end-times theories.

(That Jews must repopulate the land of Israel before Christ can return.) Some Christians uncritically defend the right of Jews to the land promised by God to Abraham and his seed for ever. If you listen to Jews describe the importance of Israel, you’ll hear them say that they need a bolthole for when, when not if, the next holocaust happens.

Some Christians uncritically defend the cause of the Palestinians. The establishment of the state of Israel after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War was, for them, al nakba – the catastrophe. A massacre took place on April 9, 1948, when around 120 fighters from Zionist paramilitary groups attacked Deir Yassin near Jerusalem, a Palestinian-Arab village of roughly 600 people. Around 107 villagers were killed during and after the battle for the village, including women and children—some were shot, while others died when hand grenades were thrown into their homes. Then between 50 and 80 percent of the Arab inhabitants left their towns and villages because of further Israeli military advances, attacks against Arab villages and fears of massacre. A series of laws passed by the first Israeli government prevented them from returning to their homes, or claiming their property. They and many of their descendants remain refugees. The expulsion of the Palestinians has since been described by some historians as ethnic cleansing,  Palestinian terrorism leads to Israelis seeing their military as being involved in self-defence. There were 95 rocket attacks on Israel last year. Virtually every day this month, Palestinians in the West Bank have been hurling rocks, Molotov cocktails, or shooting at settler cars. The Israeli army estimates a 300% rise in the number of attacks.

I’m trying to be fair to both sides but it’s too complex for a ten minute sermon. I feel like the teacher breaking up a playground fight, with ‘I don’t care who started it. Just end it, now.’ Jesus desires that we all become his children. He will truly care for the people, those on the margins of life, the disenfranchised. Jesus calls the church to do the same

In this season of repentance and reflection, we are called to examine the many ways in which we fall short of the glory of God.  Might we learn something from Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem?  There very well may be an opportunity for reflection and learning here, to learn from both sides of the conflict.

Jerusalem sat there in the full light of the Paschal moon two thousand years ago. Jerusalem still sits there and I have seen it bathed in the same serene light. Jerusalem then was an occupied territory. There is still an unlawfully occupied territory there. Israel and the West Bank with all its injustice, dispossession and hopelessness. If Jerusalem is to be truly the city of peace for all people we owe it to those who live there: Israeli, Jews, Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, Christian to commit ourselves to prayer. As the psalm says: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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