St. Mark's Episcopal Church

124 North Sylvia Street - Montesano, WA, 98563

Sermon: Holding Hope in the Ashes of Empire

Text: Mark 1:29-39

One of the reasons I was told I should go to the Holy Land is because it makes the text comes alive. And it is true. Its pretty amazing to read the text and have gone to see the synagogue in Capernaum that Jesus spoke in during the first part of his ministry.

You know, Galilee is a beautiful place, especially by the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent most of his ministry. The gospels always talk about how Jesus goes out, away from the crowds and away from people, to pray. And I did a lot of that by the Sea of Galilee—wandering away to listen to the birds and sit with the trees and ancient stones. It honestly wasn’t a whole lot different than sitting by the lake in Montesano—I always learn that all lands are holy. Even where we live.

Perhaps what struck me most on this trip, though, was the current reality of people in Palestine. I talked to Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims, who all said just how difficult it was to live under occupation in that land. I saw 25 foot concrete walls dividing the land and keeping people imprisoned. I saw military roads and checkpoints everywhere and people in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, told about how impossible it was to travel because the Israeli government does not allow Palestinians to travel without special permits.

The story that probably touched me most was talking to a man named Bassam Aramin. He told about growing up as a Palestinian in Hebron, one of the oldest cities in the Middle East. He talked about being in school and watching soldiers shoot his friends. He told about how he joined other teens to resist military occupation and how he was arrested and tortured in Israeli jails. And then he told about how he started a peace organization, and not long after, how his 11 year old daughter was shot walking home from school by an Israeli soldier patrolling the town. He now travels the world telling his story, begging the world to recognize what is happening to his people.

 It was not an easy story to hear. Everywhere we went, especially in the West Bank, I felt this palpable sense of despair among the people. “We are in prison on our own land,” everyone would say, “what can we do?”

I could not help thinking through all of this trip: this is the kind of world Jesus began his ministry in. In another time where that region was also under military occupation. Jesus would have heard and experienced all the same stories.

“What can we do?” That was the question.

And then we met people who were doing a whole lot.

There was the dynamic vice president of a Lutheran Palestinian college, Nuha Khouri, in Bethlehem. They are inviting and funding Palestinian young people from all over the region to come to their school and study art and culture and urban design. They encourage these young people to find hope and resistance in art. To write their stories. To design new ways to express themselves as a Palestinian people. Nuha was born in Bethlehem, educated in the US, and had a brilliant career ahead of her. Instead, she came back home, with all of the occupation, unable to even travel to Jerusalem, only a few miles away, and to teach young people behind the wall.

There was Hassan Ashwari, a dynamic Palestinian woman and part of the new Palestinian government who speaks out forcefully for her people and demands justice and a just peace.

There was a woman who hosted us in east Jerusalem who had friends in Gaza, a part of the country so completely cut off from the rest of the world that most people cannot even get past the military blockade. This woman constantly tells her friends’ stories and smuggles in supplies and money.

All of these women, all of these people—I was struck that they were holding hope for their people. That in the middle of despair, in the middle of a bleak future, they were charged with holding hope for their people. For acting as if the kingdom of God is indeed coming, as Jesus promised.

Like Peter’s mother in law, right?

Its easy to miss this woman in the story, isn’t it? Only one little line. Jesus heals her and she gets up and starts serving everyone. It can honestly sound a little stereotypical even, can’t it? A woman just gets up out of her deathbed and decides to start cooking.

But I wonder. You know, this is Mark. And Mark is always in a hurry when he tells the stories of Jesus. (Did you notice that there are three short stories in our text this morning?)

And Mark makes it really clear that the kingdom of God, which is coming, which is here, is not some kind of ethereal thing. Its not spiritual.

Its about real life and real bodies and real food and real healing.

And Peter’s mother in law—we don’t even get her name—Peter’s mother in law gets that. She gets that the kingdom of God is about cooking food, and creating community, and serving each other. Its about repentance—that is it is about turning around. Turning from despair to hope. Turning from the bad news of empire to the good news of God’s kingdom.

She was holding hope for her people in a really tangible way.

Because the kingdom comes when Palestinian young people paint their experiences and when mother in laws make dinner and when healing comes to a people.

Revolution comes, change comes when people write their defiance on the walls that imprison them. When they tell their stories. When they demand justice. The kingdom of God comes with real people and real bodies and real healing and real hope.

Sometimes we think that serving meals or distributing clothes or talking to people or praying for people is some way of doing our duty to society. Or helping people.

But it really isn’t. Or it doesn’t have to be.

Getting a building cleaned out and painted, like we have been doing in Westport. Making a meal, like you all just did today. Sitting down and having a conversation with someone you just met. Dreaming of a future. Studying the bible together. Visiting someone in jail. Teaching kids.

These don’t just have to be a way that we help each other.

They can be a way that we work to realize the kingdom of God together. These are revolutionary acts. They can be the ways we repent, we turn around and embrace hope for our world, our county, our towns. Ways we proclaim we do indeed believe the good news. Ways that we say we will not live as empires tell us to. That we will live a different way, a way that gives dignity and hope to our people. That we will build new communities and new hope out of the ashes of empire.

And it may take a long time. But we will do it. A Palestinian pastor in Bethlehem, Mitri Raheb said this; “When we don’t know what to do, we go out and plant olive trees. We plant olive trees so that our children will have shade to play in. We plant olive trees so that they will have oil to bind up their wounds. And we plant olive trees, so that when peace comes, when the wall comes down, we will have branches to wave to the Prince of Peace.”

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