Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

A few moments ago we sang "Jerusalem, my Happy Home". I can remember like it was yesterday singing the hymn as we approached the Temple Mount and as the Dome of the Rock came into view. I had a busload of high school students with me, including my youngest son who will sing this same hymn at his home church in San Francisco this morning. We had so much hope for the city named for Peace, Shalom, Salam.

Weeping and gnashing of teeth; there is plenty of that to go around these days, especially as we review the events of the past week. Hamas has launched a series of rocket attacks into Israeli territory, and the Israelis respond with rockets of their own, more accurately and with much more deadly force and inflicting so much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Young children and teens on both sides, innocents on both sides; too many families on both sides. There is so much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Rebel forces in the Ukraine, almost certainly supplied with rocket launchers made in the Soviet Union, shot down a Malaysian airliner. And for the hundreds of families of those who died, there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. One of those who died was a friend of Dr Fred Duncanson, a research scientist and friend of mine. The world continues to shrink in size and what happens so far away touches those close to us more nearby. 

Cathy Kinison, former parishioner from Ohio suffered a massive stroke Friday and another young man, Alex Mead, son of Fr Alan Mead, another dear friend, only 42 years old, died on Monday. It has been a tough week. There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The politics of it all go deeply. Ever since the partition of Israel and Palestine after the World War II the encroachment of Israel into what was formerly Palestinian territory has been dramatic. The building of settlements in the West Bank is gobbling up what was once a recognizable territory; now alas disappearing quickly as are the hopes for peace. 

I know and love many Jews and Palestinians. Whatever I say will inspire anger of one or the other. Many international efforts have been made by the United States, Egypt, and other Arabic states to find a way to peace and to draw the lines in a way that satisfies everyone. And no effort to date has been successful.

One thing we can credit Jimmy Carter with was the extraordinary Camp David Accords of 1978 signed by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. But the very signing of the concordat inspired acts of violence. Sadat was assassinated in October of 1981 by members of the extremist Egyptian Islamic Jihad.  And Yitzhak Rabin was similarly assassinated on November 4, 1995 at a rally supporting the Oslo Accords in which Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Authority granted one another recognition and adopted a set of principles by which a peace process could be set in place. 

Alas, it is a very dangerous thing to work for peace in a world where the “go to” place is violence. 

I have visited the Holy Land twice. It was a blessing to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but what I found even more compelling was to visit Dr Elias Chacour, Melekite Priest and Bishop,  a fascinating man who has dedicated his life to finding a pathway to peace between Palestinians and Israelis. He grew up in a Christian home in Palestine and one day soldiers came and bulldozed his village and the olive vineyards that had been in the family for generations. His family moved to another village nearby where cousins lived. Some of the men and teenage boys disappeared in the night when more soldiers came by. As Dr Chacour tells the story this happened time and again in hundreds of villages across Palestine. In reply many resorted to violence.

He and his family became Israeli citizens in 1948. He went on to study theology in Paris and later he studied the Bible and the Talmud in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. He is the first Arab to receive a higher degree there. Dr Chacour calls himself a Palestinian Arab Christian Israeli.

Seeing that there was no school of higher education in that part of Palestine where he lived, he began building a High School there. Children from all faith traditions are welcome there. The “Mar Elias Educational Institutions” now number 4500 students where Christians, Jews and Muslims learn together of themselves and one another.

Elias Chacour was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and has received recognition and honors by many for his work for peace between Israeli and Palestinian. He is decidedly non violent and believes non violence is the only way forward. He sees Jesus as the pathway to peace. This way, this truth and this life is rejected by the extremes. And you can see the result; so much weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

In today's Gospel we are told that a sower went out to sow and he sowed good seed. There were those who sought peace with justice. Then an enemy came in the night and sowed weeds. Too many villages and olive vineyards have been bulldozed. Too many refugee encampments have been created. Too many men and teenage boys have disappeared in the middle of the night. 

We visited one such encampment in the West Bank called Dheisheh Refugee Camp. It was created in 1948 during the Israeli Arab war. Folks from 48 villages were concentrated into an area less than .3 square miles. The area has increased now to just over 1 square mile and well over 10,000 live there now. Some have access to water, sewage, and electricity, but not all. This “temporary” camp has been there since 1948. As one young man asked me during my visit; “Why must we pay the price of the Holocaust? There are over 2 million Palestinians living in such conditions in Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan. This camp is near Bethlehem. But these folks may not visit the holy sites in Bethlehem or Jerusalem. 

Yes, there is much weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Who’s side do I take. Allow me to quote Elias Chacour

“You who live in the United States, if you are pro-Israel, on behalf of the Palestinian children I call unto you: give further friendship to Israel. They need your friendship. But stop interpreting that friendship as an automatic antipathy against me, the Palestinian who is paying the bill for what others have done against my beloved Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holocaust and Auschwitz and elsewhere.
And if you have been enlightened enough to take the side of the Palestinians -- oh, bless your hearts -- take our sides, because for once you will be on the right side, right? But if taking our side would mean to become one-sided against my Jewish brothers and sisters, back up. We do not need such friendship. We need one more common friend. We do not need one more enemy, for God's sake.”

As we consider what side to take in the the strife between Israeli and Palestinian, or in the civil war in Syria, or in the struggles in the Ukraine, the last thing we need is to have anyone take sides; least of all our politicians.

What we need is to have bold, courageous, intelligent and decisive leadership all among those who would seek reconciliation among warring parties.

When Jesus talks about “weeping and gnashing of teeth” he makes it sound as if this is a judgment that he will visit upon those who do not bear the kind of fruit God seeks for us to bear in this world. Among those things I think God seeks is peace with justice among the peoples of the earth. 

But I cannot help but notice that we often beat God to the punch when it comes to inflicting judgment that produces the very “weeping and gnashing of teeth” that Jesus warned us about. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers” we’re told by the savior and ultimate non violent One, sent from the Father.

Paul tells us “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

And the Psalmist speaks of my inmost struggles as I read the daily papers or watch the news unfold before my eyes.

LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
Where can I go then from your Spirit? *
where can I flee from your presence?
If I climb up to heaven, you are there; *
if I make the grave my bed, you are there also.
If I take the wings of the morning *
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me *
and your right hand hold me fast.
Look well whether there be any wickedness in me *
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
   ~Psalm 139

What with God being where God is…that is to say everywhere, and what with this past week being what it has been for this world, a time for weeping and gnashing of teeth; I find myself thinking and praying for a life willing to double down on our efforts to be peacemakers seeking the justice of God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers.”
“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Fr Paul

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