Friday, March 30, 2012


Not much time to post, but had a bit of time before leaving for the airport and wanted to share some Petra photos with you all, be sure to check out the link. We stopped and saw Mt. Nebo (where Moses saw the Promised Land and died), Madaba (Church of the Mosaics), and Petra. Petra was amazing; I can see why it's one of the seven wonders of the world. Getting in and out of Jordan was an adventure, but I made it. Will be leaving for the airport in just over an hour. Hope to see you all on Sunday. Blessings.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Final Post from Israel

Photo link-

This will likely be my final post from this trip, as I'm not expecting internet access in Petra. Today was a great day, we got up onto the Temple Mount for a bit and then prayed at the Western Wall. We then had some free time before going to Abu Gosh (a possible Emmaus site- Luke 24). I had the honor of celebrating the Eucharist there, which was a wonderful experience. Wednesday morning 4 of our leave for Petra, Jordan. I am looking forward to the archaeological sites and explorations there, but am also ready to be heading back home on Friday. I should be back in Greensboro by Saturday morning and would appreciate your prayers for safe travel.

I hope to see you all on Palm Sunday for worship; but also for the Forum at 9:15 am for a presentation on my trip. There is no way for me to summarize 23 days and 2,000 photos into an hour, but I plan to share my major learnings with you all, along with some of the highlights for me of the trip. I'll plan to talk for about 40 minutes, so please come with questions.


Final Post from Israel

Photo link-

This will likely be my final post from this trip, as I'm not expecting internet access in Petra. Today was a great day, we got up onto the Temple Mount for a bit and then prayed at the Western Wall. We then had some free time before going to Abu Gosh (a possible Emmaus site- Luke 24). I had the honor of celebrating the Eucharist there, which was a wonderful experience. Wednesday morning 4 of our leave for Petra, Jordan. I am looking forward to the archaeological sites and explorations there, but am also ready to be heading back home on Friday. I should be back in Greensboro by Saturday morning and would appreciate your prayers for safe travel.

I hope to see you all on Palm Sunday for worship; but also for the Forum at 9:15 am for a presentation on my trip. There is no way for me to summarize 23 days and 2,000 photos into an hour, but I plan to share my major learnings with you all, along with some of the highlights for me of the trip. I'll plan to talk for about 40 minutes, so please come with questions.


Monday, March 26, 2012


Today was a nice day- starting with a trip to the Samaritan community at Mt. Gerizim. The Samaritans are similar to Jews, but with some differences- they believe in one God, one prophet (Moses alone), one book (the Torah, and none of the rest of the Bible), one holy mountain (Mt. Gerizim, not the mountain where the Temple was in Jerusalem), and one final day/judgement. We then went to a beautiful church at Jacob's Well. The well is still there (though it's not original, but you can still draw water from it with a bucket, and we did). The church is adorned with many beautiful icons written (painted) by the local priest. We then finished today up with a visit to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church. This is a wonderful parish in Palestine and the priest told us about the many wonderful ministries the church is doing. It said it was also wonderful to have other Christians visit, knowing that they are not forgotten. They also made us lunch, a traditional Palestinian meal- bread with olive oil and chicken, it was very tasty. Tonight we'll have a Eucharist and our closing reception.

Tomorrow is then the final day of the course, then off to Petra for a few days, then back to Greensboro. Shalom.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Heavy Day

Today we made three stops- 1) the Holocaust Museum, 2) an Israeli settlement in Palestine, and 3) a Palestinian refugee camp. It will take time to process it all, but here are a few quick takeaways: issues of truth, right/wrong, fair/unfair are impossible to sort out. Peace is not on the horizon. Much prayer is needed. There is a prayer at the Cathedral entrance at St. George's that talks about praying not for Jews or Arabs, not for Palestians or Israelis, but for people in general. Simply put- pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Tomorrow we visit a local Christian community (who also very much need prayers) and Mt. Gerizim. We then finish up on Tuesday at St. George's with a trip to the Temple Mount (Dome of the Rock area) and the Western (Wailing) Wall, and a trip to Abu Gosh (Emmaus). Wednesday morning a small group (5 of us) will depart for Petra, Jordan, then Friday I begin the trip back to North Carolina. I hope you all had a great Sunday. Blessings.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Holy Week Sites

Photo link-

Yesterday we did Palm Sunday and Holy Week sites- starting on the Mount of Olives on the east side of the Old City. We then walked down past the old Roman road that Jesus would have used to get down to the city. We talked about going through the Beautiful Gate (now closed) and how Jesus surprised everyone by going left after entering the city (to cleanse the Temple) instead of going right (to the Roman headquarter to overthrow the government as the Messiah was expected to do). We then went to Dominus Flevit (Latin for Jesus wept), then further down to the Church of All Nations in Gethsemane Garden, and to the Tomb of Mary. We then went to Mount Zion after lunch; this is the site of the Last Supper and Pentecost. I was very surprised that neither of these events had churches built for them, but this was actually a nice break. Instead, we were in an open field next to the Church of the Dormition (site where Mary would have gone into eternal rest and assumed into heaven). Then we went to the other church on Mt. Zion- the Church of St. Peter Gallicantu (referring to Peter and the cock crowing. This was one of the most fascinating sites we've seen so far. It is built on the site of the High Priest's house and had three levels to it- a modern church, then below it, the place where Jesus would have been tried by the High Priest, then below that, the jail/torture chamber. There is good and recent archaeological evidence for these sites, and it was fascinating to see the layout, on top of each other.

Today we began with a trip to the Church of the Resurrection (also called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre- but Christians proclaimed the life of the Risen Lord, not the tomb, so in Jerusalem, Christians focus on Resurrection over Sepulchre). It is a very interesting church, this was my third trip there, and I'm starting to be able to see past the feuding denominations, past the tourists, past the layout (it's really a series of chapels, not really a single nave as most churches in the US have). In the Church, we have the sites of the crucifixion, annointing of Jesus' body (where I annointed/blessed as stole which I purchased here), and the tomb. There are also side chapels to Mary Magdelene in the Garden, Longinus (the Roman soldier who said "truly this man was the Son of God"), the chapel of Adam (over which the site of the crucifixion is, symbolizing that Christ's dead took away Adam's original sin), the chapel of Mary's suffering, and many others as well. We then had some free time, so I just wandered the Old City with no purpose, which was nice to just walk the streets. I did find my way to the top of the tower at the Lutheran Church and got some great photos of the city from a bird's eye view. I plan to wake up early and go back to the Church of the Resurrection around 5:30 am on Sunday to see some of these sites without lines and tourists (there are a few places I haven't been able to get to yet). Tonight we also had a brief lecture on Episcopal ministry in the Holy Land- a short summary is "pray for the peace of Israel."

Tomorrow should be a moving and powerful day- starting with the aforementioned trip to the Holy Sepulchre, then a visit to the Yad Vashem Museum (Hebrew for "name;" this is the Holocaust Museum), then visiting a settlement, and a Palestinian refugee camp. I'm sure it will be a heavy day, but one that will be important to understanding the modern struggles in this holy land.

I hope that you all are doing well- I look forward to seeing you all in just about a week on Palm Sunday. Blessings and shalom.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Back in Jerusalem

Photo link-

So the trip to Galilee was wonderful- learned and experienced a lot that you all will hear in sermons and classes for a while I'm sure. Some new photos are up from yesterday and today. Today we went to the Church of the Transfiguration, which was quite beautiful, as being on top of Mt. Tabor, it had a wonderful view of the surrounding area. We then had a surprise stop at the point of the Jordan River where it is possible/likely that Jesus was baptized. This was a great treat, as this area had been debated between Israel and Jordan for a while, and it has only be opened to the public within the last few months. They have found remains of Byzantine churches nearby, suggesting that it was a holy site in the 4th century. It's also a straight shot across the wilderness to where Jesus is believed to have been tempted on a high mountain. Whether or not it was THE place or not doesn't matter, but it was a place similar to where Jesus might have been baptized. The Bishop of Arizona is with us on the pilgrimage and led us in a reaffirmation of our Baptismal vows, which was moving. We then went to Jericho for a stop before coming back to Jerusalem. Friday is an early day- we start at 5:30 am for the Way of the Cross (via Dolorosa) in the Old City, we'll then go to the Mount of Olives, and Mt Zion. The course is coming to a close, and it's been amazing- good prayers, good sites, good fellowship, good food, good reflections, good weather, good relaxation. Shalom.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Catching Up

Photo link-

I haven't posted in a few days, and they have been full and wonderful days:

Sunday- Started early (6am) with a trip to the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre). It was wonderful to be there on a Sunday morning, so many different worship services going on at the same time (Armenian, Greek, Latin, etc.). It was also nice to be there before our "tour" there later in the course to take it all in. We then had Sunday worship at the Cathedral at St. George, and then went to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It's a huge complex, but we were there to see two things. The first was a collection of Dead Sea Scroll artifacts, but the real gem was a huge replica of Jerusalem in the period of the Second Temple (as Jesus would have known it). It was about the size of 2 tennis courts and was extremely helpful in understanding the Jerusalem that Jesus knew to compare to the Jerusalem I've been seeing.

Monday- We headed north for the Galilee region starting with Caesarea Maritima, where Paul was tried. It was a city that Herod set up to be the "hip" young city, a hippodrome and other interesting archaeological finds. Then we went to Mount Carmel, where Elijah battled the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. Next went went to a real special place, the Sister of Nazareth have a very special church. After the purchased it, they did some excavations in the 1880s and found a 1st century house. This site isn't open to the public, but they have a connection with the College, so were able to see it, an it was amazing. There was a house, a cistern, and some tombs. Scholars estimate that at Jesus' time, there were about 40 houses in Nazareth, so this place has a 1/40th chance of being the house that Jesus grew up in, but at the least, since Jesus lived in Nazareth for about 30 years, he likely would have known this house, and perhaps even visited it. So many of the places here, we don't know for sure if it's "the" place or not, such as the Church of the Annunciation or Nativity, but this was a real sort of site. It was also nice to get away from the tourists; St. George's is very intentional about this being a pilgrimage, not a tour. We then went to the beautiful Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth that had some wonderful mosaics from all around the world. Then we stayed in Nazareth for the night

Tuesday- Today has been the best day yet. We started in Cana, which is one of my favorite stories from the Gospel, and saw a nice church and had a reflection on commitments. The Bishop of Arizona is in our course, and he led us in a reaffirmation of wedding vows, which was nice to participate in at that spot where Jesus would have attended a wedding. Next we went to Mount Beatitudes, which is a lovely church on the Sea of Galilee. Then we talked down to Tabgha. The walk was amazing, we walked through a field on an ancient "shortcut" road, that we are certain that Jesus and his disciples walked along. It was amazing because I literally saw so many parables before my eyes. Our guide showed us wheat and weeds, and the look almost the same, we see in this in a parable. We heard the birds of the air and saw the lilies of the field (which are in full bloom in Galilee), which was amazing to see. Then we went to Tabgha (the miracle of the loaves and fishes) which was a very simple, but wonderful chapel, one of my favorites so far. Next was Mensa Christi (table of Christ), where Jesus met his disiples after the Resurrection on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and cooked them fish. Then we went to the ruins of Capernaum, which served as the "homebase" for Jesus during his 3 years of public ministry. We're staying at an amazing pilgrims house right on the Sea of Galilee. Our group sat on a porch overlooking the sea at dusk, sipping wine. It was a great close to a great day.

The guide and leadership from St. Georges is amazing, the fellow pilgrims are great company, and the food is wonderful. Tomorrow we head to Banias (the headwaters of the Jordan), Golan Heights, Kursi, and then we'll take a boat ride of the Sea of Galilee. We are them coming back to this pilgrim's hostel for one more night before heading back to Jerusalem. Again, thank you all for your prayers and financial gifts that made this trip possible- words cannot describe the experience, learning, joy, awe, and blessedness that I've encountered. I hope all is well with you. Blessings.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dead Sea Region

Photo link-

So today was a trip south to Masada (an ancient fortress of Herod), which was quite impressive, had some amazing scenery from the top of this mountain. Then we went to visit Qumran, seeing the excavation of an Essene community and a good look (from a distance) at the hillside caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We then went to a beach on the Dead Sea for a "swim." It was an very unusual experience- no way to describe it really. They say you float, and you really do. It felt like you were in a pool with one of those foam floating chairs, except, there was no foam. On the way in and out of the Sea, I sunk about knee deep in mud, which would cost a few hundred dollars in the US at a spa, but here it's just part of the experience.

Tomorrow (Sunday), I'm getting up at about 5:30 am to head to the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) to see the various churches worshiping there and take in this holy site when there isn't a large crowd there. Then I'll come back to St. George's and worship with them at 11am. After lunch we head to the Israel Museum to see of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls (they're not at Qumran), the model of Jerusalem in Jesus' time, and other exhibits.

Monday morning through Thursday afternoon we're heading on a "field trip" to the Galilee region, so no photos/blog posts for the first half of next week. The weather should be turning warmer as well, so that will be nice. I pray that you all have a wonderful Sunday, and will remember you all in the Holy City tomorrow morning. Shalom.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hebron and Bethany

Photo link-

So today was an interesting day- cold and dreary, a bit of rain for good measure as well, but it didn't keep the pilgrims from their way. We started by visiting the historic site where the three men (angels?) visited Abraham (Gen. 18) at the Oaks of Mamre, the foggy photo is of this place. We then went to Hebron to visit the Tombs of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs (Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah- Rachel is buried closer to Bethlehem). This site was somewhat sorrowful, as the modern-day tensions were painfully obvious. For one, Hebron is in Palestine, so we had to go through a border check to get there. Then we passed a construction crew that was putting up a wall between Israel and Palestine. The contrast between sides of the wall is stark. In Israel, homes are nice and most had solar water heaters on the roof, while Palestinian homes were in shambles and had black water storage bins on the roofs, because they never know when/if Israel might cut off their water supply. We also saw a strong military presence in the area. Perhaps the saddest aspect was the Tombs. One side was for Muslims, the other Jews (Christians are allowed on both sides). The supposed tomb of Abraham is in a circular area enclosed by a fence. From the Muslim side, one can see the Jewish side, and vice versa. But there was a wall that divided the two sides. Even in the place where the father of the Jewish and Islamic faiths is buried, a great place of common ground, there was a dividing wall. It was a lesson in the tensions in this land.

We then were supposed to go to Ber-Sheeva, but as you might have seen in the news on Wednesday, rockets were launched from Gaza into Ber-Sheeva; St. George's places security above all things, so we did not go. Instead, we travelled to Bethany, the place where Lazarus died and Jesus brought him back to life, and the home of Mary and Martha. There was a beautiful church there, and they were finishing a Mass while we were there, which was nice to see. These are not just historic sites, they are still places of worship.

Tomorrow we head to Ein Kerem and Bethlehem and the the Dead Sea/Masada/Qumran on Saturday. I remember you all in my prayers, please continue to hold me in yours. Blessings.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Photos from Jerusalem

Today is the last free day before the course starts at St. George's, actually tonight (Tuesday) is the opening Eucharist and reception. Then once it starts, it looks like it's going to be a great tour all over Israel- Masada, Dead Sea, Galilee, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, just to name a few sites. It's a 14 day tour/course, so we'll cover a lot of ground (figuratively and metaphorically). There may be some days where there is no internet access (we have an 3 day trip to Galilee), but keep checking the blog and I'll update it as I can. Then after the course, it's on to Petra, then back to Greensboro on March 30-31.

I spent today just exploring the Old City. I started with the Garden Tomb, which is actually outside the Old City. It's the second (and less widely accepted) site for Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified, the name means "the place of the skull" and I included a photo of the "skull" in the photos link) and the tomb where Jesus was laid. I realize this likely isn't THE spot, but it was a place similar to where these event took place, and in being in such a place was a truly awesome moment. Then on to the Citadel for a tour and some great photos, the tour told the story of Jerusalem over 5,000 years. Then I went to the Burnt House museum, and had a great fallafel along the way, which is a house that was recently discovered in a dig. They believe it was the house of a priest that was destroyed in 70 when the Temple/Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans. It was nice to walk around the Old City, I've never seen anything quite like it- all the shops, narrow, winding streets. Also got lost several times, but if I was just taking in the sites, I guess I wasn't lost, just didn't know where I was on the map. Shalom.

Be sure to check out the new photos-

Monday, March 12, 2012


Took the train this morning to Jerusalem, it was a nice way to get here from Haifa. I arrived at St. George's and am excited about starting the course on Wednesday- that's when the touring will begin. I did explore the Old City some today, and will post some more photos either today or tomorrow. The link for photos is you all again for your prayers, hope things are going well back in NC.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

On to Haifa

New Photos Added:

So I left Tel Aviv Saturday morning by sherut (shared taxi). Had a  nice lunch a local spot, they were still serving breakfast at 1pm, I guess it's Sabbath Brunch? Whatever you call it, it was tasty. Not sure what the weather is back in NC, but you can't beat 70 degrees, sunny with a nice breeze coming off the Mediterranean. The weather has been great so far for walking around and exploring cities. In the next few weeks there will be some rain, but for now, I'm enjoying the blue skies.

Haifa is a very nice city, one of the larger cities in Israel, about an hour north of Tel Aviv. Today, as you can tell by the photos, I went to the zoo and walked along Louis Promenade (both near the hotel) for the great view. Tomorrow I'm planning to visit Elijah's Cave, Stella Maris Monastery, the Baha'i Gardens, and the German Colony. That should take up most of the day. Monday morning, it's onward to Jerusalem. I'll have Monday and Tuesday to myself there, then the course at St. George's begins on Wednesday.

Hope you all are doing well. Shalom!

Friday, March 9, 2012

More photos up

A day of great weather and more walking than I care to guess a distance for. Some photos are up from the Eretz Israel Museum and Old Jaffa. Tomorrow, I head to Haifa.  - link for photos

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Greetings from Israel

So the link on the right labeled new should be the photos.

Survived my first flight of more than 3 hours, not sure how they expect anyone to get sleep in those seats, but I pushed through and made it until about 9:30 pm on Thursday night, been going pretty much since Wednesday am in the US, minus whatever little bit of sleep I got on the plane. It's a great feeling to be 6,000 miles away, really gives me the sense of being disconnected and on an adventure. I've never been anywhere where I didn't speak the language, so that's a new experience as well.

Once I got through the airport, I got a cab to my hotel. It's a simple room, but has a great view of the Mediterranean from my room. I then got a cab to Old Jaffa and had dinner a nice little restaurant that overlooked the Sea (and ordered fish of course). It was a nice, brisk evening in Tel Aviv, so I decided to walk back to the hotel (about 30 minutes) along the coast, which was very pleasant. Friday the plan is to see a museum or two in the morning, then head back to Old Jaffa, this time as a tourist instead of a diner. Saturday I might do a little something else in Tel Aviv, or I might just head on to Haifa, just depends how tomorrow goes. Thank you all for the prayers and well wishes. Blessings.

Photo Link

Not sure if the photo link that is posted on the right is working, but I've tested the one below. Sorry that I can't fix the link, but because I'm in Israel, all of the menus when I try to change it are in Hebrew. I still remember a bit of my Biblical Hebrew, but unfortunately, I never learned the words "blog" or "link" in those classes. If you copy and paste the link below, it should work for you.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Holy Land Plans

This is the place to check out for updates on my March 7-31 trip to Israel. Here's the itinerary:
March 7: Greensboro to Philadelphia
March 7-8: Philadelphia to Tel Aviv
March 8-10: Tel Aviv (A on map)
March 10-12: Haifa (B on map)
March 12-13: Jerusalem (C on map)
March 14-27: St. George's College Course- The Palestine of Jesus (visiting many sites in Jerusalem, Ein Kerem, Bethlehem, Galilee, Caesarea Maritima, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jericho, Dead Sea/Qumran, and many other sites)
March 28-30: Petra, Jordan (D on map)
March 30: Tel Aviv to Philadelphia
March 31: Philadelphia to Greensboro

I should have internet access in Tel Aviv, Haifa, and at St. George's, so I'll hopefully be able to post updates and photos. Be sure to check out this link for photos posted to Picasa. I got a great camera for Christmas, so I'll put some online, and share many more at the 9:15 am forum on Palm Sunday (April 1) when I return. Thank you for your well wishes, prayers, and the many gifts of gratitude that helped to make this trip possible. Blessings!

March 4, 2012 - Lent 2B

Almighty God, may you guide us to seek the truth: come whence it may, cost what it will, lead where it might. Amen.
            One of my preaching mentors once told me to avoid the “should” in sermons, because the preacher need not be in the business of telling folks what they should do. Should-sermons, he said, often sound oppressive and holier-than-thou. And he was right, the prophetic voice is best reserved for appropriate moments and is best when it isn’t the tone for an entire sermon. But, today we do need to consider the “must” of our faith. It’s similar to “should,” but is a bit more open ended. So I’ll ask it now, and I’ll ask it again in the conclusion, but “what must you do?”
            We find ourselves today at the midpoint of the gospel according the Mark. In the section just before this one, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, and after this, Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, the city in which he will die. In the first half of the gospel, Jesus is preaching and healing all around Israel; in the second half, Jesus sets the wheels in motion that will lead to his execution. Our passage today is often seen as the crux of the Gospel- “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” So before we get to applying that statement to our lives, let’s first try to get our heads around it.
            One of the first issues we run into is the difference between faith and knowing. We see this too in our Old Testament reading. This encounter between Abram and God happens when Abram is 99 years old, and God is still yet to deliver the promised child to Abram and Sarai. It has been 24 years since God first made the promise to Abram. Abram had a lot of trust and faith in God, but he didn’t have much knowledge. But as Paul points out, his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness. Sometimes, believe or not, God knows more than we do. Sometimes we know the answer to the question “what must you do?” but we don’t know how to get there, or even why that is what we must do.
            I’ve always loved the Second Song of Isaiah, the part that reads-“for my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isn’t that how life is? We wish we knew more, but sometimes all we have is faith and trust. That’s the problem with Peter here. He, like many of us, likes to know the plan. We like certainty, we like being able to draw the lines between cause and effect. Peter does the math in his head, Jesus has been winning arguments against Pharisees, he’s been healing, he’s been demonstrating God’s love, so this adds up to Messiah, which means Jesus will be the military leader who defeats Rome and establishes the peace of God over all the world. But when Jesus tells him about his addition error, he doesn’t know how to respond. There is no way, using Peter’s math, that Jesus’ actions add up to death. So he says to Jesus, “I think you forgot to carry the 1, this doesn’t add up to the cross, but instead to a crown.” And Jesus rebukes him, saying that he is setting his mind not on divine things, but on human things. Jesus says “I know what I must do. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to trust me.”
            We are finite beings, we don’t know it all, and we never will. In understanding what must we do in life, we have to accept the fact that we’ll never know where all the roads lead, but we can trust that God will be with us on any of the journeys we find ourselves on. It is trusting in the words of Julian of Norwich- all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
            Next, these readings say something about the self. After all, Jesus says that we must deny ourselves, which is hard to do if we don’t know ourselves first. So the question is, who are you? The first answer to this is that you are a child of God. As we see in the Genesis reading, God wants to be with us, to covenant with us. But that’s true for everyone in the world. In denying ourselves, we don’t deny that love of God, but we have to look deeper into our individuality. When you die, what will be said about you? One of the things I love about our Wednesday Healing Eucharist is that we celebrate and preach on the various saints of the church. Often, in doing a little research about these people, I find that we know nothing about them, save a few basic details. Now, that of course doesn’t tell the story of someone’s whole life, but what will people say about you 100 years from now? They likely won’t mention the traffic tickets, the C’s on your report card, or even the trophies you won in high school. They might simply call you a parent, a lover, a philanthropist, a Christian. The sooner we embrace that reality, the sooner we can deny ourselves.
            Self-denial it not self-loathing or self-hating. Self-denial is not about starving yourself, or beating yourself up. Self-denial is about letting go of yourself so that you can be found by God. It is about dying to your ego and pride, so that God can raise you up again. In a letter from prison, Bonhoeffer once wrote “who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine. Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.” This is a radical statement for our individualistic and narcissistic culture. We are not our own, we are God’s.
            In denying self, we deny any notion that we are self-made men or women. As much as we like to think that we’ve pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, we’ve only done so because others have made it possible. We are part of the problem. We all know the saying about a housed divided cannot stand. If our interests are split between our ego and the answer to “what must we do” then neither can we stand. Leo Tolstoy once said “everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing themselves.”
We have to see things differently. We are all the recipients of the labors of others, as we all reap the benefits of researchers, of doctors and nurses, of school teachers, of police officers who keep us safe, of construction crews who build roads and houses, of farmers who grow our food. No person is an island. It’s a humbling reality, but it is reality. Jesus tells those who wish to follow him to deny themselves, not because we are bad or evil and need to be denied, but because we get in the way of the Kingdom of God by making it about us instead of the Kingdom.
And the purpose of this self-denial is so that we are able to take up our cross. Someone once said that if you want to follow Jesus, you better be able to look good on wood. The cross is a metaphor for death. Sometimes that death will be literal, but it is always a death of some sort. The cross means that you won’t be in full control, it means giving up certainly luxuries. It’s a paradox, the only way to gain your life is to lose it; the only way to be truly alive, is to first die.
            And this is hard. One of my sayings is “Jesus didn’t say take up your lazy boy, he said take up your cross.” If you ever watch Joel Osteen, you’ll notice that behind him, there is no cross on the wall, but a revolving globe instead. The cross is difficult. The cross means that we will have to die in living for ourselves, in living for what is easy, what is convenient. Courage is the ability to see the worst possible result and act anyway. Taking up your cross will take courage, and lots of it. Just remember, you don’t have to do it alone, we’re here to help each other, and so is God.
            There is a proverb that says “the heaviest burden to carry is having nothing to carry.” Can you imagine a life with no answer to “what must you do?” What would life be like if there was nothing greater to live for, nothing worth dying for? What if Martin Luther King, Jesus, Oscar Romero, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer hadn’t take up their crosses? Discipleship costs, yes, sometimes even death. But aren’t there worse things than dying? Maya Angelou writes “to survive is human, to thrive is divine.” Take up our cross is about choosing that higher path of thriving, instead of simply surviving.
            So to summarize where we are: I’ve considered the difference between knowing and trusting, I highlighted the importance of knowing self, and I discussed the cross as the way to a full life. And now to bring it home. What must you do? What is worth dying for? What are you here for? What would you cease to be if you didn’t do it? What is worth giving your best and your all to? What must you do?
            Let me share with you a story, it comes from a book called Friedman’s’ Fables by Rabbi Edwin Friedman. There was a man who had given a lot of thought to what he wanted out of life. For years, he tried to answer the question “what must I do?” He tried lots of things, never quite finding his place. But at last, he finally began to see clearly his calling. So he eagerly began his trip to another land. He walked out of his home and started down the road. As he walked, he could barely contain the excitement to be moving towards his goal. Eventually he came to a bridge and our friend noticed another person walking towards him from the other side of the bridge. He saw that the stranger was carrying something, and as he got closer, recognized it to be a rope. When they were nearly side by side, the stranger said to our friend, “pardon me, can you please do me a favor?” Our friend is a charitable person, and agreed to help. The stranger handed our friend an end of the rope and said “hold on tight, two hands” and proceeded to jump over the edge of the bridge. The man’s body rocketed towards the ground and our friend was dragged to the side of the bridge as well, but he held on. Our friend braced himself against the edge and looked over to see the stranger dangling safely above the ground. He shouted “what are you trying to do?” The man replied, “just hold on.” He tried to pull the other man up, but he couldn’t budge him. He looked around for a spot to tie the rope to fixture, but none were to be found. He began to get anxious; after all, he had a mission to embark on. He called out “why are you doing this,” and the response came “just hold on, my life is in your hands, if you let go, I will be lost.” The man said “just try to climb up the rope and I’ll hold it steady. I have somewhere I need to be and I must go.” He said “no, I’m your responsibility now.” Our friend looked around for help, but no one was in sight. Growing frustrated, he pleaded with the man, just try to climb up and I’ll pull from my end to help you up. The man said “just tie the rope around your waist; that will make it easier to hold onto me. Remember, don’t drop me, my life is in your hands now.” Our friend began to weight his options; he couldn’t let this man die, could he? He wanted to try one last time, so he called down “I don’t think I can hold on much longer, please tell me what you want, just try to help me save you.” And the man shouted back “I just want your help, that’s all, I’m in your hands.” Our friend, on the verge of tears, and at the end of his rope, cried out “you can either help yourself up, or I’m walking away.” The man said “you cannot be so selfish. I am your responsibility, you can’t let me die.” And our friend let go of the rope, and began his journey.
            Remember, it’s a fable, and the question we ask ourselves after hearing this wisdom story is “what must you do?” In your life, what begs you to hang onto a rope? What keeps you from leaving the bridge and starting on your journey? What needs to be let go so you can be free? What do you need to deny in yourself so that you can let go of the ropes that hold you back? What demands the best in you? What must you do, at all costs?
            Discipleship requires that we take up our cross and let go of our ropes. Discipleship is answering the question “what must you do” and pursuing it at all costs. Jesus said “Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed.” Jesus had to let go of the ropes of self-preservation, of safety. Not many of us are called to be martyrs, but we are called to be disciples.
            There is a book called Good to Great that begins “good is the enemy of great.” In our discipleship, in our lives, we must answer the question “what must you do?” and pursue it with all of our being, giving it our best, not simply what is good enough. Best doesn’t mean perfect, but it means giving it your all. How can you be great at what you do? How can you be a great spouse, a great lover, a great friend, a great parent, a great child, a great colleague, a great neighbor? What is the best you have to offer your church, to God, your community, your nation, yourself? Leonard Bernstein once told an orchestra he was conducting “give it all you’ve got, then crescendo.” And so it is in the life of discipleship, in living for the must.
            You will have to decide how to answer “what must you do?” for yourselves. I’ve seen some of your answers in Stephen Ministry, in Helping Hands, in Heaven Help Us, in the altar guild, in the choir, in the youth group, the Vestry, and I am truly blessed to be a witness to such faithful living. This Lent, may we continue to explore the question, “what must you do?,” may we pursue the answer, and help each other along the journey.
            Before I close, I’d like to make a personal note. On Wednesday I will begin a trip that I am looking forward to with all of my being, I will be going to Israel for 3 ½ weeks. I am so very thankful to you all for this wonderful opportunity. I cannot imagine the experiences that I will have, but I trust they will be spiritual and life changing. I ask that you keep me in your prayers, for safe travel, for God’s spirit to be with me, and for a magnificent trip. I will remember you all in my prayers this Lenten season as well, and I look forward to seeing you all again on Palm Sunday.
            May God bless you this Lent. May God move in your lives as you contemplate the question “what must you do?” God grant you the faith to trust in God’s love, the wisdom to know yourself, and the courage to bear your cross. And in all things, may you be strengthened and blessed as we all pursue the musts in our lives; that we might gracefully give ourselves and the best we can offer to the glory of God’s Kingdom. Amen.