7/21/02, P9A

“Our Holy Land”
Genesis 28: 10-19

t all began in the heart of a Baptist Sunday School teacher who had become President of our United States upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Harry Truman soon earned the respect of the American people, mainly because of his take charge attitude, i.e. "The Buck Stops Here!" Because President Truman said that Jews needed a homeland, Palestine was partitioned and Muslims who had been living there for generations were forced out of their homes, some in the middle of the night. There has hardly been a peaceful day since and the whole world has been drawn into taking sides in this volatile predicament. It is the one hot spot that could trigger WW III. In fact, it seems to be the main issue that triggered our current international War on Terrorism. As did President Truman, most Christians have given their hearts to modern day Israel over the years, and the continuing threats of terrorism by fanatical Islamic fringe groups have cemented most of the world's resolve to protect Israel.

The entire world has been thrown into a tailspin as a result of the events of 9/11/01. Stock prices have taken a tumble. Major American corporations have fallen into ruins, much like the Twin Towers. Many folks that we know have lost their jobs. For the first time in a long time the TIME magazine cover did not deal with Independence Day during the week of July 4th, this month. Instead we had the compelling lead article printed over a white Cross rising out of flames entitled, "THE BIBLE AND THE APOCALYPSE Why more Americans are reading and talking about THE END OF THE WORLD."

At least, more folks are turning to "the good book," during these perilous times. However, an understanding of the threads of truth in The Bible requires years of study, as we all know from our years in Sunday School. Prophecy is an especially difficult part of Scripture. In fact, the Bible itself repeats that ultimately we do not know the date or the time when the predicted event surrounding the "last days" will begin to unfold. Large denominations, and factions, have been born, and torn apart, out of the fights over the interpretation of passages that deal with the end of the world. Rev. Tim LaHaye's best selling series of novels, "Left Behind," is based on the theory of the pre-millennial rapture of true believers prior to the seven year period of tribulation during which time the Anti-Christ will bring in a 3 ½ year period of peace followed by a 3 ½ year reign of world terror. The LaHaye books contain instructions on how to survive when you are left behind. The interpretation of Scripture is the same as was presented in the 1960's book, The Late Great Planet Earth, which sparked interest in end-times study.

How are we to deal with all of this? Is there anything that we can add? Can we be a part of a process of working toward peace? Or is it too late, as many good Christian folk felt when faced with Nazi annihilation threats prior to and during WW II? Much of the Christian world was absolutely convinced that Hitler was the antichrist and could take his name and somehow use Roman numerals to create 666. The Allies defeated world Nazism. Can we defeat World Terrorism which is a much more menacing and shrouded threat through their surprise acts of mass murder? Or, should our attitude be to submit to terrorism and let the inevitable destruction of the world take over?

It just so happens that today's Old Testament reading is one of the pivotal texts that developed this thread of how God would select the Jews to become God's Chosen People. The promise of a homeland was first given to Abram, later Abraham, who lived in the land which now comprises eastern Kuwait on the Persian Gulf. This is the territory that Iraq annexed, thus triggering the Persian Gulf War of a dozen years ago. That event also brought a renewed interest in Biblical Prophecy by church folks.

In today's lection we find Jacob, Abraham's favorite son, traveling from Beersheba, the southern boundary of ancient Israel, toward Dan, considered to be the northern boundary, as in the phrase, "From Dan to Beersheba." As he trekked north he came to a place where he set up a campsite, using a stone for a pillow. "And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." (28: 12, NRSV) In the dream God told Jacob that this place, which he named Bethel (the house of God) upon awakening, and located about half way between Beersheba and Dan, would become the homeland for his family and descendants. His vast family would spread abroad but God promised to go with them wherever they would go and that they would always consider this region their holy land. Today, this ancient place is considered a Holy Land to Christians, Jews and Muslims who are indeed scattered all around the earth. Many of you have visited back to this place where Jesus lived out his entire life on earth. Marilyn and I took Lyn and Candi to Palestine twelve years ago. We want to visit Palestine again but cannot do so because of the escalated violence and random suicide bombings.

What can we add to a discussion of the likelihood of an immanent Armageddon, the prophesied final battle? We Christians believe that God's covenant with Israel was contingent on the people's continuing faithfulness. The story of much of the Old Testament deals with God's efforts to win them back. Toward the end of this era the prophets began to talk about a future new day that would be fulfilled by a Messiah. In that day individuals from all nations would have the opportunity to become a part of God's Chosen People. This New Covenant dawned in Christ, who is the cornerstone of our faith. Thus, the Holy Land belongs to everyone who has a relationship with God through Christ. The current nation called Israel is no more the true Old Testament Israel than are the many Mount Bethel Methodist Churches scattered across the South the actual Mount Bethel referred to in our text. Indeed, our American forefathers referred to this soil as "The New Israel." A mutual ownership of Palestine was Truman's original idea.

Additionally, we have been vividly reminded in recent months that there is a third major religious player in this process and that is of course Islam. Mohammed penned the Koran as an effort to counter what he saw as the growing threat of Christianity. War was thus turned into a holy tool (Jihad). Only a fringe of Islam holds to this radical idea. Could sensible people of these three monotheistic faiths not come to see that God's original plan was not to destroy the world but to cleanse the world of evil? Could Christians not become the unifying point in bringing others to see that this ideal of world peace was God's intent? Certainly not all people of faith would respond to this rallying cry, but leaders of good will just might. Even socialist and secular governments might see the utilitarian value of a common commitment to peace. And perhaps amid this truce we could truly communicate to the people of the entire world the good news of God's love through Jesus Christ.

Yet, if a grandiose peace plan never works out we still can offer, in a renewed sense, our witness and our prayer. In fact, prayer may be the key to the entire process.

It is sad that "Christian Americans" are viewed as "The Ugly Americans" as we tramp all over the world with our drugs and dirty deals creating a negative image. Our World Mission Movement had the right idea. We need to recruit committed people to give up their careers for a life of service and witness in international missions. Today's communications technology gives us a unique window of opportunity to finally reach the entire world with the message of the Good News.

However, the forces that we face are strong. The spirit of evil, Satan, the Anti-Christ exists all around the globe. Evil wants the world to commit mass suicide. But the Spirit that is in us is greater than the evil spirit that is in the world. The unleashing of God's Holy Spirit, through the lives of dedicated Christians, is the hope of the world.

If we had done a better job of communicating the joy of the Spirit in the past we would not be in the mess that we are in right now. Too often we have presented a culturally centered message of a better life based on: televisions, automobiles, air-conditioning, movies, shopping malls and other materialistic desires of people who were trapped in generations of poverty. The goal that many immigrants have is that of wanting a share in our oversupply of stuff. It is our task as a Christian Community in America to tell the story of Jesus to these new arrivals and to bring them into the fold. We have a mission field right here at home. Most denominations are reaching out to newcomers by establishing ethnic churches. When we drive around our metro area we see church signs written in many languages.

And we still need to take Jesus' Missionary Mandate seriously. In this we have a solution to the world's ills that if left unchecked could destroy us: "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: 'I am with you always. Even to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:19b-20, NLT)

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

7/21/02, P9A