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Global Vision - Spring 2013

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Karoline Lewis' Holy Land reflections


Jerusalem - January 2013

It was not the birthplace of Jesus. It was not the supposed site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It was not even the certain location where Jesus was put to death that had the most impact on me as a pilgrim to the Holy Land. It was reading John 9 at the Pool of Siloam, the very place that Jesus healed the man born blind. It was reading Mark 8, where Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, at Caesarea Philippi. It was listening to Jesus' opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," on the Mount of the Beatitudes and then sharing Holy Communion. Blessed are we, indeed.

Standing next to the original foundation of the walls of Jerusalem, reminded of Herod's massive expansion of the temple, and sizing myself up to the Herodian stones that are at least as tall as I am, sentences from the New Testament literally exploded off the well-worn, well-read, well-known pages into the present. "As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings'" (Mark 13:1)! What large stones, indeed! No wonder the disciples were amazed, astounded. The reality of what the disciples saw suddenly became our reality, our experience.

What difference does this make in how we read and interpret Scripture? What difference does this make for a life of faith and discipleship? Maybe it's just that now the stories of the Bible seem more real, more tangible, more situated—especially when we are constantly trying to manage the ever-present challenge of traversing more than 2,000 years to help the Bible make sense, be relevant, be applicable. But, it's more than that.

The geography of the Holy Land—the cities, the topography, the landscape—created encounters with the stories of the Bible, sometimes all too rote and familiar, where they took on flesh and blood. Where the stories themselves became incarnated, embodied, in those moments, in our lives, where Scripture and place, event and location, narration and setting merged, collapsing the time and space that separate us from being the disciples we hope to be, from the potency of the ministry of Jesus, from the very present God who so wants to be part of our lives. Perhaps that is the reason to go to the Holy Land: So that the promise of the incarnation does not get reduced to some abstract theological claim or concept or confession.

God became flesh to know us, live with us, and be us. Sometimes that is so hard to realize, to sense, to know when we just hear words from a book compiled so long ago. But, when you are actually there, where it all happened, somehow, someway, because of the activity of the Holy Spirit, you are there. And then you realize that nothing is impossible for God.

Karoline Lewis, the Alvin N. Rogness Chair of Homiletics, and Kathryn Schifferdecker, associate professor of Old Testament, co-led 33 participants on the two-week Luther Seminary cross-cultural course, The Holy Land: Its Prayers, People and Places, in January 2013. Read more about Dr. Lewis' and Dr. Schifferdecker's experiences in their personal blogs