Tag Archives: Jerusalem

King Solomon’s Quarries, Jerusalem

About 9,000 square-meters beneath the Old City houses lies a most remarkable cave, both in size and beauty. This legendary cave, known as Zedekiah’s Cave, one of the most spectacular sites in Jerusalem, served in antiquity as a quarry for the massive stones that built the Temple and its mount under King Solomon.


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WERE YOU THERE? (thoughts for Palm/Passion Sunday – Sixth Sunday in Lent)


I remember reading a short story – the title escapes me, as does the author – and being captivated by it.

It’s a science fiction story and concerns a travel agency set in the future.

Now, this travel agency deals with the extra-ordinary: it caters for people who have become blasé about going to distant exotic lands, whether on this planet or elsewhere.

So, what they offer is this: travel to anywhere in history – an opportunity to take part in great world events as they actually happen.

This story concerns a large group of tourists who have decided – through this time-travel expedition – to visit Jerusalem at the time of Christ.

In the twinkling of an eye and the press of a button and the throw of a switch, they are transported to the Holy City……and find themselves arriving on Good Friday.

They discover themselves looking up at Pontius Pilate from his balcony, offering the crowd the choice of Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth for execution.

Not wanting to appear conspicuous, the time travellers feel that they ought not deviate from history, and so start to chant “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

And so, it is done.

But, suddenly, one of these visitors happens to look around and notices to his shock and horror that the mob crying out for Christ’s crucifixion is made up entirely of his fellow tourists.

Then he glances up at the windows of the houses round about him and sees that all the devout Jews are indoors silently praying

Whatever we make of that fictional story – apart from its logic, its historicity or its theology – note this theme, this recurring theme: somehow WE are implicated in the crucifixion.

This is the theme of the old spiritual,  “Were you there when they crucified my Lord”



And it’s the theme of many a hymn, and many a sermon.

Where you there when they crucified my Lord?

We don’t like this.  We would rather be counted among the crowd on Palm Sunday cheering and applauding that same Lord as he entered Jerusalem in triumph.

And if we could, we would have.

But human nature is fickle.  When things are bright and beautiful, and the sun shines on us, and all’s well with the world, we’re content – indeed happy – certainly without complaint, and God is glorified and worshipped and adored.

But when we feel let down, or misunderstand the situation, or if the world appears to be kicking us in the teeth – where then is that God?

It’s easy to change opinions, abandon principles, abandon faith itself.

We go with the crowd.  We go the way that seems right for the time.  We really can be fair-weather Christians.

And with that comes the very sins that crucified Christ – amongst them, selfishness and self-interest, corruption of ideals and abandonment of principles, hypocrisy and expediency

And the crowd that shouted ‘Hosanna’ when the occasion demanded it, prompted it – turns its cry to that of ‘Crucify’ because it suited them at the time.

In which group shall we be numbered?  The Judas people who still betray him when he doesn’t satisfy their selfish agenda?  The Pontius Pilate people who dismiss him when what he stands for contradicts expediency and pleasing the crowd?  The folk – like those in the crowd – who distance themselves from him when following him requires transforming self and society?

Or with those who honoured him on that Palm Sunday and continue to do so not just every Sunday but on every day of their life, offering him they dedication of their whole selves in his service and to his greater glory?

And as the hymn “At the name of Jesus” puts it:

“In your hearts enthrone him;

There let him subdue

All that is not holy,

All that is not true:

Crown him as your captain

In temptation’s hour;

Let his will enfold you

In its light and power”



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Sermon preached at Dumfries Northwest – 4 May 2014: The Third of Easter, Year A

The Third of Easter: Luke 24, verses 13-35 – the walk to Emmaus



Supper at Emmaus (1606) is a painting by the Italian master Caravaggio, housed in the Pinacoteca di Brera (Sala XXIX), Milan.


 Christ is Risen!

 He is Risen, indeed!

 Cleopas and his friend hadn’t read about it in that morning’s copy of the “Jerusalem Post”

It hadn’t even made the “Evening Shalom” which had hit the streets mid-afternoon.

 Oh, yes – there had been rumours – of course, there had been: weird bits of gossip floating about – stuff about empty tombs, wild talk about visions of angels… all very David Icke

 But the news hadn’t picked up on it.  Nothing in the papers.  Just more engravings of Herod and populist write-ups about Pontius Pilate (featuring his “sizzling” wife on page 3)  in the “Daily Star” and “the Daily Roman”

 The resurrection never made the front pages, as it were. Had there been newspapers in Christ’s day, it would not have hit the headlines.

 There wouldn’t even have been space for it tucked away amongst the small ads for donkeys, wine jars, and the like – somewhere near the end.

 It wasn’t in the news – not that it wasn’t news!  It was. and is, the greatest News of all, the Good News!

 But It was so unexpected that these followers of Jesus were unprepared for it.

 The story was still of crucifixion and death and the events leading up to it from Palm Sunday to trial and arrest, then sentence followed by capital punishment – Roman style.

 So, here are Cleopas and his companion, who hadn’t read the news – it wasn’t in the news – wearily going home to their village.  For them, it was “Goodnight Vienna”

 It was a bad news evening.

The last full stop of the last sentence of the last chapter of the Jesus story had been written.

 The mark of a good journalist is to summarise or compress the whole point of a story into the first paragraph, even sometimes the first line.  The rest of the report may simply be filling.

 Sometimes, if it’s too long ,the editor will “cut it” – nowadays on a word processor by blocking off a section and pressing delete – in days of old, by literally using a pair of scissors to cut out the last couple of paragraphs.

You can’t do this with novels, of course – you can’t excise the last page, especially of thrillers or whodunits.

 I‘m old enough to remember “Hancock’s Half Hour” on the old steam radio and then on TV….. and I’m thinking just now about what happens when Tony Hancock gets a murder mystery  (Lady Don’t Fall Backwards by Darcy Sarto)  from the library.

 To his shock and horror he finds the last page torn out.  He and Sid James try to solve the whodunit, by tracking down people who had borrowed the book and even a visit to the author’s house with chaotic results.


 But the Jesus story isn’t fiction.  If the gospel report had ended with Christ’s death and burial, the whole point is missed.

 Let me tell you one of the best Easter stories I have ever come across:

The Franco-Prussian War  (19 July 1870 – 10 May 1871), was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia

The Battle of Gravelotte, or Gravelotte-St. Privat, was the largest battle during the Franco-Prussian War. It was fought about six miles (10 km) west of Metz

On the eve of the battle, a group of French Infantrymen was sitting around a camp fire, smoking, drinking, anxious about the next day’s conflict.

Suddenly, out of the bushes came an old, stooped man carrying over his shoulder a bag.

 “Stop, who goes there?” one of the soldiers shouted, jumping to his feet

“Only a poor old bookseller”

“Books?  Pah! we’ve more on our mind than poxy books”

“No, sirs, these are good books – they will give you strength and courage as you face tomorrow”

One of the more “gallus” soldiers shouted over “Here, I’ll have one of your books”  and was handed a pamphlet form of one of the Gospels (probably Mark)

He took it, flicked through the pages and then, tearing out the last one, screwed it up, touched the flame from the campfire, and lit his pipe with it.  Much laughter all round …. apart from the old bookseller who retreated, sadly, whence he came.

The next day, the battle raged – with many casualties, including our “soldat” from the evening before.

Injured, he was carried off to a corner of the battle-field to await whatever medical help could be given.

Although, wounded, he wasn’t in too much pain and rummaging about in his kitbag for something to eat, he came across the little book which had been given to him the night before, and about which he’s completely forgotten.

With so much time to spare before help would arrive, he started to read it – reluctantly at first, but the with growing interest.  Here was this Jesus guy who obviously had great leadership skills – and he could relate to that.  And these disciples were like a sort of army – tough guys most of them.

Hey, and they’re challenging the powers-that-be.  This is good stuff. Marching now on Jerusalem for a showdown with these so and so’s in authority.  Come on, get them and sort them out!

But wait – it’s going wrong: arrested – no!  condemned to death – no way!  The disciples will come and rescue him, surely. 

The Cross – death ….. he turned the page (but, of course, there was no last page; he had torn it out the previous evening)

The End.

He threw the little book away in disgust.

Now it happened that some while later, while in a field hospital, the same old bookseller came round the ward.

“Hey you!” shouted the soldier,” that was a terrible book you gave me – what drama, what enlightening stories, what a hero – and then… that’s it: anti-climax – he dies.”

And the old bookseller then explained what was written on that last missing wonderful and miraculous page.

 Had the story ended with the death and burial, then it would have been a tragedy.

 In his first Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul theologises the situation for us:

 “If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain”

 and, if that isn’t bad enough, he adds “You are still in your sins”

and “All those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished”

 (1 Corinthians, 15 verse 17)

 empty faith – faith  based on nothing

and no forgiveness

no promise of our living beyond the grave

 What a hopeless picture!

 The kind of hopelessness experienced on that sluggish trudge to Emmaus.

 If the story had ended with Good Friday, then it’s inconceivable that the Church would ever have arisen on the back of a dead prophet or wise man or shaman

 And, if our imaginary newspaper editor had cut the story at death and burial, should there not have been an editorial somewhere denouncing this fraudulent and false teacher?

 An editorial denouncing a misguided fanatic?  And I can imagine the comments on the online edition of the newspaper:  “whew! what a weirdo!”  And from those in power: “WE won!”

 And, you know – all the events which contributed to Christ’s death, all the events that enthral our pretend Jerusalem newspaper reader would always hit the headlines of life to the exclusion of any thing of value, beauty or truth.

 But, as we know, the story doesn’t end with the redacted last page:  “Christ is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!”

 the Good News of the Gospel, of  Easter, of all time is that He is alive.

THAT is the headline of all time!

 And, you know, Cleopas didn’t have to read about it.  Nor did Mary Magdalene.  Nor Peter. Nor Thomas.   They didn’t have to.

 They EXPERIENCED it for themselves.  They SAW their Risen Lord; they talked to him, walked with him, ate with him.

 He was real – not something dreamed up by some journo – REAL!!!  

 That’s the kind of news that they just couldn’t keep to themselves.

 Can we?

new hymn:

 I walk the dark Emmaus road

With God so far away.
Despair has left me broken here
Too weak and blind to pray.

One comes to me I cannot see
And helps me understand.
Through passing sorrows now I know
A wise and loving hand.

When pain or loss consume my joy,
I cry for quick relief,
But God would treat a deeper need:
My fear and unbelief.

You know my need, You know my path
With all that lies ahead.
Stay near, my Lord, my God, my Host,
And break my daily bread.

Words by Ken Bible

© 2007 by LNWhymns.com. CCLI Song #5009905.
Common Metre tune – Stracathro



May you see God’s light on the path ahead

When the road you walk is dark.

May you always hear,

Even in your hour of sorrow,

The gentle singing of the lark.

When times are hard may hardness

Never turn your heart to stone,

May you always remember
when the shadows fall—
You do not walk alone.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

and rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,May God hold you in the palm of His hand.



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May 4, 2014 · 13:20

Easter Eve – deadline: Jerusalem

Palestinian Christians: Israeli police spoiling Easter celebrations in Jerusalem Israel’s High Court is weighing a petition to prevent security forces from approaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Easter Eve.


Palestinian Christians are awaiting a High Court of Justice ruling on a petition asking the state and the Israel Police to drop the heavy movement and security restrictions that have prevented worshipers from accessing holy sites in East Jerusalem on Holy Saturday during the past several years. Holy Saturday, which is the day before Easter, falls this year on April 19.

The petition, filed in February by several East Jerusalem residents, argues that police roadblocks and barricades in and around the Old City on that day deter worshipers from even attempting to access the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other sites for Holy Saturday celebrations. The petitioners have also asked that armed security personnel not be allowed to enter the church. The heads of the five Eastern Orthodox churches and the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land also joined the petition.

Holy Saturday, also called the Saturday of Light by some of the eastern churches, is marked in East Jerusalem with a fire ceremony that symbolizes the resurrection of Christ. The custom for the past several hundred years is that the Greek Orthodox patriarch enters the holy sepulcher with an extinguished torch and prays. The tradition is that at 2 P.M., the torch lights up on its own, and its fire is passed on to the torches of other denominations and to the candles carried by thousands of believers waiting in the church and outside it.

According to the petitioners, between 1967 and 2005 Israel respected the Holy Saturday tradition and its character as a mass event. But in 2006, in a step that was never explained, the police started to erect barriers and screen worshipers before allowing them to enter. The petitioners’ attorney, Assad Masawi, said that in 2010, Palestinian Christian leaders began a dialogue with the authorities that resulted in somewhat improved access in 2011 and 2012. But in 2013 the situation deteriorated again, with reports of police roughing up worshipers and clergymen en route to the celebrations and refusing to allow access to various delegations whose visits had been coordinated in advance.

An internal EU report on the situation in East Jerusalem, published on March 18, also cites the Easter restrictions and police aggressiveness in 2013, and stated that the presence of armed Israeli security personnel in the church was very disturbing.

The state’s response to the petition, which was submitted on Sunday, is that the High Court has no reason to intervene in reasonable police considerations. But Justice Noam Solberg decided that a panel of three judges should hear the petition this week.

The Israel Police responded by saying, “The police is preparing to secure the Saturday of Light event and to assure the security of the many participants, as is done for other events in which it enables all religions freedom of worship, subject to the law and maintenance of public order. As every year, there will be roadblocks around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and participants’ entry will be supervised, to prevent a disaster and maintain their safety.”


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April 10, 2014 · 08:21

Death in Jerusalem

A man and his ever-nagging wife went on holiday to Jerusalem. While they were there, the wife passed away. The undertaker told the husband that he could have her shipped home for £5000; alternatively it would cost only £500 to have her buried in the Holy Land.

The man thought about it and told him he would just have her shipped home.

The undertaker asked, “Why would you spend £5,000 to ship your wife home, when it would be wonderful to be buried here and you would spend only £500?”

The man replied, “Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose from the dead. I just can’t take that chance”

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Sermon – Dumfries North West: Sunday, 17 November 2013


A bit of culture to begin….. this is a poem written by Thomas Hood – English poet lived in first half of 19th century:

No sun – no moon!

No morn – no noon –

No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member –

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –



Now ain’t that the truth?!

 These are dull, dark and dreich days.

 November – it’s a gloomy and murky time.

 And it’s a time of sadness for many

 At the very beginning of this month, it was All Saints Day when we remembered those who have died – painful memories for many of us.


Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day and memories of those – especially those cut down in the prime of life in war: the Great War, the Second – and thoughts too of these young servicemen and women killed in more recent conflicts – in Iraq and Afghanistan particularly…..  what tragic waste and for what?

 But, as Christians, we are called to live in hope,-.

 To be voices in the wilderness.  To be lights to the world


Have you ever tried to make predictions?

 I have and I predict that a new age is around the corner.

 In a couple of weeks’ time it will be Advent when we begin to anticipate the coming of the one who is the Light of the World – the one who banishes gloom and darkness and brings life.

 The one who promises so much – and who delivers.


Predictions can be funny things.

 Thomas Watson, who was chairman of IBM said in 1943  “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers

 There was an inventor by the name of LeeDeForest who claimed that “While theoretically and technically, television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility.

 The Decca record company predicted that “We don’t like their sound and guitar music is one the way out.”  That was in 1962 when they turned down a band  (the Beatles)

 The disciples must of thought that Jesus was crazy when he predicted that the mighty Jerusalem Temple would be in ruins one day soon.

 It was the bedrock of faith for the Jewish people.  A huge structure that would last forever unto eternity.

 They must have thought him mad.

 Christ’s prediction that a building – or collection of buildings – so immense seemed implausible.

 They wanted to know when.  What would be the sign that this would take place.

 In their voice was fear, uncertainty.  Gloom.

A November mood of desolation if you like.

 Forty years later Jesus’ prediction came true.  In 70 AD the Temple was destroyed by Rome.


Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem, Francesco Hayez, oil on canvas, 1867. Depicting the destruction and looting of the Second Temple by the Roman army.


But the church of Jesus Christ still stands, founded on the bedrock of faith.

Despite persecutions, despite divisions, despite apathy and criticism, mockery and opposition.  Despite all the November-like forces of the world can throw against it, the Church still stands.

 It may lose direction at times; it may appear to have suffered setbacks; it may have been considered to have made errors of judgement


But it still stands and asks US to carry out God’s will and Christ’s divine manifesto.

 We know that the Church finds itself these days in November-mode with decline in numbers here in Britain and elsewhere.


I was a member of Lothian Presbytery some years ago.  We once had a speaker from Church Headquarters – at 121 George   Street.

 He was talking about the reduction of membership in the Church of Scotland.

 At one point, he predicted that by 2029, there would be nobody left in our neighbouring Presbytery of Edinburgh.

 Ironic laughter from we Lothian chaps and chapesses.

 Then he said, I don’t why you find this amusing – your Presbytery will cease to exist in 2030


But as long as we stand firm in the faith.  As long as we don’t just DO Church but BE church – then there is a future.

 The Church world wide is growing.  Catholics are returning to chapels in Italy because of that most humble charismatic man, the new Pope.  It’s been called the “Francis effect”

 As long as there are people receptive to the good news, we can achieve great things for God.

 Prophesying doesn’t just mean predicting; it means being a VOICE


We may be a tiny voice in these November times – but as long as we are shining lights to the world – followers of him who is the Light of the World……  then resurrection is there

 And the gloom and the shadows will be dispersed forever.


We started with a poem, lets close with one:

 This was adapted by Alan Gaunt (based on an original piece by Norman C. Habel: “Dreams for Celebration”)

We look for a time

When every day will be a celebration,

When solemnity will effervesce and piety will swing;

When death will be celebrated like birth

And people will know that they are loved and wanted and beautiful;

When they will see you in each other

And use each other’s eyes as mirrors.

Then there will be joy at sunrise and peace at sunset,

And all will be free

As you are free

Now that death is past

And only life remains.

The maimed will run,

Fools will be wise,

The mentally disturbed will be of sound mind.

Politicians  will make peace and feed the people

And turn tanks into combine-harvesters.

The whole of life will be one long celebration of the vintage;

Children will be born into love

And baptised into joy.

Some day, Lord, these things shall be.

But here and now,

We will make a start on the new heaven and the new earth  You have in mind for us, 

And we thank you for the privilege


November 17, 2013 · 18:09

The Playing Nun

Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam Guebrù

Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam Guebrù: Jersualem’s best kept musical secret for 30 years. Photograph: Gali Tibbon

From a small, spartan room in the courtyard of the Ethiopian church off a narrow street in Jerusalem, a 90-year-old musical genius is emerging into the spotlight.

For almost three decades, Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam Guebrù has been closeted at the church, devoting herself to her life’s twin themes – faith and music. The Ethiopian nun, whose piano compositions have enthralled those who have stumbled across a handful of recordings in existence, has lived a simple life, rarely venturing beyond the monastery’s gates.

But this month the nonagenarian’s scribbled musical scores have been published as a book, ensuring the long-term survival of her music. And on Tuesday, the composer will hear her work played in concert for the first time, at three performances in Jerusalem. Guebrù may even play a little.

Her music has been acclaimed by critics and devotees. Maya Dunietz, a young Israeli musician who worked with Guebrù on the publication of her scores, says in her introduction to the book that the composer has “developed her own musical language”.

“It is classical music, with a very special sense of time, space, scenery,” Dunietz told the Guardian. “It’s not grand; it’s intimate, natural, honest and very feminine. She has a magical touch on the piano. It’s delicate but deep. And all her compositions tell stories of time and place.”

Guebrù’s inspiration comes not only from her faith, but from her life: an extraordinary journey from an aristocratic family in Addis Ababa, with strong links to Emperor Haile Selassie, to a monastery in the historic centre of Jerusalem .

She was born Yewubdar Guebrù on December 12 1923 and lived in the Ethiopian capital until, aged six, she and her sister were sent to boarding school in Switzerland. In one of two seminal moments of her life, there she heard her first piano concert, and began to play and study music.

After her return to Addis Ababa, and a period of exile for her family followed by yet another return, Guebrù was awarded a scholarship to study music in London. But she was unexpectedly denied permission to leave by the Ethiopian authorities.

Israeli musician Maya Dunietz

Israeli musician Maya Dunietz, who compiled Guebrù’s compositions into a book. Photograph: Dana Dunietz

In the bleak days following this calamity, Guebrù refused food until, close to death, she requested holy communion. Embracing God was the second seminal moment of her life. She abandoned music to devote herself to prayer, and after several years joined a monastery in northern Ethiopia. She spent 10 years there, barefoot and living in a mud and stone hut.

It was here she changed her name to Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam. It was only after rejoining her mother in Addis Ababa that Guebrù resumed playing and composing and even recorded a few albums.

Guebrù and her mother later spent six years in Jerusalem, and she returned to the Holy Land to take up permanent residence after her mother’s death in 1984. She has remained at the imposing circular Ethiopian church ever since.

Dunietz came across her music eight years ago when her husband, the conductor Ilan Volkov, brought home a CD he had bought in London. “We listened and were amazed by the strange combination of classical, Ethiopian and blues,” said Dunietz. “And then we read the sleeve notes and discovered she lives right here in Jerusalem.”

The couple found Guebrù sitting at the piano in her room at the church, and began a series of visits. “In the beginning there was a lot of silence. We felt there was a lot of longing and sorrow and loneliness, but slowly a connection started,” said Dunietz.

Guebrù was still playing and composing in her room, but she had not performed in public for several years, and her music was “not much appreciated” within the monastery. Dunietz immediately understood the importance of publishing the nun’s scores to create and preserve a musical legacy, but the project did not get off the ground until two years ago.

Easter celebrations outside the Ethiopian Orthodox church in JerusalemEaster celebrations outside the Ethiopian Orthodox church in Jerusalem, where Guebrù has lived since 1984. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

“She handed over four plastic bags — old wrinkled Air Ethiopia bags — containing hundreds of pages, all muddled up, a big mess, written in pencil, some of them 60 or 70 years old. It was all the pages of her music that she had found in her room. ‘Make a book’, she said.” It was, added Dunietz, “like an archaeological dig” to piece together the scores.

Daunted by the task, Dunietz sought the help of the Jerusalem Season of Culture, which organises an annual summer festival of art, music and food in the city. As well as the book, the three concerts have a huge significance for Guebrù.

“This is the first time she will hear her own music performed in concert by professional artists,” said Duenitz, who will play the piano. “It is what every composer wants.” Guebrù, she says, is feeling overwhelmed by the attention and has largely withdrawn into the solitude of her monastery room, declining requests for interviews and meetings.

In the book accompanying Guebrù’s music, Meytal Ofer, a regular visitor over recent months, describes her: “I enter a darkened room and catch my first glimpse of her, an elderly woman, not a wrinkle on her face, lying in bed. It is a modest room with a small window. In the room is a bed, a piano, piles of musical scores and a picture of Haile Selassie and the Empress Menen hung above the papers.”

Guebrù is wrapped in a blanket against the winter cold, writes Ofer. “Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam is in her own world; she speaks slowly with an inner peace, her soothing voice caresses the listener and her infectious smile sneaks into the conversation every now and then … The disparity between the room’s sparseness and Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam’s spiritual richness reaches deep down into my soul.”

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August 18, 2013 · 19:43

The Greatest Thing

One afternoon three children, two boys and a girl, entered a flower shop. They were about nine or ten years old.. They gazed around the shop and nervously approached the owner. One of the boys said: “Sir, we’d like something in yellow flowers, please.”

The man immediately realized that this was a very special occasion. He showed them some inexpensive yellow spring flowers. The boy who was the spokesman for the group shook his head. “I think we’d like something better than that.”

The man asked, “Do they have to be yellow?” The boy answered, “Yes, sir. You see, Mickey would like them better if they were yellow. He had a yellow sweater. He’d like yellow better than any other colour.”

The man asked, “Are they for his funeral?”

The boy nodded, suddenly choking up. The little girl was struggling to keep back the tears. “She’s his sister,” the boy said. “He was a great kid. A lorry hit him while he was playing in the street.”

We took up a collection for him.  We’ve got a pound and three pence. Would roses cost an awful lot, sir — yellow roses, I mean?”

The man smiled. “It just happens that I have some nice yellow roses here that I’m offering special today for a pound  a dozen.” The man pointed to the flower case.

”These would be great” said the boy, “ Yes, Mickey would really like those.”

The man said, “I’ll make up a nice spray with ferns and ribbons. Where do you want me to send them?”

One of the boys said, “Would it be all right if we took them with us? We’d kind of like to, you know, give them to Mickey ourselves. He’d like it better that way.”

The florist fixed the spray of flowers and accepted the pound and then watched the youngsters trudge out of the store. And within his heart he felt the warm glow of the presence of God.

Our Gospel lesson about Mary anointing Christ’s feet  is about such love and such extravagant giving from one’s heart.

It is also about an upcoming funeral, the funeral of Jesus.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem for the Passover and stops in Bethany to visit with his friends, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was six days before the Passover and therefore six days till the passion of Jesus starts.

Mary, Martha and of course Lazarus were well acquainted with Jesus as he had raised Lazarus from the dead. He stopped in for dinner, or supper and a brief visit while he continued his journey to Jerusalem.

Something quite unexpected happened at that gathering

Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment

This act of Mary’s was an act of love. An act of love toward Jesus because she sensed he was indeed someone who was truly special. And as the events unfold in the next days, we see this anointing was a fore shadowing of what was to come. Jesus was not anointed after His death, so this anointing was something planned ahead of time. Mary probably did not know it, but Jesus did.

Mary had to express her love for Jesus and this was the best way she could. Yes, it was extravagant, yes it was costly, but it was her expression of love for Jesus.

Are we extravagant with our love for Jesus? Or do we hold back? How do we express our love for Jesus? We can’t anoint Him as Mary did. But we can worship him and we can serve him by serving others.

A closing story –

It happened at a Scripture Union weekend.. One of the lads who was attending, a boy with spastic paralysis, was the object of heartless ridicule. When he would ask a question, the boys would deliberately answer in a halting, mimicking way.

One night the others chose him to lead the devotions before the entire gathering. It was one more effort to have some “fun” at his expense.

Unashamedly the boy with cerebral palsy stood up, and in his strained, slurred manner — each word coming with enormous effort — he said simply, “Jesus loves me — and I love Jesus!”

That was all. Many began to cry. From then on things were different for that group of youngsters …. that weekend …and beyond

Jesus is anointed by Mary Magdalene. XIX centu...

Jesus is anointed by Mary Magdalene. XIX century engraving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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No excuses

In 1536 Reformer William Farel recruited John Calvin to come to Geneva,  to minister to the congregation of St. Peter’s Church in that Swiss city.

Calvin, a sickly man all his life, was on his way to Strasbourg to be a quiet scholar, but he relented under this need, this request, to become a pastor. 

Two years later, the city fathers publicly banished Calvin from Geneva. Actually, Calvin felt relieved. The moral chaos of the city was terrible. He went to Strasbourg.

Three years later in 1541, the same city fathers who had tried to humiliate him begged Calvin to return and help restore order. 

He didn’t want to go this second time, either, “yet,” he wrote, “because I know that I am not my own master, I offer my heart as a true sacrifice to the Lord.”

This became the motto of Calvin’s life. His emblem would include a hand holding out a heart to God with the inscription, prompte et sincere (“promptly and sincerely”).

Promptly and sincerely Calvin answered a call to very difficult task.

There are many times in our own life, when we don’t feel like taking a course of action, because it would be inconvenient or risky or just plain boring.  And we do not respond “promptly and sincerely”, but rather make our excuses…and some of them can be pretty lame and rather unconvincing.

But the greatest of folk down through the centuries, have, despite knowing that the outcome of their action could impact negatively upon them, accepted the challenge.

Jesus Christ was determined to go to Jerusalem even though he knew that it would probably mean death for him in the end. But for him, there was no turning back

He knew that he had to go.

Certainly in the early church when this Gospel was being written followers of Jesus faced great opposition from their families and close friends.  They were even in some cases considered dead by the family.  Funerals were probably held for them.  How can you go back to family and friends who have pronounced you dead.? 


We know the love and forgiveness of God. We experience the power of the Holy Spirit – a power to live and to serve Christ’s way of life. We have a sense of belonging in a loving Christian community.   Our sense of mission is larger than any personal agenda.

However there are always costs.  The following of Christ demands personal sacrifices.  It often means unpopular stands on some issues, standing against such things as destroy love or works against love in our world.  We need to be working for peace and justice, for freedom of all people and toward the well being of all people.  It also means the loss of our motivation toward profit as our main goal in life. 

Detrich Bonhoeffer. was a German Lutheran theologian and minister. He also came to know the cost of discipleship.  He came to America for awhile while all the difficulties were happening in his homeland.

He went back to Germany eventually saying, “I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America.  I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of the Christian life in Germany after the war if I don’t share the trials of this time with my people….since coming on board ship my inner disruption about the future has disappeared”.

You could say that he “set his face” to go to Germany where he was to be imprisoned and eventually executed for his beliefs and his opposition to Hitler. 

NOW is always the time to decide about our life.  It has always been impressive in the Old Testament when the Israelites came to a critical time in their life and one of their leaders would put a decision before the people to “choose today whom you will serve. 

This is always the choice before us as followers of Christ. That is the choice in all the decisions we face day by day. When we choose the giving, loving, caring way of Christ, it is always a CHOICE TO LIVE, whatever the cost, but to the greater glory of God.

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Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Hol...

Toruń, church of St. James, Descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) painting, early 16th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia With this action, the American Revolution was launched and a new nation was born. It is ironic that on that very day King George III made this entry in his diary: “Nothing of any importance happened today.”

On the day of Pentecost, in the year A.D. 30, 120 followers of a man named Jesus were gathered together in Jerusalem. Suddenly the Spirit of God filled each one of them and marked them with tongues of fire. On that day the Church was born. But no historian of the time saw anything significant in that event.

Those followers were just a handful of rather ordinary men and women, Yet through these ordinary people God built a Church which has lasted now for over 2,0000 years.

In less than 300 years, that small, insignificant Jewish sect became the official religion of the entire Roman Empire and today the Church of Jesus Christ circles the globe and numbers some one billion members.

How did they do it? What happened to those  followers in the year 30 A.D. on the day we call Pentecost? Those  followers came in contact with the Christian’s unknown God.

They came in contact with God’s Spirit, or the Holy Spirit. For many Christians the events of Pentecost, the events of God’s spirit coming to this earth is like what King George said on the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, “nothing of any importance happened today.”

Pentecost  is  a major festival of the church year – just as important as Christmas, just as important as Easter, but for some unknown reason, this festival in the church year goes by almost unnoticed. Why is that? Maybe the Holy Spirit is our Unknown God, also.

Maybe because we have a difficult time getting a handle on the Spirit of God. Maybe, we don’t understand what exactly happened on this day. And maybe, talk about the Spirit is not so enthralling as talk about a baby born in a manager, angels singing in the heavens, gifts being passed about and shepherds tending their sheep on quiet hillsides.

But, this festival, this holiday is very important for the life of the church, for your life and my life.

The Spirit of God is not something we should fear, nor something we should ignore, but the Holy Spirit is God’s presence in this world.

It is the same presence that was moving over the face of the earth when God created this world in which we live. It is that same presence that took the form of a baby born in a manager in Bethlehem, it is the same spirit of God that walked the earth for 33 years, teaching, healing, proclaiming the love of God for all people. And now, today, it is that same spirit that is with us, it is God’s spirit alive and well on this earth, working through his people, the church, to bring his love into the brokenness of this world.

It is this Spirit that comes into our lives, into the church to allow us to spread God’s message of love to all people. It is this Spirit which points not to itself, but to Christ. It is this Spirit which allows us to point not to ourselves, but to Christ. It is this Spirit which makes the church, the Body of Christ, the most unique organization on the face of the earth.

We are part of  a global enterprise. We have branches in every country in the world. We have our representatives in nearly every parliament and board room on earth. We’re into motivation and behaviour alteration.

We run homeless shelters and orphanages, publishing houses, and nursing homes. We care for our clients from birth to death.

We perform spiritual heart transplants. Our original Organizer owns all the real estate on earth plus an assortment of galaxies and constellations. He knows everything and lives everywhere. Our product is free for the asking. (There’s not enough money to buy it.)

The church is the most amazing organization in the world! And we are part of it, not because we did anything, but the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, makes us holy and keeps us in the true faith

pentecost-simonmarshSimon Marsh – Artist

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