Pastor's Musings

April 2022


“The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”


In his recent book When Everything Is On Fire, Brian Zahnd tells of a place in Jerusalem that he and his wife Peri like to take pilgrims when they visit the Holy Land. It’s a short walk from the hotel they usually stay in, but it’s not on the itinerary of most tour guides. Brain begins the excursion by telling his fellow travelers that he is going to take them to hell. Then the tour group takes a short walk to the valley of Hinnon or what used to be called Gehenna. The area is located just below the southern walls of the Old City. In the Bronze Age, this valley was a Canaanite site of Molech worship an abominable practice where children were sacrificed in the burning belly of a bronze idol with the head of a bull. In the seventh century BC. King Josiah defiled this site “which is the valley of Ben-hinnon, so that no one would make a son or daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech” (2 Kings 23:10). The valley then became the city dump for Jerusalem – a place of rotting refuse full of maggots and constantly burning fires. For the sixth-century Hebrew prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, and later for Jesus, Gehenna was used as the metaphorical image of total destruction or, as the King James Bible translates Gehenna – hell. It’s the horrible place where, as Isaiah and Jesus say, “their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched” (Mark 9:48). Jeremiah and Jesus both warned Jerusalem that if they didn’t walk in the way of justice and peace, the whole city would end up a smoldering, maggot-infested Gehenna. This is hell. And Jerusalem has gone to hell twice, first in 587 B.C.E. and again in C.E.70. This is the literal hell that Brian and his wife take pilgrims to except that today, it is Gey Ben Hinnon Park. A lovely green expanse with lawns, trees, fountains, couples walking hand in hand, and the occasional evening concert. Brain always enjoys taking pilgrims there and saying, “Welcome to hell.” And then he points to a sign that says “No fires Allowed in the Park.” It’s a beautiful lesson in the hope of ultimate reconciliation.

If Brian could rename the park, he would call it. Apokastasis Park – the park of the restoration of all things. What can we do when it seems everything is on fire and the world is coming apart at the seams? We can remember that even the fires of hell can become a garden, that even hell can become a park – a garden park where no fires are allowed and the fountains are never quenched.

Brian goes on to say: “Demagogues may come and go, but Jesus is Lord. Empires will rise and fall, but the Kingdom of Christ endures. Woes will surely ebb and flow, but there is stability (and a way forward) in the peace of Christ. No matter what happens, I believe in Jesus Christ, and because of Christ I can smile at the future.” Does this mean there won’t be any challenges in the present moment? Of course not! Jesus has shown that the way to God’s future is through the cross, but on the other side of the cross lies resurrection.

In the past couple of years all of us have been through the trauma of a worldwide pandemic. Now in this present moment we are watching a horrific war unfold in Ukraine. In addition we wonder how disregard for our planet’s ecology will impact our well-being and we mourn the loss of so many of our fellow parishioners. The way forward looks fraught with obstacles and challenges beyond our ability to address. But that is not the whole story concerning God’s plan for our broken and fractured planet. God has sent a Savior and because he endured the cross and its shame and rose victorious on the third day the future remains full of hope and possibility. We do not know what tomorrow will bring but we do know that Jesus has conquered death, hell, and the power of the devil, and that is all we need to know to walk confidently into God’s redemptive future.

Your Fellow Pilgrim On the Journey,
Pastor Greg

  May 2022  
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