Summary: A message to encourage intimacy with the Lord
It feels like a long time since I’ve stood up here, but every time I go abroad and come back to church the only thing I really feel like saying is, “it’s good to be home.”
I’ve been visiting the Middle East as part of my job now for about 6 months – and it might surprise you to learn that when I was given the job, nobody, not even the organisation I worked for had any concept of what it was that I was supposed to be doing – apart from a vague idea of trying to help Christians in Holy Land.
It sounds kind of cool, I suppose, someone saying, I’ll tell you what, I’ll pay you some money and stuff if you can kind of do this thing around this sort of idea.
But it’s not that cool – at the end of the day, a lot of what has happened in the last six months has just been kind of feeling around in the dark – trying to understand the people and their faith before I can even do anything to support them.
So I decided that one of the best ways to understand Christians would be to visit and worship in as many churches as I could. For two reasons really (i) so that I can get to know people, and (ii) so I can hear what the hopes and aspirations and dreams of believers are and see how if I can, in some way help to bring those about.
So a big part of my work is about bridging the gap between Christians in Nazareth or the Middle East and Christians in the rest of the world – to see how those on the ground in the Holy Land can be supported and empowered to live their lives and to make their lives there a little better – a little bit more tolerable.
I think I may have already explained that Christians are very much a minority religion in Israel – perhaps only around 2 out of every hundred people would admit to being a Christian.
But, you know, even here, where Christians are so few, there are many, many different flavours of Christianity – there are still all of the denominations vying for people to affiliate with them – to be baptised with them. To give you some idea, since I started visiting the Middle East (which was only in the middle of July) and bear in mind, sometimes I only go for a week – so since then I have worshipped in:
• A Baptist church
• Then another Baptist church split from the first Baptist Church
• Then another Baptist church split from the split of the Baptist church if you now what I mean.
• A Greek orthodox church (in a service that last 4 hours)
• A Brethren church (during which maybe 25% of the time was spent in respectful and yet complete silence, while we waited for the leadership to be given inspiration).
• A Nazarene church – which I think I already told you about – the church I found completely by accident when I got lost.
• An Anglican mini-cathedral – in which it was astonishing to hear the old British hymns sung with the same tunes – with an organ, but completely in Arabic
• And a Messianic Jewish synagogue.
And I have yet to visit the Russian Orthodox Church, the various independent churches and one or two of the Catholic churches.
Believe you me, for such a small city – which is maybe no bigger than south shields - there are an awful lot of churches.
But the church that was the inspiration for the sermon this morning was the church of Messianic Jews – situated on the slopes of Mount Carmel – no less.
Now just to remind you, Mount Carmel is the place described in the book of Kings where Elijah challenged 450 priests of Baal to prove the existence of their God by them getting their God to burn their sacrifice they with a supernatural fire. Basically saying to them, “I’ll get my God to burn my sacrifice – let’s see if your God can burn your sacrifice.”
Of course, Elijah is making this challenge in order to prove the existence of God to the Israelites because some of them were starting to following Baal.
Actually I love the bit when Elijah starts mocking them. It’s in I Kings 18 – starting at verse 25:
Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, "Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire." So they took the bull given them and prepared it.