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Monday, November 26, 2012

What is Holy?

This past Sunday I concluded an impromptu three week sermon series in which I used my time in Israel and the West Bank as my jumping off point.  I abused the congregation with a longer than normal worship service (totally unintentional) and I showed slides...100+ of the 2500 some pictures that the 4 of us took in 2 weeks.  My goal was to reflect upon the meaning of "holy" and to ponder what it is that makes a place "holy.  I am rather embarrassed to admit that after a week of reflection, 20 some hours of pouring through photos and asking myself this question, I'm not sure I am any closer to the answer.  

I showed a variety of places and shots and continued to ask the question, "is this a holy place?"  I showed some places that at least on first view would seem to be the antithesis of holy.  Here are just a few of the pictures that I shared:

And then, I started to look up....

 and out...

But still, this somehow was not capturing it for me.  Then I started to look in.... and I realized that what made a place holy on this trip was welcome, hospitality and worship.  And the first two came in unexpected places from often unexpected people.  The Israeli at the restaurant in Rosh Pina, the coffee shop owner in the Old City, the guide in Nablus, the family at our friend Debbie's apartment, the pastor at the little church in Beit Sahour and on and on it goes.  The supposed holy sites were often not that welcoming at all, but instead were crowded and restrictive.  There was an aspect of history and awe at the fact that Jesus might have been there or somewhere near there, but clamoring, sweaty, pushy, overcrowded spaces can suck the holiness out pretty quickly.  Also, because we were Protestant, women, and pastors, there were a lot of places we could not worship or lead worship. The extent of this exclusion was punctuated as soon as I got on the plane in NY to Tel Aviv, when I had to be moved because I was seated next to Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who would be rendered unclean if they sat next to me.  This was a wake-up call that I was truly embarking on a culture shock sort of pilgrimage.  When we went to the various "holy sites,"  I found myself jealous of the people who could pick up mass at least once a day if not multiple times per day.   All of these churches lost something for me when I realized I was unable to worship in community, with music and some of the basic structures of what is familiar to me in the act of worship. 

So, I ask you, what is holy?  What makes a place holy?  I need an answer, please!

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