Packed and ready to go, we journey onward to the next adventure. We are leaving our first hotel and moving north to see and experience new things.
Our first stop is Caesarea Maritima. As we prepare to conquer the site. We find the sky turning gray and dark. The rumbling sound of thunder greets us as we are just getting ready to take off for the Amphitheater. There is the strong smell of fish in the air and the winds are beginning to blow. Finally, as we are under a shelter surrounding a model of the site, the rain begins to fall. This is not just a gentle, Oh we can handle this kind of rain. It was raining and blowing with some energy. Our guide kept us going with interesting bits of information until the rain ceased.
Off to the Amphitheater. I am always amazed at the work and grandeur of this structure. How did they ever gets this put together? Truly astonishing. Today we are greeted not only by the historic structure, that through the years has seen marked reconstruction and improvements, but also by what is obviously the set up for some kind of major performance. We find out later there is to be a Paul Simon concert given later in the evening. (Just a bit of me is a little envious of those who will actually sit out there and see him in concert.)
The rain returns. It is not as bad as at first, but, it was annoying enough we took cover for a while. As the rain lightened up we ventured forth to see the Med Sea, Herod’s palace, the Seaport and the Hippodrome. We walk along the shoreline and are enjoying our day as we take in the wonders of Caesarea Maritima. A bit soggy, but well worth it.
Our adventure continues as we move on to the Roman Aqueducts. By this time the sun has appeared. All who want are given a chance to go dip their toes in the Mediterranean Sea. We don’t take too long as we want to make sure to get everything accomplished that we hoped to do before the day it over.
As is the norm for this group we find little glitches all along the way. We continue to find there is nothing that is going to stop us. We rely on the Beatitude of Flexibility and often just need a hug from someone who can give us a little moral support. It seems to be working.
Our next stop is Mt. Carmel. This is where Elijah challenges the prophets of baal and literally burns them out. If you do not recollect the story, feel free to look it up in I Kings 18. I love this site. I was so excited to know we where going there. Mt. Carmel is not a huge Tel, but just high enough to make a point as it surrounded by the valleys below. On the Tel they have build a humble monastery. There is a small gift shop, a really sweet chapel, and a double stairway that can produce a most extraordinary view. Remember that rain I told you about earlier in the day. Well, when the sun came out and started baking off all that moisture it turned my view into a glistening level of haze. On a clear day there should have been a most welcome breeze leading us to see for miles around. One can see all the way back to the Med Sea in one direction, Jerusalem in another direction, Nazareth in yet another. Today we got to see the highway the was just a head of us. Now, in full disclosure we could actually see Megiddo, but that really is not all that far from us.
We move on. And this is where my focus for this day really takes a turn. Our next stop is Cana. Normally, I am not too excited about Cana. Yes, I know that is where Jesus goes to a wedding and Mom tells him it’s time to begin doing what he came to do. Long story short, he turns the water into wine…first recorded miracle. In all fairness if this were to be given all the attention it deserves it would be a month long sermon series. Something I make no apology for, I do not have to write or deliver to anyone, anymore. We arrive and make our way to the Catholic church which is traditionally where most Christians find their way to see the traditional place of the wedding and miracle. There is a giant jar surrounded by plexiglass that makes for a great photo op. The church is modest and does provide a place of reverence and reflection.
I find myself torn between the hunger to find something really meaningful and the nagging spirit that says lets grab a bottle of Cana wine at the nearest shop and move on. For those who know God has a sense of humor this turned into a humorous God moment. We attempted to go into two or it might have even been three shops of which all were closed. Finally, we did find the shop belonging to the sister of the pastor of the Baptist Church in Cana and we wondered through there. A couple of folks found some items they could not live without. Most of us were not so inclined. No Cana wine for anyone this year.
I am drawn then again to the other side of the coin. If the secular, tourist experience is not to be the highlight then God must have something more in store for me here.
The pastor of the Cana Baptist church was a student at the Bible College when our group leader taught there for a year. We find our way to the church and are greeted there by the pastor and his wife. Before long there is a sister and parents and friends of the church all there to spend a time of fellowship with us. We were greeted like we were long lost family members. One by one we are hearing their stories of faith and witness. This church has for many years focused on children and youth. One of my own passions. They are a church that has never stopped reaching out and leaning on God to move them in new and exciting ventures that allow the children and youth of Cana to know it as a place they are welcome, loved and encouraged to grow in Christ. The story has never changed in all the years I have visited with them. Today was no different.
When asked why do I keep coming back, this is it. I watched the group get caught up in this story telling and I could not only see, but feel, the Spirit of God moving in them like no other time in their lives. I truly believe none of them went in expecting to be moved in the Spirit. I think most thought they were doing our leader a favor by stopping in to see a friend and say hello. They knew we would be offered signs of hospitality and maybe a snack. Well, our “simple snack” turned into a feast of fruits, beverages and Knafeh, a baked cheesy bit of deliciousness. We were greeted with love and excitement for following the calling of God.
I love seeing folks experience Israel and Palestine for the first time. You cannot help but be changed. Not only that, this kind of experience of meeting those who live here and finding God in their midst is incredible.
It did not stop there this time. As we met the leaders of this ministry we did not just hear about their roles in the church, but we also heard about their own lives. They just had an older brother get married. The youth leader is getting married soon; and, a young man who grew up in this church, went to California for theological studies and found there a young lady from Michigan with whom he is getting married. He had a great story to tell of how they met and the journey that led them to their engagement. He shared the anxious moments of meeting the parents, on both side, not sure how either family would embrace this opportunity. He shared his own sense of not knowing exactly what God had in store for them, but knew without a doubt that as long as he kept listening for God and following God’s plan for them it would be alright.
I felt the call of God to share a bit of my story with the group and with this young man. I talked about the first time I heard the faith story of Cana Baptist Church, the first time I saw the youth leading them in worship and the mutual love that was evident in the church. Most importantly I needed to share with the young man the story of one who just turned a corner on 40+ years of ministry. Whose life is nothing like what I had planned for myself. I shared with him, just as he had said, about the day I, too, realized that there was no plan I could make that would be nearly as good as the plan God had for me. Faithfully following, not always knowing why I was going wherever I was going; but believing in God to guide me thru the Spirit to a place and purpose that would lift up the Body of Christ. We circled up and joined hands in a time of Spirited prayer. There were some tears, some trembling, some hugs, love and grace enough for all.
In the battle of tourist, secular experience versus God’s mighty love and grace. This time, God won. I believe all who were there won, too. I certainly did.
I have said it many, many times; we all have a story to tell. None of us really knows the power of sharing the simplest story of our lives. Today the stories / witness, of those from a humble church in Cana touched the lives of 16 strangers from Missouri. We never know the seeds we plant when we are willing to go faithfully in the path of God and reach out in whatever way God leads, including sharing our own stories.
In a last-minute change to who was going to give our own group’s daily devotion we received another blessing in the personal story of one of our group members. She reinforced the power and praise of God in listening to God who might call us to do the uncomfortable, the unwanted task, and the doubtful moments of wondering if God was calling the right person to the task. It was the perfect story to hear to end this day.
Each and every one of us has a story to tell. Lives are changed and God is found in them. This is what we are ultimately called to do. Amen.