The La Sierra University Church is a Seventh-Day Adventist Congregation, Serving Western Riverside in Southern California.

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Day 22, Onsite in Galilee, Part I

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

Matthew 5:9 (NLT)

March 14, 2017

"Be sure to notice the eight sentences of the Sermon on the Mount that appear beside the path as you walk up to the church," Uri, our Israeli guide, told us.

Eight sentences, I thought. There are a lot more than eight sentences in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact Jesus' sermon takes up three whole chapters in the book of Matthew. Everything from divorce to the Lord's Prayer and the Golden Rule is in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight beatitudes are only the beginning, I smugly told myself.

The Sea of Galilee from the spot where Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is commemorated

This short stop on our tour of Israel was important to me. Pastor Vaughn had asked if I would write a short reflection on the Sermon on the Mount. As divine intervention would have it, I was visiting the Mount of the Beatitudes, the traditional location of Jesus' sermon, as part of our tour to Israel while the 40 reflections leading up to our 4 Days with Jesus were being shared with our faith community. I had been impatiently anticipating this stop on our tour ever since I had accepted the invitation to contribute. What could be more inspiring than to stand on the hillside overlooking Galilee and contemplate the words of Matthew 5-7? I was sure I would know exactly what to write about the moment I saw the place.

But as beautiful as the location was, not a single bolt, not even a tiny trickle of inspiration appeared. I wandered the perfectly groomed pathways, found myself herded through the church that had been built to honor the event, and tried to focus on the gospel record as bodies pushed and shoved and voices clamored around me.

In despair I followed a path that led away from the crowds. Alone at last, I looked out over the slopes leading down to the Sea of Galilee and tried to imagine Jesus speaking to thousands of people scattered across the hillside. The image formed, but that was all it was, just an image. A glimpse of what might have been. There was no flash of inspiration for my reflection.

As I stood looking over the fence at the wildflowers, the mist, and the lake, a voice behind me whispered, "It sure is peaceful here. Isn't it"? Unbeknownst to me, a member of our tour group had followed me down the path.

And it all came rushing back...

March 13, 2017

"Joy, Joy, you've got to come," insisted my newfound Ghanaian friend who had just retired from her position at the World Bank. "One of those UN soldiers is a Canadian. Come, you've got to talk to him."

Our tour bus had just deposited us at the northernmost point of the Golan Heights. Syria spread below us to the east and north. Uri told us that the town in the distance had been reclaimed from the rebels (read ISIS) a few months before. He also told us about the surprise Syrian attack at this very site during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

I had seen the white UN trucks in the parking lot, but I had forgotten about Canada's connection to the UN. Here, thousands of miles from Canada and thousands of miles from my new home at La Sierra, I was reminded of Canadians' role in the world. We are the peacekeepers. The blue cap of a UN peacekeeper is almost as iconic as the maple leaf and hockey.

During the last several years Canadians have questioned our peacekeeping identity, but here in the Golan, I came face to face with it. I met a Canadian peacekeeper. Officer Madore, from Montreal, Quebec, has served 11 years in Canada's armed forces. For the past eight months he has been on assignment to the UN, maintaining the peace in trouble spots around the globe. He was on a 14-day rotation on the Israeli-Syrian border and was at that spot on the Golan for only that afternoon. I shook his hand and thanked him for his service. I told him that I was proud of him, proud of the work he was doing as a soldier to keep the peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers, I thought, as I walked away.

To be continued . . .

Day 23, Onsite in Galilee, Part II

Day 21, A lesson from Lent