Choose this day

13th Sunday after Pentecost (August 26, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18; Ps. 34:15-22; Eph. 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

A three-day festival or “Eid” marked the end of Ramadan this week.  Many shops were closed and families exchanged gifts and celebrated together.

The Muslim holiday of Eid Al Fitr celebrated at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Mafraq, where children received gifts from international aid agencies (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon)

We were invited to the home of Dr. Kamal Abu Jaber for a lovely Jordanian dinner to celebrate the Eid.  The son of a Jordanian Bedouin father and a Palestinian mother, Dr. Abu Jaber has an incredible gift for welcoming a diverse group of guests.

Cindy with Dr. Abu Jaber, at his farm outside Amman (photo by Arthur Mann)

Cindy flew to northern Iraq this week with three short-term volunteers who will be teaching an intensive English course for students at St. Peter’s Seminary. Classes will begin on Monday, Aug. 27.

In the region this week:

Things are changing rapidly on the ground as growing violence in Syria is forcing many to leave the country.  The conflict is spilling into Lebanon and, to a lesser extent, into Jordan.  The UNHCR has now registered more than 200,000 refugees in the countries surrounding Syria.  In Jordan alone, the UNHCR has registered 44,000 Syrian refugees, out of an estimated 150,000 Syrians in the country.

Syrian refugees wash clothes at the Zaatari Camp (photo from The Majalla)

Many of the latest-arriving Syrians are placed in the Zaatari Camp just outside Mafraq, Jordan.  While the camp has capacity for 130,000 refugees, it is located in the middle of the desert where there are frequent dust storms and temperatures easily top 100 degrees.  Additionally, the camp is surrounded by a fence and guarded by Jordanian security.  Due to the harsh conditions, some refugees are escaping the camp and traveling to other parts of Jordan.

Children wear masks due to the dust storms at the Zaatari camp; here Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird (green shirt) visits the camp. (AP photo by Mohammad Hannon)

Rising food prices in Jordan are also contributing to a growing social unrest.

In response to an earthquake in northwestern Iran, the United States announced that it is temporarily suspending a sanction that requires NGOs to get a permit before sending money for humanitarian efforts in Iran.  MCC is in conversation with the Iranian Red Crescent Society about how best to respond.

A Syrian refugee climbs a tower which will be wired for electricity at the Zaatari Refugee camp. Jordan hosts some 150, 000 Syrian refugees, including hundreds of army and police defectors and leaders in the rebel Free Syrian Army, fighting in the civil war that erupted in March 2011. (AP photo/Mohammad Hannon)

The Common Lectionary readings are about important choices.

In the Old Testament reading, Joshua demands that the people choose who they will serve (Joshua 24:15).  Will it be the gods their ancestors served in Mesopotamia and Egypt?  The gods who are worshiped in the land of Canaan where they now live?  Or the God who delivered them from slavery, did great signs in their presence, protected them in the wilderness and created a place for them to live? The people promise that they will choose to follow God.

A Syrian girl plays with dolls at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in northern Jordan on the first day of Eid Al Fitr (AFP photo by Khalil Mazraawi)

The psalmist describes the choice humans must make between justice and evil (Ps. 34:15-22).  Even though the righteous experience many afflictions, the psalmist affirms that God watches over (15a), listens to (15b, 17a), rescues (17b, 19b), is near to (18a), saves (18b), keeps (20a) and redeems (21a) those who are just.  On the other hand, God opposes (16a), cuts off (16b) and condemns (21a) evildoers.

In the Epistle reading Paul calls for a choice between walking in our own strength or in God’s strength.  Walking in God’s strength is necessary because “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (v.12)

A Syrian refugee boy carries toys on the first day of Eid Al Fitr, at Zaatari Refugee Camp in Mafraq, Jordan (AP photo by Mohammad Hannon)

Those who choose to walk in God’s strength must put on the whole armor of God to be able to “stand against the wiles of the devil (v.11), “withstand on that evil day” (v.13a) and “stand firm” (v. 13b).

When many of his followers fall away because of his difficult teachings — choosing between living bread and manna; walking in the spirit, not the flesh — Jesus asks his 12 disciples, “Do you also wish to go away?” (John 6:67).  In characteristic fashion, Peter quickly responds, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (v.68)

Choosing this day to serve the true God rather than false gods, choosing to walk in God’s strength rather than our own, and choosing the path of justice — all these have life-changing implications for us.  These choices also make a difference for those whose lives are touched by our actions.

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