Saturday, October 12, 2019

“The Walk of Life” - October 13, 2019

Text: Micah 6:6-8, Colossians 2:6-7

I walked in my first Crop Walk in 1984.  I was a seminary student doing a campus ministry internship at Virginia Tech.  I walked with some of our students in the Blacksburg CROP Walk.

My next CROP Walk was in 1992.  Susan and I and 6 month old Zoe lived in the small town of Arthur, Illinois, and for as long as we were there, I participated in the Douglas County CROP Walk.  A couple of years into it, the chair of the CROP Walk, a pastor in a neighboring community, moved to a church in another city.  He called and told me that I was now in charge of the CROP Walk.  No committee meeting or anything - I was the chair. 

We varied the route a bit from year to year, walking in and around and between the small towns in that county.  The walk was between 6-7 miles, which was shorter than the original 10-mile walk.  A couple of times, when we walked a route entirely in the country, I had to find a farmer on the route willing to let us put a port-a-potty on their property, and then I had to call Midwest Pottyhouse to order a port-a-potty.  (And by the way, Midwest Pottyhouse is a great company name because I still remember it.)

One year we drove through a hailstorm to get to the walk.  And one of the more memorable CROP Walks was 1998.  Mark McGwire of the Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Cubs were chasing the all-time home run record and it came down to the last day of the season.  They were both playing that afternoon as we walked on the CROP Walk.  The county was 50% Cub fans, 50% Cardinal fans.  (Well, maybe 5% Chicago White Sox fans in there somewhere.)  With a long walk, we always had a Sag Wagon.  If you were too tired to go on, the Sag Wagon would pick you up and take you to the end of the walk.  Susan was driving the Sag Wagon that year – it was our 1988 Plymouth Colt - and so that we would know what was happening in the home run race, she was supposed to honk the horn once if McGwire hit a home run and twice if Sammy Sosa hit a home run.  (We didn’t have smart phones then, but we did have car radios.)

In 1999 we moved to Ames, and I was amazed at how much money our church raised in the CROP Walk – despite our relatively small size we were always close to the top in amount raised.  This was due to the efforts of John Anderson and Harris Seidel.  (If you didn’t know John, he was Joyce Davidson’s father.)  John and Harris were both very dedicated and even if they could not be there the day of the walk, they would walk at a different time.  John often walked from Northcrest to Perkins for the men’s breakfast and used that as his CROP Walk – one year I could not make the CROP Walk and so I walked with John to Perkins.  John was such a fixture at the CROP Walk that the year after he died, our Ames CROP Walk was held in John’s memory. 

Many of you have walked in the CROP Walk over the years, and if we include sponsors, then even more have participated.  It has gotten easier over the years, as we walk about 3 ½ miles, with a shorter option for those who need it.  This is not so much about making it easy as a recognition that there are many folks who participate who physically can’t go the long distances.  We have had some memorable walks, including walking in the cold, having canine walkers representing First Baptist, and last year, walking in a driving rainstorm.  

Well, today is CROP Walk Sunday, and so I’ve been thinking about the CROP Walk.  There is a reason that Church World Service raises funds through a walk.  One of the slogans is “We walk because they walk” – a reminder that there are millions of people who have to walk each day for food and for clean water.  We walk because they walk and we walk no matter what the weather because if you need water to drink, you have to walk no matter what the weather.

A walk to raise money or raise awareness makes sense because walking is a powerful metaphor.  The word walk is filled with meaning.  In scriptural terms, to walk has to do with the way we live.   The way we relate and participate in the community.  In Judaism, the word for ethics and morality is “walking.”  It describes how one should go about one’s day-to-day life.  And then there is our reading from Colossians.  It reads, “Continue to live your lives in Christ, rooted and built up in the faith…”  But in Greek the word translated as “live your life” is literally “to walk.”  (You can see that in the footnotes in our pew Bibles.)  Continue to walk in Christ.

Walking makes it sound easy.  And comfortable.  Not a run, not a frantic effort, just a walk.   

If something is an ordeal, a person will say, “Well, it’s no walk in the park,” like a walk would be the easiest thing ever.  In baseball, if the umpire calls four balls, you get to go to first base.  It’s called a walk and you can just mosey on down to first with no regard for how fast you get there. 

But contrary to popular perception, walking can be plenty difficult.  If you have joint pain or use a walker or wheelchair, walking isn’t so simple.  I read this week about a six year old girl with cerebral palsy who took her very first step.  It was a joyful moment, but it was far from easy.  In terms of our life, in terms of our spiritual journey, some walks are harder than others.  If you have experienced heartbreak and loss, if you have experienced those times of desperation – and I should probably say when you have experienced those times - you know that our walk of life can be very difficult.

The 23rd Psalm 23 says, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  Our walk may lead to some difficult places, but we do not walk alone.

In the coming weeks we will be thinking about issues of what we might call practical Christianity.  In the big picture, the word for it is stewardship.  I try to steer away from the word stewardship when possible because a lot of folks hear it and only think money, but stewardship is much bigger than that.  It is really about the way we live our lives.  It is about our walk.

Richard Rohr is a spiritual writer.  The Theology Class may be familiar with him as they used a video he was featured in last year.  Rohr wrote,

Christianity is a lifestyle - a way of being in the world that is simple, non-violent, shared, and loving.  However, we made it into an established “religion” (and all that goes with that) and avoided the lifestyle change itself.  One could be warlike, greedy, racist, selfish, and vain in most of Christian history, and still believe that Jesus is one’s “personal Lord and Savior” . . . The world has no time for such silliness… The suffering on Earth is too great.
In simple language, we night say that you can talk the talk all you want, but it means nothing if you don’t walk the walk.  What we really believe, what we truly believe, will be seen in the way that we live.  To say that we are a Christian, to say that we follow Jesus, doesn’t mean much unless we actually try to follow the way of Jesus.

The prophet Micah took up this theme more than 2700 years ago.  Saying that what God really wanted was not vain words or empty ritual, he wrote, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God?”  Now, that is really not three distinct things – attention to justice and mercy is a part of our walk with God.

Life is a journey, and to walk humbly with God means that we journey with God.  The life of faith is not about arbitrary rules or outward shows of piety and goodness.  It is about living our life with God as our companion.  As that relationship with God grows, we more and more are led to do justice and love mercy.  As we love God, we are more and more led to love our neighbor.

To walk humbly with God is to live a life focused on love and justice and kindness and faithfulness.  To be honest, for most of us it is probably less about Sundays and more about the way we live the rest of the week.

This is a time of year when mission – making our faith active - is at the forefront for our church.  Last Sunday, many of you were here for our Great Day of Sharing, as we participated in projects aimed at serving our community and beyond.  We were involved in our neighborhood by participating in Make Campustown Shine, picking up trash around Campustown.  We were involved in the wider community by making blankets for newborns at Primary Healthcare and singing and visiting residents at Northcrest.  And we served people in need both across the U.S. and around the world by assembling hygiene kits for Church World Service.  Just this week, additional hygiene kits were shipped to the Bahamas to help victims of Hurricane Dorian.

The other big mission effort for our church this time of year is the World Mission Offering.  We join with more than 5000 American Baptist Churches in receiving this offering which supports our mission work around the globe.

A couple of weeks ago, several of us went over to Boone to hear ABC Missionary Ray Schellinger.  He is our Global Consultant for Immigration and Refugees.  People who are forced to leave their homes, their communities, their countries and seek shelter and safety is a huge worldwide issue.  Ray works with churches in places like Lebanon as they reach out to refugees there, who make up close to 25% of Lebanon’s population.  Think about that.   It would be like having 90 million refugees in the United States.  Among other things, Baptists in Lebanon are providing schooling for Syrian Muslim children in refugee camps.  They are assisting refugees with food and transportation and access to healthcare.  In a country like Lebanon where the Christian community and especially the Protestant community has mostly kept to themselves as a small minority, this has taken the Baptists of Lebanon far beyond their comfort zone.  And it is bringing new life to these churches.

Ray especially shared with us about immigrants at the southern U.S. border.  He shared heartbreaking stories of families who had fled the threat of death in their own countries and walked for weeks or even months on the dangerous trip to the U.S. border, only to be treated like criminals and have their vulnerable situations taken advantage of.  He works with a number of shelters in Tijuana and other places – shelters run by churches or other groups that initially thought they would provide housing for a small number of asylum seekers for a few weeks, but it has turned into large numbers of people for months at a time. These people are serving faithfully and compassionately in extremely stressful conditions.

After sharing so much disturbing information, I asked Ray how he goes on.  How does he get up every morning and continue this work? And he talked about the small victories - how much it meant to people who felt utterly abandoned to be treated with kindness and respect.  How opportunities for schooling for children, opportunities for traumatized people to talk to a caring person, how having their stories heard and having someone pray for them meant so much to people.

Ray is just one of our international missionaries.  Our mission work is done with compassion and integrity and great commitment, and it is worth supporting.  It is a way for us to walk alongside brothers and sisters in need.

We are called to walk humbly with God.  We are called to walk alongside others.  It is a daily walk.  It can be difficult.  I think there is a reason Micah wrote, walk humbly with your God.

Michelle Singletary is the personal finance columnist for the Washington Post.  This week she wrote a column and suggested that people should tip well at restaurants even when service is not so great because the tip is big part of the wages these people earn.  I was struck by her follow-up column:

I’ve written about a lot of personal finance topics — the cost of retirement, health insurance, economic inequity — but which topic has received the most comments?
Tipping…  The outrage factor about tipping is titanic, with hundreds of readers arguing passionately that it’s their right to withhold or greatly reduce a tip if service was unsatisfactory… I was stunned by people’s lack of empathy for folks who wait on them.  And the name-calling and swearing was over the top.
She ended it: “Of course, you are free to do what you want with your money.  I just provide a forum for us to respectfully discuss such issues.  So, stop swearing at me!”

What does this have to do with walking with God?  A lot, I think, actually.  We may not agree all about tipping and that’s OK.  But a lack of empathy for others, and the feeling that it is OK to spew profanities at someone you have never met is an absolute epidemic.  Walking with God is about all of life, remembering justice and kindness even in such everyday matters.  

The invitation today has to do with walking.  First, very literally, I would invite you to walk in the CROP Walk.  It’s not too late, we have Fellowship Time after worship and I guarantee that you will get sponsors.  I would also invite you to give to the World Mission Offering - to walk alongside those around the world in need of hope, in need of help, in need of support as we share in the work of peace and love and justice and reconciliation – as we share in the work of the gospel.

And then, I would invite you to think about your own walk – your own life – your walk with God.  What do you need to do to strengthen that walk?  What do you need to do, perhaps, to get back on the right path?  And who do you need to walk alongside as you walk with God?

God has called us – God has called you – to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.  Amen. 

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