Walking With God
Epiphany 4 A 1/30/11
Grace and peace to you from God, our father, and from God’s son and our brother, Jesus.
It’s always good to start a sermon with a quote, or so I’m told. I don’t do that routinely, but once in a while a pearl of wisdom drops into my week, and I can’t help but think it was meant to be in there. This was such a week. In fact it was a veritable confluence of ideas and occurrences, all trickling together to form a watery wellspring of worthwhile, yet whimsical, wisdom.
This past week, Lisa and I attended Camp Calumet’s Annual Rostered Leaders (and their spouses) Retreat. In case you don’t know what a rostered leader is, first off—don’t be embarrassed—my computer’s spellcheck doesn’t recognize it either—wanted to change it to “Roistered Leaders”—which, considering the definition of roister (to behave in a rowdy manner), is quite ironic. A rostered leader is someone on the Synod’s roster of leaders—either a pastor, AiM, deaconess, or someone called to special ministry.
Lisa and I were there at Calumet this past week, and most of the educational sessions took place in a space in the Conference Center known as the Micah Room. And the reason for its name is that there is a passage from that biblical book painted on the wall. “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8. So I had that verse staring me in the face all retreat-long.
The verse which was, coincidentally, part of the lectionary for this Sunday, along with verses 1-7. So, sitting there in the Micah Room at Calumet, I was thinking about today’s sermon and what that particular passage means for us. And the other readings for the week too. All while learning about the use of Social Media in the church, and Pluralism in America and its effect on mainline denominations. Quite a diverse stream of information and opinion feeding the old sermon mill this week!
What I zeroed in on almost right away was the notion of “walking humbly with our God.” It had continuity with last week’s sermon about Jesus calling the first disciples. It revealed something about God, which is in good keeping with the Epiphany season. And it begins to point the way to a right understanding of the Lenten disciplines of works of love, fasting, repentance and prayer.
Then, serendipitously, I came upon the quote. It was from an e-book. That’s an electronic book—one that can be downloaded from the store to your computer or in my case, my e-reader, usually for a price below that of the printed copy. Some books are even offered free—just to get you in the mood for buying books this way. Of course those are the ones I go for. The book I got for free was One Hundred Quotes to Make You Think. Which sounded particularly intellectual and therefore useful both for my own edification and for public consumption in newsletters, bulletins and sermons.
It turned out to be a “self esteem building” type of book, with quotes like “Success comes in a can, failure in a can’t.” And “volunteers built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.” In that vein. Some were syrupy, some cliché, and not just a few somewhat humorous. I was keyed in on “walking with God,” remember, so this little gem about halfway through the list caught my attention. I would like to open the sermon with it. (Yes, all that’s been said before this was just warm-up. The sermon starts now.)
“Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.
Then when you do criticize them, you’re a mile away from them…
and you’ve got their shoes!”
This is a bad example of “walking humbly with your God.” Although it starts out well enough. With that old adage that proscribes walking in another shoes before judging them—meaning to take into consideration their life situation and background both of which might be reason enough for the judged behavior. That part’s good, but part two reveals our true human nature—when the coast is clear, backs are turned, and we can’t be touched in return—then we judge anyway. Rather that a humbling of oneself, this is a building up of ourselves at another’s expense.
But, sometimes, we are taught positive things through their negation. For example you can either teach your child proper poolside locomotion by saying, “Please walk.” Or, you can scream, “Don’t run!” Same lesson presented positively and by negation.
Our little quote relates to today’s lessons by negation. It tells us, with humor, how not to walk humbly. So, if we examine the opposites, then we might just get more than a chuckle from this pearl in the rough.
But first, what does “walking humbly with your God” mean in the context of this biblical passage, and the bible as a whole? The imagined scene is a courtroom drama, God vs the People of Israel, and the prosecutor is introducing his one and only witness—God. God takes the stand and lays it out for his chosen nation:
“What’s up with you people? I rescued you from slavery in Egypt. That was me! I provided good and faithful leaders for you. Not to mention all the other times I saved your butts and sent you advocates to get you back on track. Why? Just so you’d know I was your God.”
The defense, smelling a conviction, tries to plea bargain:
“What can we do to make this go away, huh? Burnt offerings, huh? What would do it for you, God? A hundred rams—a thousand—ten thousand? You got it! And I’ll throw in ten thousand barrels of oil—how bout it? And not the cheap store brand—only the best. Whaat, no? What do I have to do—give you my firstborn? Forgetaboutit.”
The prosecutor answers. God has told them over and over how they could make things right. He gives them an offer they shouldn’t refuse:
“He told you, you little pipsqueak. Here’s what’s good. Here’s the favor you can do for him. Do what is right. Be compassionate. And let God lead you on your journey together.”
And truth be told, God has always been on the side of justice (though his sense of justice and ours often clash). God has always encouraged his people to act justly according to his guidance. All the prophets spoke of that.
God has always been all about the kindness. In a dog eat dog world, being kind is almost counter-cultural. But God calls us not only to do it grudgingly, but to love doing it. The psalms are big on that.
And as for walking with him, the bible consistently tells of God’s radical inclusivity. God includes us, despite our not walking with him, our trying to take the lead or cut our own path. God includes us despite our not walking humbly. Instead we boast of our status, hold in contempt those who do not walk with our God, and congratulate ourselves the fine and gracious God we have created to absolve us of all our sins AND all our repentance.
Walking humbly with our God is the opposite of stealing someone’s Ug’s and dissing them from afar. It’s the opposite of being critical. It’s the opposite even of walking in their shoes. Walking humbly with our God is totally opposite for us, even more opposite than it was for those in Micah’s time. Because of one big difference.
Because God has walked humbly with us…in Jesus. God humbled himself and revealed his love for us through kindness to lepers and tax collectors and harlots and the sick and lame and blind and deaf and those possessed by evil and those shunned by society. God humbly walked among us to do justice by upsetting the money changers tables in the temple, by treating women as equals in a patriarchal society, by filling the hungry and warning the full that their behavior risks their entrance into the kingdom of God. God walked humbly with us in Jesus.
And now God wants you to do justice his way and love kindness his way—both of which Jesus illustrates in the Beatitudes. Radical inclusion! God doesn’t want stuff. Not half baked burnt offerings, not promises that can be broken, and certainly not our progeny first last or in between. What God wants is foolishness to those who don’t believe. Because God wants the opposite of what we crave. What God wants is for us to walk for a mile in Jesus’ shoes—to pull them on and feel how big they are to fill, to see how they’re worn out from trudging all about after those who need him, to walk among the downtrodden and dispossessed, to be humble not arrogant, humble not holier than thou, humble not judgmental or uncaring. To walk humbly with God.
Humble. Nothing is more humble than an infant. Like Gardiner who will be baptized this morning. Totally dependant. Loving unconditionally. And yet, an infant is not aware of others’ needs. He is instinctually selfish. And yet he starts on a journey today, a journey with God. No wonder Jesus said if we were to enter the kingdom of heaven it would be as a child. And we who will affirm our baptisms this morning would do well to use Gardiner as a role model for humble walking with God.
It’s a journey of new birth, acting radically inclusive, learning and growing, remembering the cross on your head and the body and blood in your belly. It’s a lifelong journey—but it begins and is refreshed every day by baptism. DO justice, LOVE kindness. Walk humbly, like Jesus Amen