Walk And Not Faint (Isaiah 40:31)

I want to combine today’s passage with something that I’ve read in the letters of the apostle Paul. He writes, for example in First Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak…” Then in Romans 14:1 he says, “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.” And, you see, when we place these apostolic references to the “weak” next to what Isaiah 40 has to say about those who wait for the Lord, not growing weary, but running and walking and definitely not fainting, there’s a huge question mark that’s dangling in the wind.

What I mean is, I cannot imagine the prophet wants us to walk over or walk around those who might have a few fainting spells. I cannot imagine that any more than I can imagine the Good Samaritan walking on the other side of the road like the priest and the Levite. I cannot imagine walking under the power of the Holy Spirit without at least trying to help those who faint—either spiritually, emotionally or physically.

Sheryl and I once went on a date to see the movie Fatal Attraction. I had heard about the plot of the film, but didn’t realize that it occasionally took these very violent turns.
Namely, Glenn Close, who plays the part of the seductress, turns out to be a psychopath. And she turns out to be suicidal. So imagine my surprise when upon sitting back and watching this gory scene, Sheryl says that she needs to get down on the floor. This was the first time this had ever happened to me. I had never been around someone who knew that she was about to faint, who could sense it coming on, and then whamo! She fainted. She passed out beside me in the cinema and then as she regained consciousness we thought we’d leave quietly. We started to then walk up the aisle and when we got to the door, Baam! Down goes Sheryl in the lobby. A guy in refreshments then rushed over and asked if we needed an ambulance. I was about to say Yes, when Sheryl revived again and said No. And after getting our refund we walked slowly to the parking lot.

Now, the reason I’m relating this detail is not to harp on the fact of Sheryl fainting or Sheryl being weak when it comes to certain movies. The reason is to highlight what you and I might do in the event of a spiritual loss of consciousness. That is, I pray and I hope that we would support and stay with the person who is fainting. I pray and I hope that we would not become so proud of our ability to walk in Jesus’ name that we would walk away in Jesus’ name.

Just consider these possible connections:
• Spiritual fainting might involve personal sins like lying, cheating or stealing.
• Spiritual fainting might involve systemic sin or corporate sin like slavery or racism that is built into and reinforced among a group of people.
• Spiritual fainting might involve a loss of trust within the community of faith.
• Spiritual fainting might involve a myopic and overly opinionated view of the world and a corresponding elevation of shame.
If any man, woman or child experiences any one of these conditions, the chances are very good that there will be a terrible fall. The fall may take the form of prison time, or a bad reputation. The fall may take the form of anxiety over our barricaded, locked-down cities. The fall may take the form of a divorce or a nervous breakdown… And yet, here’s the good news. Within the context of these terrible collapses, God has sent those who “run” and those who “walk.” And, here’s the important part: as they “walk” a huge component of their stride is devoted to bearing up those or supporting those or refreshing those who have fainted.

Who does your heart break for? The answer to that question makes up the spiritual muscles and tendons that keep your walk with Christ on track. In the Shawshank Redemption, Andy Defreyne is sent to prison unjustly. He is a bank presient and a trained accountant who’s been accused of murdering his wife. He didn’t do it, and yet the years go by and he has to adjust to his new life behind bars.
One day, however, Andy encounters a new inmate who had been convicted of lots of petty burglaries. Andy becomes Tommy’s mentor and walks with him and talks with him and eventually encourages him to learn to read and to study for his high school equivalency test. Tommy, of course, becomes discouraged in taking the test. He crumples his paper up in a ball and says, “Do you want to know my score? Two points,” and then slams it into the trash can. Andy then goes to the trash can and unwrinkles the paper and starts the process over again—the process of walking and talking and carrying hope for someone whose lived in despair for so long it’s as if he’s fainted…
“Even youths will faint and be weary and the young will fall exhausted…”

Dave Matthews sings a song that I think refers to this dynamic when he says, “Save me, Save me, Mister Walking Man, if you can…” And the fact is, Jesus can and will and does save through our steps. He does make us whole by loading us up on his back and walking on and on. And then at some point there’s a pause in the walk and Jesus turns to us and says what he says in Matthew 11:29—30:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Isn’t that stunning? Just as we imagine that we’re walking alone, above, behind or ahead of others, we meet someone who walks with the world on his back and can do it. And then he honors us by saying it’s time for you to get off my back and pull with me. It’s time for you to pull with others who are also walking in the same direction, others who have hearts that break for those who have fainted.

“Why haven’t you called me? It’s been like five years and you’ve never called me,” he said on the phone. I knew this man from my previous congregation and had mentored him with prayer and conversation. Yet, when I moved away I moved away. And now he contacted me to say that he had stopped going to church.
I listened to him for a while. I listened to him painfully unpack his experiences over the last five years. And then he said this: “Could I come out there and see you and hang with you?” And I hesitated and here’s why. I said to my friend, “Your walk is there, with those people in that place.” I will be here and I will be available for you to lean on from time to time. But God’s Spirit is teaching you to walk where you are. Coming out to see me would be an escape. You’re welcome to come , but here’s what I’d like you to do. I want you to walk back into that church and I want you to go to Charley and go to Steve and go to Frank and I want you say, Would you pray for me? Would you help me? Hang onto them for a while until you have the strength for someone else to hang upon you…” And then I told him that I’d call next week.

Latah Friends–around us are those who are fainting—those who consider themselves Christian and those who do not. Now walk. Where does your heart break the most? Walk in that direction. If it doesn’t break for someone in your immediate vicinity, wait a while. Eventually someone might faint into you and then you’ll see what it means to walk. To walk and not faint is the equivalent to what Paul says to the Corinthians and to the Romans. He says, “To the weak I became weak.”

Amen.

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Genesis 3:8 and Revelation 2:1

Each of the passages that we’ve read this morning offer beautiful images. The garden setting of Genesis and the lampstands of Revelation are very intriguing. But I want to focus with you today on how impractical they are. That is, what good does it do for us to ponder God walking anywhere? Or what possible benefit could there be in seeing Jesus as walking among a certain kind of light fixture? I mean, isn’t heaven fully wired for electricity? Does the risen Son of God really need anything to see where he’s going?

You see, each of these word-pictures is a little surreal, and because they are so surreal that it’s difficult for us to know what response, what activity, they recommend to us. For example, in the Life of Brian comedy, Brian loses one of his sandals as he’s being chased by the crowds of people who confuse him with the Messiah. He doesn’t stop to pick up his footware and that inspires all the people to remove one of each of their own sandals. “It’s a sign,” they say. But is it? Isn’t it just silly?

And so, I’m wondering about practicality, and whether the overt push for all things practical isn’t a little misguided when it comes to faith in God walking and in Jesus walking.

Bill Gates—that famous software guru and now that extremely wealthy philanthropist—once said that he cannot imagine a bigger waste of time than worshipping on Sunday mornings. And accordingly part of way he helps poorer countries is to provide as many children as possible with their own laptop computer and access to the Internet. You see, in the world of Bill Gates, information is practical and what’s practical rules the day. And yet, I wonder…

I wonder, for example, about the ways by which we are often cajoled into interpreting the Bible as if it were comprised of useful information and simple cause and effect relationships. “Pragmatism runs rampant in American Christianity,” writes Peter Nelson. “If faith does not ‘work’ it lacks value. We expect prompt and measurable results from knowing Christ…”

Years ago a young mother approached me with a concern. It had been a long and hot summer and in our local area of Pennsylvania there were no public pools or YMCA’s. One Christian school, however, maintained a pool, but they had a requirement. Each member of the pool had to sign a statement of faith in Jesus as well as in a certain understanding of the Bible as well as certain important social issues. This particular woman confessed to me that she didn’t believe in everything that the pool authorities wanted her to believe, but she had signed the document because it was impractical for her to travel another half-hour and join another pool in the lower income section of the suburbs. And, you see, that utilitarian shape of faith has been pervasive for a while and today many Christian leaders are wondering about the damage that’s being done.

Larry Crabb, in his book, The Pressure’s Off, says, “I have no strategies in mind to give you a better marriage, better kids, a more complete recovery from sexual abuse or a quicker healing after your divorce. Nor, I believe, does God… We can’t get life to work; it never will until heaven.”

Now, from my reading of the Bible, one thing is very clear and that is that God is speaking and continues to speak through his Holy Spirit. But the second thing that’s perhaps even more clear is that we are so busy, walking here and walking there, that we have trouble hearing this divine message. And, the only remedy to this sort of crisis, of course, is stopping—either being forced to stop or by stopping in some voluntary way. And both the Genesis passage and the Revelation passage provide us with what our ancestors in faith thought they heard when they stopped.

Namely, Adam and Eve felt as if they heard the sound—or thought they heard the sound –of the Lord God walking. And the pastor named John, who wound up being exiled to the island of Patmos, thought he heard the sound of Jesus, walking and talking among the churches of Asia Minor, and mystically speaking, it was almost as if these churches resembled lampstands marking out road into the future.

And again, let me repeat something that I’ve said before: none of these churches which are mentioned in the book of the Revelation to John exist today. They are all in ruins and their people buried by the sands of time. And yet, we live off of their legacy. We survive as a faith community, not because they found ingenious and profitable ways to keep going themselves, but because at some point they stopped and when they stopped they heard what John heard on the island, the sound of Jesus walking. Likewise, the very first man and the very first woman, according to tradition, stopped. They ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they each realized that they didn’t want to eat anymore. They didn’t want to know anymore information. In fact, whatever knowledge about life they acquired in the catastrophic moment worked against them. They didn’t need to have their eyes opened so that they could see like God. They needed to listen for God at the time of the evening breeze when all the work of the day was done.

Friends at Latah—I do have a vision for this congregation, and I hope you do too. But let’s not get so carried away with being practical that we can’t hear both the sounds that are so challenging to us and the sounds that are so incomprehensibly comforting to us.

Amen.

Walking And Praising

May 16, 2011

Today’s passage (from Acts 3) isn’t simply about the healing. It’s not simply about the lame man, begging for hand-outs near the Beautiful Gate of the temple. It’s about that healed and once-lame man being seen—being observed walking and praising by those who had walked past him day after day. Acts 3:8 says, “Jumping up, he stood and began to walk and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God”—and that verse is so cool that verse nine continues,

“All the people saw him walking and praising God…”

In fact, so closely had this person combined the physical act of walking and the spiritual act of praising God that the author of Acts—who happens to be the same as the author of Luke’s gospel—might have conjoined the two activities like this: All the people saw him walking the praise of God. And so, that’s the subject of this meditation. You and I, like the lame man, will have encounters with Jesus and people within the religious institution will either see or not see the way we walk our praise. And so—the question is, what if we can’t do it? What if we feel the full weight of Peter and John, the intimate disciples of Jesus—what if we feel their eyes upon us—and rather than disappoint them and all their predecessors, the prophets and the patriarchs and the matriarchs of the Bible’s long history—what if, you know, we just watched them go in and out of the temple?

During this year’s celebration of Good Friday I accompanied Sheryl to an ecumenical service at the cathedral in downtown Spokane. She actually had a role within the service and so I watched her. I watched her process out with the bishops and the leaders of other denominations—all of them robed up in their religious garb. And then I watched as they circled around this large wooden cross and I watched as they all bowed their heads. All of them but one. That’s right. You guessed it. Sheryl—the Presbyterian in the group—failed to bow her head. Now I teased her about this later. I told her that the nuns behind me in the pews scoffed and snickered at the audacity of this brazen protestant clery-woman. I teased her and made her so self-conscious that as of this morning, when I drove her to the airport, she said, “Did those nuns really scoff like you said?” And I said, No. They just told me they’d be praying for your immortal soul.

You see, walking and praising God is difficult—sort of like rubbing your head and patting your stomach at the same time. And it’s enough to make us so conscious of ourselves that we miss the point.

Recently I was engaged in a little physical therapy and the therapist told me to walk in front of this huge mirror. And when I did this, she watched me closely and I could feel her eyes and then she imitated me and I think overly exaggerated the way that I turn my left foot in. I said that’s the way my Dad used to walk. And that’s how my sister used to walk when I called her Donna the Duck. And my therapist told me, well, that’s how you walk too. Now, you see, that’s uncalled for. That hurts. It hurts even more than the other times in my life when people have told me that I walk with a little arrogant strut. And it hurts more than the times when people have told me to watch where I’m walking, “you clumsy fool.” I mean, just think about those options. In so many words, my therapist told me that I either walk like my sister or that I walk like my deceased father. And I’m sorry, the only way that I can see myself clear of this genetic quagmire is if I learn to do what Peter and John command the man to do in Acts 3:6, which is, not to think about himself, but to stand and walk into the temple.

Dead Man Walking is a film, starring Susan Saradon, who plays a nun by the name of Helen Prejean. This person actually visits and prays with a criminal on death row and as he is walked to his execution—as he hears the derogatory phrase “Dead Man Walking” Sister Helen is there in the room and she says look at my face. Let my face be the last thing you see on this earth.” So here’s the effect, the death row inmate walks to his death, but he walks differently than all the other guilty men who have gone to the chair.

And what makes me think of this scene from the movie is this inspiring detail from Acts 3. The lame man, who had been healed in Jesus’ name, had never before entered the temple on his own two feet. He had only hung around the gate and begged. So pardon me for cutting to the chase but listen to this. It may be that the best inspiration you and I will ever experience in this life is to see someone who is outside be invited or be commanded to take his or her place on the inside. That may be the best inspiration that God has for us, even here, at Latah Valley. Think about this. What about not only walking yourself into the world, praising God, as you go? But what about consciously challenged those on the outside to walk in? What about risking the change in the company? Could there today be other ankles and feet that God wants to heal?

Amen.