Walk the Walk
Based on Joshua 3:7-17, 1Thess 2:9-13, Mt 23:1-12
From the time we first become cognizant of other things inhabiting our world, we are bombarded with advice. Advice like: I wouldn’t do that if I were you and its corollary, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do; buy low – sell high; do unto others as you will have them do to you; a penny saved is a penny earned; you can get rich quick if you follow any of the millions of schemes; the book of Proverbs from the 10th through the 30th Chapters; Aesop’s Fables; school of hard knocks; kitchen table wisdom and tales from aging wives. Then we have to admit to this ever growing list the “pundits” – political, sports, financial, life, celebrity endorsements, etc. I end up wondering – especially in advice from compensated speakers – do they really follow the advice that they are spouting, or do they do something else? To get it down to brass tacks – do they walk the walk or just talk the talk? The Bible has something to say about this from our readings today – Jesus is especially pointed in his remarks to the Temple pundits of his time. Before we get farther into that, however, let us seek God’s advice in prayer…
God has a plan for Joshua to help the people feel more comfortable with his leadership. God is going to reprise a miracle that worked once before – though with the previous generation of wandering Hebrews. God tells Joshua that he is to have the Ark of the Covenant walk across the Jordan in front of the people and all will be well. Sure enough, just like in the tales of old, the Jordan’s waters are stopped and the wandering folk enter into the Promised Land for the first time – without getting their feet wet.
In today’s excerpt from his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul has gone to great lengths in this second chapter to remind his people about just how it was when he was first among them teaching and baptizing. He reminds them that his conduct was “…pure, upright and blameless…” towards them. (verse 10, NRSV) Paul writes of being like a nurse or a father to them – caring deeply for them. Because of this and God’s powerful action, the new believers accepted the Word and moved outward in their faith.
Jesus has had enough of the Temple leadership and their shenanigans. He calls them out in front of the crowd noting that, “…they do not practice what they teach….” (verse 3, NRSV) He goes on to list some of the worst aspects of the burdens placed on others by the religious leaders, how they love to show off and be treated specially because of their place in society. (A place, by the way, which had originally been given to them by God.) He pulls them down a peg, telling them that they have forgotten that there is always more to learn, that the real teacher is God alone, and that service to fellow humans was the highest calling of all. He notes that if they continue to exalt themselves that God will surely humble them – an act that will be done by the Roman Legion in 70 C.E. They are indeed far from being saintly persons – persons whose behavior we might want to emulate.
We are celebrating “All Saints Day” here today – the annual remembering of those “saints” who we have known in our lives. Those who have been with us and now have gone to join the great cloud of witnesses that intercedes on our behalf. We Protestants do not have canonized saints like our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters, but it is interesting that the letters of Paul refer to “saints” as all of the people who have come to belief and baptism in and through Jesus Christ. In fact, six of the seven true Pauline letters begin with a salutation to the saints of the church (1Thessalonians being the only one not to do this). In this way, Paul makes it clear that belonging to Jesus is a saintly act in and of itself – that is, we have been sanctified (made into saints) by the acts of crucifixion and resurrection. This is why we can correctly refer to those who have lived among us as saints of the church.
Sainthood took on another meaning, however, as martyrdom became the norm for the followers of Jesus. Sainthood began to mean, probably as early as about 150 C.E., one who had given his or her life in defense of their Christian beliefs. Remember that it was life-threatening to be a Christian off and on between the years 60 and 325 C.E. There were many who died while clinging to their beliefs, but there were also many who recanted their beliefs instead of being martyred. Many of those who recanted were leaders of the faith – they allowed Bibles and other sacred relics to be burned or otherwise destroyed and they vowed allegiance to a human king over their God. This is where it becomes real to walk the walk and not just talk about your faith.
Since 325 when Christianity became the religion of the realm, there have been many saintly persons. We can all call to mind those who have been singled out for their saintly ways of living such as Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr, etc. In our daily lives, however, we are surrounded by folks who have led decent and upright lives in accordance with the biblical guidance of loving God as fully as we are able, and doing the same to our neighbors. We can all think of those folks who brought you to church regularly, those who got you involved in the life of the community, those who first taught you to pray – and hopefully helped you figure out why that was a good thing to do, those who taught you how to give fully of yourselves to the great mission of the Church. Everyday saints who humbly went about their lives and yet made a difference in the world. They walked the walk of faithful living.
A story is told about one such saintly person who was always doing good. An angel appeared to her as she was doing her daily tasks. The angel told her that God had decided to confer sainthood on her so that she could do even more good. The woman thanked the angel, but asked that her saintly effect on others be done behind her so that she would not know of it. She wanted to be unaware of her helping so that she would remain humble and free of conceit. The angel granted her request, and so when the holy woman passed by and her shadow touched someone, that person would be healed without the faithful woman ever knowing. Humility is a hallmark of saintly behavior.
That is the behavior that Jesus is talking about today – about walking the walk. All disciples, youngest to oldest, need to hear and understand these scripture passages calling them to repentance and introspection. It is all too easy to say to ourselves that we are living good lives and not hurting others. Yet the world starves, the climate is poisoned, people are abused and sexually mistreated by those more powerful, the chasm between haves and have-nots widens each day. In Madison County, children go to bed hungry, men and women feed addictions to drugs and alcohol while neglecting their families, living conditions are substandard and winter is soon upon us, despair, depression, anxiety and other faces of untreated mental illness are all too common, young people leave because they can find no work here and because they have lost touch with the land.
The teachings from today suggest an alternative path to walk– a path to spiritual deepening and to reconnection with the land and with each other. It is a path of servanthood where we seek to be in right relationship to each other and to freely give of ourselves in service to the greater good. It is a walk of penitence, one of putting others before self, of becoming a servant. Servanthood is not slavery – it is a powerful choice from the heart to be in service to others by turning God’s great love for us loose on the world. In that way we fulfill this teaching of Jesus and we realize our greatness lies not in our personal accomplishments, but in our ability to walk with others and show them the light of Christ. As Jesus says, we have but one instructor, the Messiah, let us put away all the other pundits and turn again to the source of the way, the truth and the life. Let us all walk this walk together. Amen and amen.