February 25, 2018 - Sermon Text: Mark 8:31-38
I have always enjoyed walking although I have a hard time getting motivated to get up and take a good exercise style walk. It was interesting to see, some of the young people I worked with at Walmart, concerned about healthy walking. Some of them had Smart Watches with build in pedometers which calculated the total number of steps they took and then further challenge them to walk more. They also preferred to walk so that they could find Pokemon’s with their smart-watches and capture them with smart-phones.
Walking for me started at a very young age. Mother had no patience for waiting for a city bus, and so she would challenge me to walk with her to the next bus stop down the road to see if we could get there before the bus. Before I knew it, we would have walked the two miles to the shopping mall without ever seeing a city bus. When I was six years old, dad bought a new house, which was only two city blocks away from the school I had been attending, but because we were in a different municipality I had to walk two miles in the opposite direction to go to the school that was in our municipality.
For our thirtieth wedding anniversary, Mary and I spent two week in Hawaii, which ended up, to our complete surprise, becoming a gift from a dearly departed member of my previous congregation. One day, I challenged Mary to walk to the top of Diamond Head – a 300,000 year old dormant volcano crater in Waikiki. The initial hike is ¾ of a mile to the trailhead. The unpaved trail winds upwards, to a set of 74 steps, a tunnel through the rock, another 99 steep upwards steps, to a spiral 43 step staircase to the summit and beautiful views of Waikiki and the pacific from 762 feet above sea level. Although we took it slowly and at our own pace, we were hot and tired in the end.
Last Sunday, we heard about Noah spending 75 years building an Ark in the middle of Mesopotamia. With the exception of gathering wood, Noah stayed in one place and likely did not do much walking. Four hundred years after Noah’s death – Abram is called by God at the beginning of chapter 12 saying “go from your country, and your kindred and your father’s house to the land I will show you.” This would require some walking!
Abram was a descendant of Shem making him the great (seven times) grandson of Noah. Abram’s father Terah lived in Ur of the Chaldeans, on the far eastern side of Mesopotamia. God’s calling to Abram would take him to the far western side, travelling around the northern rim to avoid the great desert. Back in Abram’s day – everybody walked to get anywhere and the Bible is clear in that Abram walked a lot in his lifetime.
Initially, Abram’s father moved their family to the city of Haran – a 600 mile (360 km) journey. After Terah’s death, Abram moved his entire family to the Negev which was another 500 miles (300 km). With two recorded trips to Egypt of about 350 miles each – Abram would have covered some 1800 miles (1080 km) in these four accounts. Without taking into account a daily average of five miles per day (based on 2010 NA estimates) Abram would have walked from Kamloops to Vancouver – three times.
But above all else our Old and New Testament readings this morning deal specifically with walking with God. “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, I am the Lord Almighty; walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1 NIV). A better translation of the Hebrew verb “Halek” might be to “walk in my ways” as you share life with the person you are walking with. We also encounter this verb in Genesis 6:9 which describes Noah as a righteous man who walked with God and Genesis 5:24 as Enoch walked with God, then he was no more, because God took him.
In today’s reading, El-Shaddai invites Abraham to go on an everlasting walk with Him. The Jewish Bible (CJB) translates this ‘walk in my presence and be pure-hearted. The VOICE puts it this way; “walk with me. Continue to trust and serve me faithfully” and the Christian Standard Bible (SCB) says “live in my presence and be blameless.”
Now, we know that this is not the first time that the Lord and Abram have walked together. In fact, Abram and the Lord have been walking together for well over 25 years. Sometimes, the Lord calls his children to short walks like serving in the local church, on council, greeting, praying or serving coffee. Sometimes, the Lord’s requests are much greater, directing Abram into Canaan, or calling pastors and missionaries today. In each calling, the Lord asks that we walk with Him, in obedience and faithfulness to His Word.
Abram’s twenty-five year walk with the Lord, so far, had had its share of ups and downs. The Bible says that at times Abram did a wonderful job walking close to the Lord. At Shechem and Bethel he erected altars to worship God Almighty while in Egypt Abram tried to pawn off his wife Sarai for some special favors from the Pharaoh. Good thing this wasn’t the 21st century as Sarai would have divorced Abram in a heartbeat.
It’s in the honesty of these stories where we find the true beauty and truthfulness of the Bible as the original writers didn’t try to hide or omit the flaws, errors and shortfalls of those people whom God had called. Faithfully walking with God is only one aspect of the integrity of being a child of God. Truth is also important and in fact, it’s good for us, who struggle with walking with God, to hear that the pillars of the faith are not perfect.
Even when God tells this couple to expect the child of promise in their old age, an impatient Sarai and Abram take matters in their own hands as an Egyptian child is born to Abram and Sarai’s handmaid Hagar. This little act of rebellion, some 4000 years ago, continues to stand between Jews (children of Isaac) and the Muslims (children of Ismael).
We have to wonder why God put up with Abram as long as He did. But, when the Lord calls you to walk with Him, it is for a lifetime. God doesn’t abandon us because we decide to do what feels like the better solution to us. God has big shoulders and can handle the ups and downs of our relationship. When God called Abram, it was for a lifelong journey which would last into eternity, as the prophesized child still to come – would be the Son of God / who would be a blessing to all the people of the earth.
As for Abram – God is patient and God is loving. God knows that we are mortal beings and that we aren’t all knowing. He knows us all too well. After the Fall of humanity in the Garden of Eden, God walked out of the garden with Adam and Eve. He never abandoned them either. And, we have His eternal promise found in Matthew 28:20 “obey everything I have commanded (walk with me) and surely, I am with you always.”
There is a little bit of our Lenten journey described in Abram’s walk with the Lord. Whenever Abram went astray, he would confess, repent and return to the right path with the Lord God. Many years later, God would chose and call a descendant of Abram and Sarai to lead the people of Israel. He appears to be the most faithful of those called to walk with the Lord. But after the prophet Nathan confronts King David about his adultery and murder he writes in Psalm 51 “have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion.” Through it all, God accepts his repentance and further promises to establish David’s household forever.
In the same way as Enoch, Noah, Abram, David, the apostles and Paul, God calls us to walk faithfully with Him. But our God is no a distant Father who is not interested in what we do. God is interested in how we grow up, what we choose to do for work and pleasure. He is interested in who we marry and our family. Our God is interested in our hobbies, friends, relationships – in every aspect of our life and how we serve His church.
To be invited to walk with God shows that our God likes being with us. And through it all, God knows that we will mess up - that we will fail to live up to His standards. He provides us the way back through repentance. Our God even serves up a generous banquet of his own body and blood broken and shed for us for the forgiveness of sin. He knows we need all the help we can get to live a blameless life as we reflect his image and glory to the world in which we live. As such, our Lenten walk is never something that we walk alone. God is always with us. When we carry our cross, we know that our Lord is walking with us and that he is carrying an even bigger cross than the one we have.
When the Lord God calls and invites Abram and us to walk with him we need to be careful not to misunderstand His gift of grace and turn it into something that stinks of work’s righteousness. Remember, as Lutherans we always must interpret the written word of God through the lens of the flesh and blood Word of God. “Walk before me and be blameless” says the Lord to Abram. We could easily interpret these words to mean that God is a supernatural RCMP commander who is watching each and every one of us through the lens of the Law, waiting for just the right moment to catch us doing something that is wrong and declare us guilty. But, that is not the grace of God which Jesus shows us in the gospel and in reality, God already knows how messed up we are!
So, when God says to us – “Walk before me and be blameless” it’s not so much a command as it is an invitation to a whole new way of living which is further clarified in today’s gospel. Jesus called many people to follow and walk with him. Jesus knew that if the people would follow, walk with him, they would experience a new way of living. When Jesus says, in last week’s reading, “the time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news” he is inviting His listeners to follow his ways and experience, in response to God’s grace, a whole new way of living in the world.
Our invitation comes to us this morning as “Jesus called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). This is basically the same thing we hear when God calls Abram. The Lord was inviting Abram to walk with him, inviting him to live a very different style of life from the other people and tribes around him. It was going to be a life of trust, truth, love and integrity which would stand out as more authentic than any of the idolatry and falsehoods around him. It would be a life of service to God Almighty and learning to walk in His ways, as Psalmist would write centuries later in Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."
Today, you can still purchase a small round device called a pedometer that clips on your belt, and records the number of steps you take. But, be assured, that when you are walking with the Lord nothing will be capable of recording the lifetime of joy that you will experience knowing that every moment the Lord God Almighty is by your side.
The voice of God almighty is calling out to us “come, walk with me and experience life with me as never before”. Our Lenten journey is only one step in a lifelong journey which climaxes in the grave and resurrection to life eternal as the God who watched as we were being birthed into this world will one day also be the God who will walk us by the hand into a new eternal Garden of Eden.
And so, for now we daily respond to God’s calling to “walk with me” as we take each moment in stride, listening to His voice, feeling His presence, and simply enjoying our Lord’s company as we walk with Him in response to His great love for each of us. In the same way as the Lord once made Abram and his offspring a blessing to others, He will also make us a blessing to those in our world as we love and serve in His name.
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