What phrases caught your attention in today’s reading? [at home in the body, away from God; we walk by faith not by sight; new creation] There is so much in this text that one could preach many sermons. The two phrases that I’m going to focus on are these: “We walk by faith, not by sight,” and “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”
Call him Jason. Jason was a drug addict on the east coast—let’s say New Jersey. He was skinny because he cared less about food than about drugs. It was that bad. I don’t know the details, but at some low point he found Jesus and gave himself completely to Christ. He got clean. He had no money, no job. But he was so grateful to have a new life in Christ that he got a six-foot wooden cross and decided to walk across the country sharing the good news of God’s life-transforming love. He didn’t pack anything. When I leave the house, I’m usually carrying a daypack with a water bottle, snacks, lunch, laptop—whatever. He just started walking, not by sight, but by faith.
It’s a striking sight: a man carrying a six-foot cross down the road. You know there’s a story. And maybe, if you too are hungry for some good news, you stop and ask him to tell it. You invite him to come speak to your midweek church potluck, your Bible study group, your Sunday morning worship service. You put him up in your spare room for a few days, send him off with some apples and granola bars to eat on the road.
Somewhere along the way Jason picked up a little dog. This little dog was not built for long-distance walking. Somebody provided a little red wagon so Jason could tow the dog. Somebody provided a covered dog bed that fit in the little red wagon. People gave them dog food. A sleeping bag. People signed his cross the way we used to sign plaster casts when friends had a broken arm.
Jason got strong and healthy, put on some weight—in a good way. He became a confident speaker about God’s love and redeeming grace.
I crossed paths with Jason on my own faith walk across the country in 2006. Most of you know I joined a group called CrossWalk America, and we walked from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. to spread the good news of God’s love through a progressive Christian frame called the Phoenix Affirmations. I quit my job, rented out my house, raised money, and set out on this walk of faith, having no idea what I would do afterward but listening closely for Spirit speaking all along the way.
But compared with Jason, what I was doing was downright cushy. We had funds, homestays lined up in advance, support vehicles. There was a plan. He had nothing but the cross and the dog. God and dog were his copilots. And it was enough. By the time I met him, he was on a rural highway in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. And after hearing his story, I had no doubt that he would succeed in his journey, and that God would provide an opportunity for him after that. He had come this far by faith, and there was no going back. No going back to his old life, to his old addiction, to his old sense of disconnection from God. He was no longer alone or without purpose. He had a new life, a new creation in Christ. Everything was made new.
Jason is an extreme example of someone receiving a new life in Christ and stepping out not by sight but by faith. Here’s another extreme example. This is a story the Rev. Traci Blackmon told in a General Synod sermon a few years back. I don’t recall all the details, but it was such a striking story that the gist of it has stayed with me. A man stretched a big rope across some waterfall—maybe it was even Niagara Falls. And he could cross the falls on this rope pushing a wheelbarrow. The crowds would flock to see him. So he said to them one day, “How many of you believe that I’m going to make it across the waterfall pushing this wheelbarrow?” And all these hands went up. Then he said, “So who’s going to get in the wheelbarrow?” And all the hands went down. He was willing and able to make that dangerous journey. They were afraid to make it with him. Frankly, I don’t blame them.
Perhaps you have met people like Jason, carrying their cross in an extraordinary way. Perhaps you invited him to your church group, put him up in your spare room, gave him apples and granola bars and dog food for the journey. That is God working through us to support Jason in his call.
But I think often progressive Christians are reluctant to be the Jasons or the ones crossing Niagara Falls. Stepping out in faith like that is irrational, illogical, terrifying. It goes against our risk-averse culture that requires we buy car insurance, just in case, and that we save for retirement, and we create all sorts of support systems. We want to have things all planned out, with backup systems and safety nets. We don’t want to be that person on the high wire, or that person walking down the empty highway who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from but trusts that God will provide it. We want to sort out all our theological questions first before committing to anything. Cross all the t’s, dot all the i’s. We want to be sure we’re right. Then, maybe. We want a safe, predictable faith and a safe, predictable life.
Meanwhile, where God is, is out there on that road. Where God is, is up there on the high wire. And we will never encounter that dynamic God or experience that level of faith unless we dare to go there. Sometimes God calls us to step out onto the road—or the high wire—and just start walking. We’re told, “Don’t start something you can’t finish.” But sometimes God says, “Just take that first step.” Put one foot in front of the other. Be open to what comes. Live life on the edge. The idea that life is safe is an illusion. There are no guarantees.
In his early days, the apostle Paul wanted to be right, and he knew that these followers of Jesus—or followers of “The Way,” as they called themselves—Paul knew they were wrong. He committed to persecuting them with great zeal. Until he set out for Damascus and had a blinding vision of Jesus on the road. But he didn’t meet Jesus until he got out on that road.
Paul starts this chapter of 2 Corinthians by saying that our home is in God, and in the meantime we live in these tents that are our bodies. Even as we yearn for the reconnection that comes when we return home to God, we have this opportunity to do God’s work while we are away from “home.”
What road are you walking—or being invited to walk? How are you living on that growing edge? Or how might you do so? And how can the rest of us support you in that journey? We walk by faith, not by sight. God is our copilot out on the road. May we dare to step out boldly and spread the good news. Amen.