“Walking Away with the Win”
Psalm 86:8-13; 3 John 1-15
Rev. Tasha Blackburn
March 3, 2019
It is a basic fact that life is a heck of a journey. And for people who want to live a life of faith, the journey takes on deeper meaning and different destinations. That’s why Christians are often called pilgrims or go on pilgrimages. Because we’ve found we learn a lot when we take a journey with a goal. We can put our whole long life of faith into microcosm by going on pilgrimage. People walk the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain. They march across Scotland to reach the ancient island of Iona. Coming soon in April thousands will again travel the streets of Jerusalem, not on their feet, but on their knees. They do this, in part, because the journey—the literal walking—teaches them about their broader walk of faith.
About 1,000 years ago, we realized that some people would never have the opportunity to pilgrimage. They lived too far away or could not afford to walk the streets of Jerusalem or Spain. And so the labyrinth began to be used. You have seen these before. They are usually round with curving paths that seem to have four quadrants and a center. They are painted onto the floors of churches or dug into the earth in gardens. They are not a maze because in the labyrinth there is only one way in and one way out, and no way to get lost. Christians used them so that everyone could experience a form of a spiritual pilgrimage. So that everyone could feel what that was like.
I say you cannot get lost, which is true, but you certainly can get confused and frustrated on a labyrinth. I remember walking an outdoor one at Louisville Seminary a couple of years ago. It was a beautiful day—and I was alone—so I even took my shoes off to feel the grass beneath my feet. It had been years since I had walked one and so it surprised me when, at one point I thought for sure I was almost to the center of it—almost to the goal—and the path veered me completely off to an outer edge. Then the opposite happened just a few minutes later. I was walking an outer arc, not seeing how I would ever get back to the center when I was surprised to find that the path had swerved so far that I was actually at the destination. That’s how a labyrinth works. It takes you through the starts and stops—dips and turns—of the life of faith.
We are to the last of the three letters of John and all three have talked about walking and faith. This last letter, the shortest of them all, says that the writer is overjoyed because he has heard about the many people at that church who are walking in truth and love. When we think about walking in truth, we should picture a capital T here: walking in capital T Truth. It is a description of walking in the way of Jesus who is the Truth.
All three letters and countless other scriptures speak of it—walking in faith, walking like Jesus—so I want us to deeply consider it this morning. How do we walk in the way of Jesus?
First, we need to be clear that the walk is a particular kind of walk. This probably sounds obvious for we are well aware that there are many other religions we can choose, other walks we can take. We well know what those are. But let’s not stop there, because for every other religious walk we could take, there are secular choices on option as well. And these are the ones that are more likely to insinuate themselves and take us off track.
For example, there are many who believe that we are nothing more than atoms bouncing off of one another. We have no purpose here, no plan, no goal. We are simply a science experiment that has gotten this far. That is a walk of its own but it is not our walk. There are others who believe we do have a purpose, a plan, and a goal, but that we are the lords of our own lives and we can find everything we would ever need within ourselves. We have no need of saving and no need of the divine. That is a walk of its own but it is not our walk. Of course there are multitudes who believe we can keep this whole life thing simple: basically, the one with the most toys wins. And that is a walk of its own but it is not our walk.
Before we even get started we need to be clear that to walk in the way of Jesus is a unique and particular path. Our walk means that we trust that there is a path and a goal; that even when we veer wildly from where we thought we were heading, Jesus is worth trusting. Our walk means that we wrestle with the difficult parts of our faith like when Jesus says “Those who save their life will lose it and those who give their life away will find it” just as we wrestle with the practical demands on how we live like when Jesus teaches us to “turn the other cheek” and “forgive 70 times 7” and “love our enemies.”
Our walk recognizes that we are fallen and frail and in need of saving, even as we live lives of gratitude because the saving has already been done for us. This is what it means to walk in the way of Jesus. It is different from other walks. So first, we must recognize that difference and choose which path we wish to walk.
Second, as simple as it sounds, we must actually walk. Faith is not a sedentary activity. It is a movement and we have to be willing to continue moving with it. Life can get dull sometimes or it can get excitingly full or it can veer off course in a devastating fashion. And when life is any of those things, we keep walking. We keep our faith moving, one foot in front of the other. We pray: “Help!” or “Thank you!” or simply “Please!” We study and we seek. When the path surprises us or terrifies us, to walk in the way of Jesus is to take the next step…and then the next one…and then the next. It is a walk, not a moment or a season. It is a walk that we take, trusting that there is no way to get lost.
I know it sounds simple, the way we do this. But it is the way. We have to choose what walk we will take and, once on it, we have to keep walking. Oh yes, and there is one more thing. The writer of 3 John did not just say he was overjoyed because so many were walking in the truth. He was overjoyed because they were walking the truth in love. That’s what he’s so excited about. He says he has heard such good things about Gaius, about how hospitable and welcoming he is, even to strangers. He shows such hospitality that word has gotten around about him. It’s how he’s walking the path with love that is getting noticed.
Which makes me remember the other part of that day in Louisville on that outdoor path. Much of the labyrinth was sheltered by a huge oak tree whose branches reached out and canopied it. As those circular paths steered me this way and that my bare feet passed from cool, soft grass to hot brittle scrub. Beyond the oak’s welcoming shade, the way was hard to walk. The joy of the experience was lost until I was again sent back to beneath its covering.
And I think that is very much how hospitality and welcome and walking in love works. Those things don’t change the path: they don’t keep our journey from veering off wildly into realms we never wanted to walk and they don’t get us to our goal, but hospitality and warmth they certainly make whatever the path we are taking easier. They make it softer. In each of our lives they make it bearable.
This is not a generic concept: hospitality. It is not a general thing; hospitality has a name. For this letter and congregation it was Gaius. He showed hospitality so much so that others had been told of it. And I wonder whose paths he made easier because he did it? I also wonder, who has shown that hospitality to you? For it is not generic, it has names. I think of Ken Pevehouse who, no matter the weather, stands out on that walk with his coffee cup and holder, welcoming and ushering us into the Fellowship Hall as if each of us were the King of France. I think of John Aubrey who makes a point of greeting every new face he sees, especially the faces of the children among us. And Mary Moll who, whether you’ve known her 50 years or 5 minutes, you’re always “honey” in her book.
Hospitality has names. I want you to take a minute this morning to remember who in your life has shown you welcome when you were walking your faith, who has provided shelter when you were veering toward who knows where. Think of those names right now. Carry them with you today so that you will remember to thank God for them and, if you can, let them know what they did for you. Gaius got told in this letter. We need to tell them what they’ve done.
Walking the truth and walking it in love. That is what we are called to do. We have been given a particular way to walk so let’s choose it and keep going no matter what. And let’s show some hospitality along the way. Let’s be known for it. It won’t change anyone’s path—there are some roads that have to be taken—hospitality can’t change that route. Hospitality can’t change the path; but it can sure change the walk. Amen.