Sermon Title: “Walking, Talking, Listening, Learning” by Guest Speaker Tim Morphew
“But we had hoped.…” It is such a sad lament! A lament that touches the heart of anyone who has ever lost anyone who meant something to them. “But we had hoped.…”
And I suspect that there isn’t a person in this sanctuary, in this county, in this country or anywhere around the world that hasn’t known such grief. “… we had hoped that he was the one…”
“… the one to redeem Israel…” The one to put things right… We hope, we yearn for a savior, a redeemer because we are troubled by all that is wrong all around us, plagued by what is wrong within us..
Hoping for a redeemer because life is hard, surely harder for some than for others, but everyone has his or her challenges, all of us have our issues; all of us are trying to make the best of our imperfect lives, and the imperfect people in our lives – including our very imperfect selves! And trying to cope with what isn’t right, trying to cope with the hurt and the grief that we carry in our hearts…
I would hope that each and all of us have positive, healthy ways to deal with the stresses, the upsets, the pain, the griefs that trouble our lives… I hope and trust that people find help and loving support in families of faith like Creekside…
Besides my family of faith, a practice that helps me to process and deal with my stresses, my hurts & griefs is physical exercise – especially walking… I walk a few miles almost every day.. When the church granted my first sabbatical in 2008, I wanted it to be some sort of get-away that didn’t cost us a lot of money. Hiking part of the Appalachian Trail seemed to check off those boxes. I also wanted it to be a time of spiritual growth and deepening. I remember looking for resources about a spiritual hike of the AT and not finding much.
But I found my own way, praying our Lord’s Prayer many times a day, practicing a prayer mantra, singing favorite hymns and praying for Beth, Keith, Craig, myself and Bethany Church. And I have found such practices to be helpful and meaningful to me every time I have gone hiking or backpacking since then.
Having hiked all of the AT, I was looking for a new challenge. (And) I had heard about the Camino de Santiago off and on in recent years. I had heard about other COB people walking the Camino. One of my hiking buddies walked it a couple of years ago.
When I mentioned to Betty Kelsey that I was thinking about doing the Camino, she loaned me her copy of Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino, by Joyce Rupp. – Which led me to read a number of other books by others who had walked it, which fed my interest in walking the Camino. Thus, with Beth’s support, I walked the Camino Francais last September. I followed a pilgrim path that millions have walked since the 9th century.
And I feel like my pilgrimage on the Camino Francais (9/2023) resonates with the experience of the two who walked the Emmaus Road on the first Easter Sunday…
Luke doesn’t tell us why the two were walking from Jerusalem to Emmus. Maybe they were going home.. Passover was over, Jesus had been crucified, his followers were hiding out somewhere, nearly paralyzed with shock & grief.. Might as well go home. No good reason to stay in Jerusalem…
So they walk and as they walk, they talk, trying, I suppose, to make sense of it all… Walking can be a very good way think and meditate. Walking can be a very good way to reflect on and process life’s ups and downs, a good way to sort things out. There are plenty of books about walking with titles like Walk Your Way to Calm, Walking the Spirit, Walking in the Spirit, Every Step a Prayer, God Walk, Walking With God.
The two talk as they walk and as they go along a stranger comes along, walks along with them and asks them what they’re talking about…
When I talk with people about my hikes or pilgrimages, some of them ask, “did you go alone?” “Are you going alone?” The short answer is yes. Most times, I have started out by myself, but I’ve never been completely alone on any walk. Every day I see other people, and on a long walk like the Camino, many other walkers passed me or I passed them… Usually we greeted each other, “Buen Camino!” And sometimes we talked for a while.
I met many, many people and talked a while with a good many: Priscilla, from Vermont, Charity from California, Reiner from Maine, Gertrude & Pierce from Ireland, Ann from “Pennsyltucky”, Andrew & Julie from Australia, Sanghyun Lee & Hyung su Ko from S. Korea, and Pepe from Spain, who was doing his 5th Camino pilgrimage – And each of them blessed me in their own particular way…
It seems that something about sharing the same path and the same destination establishes a deeper trust which made it easier to talk, to open up and share what was on our hearts and minds.
It is pretty much assumed that if you’re walking the Camino, you’re doing it for some reason. And it was natural to ask and to be asked “So why are you walking the Camino?” After all, everybody has a reason, right? I mean a person doesn’t walk 480 miles across the country of Spain by accident. No, to get to Santiago, you have to get up every day and get dressed, put on your backpack, go out the door and get on the path and walk and walk and walk..
There as many reasons for walking as there are walkers – probably more! It can be an act of penance, an act of love and devotion to God. An act of gratitude! And some people are processing trauma or grief or loss.
When Justin from Texas found out that I was a retired pastor, he told me that he had just broken up with his long- time girlfriend. It seemed to have taken him by surprise. He thought he knew where his life was going. But their separation had stunned and wounded him. He didn’t know what to do with himself, so he came to walk the Camino.
Justin thought maybe he should pray, talk to God about it, but how? What should he say? I think that I encouraged him to just talk to God like he was talking to me. Just say whatever was on his heart. I assured him that God already knew what had happened, how he was feeling, but that in talking with God, in praying whatever was on his heart, every day, whenever, whatever he was feeling, answers – or at least ideas, or maybe next steps would emerge. He thanked me, then turned around and walked back to the place he was staying that night.
Later, as I pondered my conversation with Justin and wondered about what I had told him, I realized that what I told him was a pretty good reminder to me about my own Camino meditations. – That prayer is simply talking with God about whatever’s going on, opening my heart, holding my thoughts and feelings in an on-going conversation with God until ideas or maybe a next step comes to mind… “… we do not know how to pray as we ought, but [the Spirit of God] intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom. 8:26) Usually, I come back from a hike or even a long walk with some hopes or ideas about things I want to work on…
On my first or second day, I walked a while with Priscilla from somewhere in Vermont and talked about how troubled I am by the angry divisions in our society, the great chasms of difference across which partisan voices shout at each other… I don’t remember exactly what we said, but I remember that in her local government the woman recently elected mayor had pursued a more civil campaign, and won! Which Priscilla took to suggest that people still want civil public conversation & cooperation between those who differ.
Something that often happens in my conversations with God is that I complain about something that I don’t like in others and after a while a voice in my head/heart/soul asks “And what about you?” – meaning, in what ways do you think, talk or do the very things that you hate and condemn in others?
Thus I began to wonder about my biases & prejudices, the ways in which I too quickly judge people reacting to their clothes, their yard signs, the flags they fly, or their Facebook posts, or the car they drive & stickers on their cars….
As I followed the Camino path, I came to a sort of discouraging insight. I realized that when I was walking by myself, alone with my own thoughts and meditations; when I was cruising along with hardly a care in the world, during those rarified moments, my thoughts and meditations soared. I was filled with grace and loving feelings toward all the world… But I remembered that I have felt that way on good hiking days every time I have gone backpacking, on every long walk. Same experience: nearly transcendant moments of love and grace toward family, loved ones, friends, even folks who sometimes irritate me…
But when I got home, when I returned to the cares & concerns of my everyday life at home, the unhappy grumpy thoughts & feelings also returned. And I found myself feeling impatient & irritable, jumping to conclusions, grumbling at other drivers or the people in front of me in the line. You know, tapping my horn as soon as the light turns green…
One morning 2/3rds of the way into my hike, I got up and started walking before dawn, I paused and wondered at the star-studded night sky and thanked God for the beauty of earth and sky… After the sun came up, I stopped at one of the many cafés along the way for a cup of coffee and a tortilla (like a piece of quiche). The place was busy, with people waiting to order their coffees, pastries, breakfast… An extended family was there, a couple of them in line in front of me, others elsewhere in the shop looking around at what else was for sale. As the two in front of me got to the counter to place their orders, 3 or 4 other family members joined them to add in their orders. I was not amused…. But even as I grumbled to myself, I knew what was happening. My spiritual thoughts and meditations vanished as love or grace were displaced by my grumbling.
It’s a little like Cleopas answering the stranger’s innocent question, “What are you [talking about] while you walk along?”
Listen to the tone of his answer: “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” Does Cleopas sound a little irritated? Incredulous at least; but he sounds a little irritated to me.
Cleopas, like you and me, imagines that everybody else knows what he knows. That all of Jerusalem was focused on the trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus. You know there were probably people in Jerusalem for the Passover who were quite unaware that Pilates soldiers were crucifying some troublemakers over on Golgotha hill…
But Cleopas thinks that everyone in Jerusalem knew – or should have known… “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
Of course as Cleopas continues to spill out to the stranger the bewildering and heartbreaking experience of the past 3 days, he reveals to readers like us the limits of his own knowledge. “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” he asks.
Awareness. A vital part of our growth in faith, in following and in relationships is awareness. Now notice in the Emmaus road narrative the levels of awareness and unawareness… It’s Jesus who walks with them, but they don’t recognize him. They think the stranger is obtuse not to know what has happened in Jerusalem, but the stranger who is Jesus is about to teach them the real meaning and significance of his life and death. Yet even after he explains how their scriptures anticipated the suffering and death of Jesus, they still don’t recognize Jesus!
Not until they were eating together and the stranger/Jesus “…took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” Finally, when Jesus breaks bread with them, when he breaks the bread for them, then they recognize Jesus and he disappears… And the concluding affirmation of this poignant encounter is that Jesus was “made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Since the year 814, for more than 1200 years, believers have been walking to the shrine of the apostle James in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain, where the remains of the apostle are said to be buried. Throughout the medieval period, it was one of the three most important Christian pilgrimages undertaken. Indeed, it was only a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to Rome, or to Santiago de Compostela which could result in a “plenary indulgence”, which (for Catholics) freed a person from the penance due for sins.
From early on in my pastoral ministry, well before my first long hike in 2008, I knew that I can’t do anything that means much or has much lasting value unless God is in it, unless it serves God’s purposes. And for that reason, (in my best moments) I have yearned and prayed that God will
Lead me, guide me along the way;
For if You lead me, I cannot stray;
Lord, let me walk each day with Thee.
Lead me, O Lord, lead me.
Doris M. Akers (b. Brookfield, MO, 1922)
So, as I said (earlier), from my first day on the Appalacian Trail, my plan and my hope has been that every hike, every walk, every camino would be a pilgrimage toward a closer walk with Jesus. Like so many others who have walked it, the Camino de Santiago was, for me, a spiritual path, a prayer walk seeking spiritual growth or depth…
Whenever I step out of my routine, whenever I get away on a hike or a pilgrimage, I enjoy the solitude, I appreciate the time to talk with God. Sometimes I remember to shut up and listen, and in those rarified moments I catch a glimpse of my shortcomings, of the shadows that I wish weren’t there. But I’ve had a lot of years to practice my sins and shortcomings and I can’t seem just to wish them away.
But whenever I have gone on a long walk, I have, like those believers on the Emmaus road, walked and talked with strangers, who shared with me a bit of their story, strangers who often listened to a bit of my story. And in the walking, the talking, when I listened well, I learned things!
I am repeatedly reminded that I’m not alone. I am not the only one who suffers with what is wrong in our world, and what is wrong in me. I am not the only one who has hurt badly, who has suffered grievous losses. I am not alone with my shadows, NOR are those dark and hurtful things the last word. No, dear Sisters and Brothers they are not the last word, they are not the final word, they are not the ultimate word… For some of those strangers who come along and walk a few steps with us are God-sent into our lives to walk with us, to encourage us, to offer us a bit of hope, a little good news, a glimpse of gospel…
At that same place where I stopped for a coffee and a tortilla, where I waited in line for the two in front of me – and all their family members to order their breakfasts while I waited and chided myself about how shallow was the veneer of my love and grace. I waited and got my cafe and tortilla, went outside and sat down, put my feet up, enjoyed my second breakfast and watched others come and go…
When I got done, I picked up my dirty dishes and took them inside and left them on the counter, went back to my table and put on my pack, grabbed my poles and started back to the Camino path. And as I passed a woman who sat at a table nearby, she looked right at me; looked in my eyes and said “Buen Camino.”
Now people said “Buen Camino” to each other all the time. But for some reason as we looked into each other’s eyes, her “Buen Camino” touched me deeply & blessed me.
The two believers exclaimed “Did not our hearts burn within us while he was opening the scriptures to us!” All the woman said was “Buen Camino”. And I don’t know if it meant anything at all to her. But it warmed my heart. In that moment, it meant something to me. And as I walked in the afterglow of her blessing, I realized that I can bless people as easily as she blessed me. I can offer a smile with a bit of eye contact. I can offer a “buen camino” or a “good morning.”
Almost every day, I walked and talked with someone who’s company along the way brought me a moment of human contact, a little bit of kindness, a token of grace… At many pilgrim meals, I sat with other pilgrims as we got aquainted, shared a meal, broke bread together… It wasn’t exactly bread & cup, but it was a sort of communion as we partook together of the food and a quality of fellowship that feeds your soul…
The story of those two believers on the Emmaus road is a story of walking, talking, listening and learning. What do they learn? That Jesus is alive and walks with them – that Jesus is there, whether they recognize him or not…
My Camino experiences weren’t as dramatic for me as I think it must have been for the believers with whom Jesus walked on the Emmaus Road. Yet my message to you is that Jesus is still there, every day in the people we walk with, talk with, eat with… – and oh by the way, if we are open to the Spirit somebody might even think that they caught a glimpse of Jesus in us.
“And we accept bread at his table,
broken and shared, a living sign.
Here in this world, dying and living,
we are each other’s bread and wine.”
© 1993 Bernadette Farrell, (England),
Thanks be to GOD!