She got the idea to hike the Appalachian trail from reading a book by someone who had already taken the journey. I’m sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Mary wrote on her blog that, when she made the decision to try and conquer the 2,000 mile trek she was curled up on the couch, under a blanket, sitting by a fire.
Two years later, on the first morning of her journey, she sat in the airport waiting for a plane to Georgia. Then the reality of the task ahead began to set in. Mary warned her readers about making hasty decisions: “don’t make major life decisions on your couch by the fire,” she said, “You’re future self may suffer for it.”
For those of you who may not know her, Mary Loomis is a child of MCC. She grew up in this church and is very dear to many members of this community. As the news began to spread a few months ago that she was planning an epic journey of her own – on her own – I’m sure that many of you joined me in being more than a little concerned. I’ve only known Mary for a few years; those of you who have known her since she was a baby must have worried at least a little bit about her plans. Isn’t the trip dangerous? How will she care for herself? Aren’t there things that can go wrong?
It’s scary when someone we love – or when we ourselves – take risks. Reading Mary’s online journal, it’s apparent that she was filled with a mix of excitement and concern as she prepared for her journey. Since she left Sudbury six weeks ago, the trip hasn’t exactly been perfect. She’s run into problems like forgetting her favorite sweater and waking up to two feet of unexpected snow but she’s also traveled more than 300 miles and met other hikers and experienced great accomplishements.. Because she took a risk, she has benefited from great joys.
That’s what it’s like to be a follower of Jesus. See, Christianity isn’t only about excitement and celebration and the joyous blessings we receive. It’s also about taking risk. It’s about putting our neck on the line in order to bring about a better world – the world that God intended for us to have. Being a disciple of Jesus isn’t about letting him save us, it’s about us saving ourselves and all the world. There are great joys to true discipleship, but there are also great costs. Sometimes, that’s a hard message for us to hear. Getting out of our comfort zone, taking true risk is terribly frightening.
Palm Sunday is a great example of the mix of celebration and danger that comes with following Jesus. We often look at this day as a time of great jubilation – Jesus’ followers partying at his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. And while we recognize why he was there, while we understand that Jesus entered the city to die for us, to show us the error of our violent ways by allowing himself to die at our hands, and while we have the benefit of knowing the next chapter in the story – the part about the empty tomb and the miraculous resurrection – Jesus’ followers weren’t that lucky. They had no idea how it would all turn out.
We picture the people flocking from their homes, overjoyed with the coming of a savior who will solve all of their problems. The people throw their robes on the ground, wave the palms in the air; cries of “Hosanna” echo off the city walls. And while the people got carried away with that excitement, there must also have been an element of fear cast over their gathering.
Because this procession was not just about Jesus. This was not just about welcoming one man into the city. It was also a direct rejection of the Roman Empire and it’s oppressive, violent ways. As Jesus entered the city from one side, Pontius Pilate and a military procession entered from the other.
This celebration was also a political protest. As Jesus entered the city, he proclaimed the kingdom of God: the kingdom of peace, and of acceptance, and of sometimes having to make difficult choices. He rode a donkey in clear opposition to the war horses flying the banner of Ceaser’s kingdom of fear and and violence, of injustice and inequality. As Jesus stood up to the Empire, his followers were right there with him.
Following Jesus isn’t always easy. Being a true disciple means putting ourselves at risk.
Ten years ago, in 2003, as the United States planned to drop bombs on Iraq, dozens of Western peace activists went to Iraq in an attempt to stop the bombing. Some hoped that the United States military would resist dropping bombs on the Iraqi people if there were Americans were standing by their side. These peace activist went to be human sheilds.
Two groups from America, Voices in the Wilderness and the Christian Peacemaker Team, understood that their presence was unlikely to stop the bombs from falling. But they went anyway, to stand in solidarity with their fellow human beings. Because they believed that all people are children of God and that violence never solves problems. Shane Claiborne, one of the members who went with them, understood that being a disciple of Christ often meant putting yourself at risk. In a letter he penned before leaving for Iraq, he wrote: “I am going to Iraq in the footsteps of an executed and risen God. I follow a Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey at Passover, knowing full well what He was walking into. This Jesus of the margins suffered an imperial execution by an oppressive regime of wealthy and pious elites. And now He dares me and woos me, come and follow, take my cross, lose my life to find it with a promise that life is more powerful than heath, and that it is more courageous to love our enemies than to kill them. “
I applaud Claiborne and the others for their efforts. Obviously, it didn’t help avoid the bombings or end the war. It may have saved a few lives, it probably helped create a bridge between some Christians and Muslims, Iraqis and Americans, humans and other humans. They were acting out their faith, literally putting their lives on the line for God and I applaud them for that.
And I confess that I don’t have that kind of courage. All too often, I’m like the people in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, at Jesus’ side for the celebration but scared about the risk of following his lead. I want to follow Christ, to be a good and loyal disciple but, when push comes to shove, I often find myself hiding in the shadows with Peter and Thomas and even Judas – all of those disciples who failed Jesus through denial and doubt and betrayal.
But the amazing thing is that – no matter how many times I fail – God always gives me another chance. Jesus knew that his closest friends would no longer be at his side as he hung on the cross and still he allowed it to happen for them and for me. Jesus died to show me that a better way is possible – if his disciples take up their cross and follow. That includes me and you.
That’s scary. It’s all too easy to think that Christianity is only about receiving all the rewards of heaven in the next life. We also need to understand that following Christ means having the faith to risk creating God’s kingdom here and now, in this life.
If we want to change the world, if we want to change our community, if we want to change our selves, we have to take risks. It’s not just about putting our bodies in front of bombs or hiking from Georgia to Maine. It’s about getting out of our comfort zone, approaching someone we don’t know with a smile, trying something new to help out a stranger, forgetting about our own life for a few minutes and worrying about someone else’s. It’s only when we are able to put our comfort at risk that we can grow as true Jesus followers.
Mary Loomis talked about the difference between reading about the hike and actually taking the walk. Her walk isn’t only about personal accomplishment. She’s using her journey to raise money and awareness for a better world. Mary’s walk is also a fundraiser for the Better Future Project, to call attention to climate change and encourage a movement away from fossil fuels. It took great courage and faith for her to get off of that couch and put her feet on the ground. Christianity isn’t all about reading a great story while we’re curled up on the couch in front of a fire. My prayer is that we can all find the courage and the faith to go out on our own risky journey.
Mary’s blog: http://kidinboots.weebly.com/appalachian-trail.html