I’m a “people-watcher”. I like to spend time while sitting in a car or in the Mall waiting for my wife to finish shopping just watching people! One thing that I watch is how they walk. Have you ever done that? Think about the way YOU walk and the way OTHER PEOPLE walk. Can you tell who someone is from a distance by seeing how they walk? Most people can. Some stride. Others Swagger. Or Swing, or strut, or shuffle, or waddle, or ramble or amble, or scuff the soles of their shoes. YOUR WAY OF WALKING IS ONE OF THE UNIQUE THINGS ABOUT YOU AND TELLS THE OBSERVER A LOT ABOUT YOU.
The Department of Homeland Security has noticed this also. There are now two federally-funded, gait-recognition technology projects under development at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “Gait recognition” aims to detect, select, classify, and identify any individual based on the way she or he walks. This is seen as a possible way to detect known terrorists at up to 500 yards away. It is still a “work in progress”, but is showing a lot of promise.
But this isn’t a new thing. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul pointed out that people look at whether we “walk the walk” more than how we “talk the talk.” In other words, THEY BOTH STRESS THAT WHAT WE DO IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN WHAT WE SAY!
In the 21st chapter of Matthew, Jesus told the chief priests and elders in the temple a parable when they asked “by what authority do you do these things?”
Jesus told about a man who had two sons. He went to the first son and told him to go to work in the vineyard. The son answered “I will not go!” But later, the first son thought about it and changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard for his father. The father also told the second son, “Go to work in my vineyard today” The second son said: “Yes, father, I will go.” But he never did go to work in the vineyard that day.
Jesus asked those questioning him, “Which of the two sons did the will of his father?” They answered: “The first son.” Jesus told them—-truly tax collectors and prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. IN OTHER WORDS—-THE SONS ARE JUDGED BY WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DID AND NOT WHAT THEY SAID! And you will be judged in the same way, he told the priests and elders!!
In II Thessalonians 1:1-4; 11-112, Paul says something very similar. He says that he and Silas and Timothy give thanks to God for these brothers and sisters because: “your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions you are enduring.!
Why is Paul proud of his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica? Because of their ACTIONS. The love they show and demonstrate for each other that is seen by all. The steadfastness they have exhibited as they endure persecutions and afflictions. PAUL IS PROUD OF THEM NOT FOR WHAT THEY ARE SAYING, BUT FOR WHAT THEY ARE DOING!!
DO PEOPLE RECOGNIZE US BY HOW WE “WALK THE WALK” OF FAITH?
They’ll know we are Christians by our love” goes the song. People who watch us determine what faith in Jesus Christ is all about, NOT by what we say to them but by WHAT WE DO TO EACH OTHER! They will know we are Christians by the way we live, by the way we talk, by the way we “walk the talk.” If our faith is real, observers will sense it—-they’ll see it! If its real, they might even ask how they, also, might “walk the walk” of faith.
An ancient term used to describe Christianity was “THE WAY”. We can’t “talk the WAY”—-we must “walk” the WAY. It is the way of Jesus as we carry out his great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF!”
Those who study communications tell us that if there is a problem in communication between verbal and non-verbal—-the non-verbal communication wins almost all the time. 90% of communication is non-verbal—-and therein lies the problem that we as followers of Jesus Christ need to examine today. WE MAY SAY WE ARE CHRISTIANS, BUT ARE WE ACTING LIKE CHRISTIANS? Are we walking the Christian life, or just talking about it? Observers will believe what they see over what we might say. Can those who observe us see any difference in the way we live that identifies us as folllowers of Jesus on the WAY?
This question is especially being asked by two of the present generations who are watching the church very critically—-the Busters and the Millenials.
The Buster generation grew to young adulthood in the shadow of their “Boomer” parents—-Boomers refers to the huge wave of children born after WWII. The Busters, the children of the Boomers, are the first generation to face the possibility that they may not achieve as much as did their parents. The defining moment of their generation is often chosen by them as the tragic explosion of the space shuttle “Challenger.” That was the moment when they watched the fragile illusion of “In Science we Trust” and “in Technology we trust” blow up in their faces.
The Millenials are those who became adults around the turn of the century—-who are 18-30 years old today—-the children of the Busters. They therefore share many of the characteristics of their parents, as the “leaves don’t usually fall too far from the tree”.
- They are very open to “honest” or “real” spirituality. According to polls—86% of Millenials believe in God. They don’t want to listen to talk about God—–they want to experience God in their lives. They believe that God is in the world and not just in church buildings—that God can be experienced in a variety of settings!
- They distrust institutions, including the church, and will not get involved in an institution unless the institution is actively involved in trying to meet the crucial needs of today’s society. They say they are “spiritual” but not “religious.”
- They think “talk” is cheap—-the airways have been full of it ever since they were born. They want their talk translated into action. They have excellent “Fake Detectors”. They value honesty and can deal with contradictory ideas.
- They are techno-savvy and are heavily into electronic technology as a key part of their daily lives.
- They are inclusive and non-judgmental of all people—this applies to homosexuality, abortion, global poverty, environmental issues, immigration, other faiths, etc.
- They exhibit an authentic spiritual longing for a better sort of Christianity that practices the teachings of Jesus. They feel that Christianity is supposed to be a religion of love, forgiveness and practicing what Jesus preached and modeled.
- Relational community, intentional practice, and experiential belief are important to them.
- Even though they are connected electronically they yearn for connectedness in a community.
- They have opted out of the “rat race” but not out of the “human race”.
- They deal with paradox and with contradictory ideas well—they recognize there is no absolute truth and that things are not black or white but shades of grey.
JESUS MAY HAVE BEEN THE FIRST BUSTER/MILLENIAL. Consider some of the evidence:
- He never did join the rat race of his day.
- He wasn’t into the religious institutions of his day. Rather he resisted much of what passed for “religion” in his day.
- He was itinerant—-much of his preaching and teaching was done in the countryside and villages of Galilee. He didn’t try to build large churches. He didn’t care about “members” or numbers of members—-he chose only 12 disciples to be his close friends and shared his life with them.
- He assumed his public ministry late in life He was probably about thirty years old, but in a culture whose life span was about 40 years of age. .
- He was inclusive and reached out in compassion to those who were on the margins of society—the social outcasts, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, the widow, the orphans—-and defended them against the “uppity” and “in crowd” of the rich and powerful.
- He was critical of the domination system that rewarded the few at the expense of the many. So his biggest problem was with the Roman authorities and the religious institutions and authorities of his day.
- As someone has put it—-Jesus majored in forgiveness and minored in dogma.
IT IS THIS JESUS THAT CONFRONTED THE MEALY-MOUTHED QUESTIONS OF THE PRIEST AND ELDERS AND CHARGED THEM WITH AS “ALL-TALK, NO-WALK” TYPE OF SPIRITUALITY.
There are many people hurting in the world today. Hurting because of drug abuse, broken relationships, too little income, homelessness! There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge to end their lives. There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them. These wanderers in today’s wilderness are young and old, rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors; but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy. How is the church of Jesus Christ speaking to their needs? Are they even on our radar?We need to ask ourselves: ARE WE SO BUSY TRYING TO SOUND GOOD, LOOK GOOD, FEEL GOOD AND MAKE GOOD THAT WE DON’T ACTUALLY EVER DO GOOD?,
SO—-HOW IS OUR FAITH WALK WITH OUR LORD?
The current younger generation is calling the church to become what it says it is. They may have problems with organized religion, but they recognize Jesus as one of them. Are we offering this Jesus to them through our churches and our lives? If we do, and we show them Jesus in our actions, they will join with us in our work for the Kingdom of God. This generation is open to spiritual growth. The key to reaching them is the key to reaching every generation—-IT IS TO LIFT UP JESUS IN THE FULLNESS OF HIS LOVE FOR HUMANITY AND TO DEMONSTRATE JESUS IN THE FULLNESS OF OUR LOVE FOR HUMANITY.
And we look today at too many people who call themselves Christians, that are focused only on themselves, who are caught in traffic on the fast track, who are cut off from community because they are too busy or too indifferent to get involved. THE BUSTERS & MILLENIALS LOOK AT THOSE CHRISTIANS AND SAY—“WE DON’T SEE YOU DOING MUCH! We’re hearing a lot of talk, but where is the action? What you are saying about loving Jesus and following him and the Great Commandment to “love God with all your heart, soul and strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself?—-we don’t see that in your ACTIONS from day to day.” Guess which these observers will believe—they will believe our actions not our words.
LOOK AT WHAT PEOPLE DO, NOT AT WHAT THEY SAY, Jesus taught.
Jesus offered a Way to experience God as a Father who loves and cares for his children—-directly with no priests and sacrifices or rabbi’s involved.
He saw the religious authorities as “talking the talk” but not “walking the walk.” Jesus skewered the traditional religious authorities as being “all-show” but “no-go”. He uses the culturally unclean and reprehensible “tax collectors and prostitutes” as examples of obedience to God in this week’s text, because they listened to him and changed and transformed their lives, while he saw the religious authorities, the traditional symbols of piety and obedience as morally wrong and spiritually empty. Those religious authorities therefore sought to kill him and eventually did so.
Are people observing us “walk the walk” and not just “talking the talk”—-or are we causing confusion by the gap between what we SAY and what we DO?
Is our faith walk recognizable? Both up close and at a distance, or even when our backs are turned away? Can it be seen and known over time? Is it consistent?
Can people catch sight of our faith walk and begin to understand it over time—-how we behave, how we act, what we do, speak volumes about who we are and whose we are to those around us. It identifies the quality, reality and the depth of our faith in God.
ARE WE KIND, MERCIFUL, GENEROUS, PATIENT, CHARITABLE, COMPASSIONATE, UPLIFTING, SHOWING LOVE CONSTANTLY EVEN TO THE UNLOVABLE? .
God’s hope for the church is like Paul’s hope for the church in Thessalonica. Paul observed their faith, love, patience, endurance and resolutions that were visible for all to see. Their walk with Christ was clearly identifiable. So must the church today clearly walk with Christ in the eyes of those who see us day by day.
If our faith is truly about love, then we are called to live that faith, and to walk the walk of love every day to the best of our ability. People in the community around us will see our compassion, our charity, our strides in feeding the hungry and reaching out to the outcast. They will see our endurance. They will see us reaching out to the unloving and the unlovely in Jesus name. They will witness our love for one another as we seek to support each other in troubled times, or when we visit an elderly shut-in, or someone in the hospital or take the time to help someone in need.
You see the words of this poem are really true. It is one that the present generations demands and echoes and responds to:
“I’d rather SEE a sermon than hear one any day,
I’d rather one would walk with me, than merely tell the way.
For the eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;
Fine counsel is confusing, but examples always clear….
And the best of all the preachers are the one who live their creeds,
For to see faith put in action is what everybody needs….Amen!