Just keep on walking
It should have been an early start today, but alas not. I was due to walk the final leg of the Gritstone Trail but sadly Alan, our leader, yesterday tested positive for Covid. So instead it's the concluding section of the other long distance walk in Cheshire, the Sandstone Trial with Bella the dog. It's blue skies but very chilly: perfect.
As I set off, I wonder how the people of the Bible would have thought of the Sandstone Trail, just walking for the sake of walking. After all most of their journeys would have been by foot, not least for the family and friends of Jesus – a regular hike from Galilee to Jerusalem, some 70 miles or so each way, at least once a year for the Passover festival. So why go out of your way just to walk without any obvious purpose? Now I think about it, I recall staying with a family in Washington DC all those years ago and when I said I was going for a walk, they immediately offered to give me a lift. And when I explained I was just walking around the block, they were utterly bemused as to why anyone should want to walk to where they started! However, God has made us for movement, it is how we have been created. Increasingly we now realise that a sedentary life is simply not healthy, dangerous even. So my Garmin watch tells me to move if I have been static for too long. And not just our physical health. Some of my best thinking is done when I am running. And movement is a hugely important part of the Bible, beginning with God telling Abram to get moving. As it happens God didn’t tell Abram where to go to - just start walking. “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1). Crucially God promised to travel with him, for as Henry Ford surprisingly observed: Those who walk with God always reach their destination.” Then some centuries later, we join the people of Israel walking from captivity in Egypt to freedom in the promised land, taking the scenic route through the desert. This gives God the opportunity to teach his people some key lessons, not least how to rely on him in the wilderness. Clearly they were in the slow walkers group: it took them 40 years. Prophets would later see this time as hugely formative. Jeremiah for one saw the so-called wilderness wanderings as the honeymoon stage in the relationship between Israel and her Lord. “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2). Sadly this relationship soured as Israel stopped moving and put down roots. They became static. However, movement returns to the fore during the ministry of Jesus. In fact, the synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark and Luke) make the travels of Jesus the key structure for their gospels. They begin with Jesus travelling around Galilee and its environs before making the key journey to Jerusalem, to the temple on Mount Zion where God dwells with his people. Of course, Jesus teaches in the various synagogues and open spaces, but clearly much of his teaching is done on the move – which means that he could only speak with individuals or a small group, more conversational and more spontaneous. Sometimes they just chatted. For Luke the defining journey has to be the seven mile hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus as the risen Jesus, unrecognised, walks alongside Cleopas and his companion (his wife?), an opportunity for inspired teaching: three hours of walking and discovery. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32) And like Jesus, God calls us to join with people on their travels, to ask about their lives, their story. To walk at their speed, even to share God’s grace as a fellow traveller. For God can call us to move at any time, and not just our physical location. So this particular disciple was challenged to move in his thinking and especially how he was to relate to non-Jews. So Luke in his account in the Acts of the Apostles devotes nearly two chapters on how the Holy Spirit sought to change Peter’s world view. On seeing how the Holy Spirit was poured out onto Gentiles, he concludes: “So I ask you: If God gave the same exact gift to them as to us when we believed in the Master Jesus Christ, how could I object to God?” (Acts 11:17) This represented a huge change in this disciple’s thinking – but this is how God challenges us to keep on moving in our thinking, always a challenge. I’m old enough to remember the beginnings of the charismatic movement in the 1960’s when in a similar vein to Peter, we were shocked to see even Roman Catholics receiving gifts from the Holy Spirit, such as praying in tongues. Sometimes we have to walk fast to keep up with the Holy Spirit! For the remarkable news is that as Abram discovered millennia ago, God is with us in our travels. As Baptist missionary David Kerrigan discovered: “God always travels with us – from place to place, from season to season, from joy to sorrow, from success to failure. We can’t escape – God accompanies us wherever we go.” It's our daily walk with Jesus which counts. As Mary Neal, an orthopaedic spine surgeon following a near-death experience, observed: “Faith allows us to confidently walk with God into a future filled with joy; one that can become an extraordinary and amazing adventure.” So we keep on walking, keep on moving.