World Communion Sunday
Text: Isaiah 40:28-31
I don’t know how much or what you know about the creation of the worship guide or as some call it the “bulletin.” It is a weekly process that involves me, Larry Schultz, and David Anderson. Larry begins the worship guide every Monday as we meet to plan worship. Once he has our outline roughed in and the music placed that we have negotiated (I advocate for the old hymns and Larry for the theologically sound hymns—a good balance) I take over. I create the call to worship, add elements that I think will add to our worship as related to the text that I am preaching on, insert the scripture, and lastly, I type in the sermon title. From that point, David takes over the process of formatting and editing. Who knew that it takes a village to produce a weekly worship guide!
You have listened before to my complaints about sermon titles. It’s hard to be creative on Wednesday or Thursday when the Spirit doesn’t often start speaking until Saturday. That is why some of my predecessors like Edwin McNeil Poteat and W.W. Finlator often didn’t include a sermon title in the bulletin. And honestly, it’s been a comfort to me to know that the Spirit waited until Saturday to speak to them, too! With that said, it is a very rare exception that I don’t include a sermon title in our worship guide. Sometimes they are creative, imaginative, and provocative. Other times they are bland, boring, and unimaginative. But even on those Sunday’s, rarely do I get questioned or critique openly by my colleagues. This week, however, was different. On Friday, David called me late afternoon and said, “I have a question about the worship guide.” I could hear the caution in his voice as he asked. “Did you mean for your sermon title to be Walking Willing or is that a misprint?” “Yes,” I responded, “that’s my sermon title.” Still unsure, he gave me another chance. “Well, okay. I just thought maybe it was supposed to be ‘Willingly Walking’ or something like that.” “No,” I said, “it is Walking Willing.” “Okay,” David replied and we hung up the phone.
Walking Willing—it is an odd phrase and I want to tell you the story of when I first heard it and what it has come to mean to me. Last year, on July 14th, Sister Simone Campbell preached here at Pullen. I had been following her work and ministry since 2012, when I heard about the first Nuns on the Bus project that aimed to draw attention to the nuns’ work with the poor and to protest planned aid cuts in our national budget. She caught my attention as she was speaking to issues that we, here in North Carolina, were facing and continue to face—affordable healthcare, economic justice, voting rights, and immigration reform just to name a few. Given the struggle we were in here in North Carolina, I thought a word from this prophet would be timely. And so, I invited her to Pullen to preach. If you were here that Sunday you will remember that her message was both timely and inspiring.
On the night before she preached, Karla and I had the honor of taking her to dinner. At 18 Seaboard, over shrimp and girts, we talked about the state of our nation and, specifically, what was going on in North Carolina. It was during that dinner conversation that Karla commented to Sister Simone that she could only imagine how her life must have changed since beginning the Nuns on the Bus tour—all the interviews, the speaking engagements, and the work itself of advocating for the poor. Karla followed her comment with a question. She asked, “Do you ever get to say ‘no’ to anything now?” Sister Simone put down her fork and responded, “I think of it as walking willing.” Like David, we were a bit confused? Had we heard her right? And if so, what did it mean? Walking willing, we both inquired. “Yes,” Sister Simone replied. And then here is what I remember you saying next, Sister Simone. Something like, “As long as God gives me these opportunities, I am willing.” But more than remembering what was said, I can still remember what I felt. I felt a connection, an understanding, a shared purpose, a common calling as a person of faith. I felt a “yes” swell up inside of me; an affirmation, even a blessing: “As long as I can walk, I am willing.” Willing to care for the poor, to fight injustice, to advocate for compassionate public policy, to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself, to lose my life to save it. Walking willing!
Sister Simone, if I may quote you, you said in a lecture you recently gave, “I describe my spirituality as walking willing. Walking willing to wherever we are led. Walking willing towards trouble. Walking willing towards Congress..walking willing in a way that means, I am willing to risk to be present with you, and hear your story. I realized that all of our spiritual leaders, when there are broken hearts or pain in our world, they have walked towards it. They walk towards the pain in order to embrace, touch, heal. That means if high-level leaders do that, isn’t that the witness that we all try to follow?”
Since that July 13, 2013 dinner conversation I have not been able to put down those words walking willing. Walking willing to wherever we are led. Walking towards trouble—towards the pain of our world in order to embrace, touch and heal. Walking willing to be present with others, to hear their story. And I am reminded of Jesus walking the road to Emmaus with his friends who were grieving, offering them comfort and presence. I am reminded of Jesus walking towards trouble, standing with the woman caught in adultery showing her compassion and grace. I am reminded of Jesus walking willingly towards the cross to touch the pain of the world as he followed his own calling.
We are not called to bear the same exact cross that Jesus did. We are not called to follow the same path as Sister Simone or the sisters that join her on the bus. But we are called to find our own path of doing justice and loving kindness and then walk willingly with others that path, wherever it may led us. It is important to remember that we never walk alone. It is what Sister Simone calls the miracle of community—that we walk willingly together—being “one in a spirit that is beyond each individual.” When we walk willingly towards trouble—towards the pain of our neighbors and our community and our world and our own pain; when we touch the pain of injustice and suffering it is there in that place that we find healing for our world and for our own lives.
It is an odd phrase—walking willing. But it may very well be these two words in which we find our hope and wholeness.
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
God is the everlasting God.
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
God does not faint or grow weary;
God’s understanding is unsearchable.
God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for God shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
Walking willing has many faces. It may mean sitting with a friend today who is grieving and in pain and being willing to enter that grief and pain with them. It may be the face of sitting at one of our Roundtables on Tuesday and listening to the struggles of a homeless person. It may have the face of going to the General Assembly and having your voice heard or engaging in civil disobedience. Walking willing has many faces. But here is what I am sure of: when we walk willing, God is walking with us, giving us strength and power.
Where might God be calling us to take a risk and practice a spirituality of walking willing?