1 Peter 2:21-25
Ten years ago I took a walk through Bryce Canyon. For those not familiar, this National Park is located in the bottom end of Utah and displays unique geological features that reminded me of the moon. Grand sandstone towers called “hoodoos” shoot up from the ground like rockets trying to ascend to the heavens.
Not many go down into the canyon because it is rather steep. Most are content to take their pictures from the rim, but not me. I went down and explored the trails that weaved in and around the “hoodoos”.
When the shadows lengthened I decided it was time to make my way out of the canyon, only to discover that one trail looked pretty much like another. Like a rat in a maze I had gotten myself turned around. It had been hours since I’d seen another living soul. I began to worry a bit as I walked into one dead end after another. So, I did what I always do when I get lost. I picked up my pace. But, moving faster doesn’t really help you get to where you want to be. Direction is much more important than speed.
Finally, I stumbled upon hoof prints from mules that carried tourists on guided trail rides. I was confident the mules knew where they knew where they were going, so I followed their tracks and they led me up and out of the canyon.
In our scripture today, Peter calls us to follow the footsteps of Jesus because he knew that when we get turned around or run into a dead end we can find our way when we follow the one who is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Before we do that, let us pray:
Shepherd Lord, you have said, “those who wait for you shall renew their strength and mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint.” We wait for you now, O Lord, as you speak to us through your Word and by your Spirit. We wait for you now to lead us as we follow the footsteps of Jesus. Amen.
So what does it mean to follow in the footsteps of Jesus? How do you know? What do you have to say or do or believe or feel to really be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Is there some kind of litmus test?
In seminary days I would have answered these questions up here (in my head.) I would have said the litmus test for the Christian faith is measured by what you believe. There are certain doctrines and precepts you must acknowledge. Go beyond this creed and you step outside of the bounds of Christian faith. You can recognize who is and who is not a disciple of Christ by what they say they believe.
Then I noticed in myself and in others attitudes and actions that contradicted these beliefs. Even though people say the right things, they often do not do the right things. Personally, I believe God loves me and calls me to love others, but my words and deeds are at times be anything but loving. So, I wonder, “Do I really believe it?” If so, “why don’t I act like it?”
I began to question this idea that simply affirming with mind and mouth a series of theological principles made one a disciple of Christ. Jesus said as much, “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” He knew as well as anyone talk is sometimes cheap.
So, I moved from head to heart. The Christian faith must be something I feel or it’s not real. The problem with that understanding is that our feelings bounce all over the place. Some days we just wake up on the wrong side of the bed. Some days someone says something that hurts our feelings. Sometimes the weather is bad and the traffic is worse and your back hurts because you’re not 21 anymore.
When I looked into the scripture I found great men and women of faith who at times did not feel that great about God. Jeremiah, who did more for God in one day than I’ll do in a lifetime, called out:
“O Lord, thou hast deceived me and I was deceived. I have become a laughingstock all the day and everyone mocks me. Cursed be the day that I was born.”
He felt bad and he felt bad because of God. He believed his faithfulness to God’s call had led him to sacrifice and trials. His faith was not bringing him joy. It was the source of his sorrow. Yet, immediately after this litany of woe, Jeremiah cried out:
“Sing to the Lord, Praise the Lord!”
His faith survived and thrived even when he felt down and out. Faith must be something more that what you feel.
Next I turned to my hands. How is faith measured? Perhaps it is measured by what you do. Maybe, as Jesus said himself, it’s all about feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, and giving water to those who thirst. The way I use and share my time, talent, and treasure may be a measure of faith. Maybe faith is doing, and if you’re not doing, then you’re not faithful.
But, what if you can’t do, for reasons of health or age? What if your resources are few? What about those times when God may want you to stop what you are doing so that you may just listen? Sometimes God says, “Be still.” Faith, I decided, must be more than doing.
Finally, I looked down at my feet, for it was to the feet that Jesus seemed to be speaking when he encountered Peter for the first time of the shores of the Galilee. He said simply, “Follow me.”
At that point Peter had to decide to follow or not, to move his feet or keep them firmly planted in his old life on the fishing boat. To follow would require the commitment of his whole self, head, heart and hands. Believing, and feeling, and serving then is a package deal. It’s not multiple-choice. It’s not “choose A or B or C.” It’s all of the above.
That is the way it is with the body. The whole thing pretty much follows where the feet take it. You can’t say to your head, “Wait here, I’ll be right back.” You can’t say to the heart, “I don’t need you right now so I’m going to leave you on the shelf.” You can’t say to your hands, “There’s nothing for you to do so I’ll put you in the drawer.” Where you go, head, hand and heart follow. So, it must be with faith. All the claims of Christ can be summed up in two words: “Follow me.”
I think Peter remembered that day when he first met Jesus by the lake. I know he remembered the “Via Delarosa”, the road that Jesus followed to the cross, because he wrote,
“For to this you were called because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”
Peter’s audience are those who have been oppressed and mistreated. It is anyone who has been used and abused, put down and shut out. He was writing to those who had faced hard times and difficult days. So, if you’ve ever felt like that you are welcome to read over his shoulder.
Notice, the footsteps Peter invites us to follow do not lead to the pastoral hillside scene overlooking the Sea of Galilee where Jesus preached the good news of the Gospel and said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Peter did not say, “make yourself comfortable and listen to a good sermon” and that will be enough.
These footsteps do not take us across that same lake to the place where Jesus fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fish. He did not say, “Sit and sit back, grab a napkin and a fork and just enjoy all that God has to give.”
Peter does not take us to the pool of Siloam where Jesus healed the man born blind or to Bethany where he raised Lazarus from the dead, though these are the places we want to be.
Where do those footsteps lead? They take us to the Mount of Olives where Jesus struggled with his own destiny. They lead us to Pilate’s court where power and politic exert more influence that justice and law. They lead us through the streets of Jerusalem where fickle faith turns shouts of “Hosanna” into cries of “Crucify Him.” They end up at Golgotha, a trash heap where a cross looms against a dark afternoon sky. They lead us from a quiet place to pray and praise and worship to the crowded place to work and serve and sacrifice.
Why? Why is that the place Peter bids us follow?
One of the more popular Pope John Paul II. When he was laid to rest in St. Peter’s Basilica. More people attended or watched on T.V. this funeral than any other ever. Many came from great distances and waited in long lines so they could pay their respects, and I wondered why? What was there about this man that drew them so?
Were so many so moved because he served as Pope for such long time? Did they come because they agreed with all of his Papal proclamations? Was his personal charisma the reason? Some came for these motives, but there was another I think that was another more compelling.
When the Pope’s health began to fail at the turn of this century some wondered if it wouldn’t be better and easier on him if he stepped down. When Parkinson’s disease prevented him from standing erect and holding his head up and even speaking clearly some speculated that someone younger and stronger might better serve the church.
In his Last Will and Testament, which was more testimony than Will, John Paul revealed that he had indeed thought about stepping down. He himself wondered if it might be better to stand down and step aside. After much prayer he concluded that his suffering might be a ministry to those who suffer, so he decided to remain at his post and continue to serve Christ as best he was able. When those with Parkinson’s or other afflictions saw how he bore with this affliction with such grace, they realized they could bear with more than they thought they could. They thought, “If he could carry that great burden, maybe I can carry mine.”
I think that’s why there were so many filling St. Peter’s square and why so many tuned in to watch. They recognized courage and humility in one who followed in the footsteps of Jesus through great difficulty and challenge.
Following the footsteps of Jesus sometimes means we must face some person, some, fear, some temptation, some decision we want to avoid at all costs. Following the footsteps of Jesus may mean we will have to go through difficult days and dark valleys. It may require sacrifice of some personal ambition for the good of someone else. Sometimes following the footsteps of Jesus is hard.
It is exactly in those hard times, when we move through the dark valleys, when we must face some fear or temptation that we must keep “eyes fixed upon Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
There is a beautiful bit of verse in a small book of prophecy called Habakkuk:
“Though the fig tree may not blossom, or fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
and there be no herd in the stalls –
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
He will make me walk in the high places.”
That is where Jesus will take us if we follow him – to the high places.
Let us pray:
“Lord, lift us up and let us stand by faith on heavn’s table land;
A higher plane that we have found –
Lord, plant our feet on higher ground. Amen.
 John 14:6
 Isaiah 40:29-31
 Matthew 7:21
 Jeremiah 20:7-8, 14
 Jeremiah 20:13
 Matthew 25:32ff
 Psalm 46:10
 Matthew 4:19
 1 Peter 2:21
 Matthew 5:7
 Hon 6:1-16
 John 9, 11
 Hebrews 12:2
 Habakkuk 3:16-19
 Gabriel, Charles: “Higher Ground”.