Walk The Walk
I THESSALONIANS 1:1-10
Picture this: A teacher begins by saying, "Class, this is a course in ethics. The purpose of this class is to encourage you to imitate me." Would you consider the teacher egotistical, presumptuous, and perhaps unethical? But, this is exactly the approach Paul used. Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica commending them for imitating him, commending them for following his example, and encouraging them to be examples to others. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7, And you became imitators of us and of the Lord...so that you became an example to all the believers."
No, Paul's approach is definitely not the modern approach. The modern teacher does not say, "Imitate me. Follow my example." The teacher today says, "Class, I'm going to lay out a few principles for you, a few interesting (though not my own) ideas, some insights for discussion. Then I want you to make up your own mind." In fact, we carry this uninvolved approach even further today and add, "It doesn't matter at all how I live, as long as I do my job." It is popular today to excuse teachers, politicians, even preachers from morality. We actually seem to believe that people in the public eye, people who work with our children, can do anything they please as long as it doesn't interfere with their work! But, can you separate their life from what they say?
In my day at school, the pendulum had swung too far the other way. The teachers in my public school had to publicly live an acceptable moral life. They were not allowed to smoke or drink. I remember the excitement that buzzed around the school when one of the students caught one of the teachers smoking. As the only places in our town that served ice cream were two beer joints, some teachers drank beer from ice cream sundae dishes in an effort to hide their behavior.
Yes, my rural Minnesota school, even though it was public, was actually a Methodist/Baptist parochial school. The Superintendent taught the Adult Bible class at the Methodist Church every Sunday. Even though there were Lutherans and Catholics in our community who smoked and drank, Methodist/Baptist morality was imposed upon the school. School dances were not even allowed. We had a Senior Banquet rather than a Prom!
I admit my school imposed a code of ethics on teachers and students that was too strict, but hasn't the pendulum swung too far the other way these days? Can you separate one's life style from what one teaches? The old adages have some truth, Practice what you preach. Your life speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say. Or, as they say in the south, Don't talk the talk until you walk the walk.
Paul placed himself squarely within the moral and pedagogical tradition which assumes a relationship between teacher and pupil, which asserts that the purpose of learning is imitation of the master. Jesus used this method of teaching. "Follow me, imitate me," he said. The old teaching method assumed that teachers have a responsibility to live as they teach, to walk as they talk. Paul applied this teaching principle to the church and to the Christians who comprised the church. Christians were instructed to imitate Paul, and, in turn, live such lives that they become an example to others.
I was not raised in the church, and did not go to Sunday School until I was in the sixth grade when a neighbor invited me to the Methodist Sunday School. I am indebted to the saints in that Methodist Church, and I am particularly indebted to the student pastors who served as role models. Our church was so small it could not afford a full-time pastor, so students were sent to us. Three of them influenced my life greatly. They played with us teenagers, they taught, they challenged, they walked the walk. I listened to their talk because they walked the walk. Their lives served as examples. Their lives called me to imitate them, and the Lord called me to follow in their footsteps.
Three weeks ago during a wedding reception, I met the groom's uncle who was home on leave from missionary work in Thailand and Laos. He is with an independent Mission Board, but he himself is an Assembly of God minister. I asked him about the Hmongs who have become a large refugee group here in Merced. The Hmong people are hill people in Laos who were enlisted by our CIA in the Cambodian War. When the communists took control of Laos, the government retaliated against the Hmongs for cooperating with the United States. There was wholesale slaughter. Those who got away fled to the United States where they are attempting to build new lives. Even today there is still persecution and executions. The missionary lives in Thailand on the border of Laos as it is too dangerous and uncertain to live across the boundary in Laos. The Hmongs are here in our midst because they are living out the consequences of their decisions, receiving the consequences of their commitments. They took a stand, they walked the walk, and they are paying the price.
The Thessalonians walked the walk. They followed Paul and his teachings. They accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and became Christians. As a result, they were persecuted. 1:6, And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit. Their imitation of Christ led them into persecution. Paul taught us that Christians are called, not to imitate the power and glory of the risen Christ, but rather the suffering and humility of the crucified Christ. In 1 Peter 2:20-21, we read, If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. Walk the walk. In fact, don't talk the talk until you walk the walk. Your life speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say.
The current edition of the United Methodist Review gives an account of a pastor who walks the walk. In 1987, the son of Rev. Walter Everett was murdered. His neighbor, Mike, was on drugs, couldn't sleep, had an argument with the pastor's son, and shot him. Pastor Everett was in court when Mike was sentenced and heard him say "I'm sorry for what I have done." On the first anniversary of his son's death, the pastor wrote a letter to Mike who was in prison. In the letter, he expressed anger over the death of his son, but also appreciation for Mike's remorse. He wrote, "As hard as these words are to write, I forgive you." Then he wrote about God's forgiveness and the love of Jesus Christ.
The letter was received in prison. Mike was so startled by the return address, he refused to open it. He finally took it to a prison counselor who read it and urged Mike to read it. Tears started running down his face. Later Mike said, "When I killed Scott, I figured my life was over. But that night I knelt down next to my bed and asked God for forgiveness."
Mike has been on parole for two years. Pastor Everett's endorsement helped convince the Parole Board to release Mike. Last month, Pastor Everett invited Mike to speak to his congregation, and together they taught the congregation a lesson in repentance, forgiveness, and the promise of new life in Christ. The pastor said, "I couldn't offer forgiveness without the strength that God gives me. I also knew that I couldn't go on living with the anger and bitterness that I had, and I had to do something."
That pastor, that father walks the walk. I don't know if I could be that forgiving. If someone hurt any of my children or my granddaughters, I don't honestly know how forgiving I would be, but forgiveness comes from God who forgives us. Remember what we pray, Forgive us our trespasses, AS we forgive those who trespass against us. Pastor Everett forgave the murderer of his son. He walks the walk, and is entitled to talk the talk.
Sisters and brothers, you are an example to the world. People look at you and listen to your life. They need to hear you talk the talk. There are people in your life who desperately need to hear your witness. They need to hear you are a Christian. They need to hear what God has done for you. They need to hear how God has forgiven you, so therefore you can forgive them. But, they will not hear your words if your life is speaking so loudly they can't hear what you say. Don't talk the talk until you walk the walk. Talk is cheap.
This morning we present our pledges to do God's work. May this presentation be a time of real commitment for you. I will be inviting you to come forward to kneel and present your pledges. I will be inviting you to commit your life, or recommit your life to Jesus Christ. You can walk the walk by tithing the resources God has entrusted to you, giving until it feels wonderful. Walk the walk. Live out your convictions. Forgive others as God forgives you. Live your priorities and values. Live your life as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and become an example to others.
© 1993 Douglas I. Norris