Monday, February 15, 2016

Christ Walk from the Pulpit

Yesterday, I had the honor of preaching (this word makes me very nervous--I have never seen myself as a preacher, so as I write it, I cringe a little.  Don't ask me why, it is one of my hang-ups.  HA!) at both the 8 am and 10 am service at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Alexandria, VA.  I was speaking on Christ Walk as a part of the kick-off to our six-week Lenten series. 

I would like to share with you those words I gave to my church with the hope that you all will also take a Christ Walk journey with me:

Good morning!  The last 3 months, I have been critiquing our seminarian's sermons as a part of the seminarian committee.  Scott assures me there will be payback as I stand at the pulpit myself for a change.  :)

Let me tell you a little bit about myself.

My name is Anna and I am here to talk to you about my program, "Christ Walk: a 40 Day spiritual fitness program."  I hope you will use Christ Walk as a part of your Lenten discipline or as a part of a future spiritual journey. Christ Walk is all about dedicating your daily practice to God: mind, body and spirit.

I am a registered nurse by training.  Through my job and my ministry, I have been working in the healthcare field for over 18 years now.  I developed the Christ Walk program in 2008 out of a strong call to combine my physical health with my spiritual health and share this with others. 

I have often felt people separate their mind, body and spiritual health into silos.  We allocate time for church life separate from our home and work life.  Similarly, we allocate time for physical health, separate from our spiritual development.  We cannot reach an optimum level of health when we segregate our mental, spiritual and physical sides.  This lent, I invite you on a journey that will integrate your mind, body and spiritual health.

Lent is not like Christmas. People drag their feet towards lent rather than the eager countdown to Christ's birth, Santa Claus and many presents.  The Easter bunny does not hold a candle to Santa Claus.  I think deep down we know that we may have focused a little too much on the secular side of Christmas, focusing on gifts and parties and indulgences rather than the coming of Christ.  When Lent rolls around, following the Christmas rush, we feel a little guilty.  We feel a little out of step with our Christian practice.

Lent reminds us that our Christian practice is more than gifts and Christmas trees. Lent intrudes upon our Christian practice.  I find it ironic, because Lent is a period of preparation for the greatest gift of them all:  Christ's death and resurrection.  Lent is a time where we need to prepare ourselves for the gift of Christ's sacrifice.

Lent reminds people that they need to change. While the gift of Christ is freely given, it comes at a cost: The cost of Jesus' crucifixion. The crucifixion is also freely given, yet it reminds us that we need to be better people to honor the gift of death in order that we might have life everlasting.  The gift of the resurrection reminds us all that God has the power to transform. God will transform you spiritually, physically, and mentally if we allow God into our daily practice.

God transformed me.  When I was 12, I lost my hearing to an auto-immune disease.  At the time, the doctors did not know what was going on with me.  My blood work was very abnormal and I was put on many experimental therapies to try and stop my hearing loss.  Three years later, many drug therapies later, I still lost all my hearing.  I stand before you today, legally deaf.  I wear cochlear implants that allow me to hear, but for a period of time, I did not hear at all.

During this time, I have a very vivid memory of being at church.  We had all stood to say the Nicene Creed.  I could not hear at all.  At this point, in my journey, I was deaf and without any hearing aids.  I became very, very angry.  I felt abandoned by God, and I thought it was very pointless to be at church when I felt that I could not participate in the liturgy.  I remember to this day, the furious tears, and the hot feeling under my skin as I sat down and refused to participate in the rest of the service. You know that feeling.  Your skin tingles, you feel hot, and red, and your hair feels like it is standing on end.

My mind was screaming, "How can I do this and not hear?" "How can I be fully participatory in the church experience when I am so broken?"   As a willful teenager, I felt like screaming in my head, "What's the point?"  I dearly wanted to walk out of that church and never come back.  I felt there was no place for me.  Illness and Disease have a way of making you feel that you are something less.  Disease and illness have this tendency to take away your identity, even as a Christian.

 During this moment in the service where I felt less than, I felt more than alone.  I felt abandoned as an individual.  I was paralyzed by being unable to hear and participate in the communion with other people.

And then the Eucharist began. I felt a sudden peace come over me.  My tears stopped.  My heart rate slowed.  I felt like I was being hugged.  I distinctly remember the presence of the Holy Spirit.  And it spoke to me.  And I heard God tell me that I did not have to HEAR to participate.  My Christ Walk had little to do with what I was HEARING and everything to do with what I was doing in my life.  We are not only called to HEAR the gospel, but we are called to LIVE it.  My hearing may be broken, but I can still live the gospel.  I still have a purpose.  For 35 years I worked at "Christ Walking" with what I have, with how God made me.  I developed this program and I wrote this book, I felt like I was living a Christ-centered life.

And then, In October of 2014, at the same time my book was being published, I was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma.  Once again, my identity as a healthy member of the church of God, as a pillar of health and fitness was being challenged by my personal thoughts on who I was as an individual.  I had gotten wrapped up in a perception of what I thought was and how healthy should be portrayed.  I dearly wondered how I could publish a book on health and fitness when I was ill.  Once again, disease and illness was trying to threaten who I was and make me less than what God intended for me.

I have come to realize that God gave me other gifts besides my hearing.  God has made me more than my cancer.  I have learned that I can manage my disease through exercise, good nutrition and managing my mind, body and spiritual health. My cancer does not change that I need to Christ Walk each day.

So,  I invite you to join me in the Christ Walk program to see how the Holy Spirit can transform your life, mind, body and spirit.  You are more than your disease, illness, anxieties, pains, and problems.  God can also use you in the midst of your brokenness.  God uses me daily, and I am very, very broken individual.

Christ Walk is a 40 day program designed to prepare yourself mind, body and spirit to lead a Christ-filled life that is also healthy.  We need to learn to treat our broken bodies with care because as St. Paul tells us: "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you?"

Our bodies house the gift of the Holy Spirit. Genesis tells us that we are made in the image of God.  Very few of us treat our bodies like temples or as though God loved us so much to be made in God's image.

Rather, we make choices that treat our bodies in a careless fashion.  We punish our bodies for our thoughts, feelings, and anxieties.  We blame our bodies for being broken.  We eat too much, drink too much, fail to exercise, misuse medications, stress too much and make choices that do not care for this body that has the Holy Spirit within us.  We do not treat ourselves like temples.

Lent is an opportunity for us to relook at our everyday habits, not only spiritually, but also physically and mentally so that we can turn to Christ in all of our choices, not just in our prayer life.  A Christ-like life, is something that we should chose to try and live each day.  Not just on church holidays.

This Lent, choose the Christ Walk program.  What does this mean? Instead of giving up chocolate, or sweets or other temptation, I ask you to take a walk with me.  Christ Walk is a devotional that uses walking different biblical routes to symbolize the journey we take with Christ in our everyday life.  You will choose a biblical route to walk. 

These routes are listed in the Christ Walk book.  You will choose one of the routes that appeals to you.   And you will dedicate yourself to this route over 40 days. 

You can earn miles to your route in many different ways.  You can walk, bike, swim, volunteer or pray in order to earn miles towards your route.  By the end of your discipline, you will have collected enough miles towards your chosen route and completed your journey. Christ Walk is about being intentional in our choices.  We look at everyday choices and ensure that God is a part of those everyday choices.

Some examples of the different routes you can walk include the following:  One route is the distance between Bethlehem and Jerusalem; signifying the journey between Christ's beginning and his end.  Another route is the "Via Delarosa, or the Way of Sorrows.  This route is the journey Jesus made as he walked through Jerusalem towards the cross.  There are several routes from Paul's missionary journeys.  There are many different routes to choose from.  You will choose a route that calls to you.

If you are unable to exercise, each 15 minute block of prayer, volunteerism, or outreach opportunity you take on will count as a "mile" towards your goal.   Christ Walk is designed for anyone at any level of fitness to participate.   In fact, I have had Christ Walk participants in wheelchairs and walkers that have found ways to earn miles during their Christ Walk journey. 

Your miles, however you walk, run, bike, swim, volunteer, or pray through are steps you can use on your walk with Christ.  I encourage you to challenge your kids, or grandkids to see if they can get more miles than you on this journey.  Get the whole family involved near and far.

The goal of Christ Walk is to build a strong temple so that we all can continue to do the work that Christ calls us to do in the world.  

The Christ Walk program comes with a book you will have the opportunity to purchase today. The book includes pages for you to journal about your journey and spiritual experience.  The book also includes a mileage tracker for you to write down the miles you complete each day towards your journey.  However you choose to collect your miles, you need to write them down.  This way, you will know how far you have come on your journey over the next 40 days.

Each chapter of the book corresponds with a day during the 40 day journey with reflections on different things we can do each day to make healthier choices.  Over the next 40 days you will meet weekly with your Christ Walk team, pray together and reflect together on the meditations in the books and discuss ways that you as a church can support each other towards healthier living.  Each chapter includes questions for discussions and thought.  Christ Walk groups meet to discuss the chapters and participate in different activities each week. Christ Walk can be done as an individual devotional, but the best journeys in life are those we take with our families and communities together. I really encourage you to participate with your church.

God does call us to change.  We are called in our baptismal covenant.  We are called when we confirm that we are members of the body of Christ during confirmation.  We are called daily to represent God's love here on earth.  This is not just a call of prayer, but also a call of action.  Being a Christian is all about everything we DO and every way we ACT and the CHOICES we make not only with one another, but also with ourselves.

When I was growing up, I used to say Christmas was my favorite holiday. My father, a priest, would always say that Good Friday and Easter were his. This always made me scratch my head as a child as I could not understand how Santa Clause and Christmas were not someone's favorite holiday.

As I have grown older, the gift of Easter grows each year and I have come to think of it as my favorite holiday.  As I have grown, I have learned that the gift of the resurrection is the greatest gift of them all.

Now, I get excited for Lent.  I use the Lenten period to prepare myself mind, body and spirit to receive the gift of God and strengthen my skills to use myself in God's calling in my life. Lent is a time that we can spring clean our lives mind, body and spirit so we are prepared for the springing of Easter. Lent is my time to rededicate myself to God's calling in my life.  Despite being broken, I still have a purpose in God's kingdom.  You do too.

Lent is not something to drag one's heels. Rather, look with anticipation the coming journey and the change God can make within you. At the End of this forty days, You WILL be a changed person.

In closing, I would like to share with you the Christ Walk prayer:

The Lord be with you:

I will try this day to walk the path set before me
I will try to walk a little longer, a little stronger
I will walk with my mind, body and spirit
I will walk with others, I will walk for others
I will walk when others cannot
I will be still and know that you are God on the days I cannot walk
I will walk with you Lord, on the path you set before me
When my own feet fail, I know you will help me get up and walk again
I will imagine what it would be like to walk in Christ's shoes
And try to live my life as though I was on Christ's path
I will pray that I walk the path I am called to and not turn down paths I am not
Today, Lord, on my journey I will Christ Walk
And I am thankful that you Christ Walk with me too.


Come, Christ Walk with me.

Tomorrow, I'll share with you what we did for our first Christ Walk evening.

Keep walking!  ~~Anna