“How beautiful are the feet,” says Paul to the Romans. Yes, the feet. As odd as this sounds, the Apostle is not revealing an obtuse obsession. Instead, he praises the beauty of the feet “of those who bring good news.”
Paul seems to know what researchers today have discovered—our feet can say a lot about us. According to the Journal of Research in Personality, 90 percent of your personality could be revealed by your choice of footwear. A study has discovered that:
People who wear colorful sneakers tend to be emotionally stable.
High-top sneakers are favored by people who are introverted, agreeable and conscientious.
People with well-kept high-fashion shoes tend to be worried about relationships.
Biker-style boots are the choice of folks who are tough and aggressive.
Stiletto heels are linked to a vivid personality and self-confidence.
And if you meet a preacher who wears soccer cleats around the church, know you’re going to have the perfect mentor for your seminary days.
Now whether you agree with these particular findings or not, footwear does send a message—accurate or not.
But then again, so does everything we wear—including the cross you wear on a chain around your neck, or in your ears, along with tattoos of religious symbols and words associated to your faith, as well as the ashes you have on your forehead on Ash Wednesday.
All are religious signs that signal you belong to a particular faith tradition. And all can be seen as beautiful, or ugly. All can be seen as loving, or hateful. All can be seen as constructive, or destructive. All can be seen as compassionate, accepting, and kind; or cruel, intolerant, and hateful. Even our shoes, even our feet, can be seen as active or timid; moving or idle.
All of it sends a message—a message that is backed by the actions, or inaction, of our lives.
It may seem that a Christian symbol sends a message of love and acceptance, but the apostle Paul says a true confession of faith involves more than wearing a sign of faith. Paul gives a very distinct shout-out to those who carry the good news and announce it. And Paul indicates that the best way to announce the Good News of Jesus is, well, with our feet—because it is our feet that carry the rest of us.
Announcing good news is never an easy thing. We shy away from such, believing it usually involves opening up a conversation about our Christian beliefs. And while our words are important, our actions are the most important of our faith signs.
Paul knew this. Which is why he asked the critical questions: “How are they [the non-believers] to call on the one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?”
For Paul, the word of faith does not require a formal religious education or an extensive theological vocabulary. Rather, what is required is already near you, he says, on our lips and in our heart. The challenge is to bring it, via our beautiful feet, to the people and places where it has not been faithfully shown and shared. And these people and places are always around us. Maybe even in the church itself.
In Fairfax, Virginia, a woman stood in front of a congregation one Sunday and said, “I believe in God.” She admitted such a statement was not unusual or novel. She went on to says, “But if you had known me before, and looked at me now standing in front of you here, saying ‘I believe in God’ you might wonder, ‘What happened to her?’”
It’s a good question: What happened to her? Well, she told that congregation what happened, saying, “You happened to me. All of you, this community of faith, happened to me. And how did you happen?
I grew up in a home without a faith. I was an atheist. I was kind and compassionate, I just didn’t believe. God didn’t matter.
But then I read an article online about this church, and it pulled at me. I visited but wondered, ‘Are they really going to want me here? Are they really going to welcome an unbeliever, an atheist?
Well it happened. You did.”
As the story goes, a church member welcomed her, led her into the sanctuary and sat with her during her first service of worship.
She met and was welcomed by others, and soon joined a new-member group and felt very much at home.
She was baptized and the congregation promised to nurture her in her faith. And then members invited her to become involved in the church in significant ways.
She concludes, saying, “So to say I believe in God means I believe hope is stronger than despair, pain will always be followed by healing, within darkness there is light, and death is never final.”
This is a powerful story from the heart and lips of one who came to believe because of the openness of others to meet another where they were, and how they were. The welcome of that church was a sign of faith. The acceptance from that church was a sign of faith.
Whenever we show and live signs of how God has been at work in our lives, we are showing the world our faith that “hope is stronger than despair, pain will always be followed by healing, within darkness there is light, and death is never final.”
And we have come to a time in our history when people of faith must show our faith more visibly and outwardly than many of us have ever thought necessary.
We must show our faith more visibly and outwardly than ever because the events of Charlottesville, Virginia two weeks ago showed a truth of our country that I think many of us, myself included, didn’t think was as prevalent as it is.
And that truth is: Racism exists at a level far more pervasive than thought.
And here is what we need to be reminded of when it comes to racism:
When we read and digest the word of God…
When we read the words of Jesus, and take in the actions he lived, along with the people he met and went to; when we remember how he willingly went to the cross and died for all people…
…then there is no other conclusion to be made than this: Racism is a sin. White supremacy is a sin. Thinking that anyone who is not of a particular color or nationality or religion or sexual orientation is less than, inferior, and/or deserving of hateful segregation, is a sin.
Sin is that which separates us from God. And when we exclude others, demean others, hate others, attack others because of differences, we are turning away from the ways of God modeled through Jesus Christ, and we are committing sin. And sin is not a sign of faith.
Rather a sign of faith in God and Christ Jesus is love, acceptance, and compassion. A sign of faith is to show the Good News of Jesus Christ that all are made in the image of God, and all people are God’s children.
But for a sign of faith to work, it has to be visible, and it has to be shared. That is what Paul is saying—in order for signs of faith to be signs of faith, the acts and steps of our faith must be visible—and they are made visible with our beautiful feet. Because it is our feet that enable us to move our faith from the inside to the outside, from our hearts to our mouths to the world around us.
Both Paul and Jesus know that faith is never intended to be a totally private matter. “You are the light of the world,” says Jesus in Matthew’s gospel. “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket” (5:14-15).
Our faith needs to be taken to others, where they are, as they are; and spoken and shared with others as authentically Good News, so it shines brightly, giving light to all.
This is an imperative because there are others who are showing signs, every day, of unfaithfulness. There are many, who are using their feet, to take their unfaithful message and unfaithful actions that say welcome is limited to a few, acceptance is limited to a few, and if you’re not part of the few, you are to be cast out.
Faithful followers of Christ cannot and must not let the signs of sinful racism be the dominate sign of our faith. We must bring Good News. And the Good News of Jesus is that he came to earth to bring all forgiveness and new life. He came to bring peace between us and God, and between people one to another.
Our conversations about Jesus must always include the Good News that God wants us to be in relationship with the divine, and that God wants us to have healthy relationships with one another. Our conversations must echo and include the message Paul conveys when he says, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all…”
“How beautiful are the feet,” says Paul to the Romans. Yes, the feet. As odd as this sounds, the Apostle is telling us that it is our feet that play a critically important role in sharing and spreading and living the Good News of Jesus.
It is our feet, after all, that carry the rest of us.
So what do our feet say about us and our faith?
That’s the question all of us must ask ourselves.
Do my feet carry a sign of inaction, or a sign of faith in action?
Do my feet carry a sign of indifference, or a sign of making a difference?
Do my feet carry a sinful heart of intolerance, or a sign of a penitent heart of repentance and new life?
Do my feet carry a sign of segregation, or a sign of welcome?
Do my feet carry of sign of hate, or a sign of love?
May all our feet be beautiful because they carry the Good News of Jesus. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer, August 27, 2017
Gracious and loving God, you created all people in your image, and we thank you for the astonishing variety of races and cultures and people in this world.
Your diversity enriches our lives by ever-widening circles of friendship, and it shows us your presence in those who differ most from us, making our knowledge of you and your love broader and deeper.
The diversity of your creation is truly a gift.
But there are many who do not see the diversity of your creation as such, and because of this, we pray you help us to make a faithful response.
We pray you help us hear again your call for us to live in community with one another.
We pray you teach us again to care for one another, after the pattern of Jesus Christ our Lord.
We pray for those whose position and authority affect the lives of others, that you would inspire them with a vision of the beloved community; where love of neighbor and concern for one another drive out discontent and strife, anxiety and fear.
We pray you help us all to work together, with one heart and will, with compassion and understanding, to serve the common good, to minister to people in trouble and despair, and to multiply acceptance and love through feet that carry the Good News of your son.
Creator of all, as we gather as those who seek solidarity with you, your children and your creation, we seek to be in solidarity with those in the Texas and Gulf Coast region who have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
May your blessings of peace and hope surround all who have been hit by this storm. May you bless those who are at work to bring about relief and safety. May your power to bring order out of chaos be seen and felt in the coming days.
God of all, keep us aware of our role in this world as those who believe in you, trust in, and put our faith in you.
May you hear this prayer, and may your response continue to be made known in and through all of us who put our faith in you and your son.
Hear now the prayers we offer in this time of Holy Silence.
All this we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”