Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How our cat taught me the meaning of "Footprints in the Sand"

Sermon 3-22-15

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
You all know that poem. You've seen it countless times before – on posters, mugs, T-shirts, bible covers – on the backdrop of gentle waves on a pristine beach, with or without optional sunset… all beautifully framing a trail of footprints in the sand.

You probably remember the basics – man has a dream that he was walking along a beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashes scenes from his life, and for each scene he notices two sets of footprints in the sand – one for him and one for the Lord. But after the last scene had flashed before him, he looked back on the beach and saw that sometimes there was only one set of footprints, and they happened to coincide with the very lowest and saddest times in his life.

According to one version, the man said, “Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troubling times of my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why, when I needed you the most, you would leave me."

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

For some of us, this poem is our reality.  Some of us at times have been so overwhelmed with these lowest and saddest times in our lives that we cannot take even just one more step forward. Sometimes we experiences trials and sufferings so great that they leave us completely spent. It is then that our Lord does scoop us up in his arms and carry us through to another day.

Whether you love this poem or not, it does remind us of Jesus’s promise, of how much he loves us and would never leave us. It reminds us of the promise that as we walk through life, where we are, there Jesus is also.

But at other times, our walk with the Lord may look a little different. It can leave behind a different kind of trail in the sand.

The mentioned comic from Facebook.
A few weeks ago I found a slightly different take on the footprints poem. In the first panel, a bearded man portraying God has his arm around the person having the dream. God says, “…where you see one set of footprints is where I carried, you.”

But on the second panel, God is pointing off in the distance and says, “…THAT long groove is where I DRAGGED you, kicking and screaming.”

Remember, Jesus promises us that where HE is this followers and servants are too. Where I am, Jesus is. And this does indeed bring us a great deal of comfort when we undergo pain and trials. But that also means that where JESUS is, there I am, too. And that is an entirely different kind of promise altogether.

You see, I’m not sure Jesus and I have the same taste is places where we can be found. I like to be at church, drinking coffee at Starbucks, or asleep in my bed. But where does Jesus like to hang out? Just from the last few weeks in Lent, we can get an idea of what kinds of places he likes to frequent:
The wilderness with the wild beasts, being tempted by Satan.

With his disciples, talking about crosses, death, and self-denial.

In the temple, trashing the booths of the money changers and chasing out their animals with whips.
In late night conversations with Nicodemus, comparing himself with the bronze serpent on a pole, foreshadowing his own death.

Hanging out with Greeks – ethnic outsiders – chatting with God through thunder, and YET AGAIN speaking of his own death.

And Jesus does not pull any punches for their sakes. He gave them his message, un-deluded. Seeing Jesus is seeing death. Seeing Jesus is seeing the cross. Seeing Jesus means following him to the cross, to suffering, humiliation, and death.

The cross is not a place anyone in their right mind would want any part of. And yet, that is exactly where Jesus calls us. To deny ourselves and take up our cross.  To love light and not darkness. To lose our own lives for the sake of Jesus and the good news. To be driven into the wilderness. To proclaim the kingdom of God come near.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised when following Jesus looks more like a long groove than footprints in the sand.

The Greeks were drawn to Jesus. And at some point, you were drawn to him too. As Jesus said, “I will draw all people to myself.” The true meaning of this word we read as draw actually has more to do with fish. It’s a word that is used to describe what fishermen do when their nets are full to bulging once they get to shore. They “draw,” or rather, drag, haul, pull, heave these heavy nets onto the beach. Probably leaving behind them a long groove in the sand
Where Jesus is, there we are, also. Even if sometimes we have to be dragged, kicking and screaming. Even if it means Jesus is calling us to new life, which can, at times, be very scary, and make us want to dig in our heels.

When Beau and I first moved to New Jersey, we had to bring our cats with us. They are part of our family, and where we live, they were going to live. Even if that meant knocking them out for a good portion of the twenty hour car ride here.

A year and a half ago, when we moved to Trenton, it was the same story: they were going to be coming with us, whether they liked it or not. This time, no “calming spray,” though, in hindsight we should have known better. Everything was packed up and had been moved over to our new place… except for the cats. They were the last thing on the list. No problem, right?

"I'm sorry! I love the new place!"
Wrong! As I put the second cat in the carrier, she decided to share with me how anxious she was about the move by using her back claws to scratch up my pinkie. Great. So I got her in the carrier with her brother, but I’m bleeding, and all the bandages are packed up at the new place. So I find a napkin and drive into Trenton like I’m having a tea party with a bloody napkin. Yes, I am able to laugh about it now.

But I understand. The cat didn't know where we were going and she was scared. She didn't know that we were taking her with us so she wouldn't be left behind. So her long groove in the sand and my hand happened to intersect. But it didn't matter, because they were coming with us, whether they liked it or not.

Perhaps some might say, half-joking, that they might have known what they were in for. Animals are smart. They can sense things like earthquakes and storms before they happen. Perhaps they already knew that Trenton is not a place people usually move TOWARD. Everybody knows that Trenton is a place of darkness. Everybody knows Trenton is a place of suffering and desperation. Everyone knows that Trenton is a place of death.

Last Thursday my husband Beau lead a service of remembrance for a homeless man. As Beau was speaking about how God is a God of many second, third, fourth, and fifth chances, one of the homeless friends of the dead man spoke up. He ask about the criminal crucified with Jesus asking for forgiveness just before Beau was going to read that very passage.

Where there is darkness, that is where Jesus is. Where there is suffering and desperation, that is where Jesus is. Where there is death. THAT is WHERE JESUS IS. And that is where we are to be, too.

Jesus went before us so that we could follow – to the cross, to death, and to the tomb. Jesus went before us so that we could follow also when the cross was empty, the tomb was empty, and when death was emptied of its power. His cross of death became our tree of life. Some days we walk, and some days we have to be dragged. But whether we walk, run, fall, or are dragged, the promise remains. Where you are, Jesus is. Where Jesus is, you are. Amen.

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