LAKEWOOD UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST
2601 54th Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga
Date: Feb. 19, 2023
Scripture Lessons: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 and Matthew 5: 38-48
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
I would like to tell you about September 18, 2022. For me, this was day 18 of walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The Camino is a pilgrimage that has numerous routes that converge at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. It is said that the bones of Sant Iago, James, the brother of John, of the sons of Zebedee, disciple of Jesus, are buried in the cathedral. The pilgrimage to Santiago was one of the three great pilgrimages of the middle ages. The others were Rome and Jerusalem. Today, well over 300,000 people a year make a pilgrimage to Santiago though for most it is no longer done as penance.
This was our third Camino. We were on the Del Norte route which follows the coast of northern Spain. First a few generalities about walking the Camino, then I will tell you about September 18. You follow yellow arrows or scallop shell signs that mark the route. The path is through the forest, along the beach, through the fields, along the roads, through cities and towns. There are all kinds of walking surfaces and terrain. There is a lot of up and down on this route. You determine your pace and the distance you will go each day. You carry everything in a backpack. We stay mostly in hostels with bunkbeds that are open only to peregrinos, pilgrims walking the camino, and cost 5-10 euros a night.
So, to September 18. We woke up in Columbres in the hostel. I had been assigned a top bunk, doable but not preferable. But Katie, a young woman from England, who had been assigned to the bottom bunk, insisted on switching. I think there were 4 bunk beds in the room. Eight people. The hostel had several such rooms and a nice grassy yard. There were the usual shared bathrooms. So, we woke up ready for another day of walking.
We headed through the town. Then the fields. Then another town. And along a paved road. Then into the forest and down to a rock strewn beach. I stopped there for lunch and watched an older couple swim in the frigid water. From the beach, it was up a steep embankment through the woods to the fields. Then the path veered across a road and into a pasture along the cliffs bordering the sea. The grass was a vibrant green. We walked on narrow dirt paths encrusted with rocks that had been created by the cows traversing the pastures. We were probably 150 feet above the sea which was crashing against the rocky coast below. We had to climb over turnstiles in the fences that kept the cattle enclosed. I had fallen into walking with a man named Dan from Michigan whom we had met a couple of weeks before. He helped me over the gates. We went through another small town. And down a road. Dan went on ahead.
It was late in the afternoon. We usually walk 6 hours or so and are done by 2 or 3. It had been about 8 hours. I was ready to be done for the day. We had planned to stay in a hostel in a small city called Llanes. By now, I figured Jeff, my husband, and my brother, Mark, were there. I am always the slowest!
Then a town came into view on the right. Ah, Llanes at last, I thought. Not much farther. But the path veered off to the left. Across a road. And the town was off to the right. Hm. Then the path went farther to the left. And there was a huge hill/mountain. And the path did not circumnavigate the base of this mountain. It went up the mountain. Huh? Wasn’t that Llanes, over there, on the right?
Evidently not. So, I headed up. A dirt path. And up. And up. Late in the day. And no sign of Llanes which was supposed to be pretty big. Through the woods. Onward and upward. Tired. Knees aching. And light fading.
Then, after cresting the mount, there was a vista of farms and fields below. And there in the distance was Llanes. Finally. So, I walked all the way down the far side of the mountain on the winding path. Then across the fields. And into the outskirts of Llanes. And through the city streets. And across a bridge over a river. And through more of the city. Where was the hostel? How much farther? The street lights were coming on. It was after 7. I had been walking for 11 hours. And then I got a message from my brother. “I’m at the albergue [hostel]. It’s okay. A little farther down the street than you might expect. Look for a building that looks like it might be a school on your right and the Hotel Don Paco one building into the block. Turn right and you will see the albergue on your left.” My response: “Coming.” So, after everything else, the place was on the far side of the city, past the residential neighborhood, the working class area, over the river through the chi chi downtown with restaurants and boutiques, past the government buildings, and a hotel, and finally, the hostel.
And, of course, we were assigned to a room on the second floor, which in Europe means the third floor, and there was no elevator. Ah, my poor knees! But I got there. And up I went. No sooner had I laid down on the bed to regroup when my brother informed us, “I’m hungry. Come on. Let’s go out to eat.” So, back down the stairs. Out the door. And through the city, across the bridge, to a little restaurant with outdoor tables. I had walked past the place about an hour before. And after dinner we walked back to the hostel.
Now, when I hear this, I think, that was horrible. Grueling. How did I do it? It must have been awful.
But that is not how I remember that day. Even at the time, let alone thinking back on it, I thought the day was glorious. The stunning views of the sea. The secluded pebbled beach. The water spraying up into the air through the crevices in the cliffs called bufones. Fantastic! The gorgeous views from the top of the mountain – with the sea off to one side and the mountains off to the other, with verdant farms and fields in between. Llanes nestled along the coast. And a clean bed, good food, and amicable companions waiting at the end of the day. It was glorious! Strenuous? Yes. Painful? Yes. Arduous? Yup. Long and drawn out? Exhausting? Uh huh. But also magnificent. And for me, every day of walking was a miracle considering what I had been through with my heel surgeries in the year before. Colombres to Llanes. 25 kilometers. Over 15 miles. Glorious. Bring it on!
So we heard those two scriptures today with all those guidelines and rules for how to live including but not limited to:
Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not cheat your neighbor.
Do not show partiality to the poor or give honor to the great.
Do not nurse hatred for a neighbor.
Never seek revenge or hold a grudge toward your relatives.
You must love your neighbor as yourself.
When someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer the other.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go two miles.
Give to those who beg from you.
Love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.
And we think, I could never do all of that. I could never adhere to all of that. It’s just too hard. We can’t do it.
But then you try. And it is hard. And it takes its toll. But you see the view. You get a vista. Laid out before you. Of what you are capable of. Of the beauty of love. Of the power of compassion. And the strength of justice. You see the blessing of generosity. You experience these things along the way, even when it is hard. Especially when it is hard. And it is glorious. And you realize that you can do it.
This is what I see in the story of the transfiguration. Jesus heads to the mountain. So we know there will be an encounter with holiness. And there is a vision of the vista ahead. To Jerusalem. And the death that awaits him. And he can do it. He will do it. Not easy. Not fast. Not efficient. Not without pain. But he will do it. And it will be right and good. And it will be glorious.
We, too, are on a journey. Each of us. As individuals. And we are on a journey as a society, a culture. And the way is long. And it is strenuous. It is not easy. We are making our way to an antiracist society. We are making our way toward healing of body and spirit and the healthcare system. We are making our way toward economic justice and financial stability for all. We are making our way toward reconciliation and forgiveness in difficult relationships. We are making our way toward environmental healing. The way is long and it is not easy. It is arduous. Even defeating at times. But we see the vista. We catch a glimpse of the beauty of a world free of abuse and harm and violence. We see a bubbling up of mercy and love. We catch a glimmer of equality. We see a torrent of compassion or outrage. And there is the ever present beacon of the light and love of Christ. And we can keep going. And it is glorious. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.