Rev. Jill Howard
“Beautiful Feet,” August 13, 2017
5 Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that “the person who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say?
“The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. 11 The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. 13 For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
14 But how are they to call on 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? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Hi, my name is Jill, and I am addicted to shoes! It’s true. One look at my closet will reveal that perhaps I have a shoe problem. But I recently stumbled upon a journal of research in personality that says that 90% of your personality could be revealed by your choice of footwear. Either they are onto something, or someone just needed a good excuse to buy more shoes. I’ll go with that explanation.
Anyway, the study revealed that people who wear colorful sneakers tend to be emotionally stable. High top shoes are popular with people who tend to be introverted, agreeable, and conscientious. If you have well-kept high fashion shoes, you tend to be worried about relationships. If you like wearing biker style boots, you may be more tough and aggressive.
And finally, women, if you like wearing your stiletto heels, you may have a vivid personality, a desire for attention, high self-confidence, and probably excessive body aches and muscle fatigue. If these findings are true, then I must have multiple personalities! The study didn’t say anything about people who have each kind of shoe in their closet!
Whether you agree with these findings about footwear or not, I think we might agree that footwear sends a message, just as much as the clothing you wear, and just as much as the cross around your neck, or the prayer shawl or yarmulke worn by a Jewish person, or a hijab worn by a Muslim woman. These are examples of religious badges or symbols that remind us and tell others that we are part of a particular group. These are faith badges should send a positive message. And since our feet carry our bodies out into the world, they, too should be bearers of good news.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Have you ever really looked at feet? Feet are strange, and flappy looking appendages. Xavier loves looking at his toes and thinks they are funny. It takes a lot of literary imagination to describe such bulbous buniony creations as “beautiful.” I guess that’s where a good pair of shoes comes in.
But Paul didn’t need a shoe personality study in order to encourage the Roman Christians to carry the good news. Christians, says Paul, should have feet that reveal the good news of Jesus Christ and the saving grace of God to the rest of the world. He’s not just talking about feet of course, but the way we present ourselves through our attitudes, our words, our actions, and through the telling of our stories. Each of these are the faith badges we wear, as visible as the shoes on our feet or the cross around our neck.
In fact, research has shown that people see these faith badges or symbols a signs of reliability. An anthropologist named Richard Sosis and his colleagues gathered a variety of pictures of people wearing a variety of religious symbols, and mixed them with pictures of people without religious symbols. A diverse group of university students looked at the stack of photos and rated each of the faces for trustworthiness. They also played a game in which they entrusted money to the ones they perceived as being honorable.
The result was that people wearing Christian badges prompted powerful feelings of trust. If a person was wearing a cross, it doubled the money that non-Christians were willing to offer someone in the trust game. And other studies show that the same is true for ANY religious symbol. Whether you are a Muslim, Jew, or a Hindu, the outer sign of your faith commitment is going to improve the way people see you (Homiletics).
Religious badges certainly tell a story. Let’s take a look at some common ones. Jews wear yarmulkes as a sign of recognition that someone is above them at all times, especially while in prayer. It is the Jewish tradition that the head should be covered as a reminder of God’s presence and as a symbol of being a part of the Jewish faith.
Muslim women wear the hijab (which is Arabic for “cover”) for a variety of reasons. Some wear the hijab because they believe that God has instructed women to wear it as a means of fulfilling the commandment for modesty. For these women, wearing hijab is a personal choice that is made after puberty and is intended to reflect one’s personal devotion to God. While some Muslim women do not perceive the hijab to be obligatory to their faith, other Muslim women wear the hijab as a means of visibly expressing their Muslim or cultural identity. Most Muslim women agree that it is a woman’s choice to wear the hijab or not. It is her choice how she expresses her faith or cultural identity.
In the Hindu tradition, the religious badge of the Bindi expresses the tradition that all people have a third inner eye; the two physical eyes are used for seeing the external world, while the third focuses inward toward God. The red dot signifies piety as well as serving as a constant reminder to keep God at the center of one’s thoughts. The red bindi also signifies marriage and social status. Bindis of all colors are also worn by women of all ages as a simple fashion accessory in today’s South Asian culture.
And finally, the cross of Christianity tells a story- our story of a loving Savior who shows us the ultimate example of sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness. We have to make sure that the faith badge of our choosing includes and tells the story of our own relationship with God. We have to be willing to bring it from the inside to the outside so that others can clearly see what Jesus means to us. In Paul’s terms, our beautiful feet better be ready to bring the good news.
But what happens when religious badges or symbols become something to fear or turn into signs of evil? Yesterday, in Charlottesville, VA, we witnessed people carrying Nazi flags, signs condemning blacks and Jews, and people acting out in horrible and violent ways. Let’s be clear. Carrying the Nazi flag is evil. That flag is a symbol of an evil, failed state that brutally killed more than six million Jews and countless Romani people, homosexuals and others judged to be inferior (Bishop Michael McKee). When I stood on the grounds of Auschwitz several years ago, I felt as if evil continued to seep through the earth and buildings of that place. Those who sacrificed their lives in World War II attempted to defeat that evil.
Let’s be clear. Our country witnessed the evil, sin, and hatred of racism and intolerance in Charolottesville yesterday- and some of those who gathered did so in the “name of Jesus and under the cross of Christ.” This is Matthew Heimbach (picture shown)- the lead organizer in yesterday’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally. This 26 year old calls Indiana home and calls himself a Christian. Here is one of the MANY reasons that we, who profess the cross of Jesus, MUST stand against those who corrupt and twist its message into words and acts of hatred.
In times such as these, we need to pick our symbols carefully and intentionally. We need to consider the shoes we wear, so that our feet will indeed be beautiful feet that carry the real Jesus, the real cross, the message of grace and truth out into the world.
Late last night, Bishop Trimble of Indiana sent out a response to the horrors unfolding in Charlottesville. In it, he says,
For the world to get anything from us (as people who follow Christ), we must be honest and truthful. We cannot avoid naming or calling out what is evil in its purest form ever manifested. Naming hate, injustice, and the sin of “-ism” is the only way for us to tackle the forces that would divide us and that would have any one of us believe that there is less opportunity to reach our highest God-given potential because of one group of people or another.
Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of Just Mercy, said in an interview earlier this year, “In faith perspectives, to get to salvation — at least in the Christian tradition — you have to repent. There is no redemption without acknowledgment of sin. It’s not bad to repent. It’s cleansing. It’s necessary. It’s ultimately liberating to acknowledge where we were and where we want to go. We haven’t done that collectively.”
As our communities continue to wrestle with senseless acts of violence, as well as a recent rise in snakes that many thought to be dead and gone or at least they lied dormant in their appearance for years – it is the Church who can help unite and break down barriers and free those who are chained by society or by their own views, born in the falsity, that any human being is less than another.
So as the Body of Christ, I implore each of you to join me in living Truth by:
- Sharing this in your congregation, communities, mission fields, workplaces, at your dinner tables, and beyond in the days ahead;
- Recommitting to the vows that we took for our membership as United Methodists and at our baptisms, where the question is- Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
- Being living examples of the peace of which we are praying for in every corner of the world.
- Remembering that we are all united in Christ, who crosses all boundaries of race, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, religion, etc.
So today may we not be afraid to speak out against sin and injustice, racism and oppression in whatever form they present themselves. In a world where so often the feet that bring us the news are ugly and evil, let’s put on our shoes of courage, tolerance, truth, and justice, and show the world our beautiful feet. We might need to begin with repentance.
We might need to spend a lot of time in prayer. We might need to begin with a reminder that for those of us called to live the gospel message in times such as this, that the world needs the church and we need the world, because neither of us can survive without the other. And the world is in deep need of beautiful feet to carry the message of love, tolerance, and mercy for all persons.
Shane Claiborne, a Christian activist, author, and founder of a modern monastic community in Philadelphia, shares an inspiring story about his time with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. He noticed that when Mother Teresa took her shoes off for daily prayer, that her feet were knobby and deformed. He eventually asked someone what was wrong with Mother Teresa’s feet. The person explained that Mother Teresa and her sisters relied on donations for everything, including their shoes. When a load of donated shoes would come in, Mother Teresa consistently chose the worst pair of shoes for herself.
In sharing the good news of Jesus Christ to the poor, broken, and hurting, Mother Teresa’s feet literally became a symbol of sacrificial love and healing. These were beautiful feet.
What transforms feet into things of beauty is not a pedicure, or a $200 pair of sneakers or high heels. What transforms them is the message they carry. When feet are involved in the mission of bringing the good news to all people, Jew and Greek, rich and poor, male and female, black and white, then they become beautiful feet, no matter what kind of shoes you prefer or what they might say about your personality.
I guess Marilyn Monroe had it right when she said, “Give a girl the right pair of shoes, and she can conquer the world!” So, what kind of shoes will you choose to put on? What message will you carry out into the world? May we pray for the strength and courage that God gives each of us to get out there and show the world some beautiful feet. Amen.