June 29, 2014
A friend of mine has been hiking the Appalachian Trail.
He has some great stories.
But perhaps the ones that I find the most fascinating,
are his stories of ‘trail magic.’
“Trail magic” is an unexpected act of kindness or generosity given by a stranger.
He speaks of suddenly coming upon a cooler of ice cold soda,
of offers to take a shower in the home of complete stranger.
Trail magic can be as simple as a gift of a candy bar,
or as elaborate as volunteers who set up a grill near the trail and hand out hot dogs.
Trail magic isn’t usually much,
but what makes it “magic,”
is that it usually comes at a time when the hikers are tired, hungry, and lonely.
It can move a hiker to tears.
There’s a whole town in Maine which is known for its ‘trail magic.’
Monson, Maine has a population of about 700 people.
If you’re heading south on the trail,
it’s the first town you’ll pass through.
It you’re heading north ,it’s the last.
The area around Monson is considered the most grueling part of the whole trail.
It’s in a stretch of the trail known as the “100-mile wilderness,”
where there are no stops for supplies.
Throughout this stretch,
hikers have to carry on their backs all the food they can.
Sometimes, by the time they get to Monson, hikers have been out of food for days.
So they’re even more hungry and tired than usual.
It also happens to be a stretch of the trail where there’s no cell phone coverage.
So they’re even more lonely than usual.[i]
The people of Monson are legendary for their generosity.
They pick up smelly, sweaty, strange looking hikers (who look a lot like Sasquatch) from the trail
and drive them into town for food, a hot shower, and an overnight in a bunk bed.
When Jesus sends his disciples out,
he warns them that they will face hardships.
And he also promises to reward any who help his followers…
it doesn’t take much – just a cup of cold water is enough.
A cup of cold water.
It’s a small thing.
When Jesus speaks of discipleship,
he usually talks about large sacrifices of life-changing proportions.
But here, Jesus says, discipleship can also be small
– even a cup of cold water to one in need.
…Even a hug to someone who is grieving;
….Even a phone call to someone who is lonely;
…Even a few hours on a Saturday morning handing out food with ALIVE!.
If you happen to be hiking the Appalachian Trail,
unexpected gifts to the lonely, tired, and hungry are called “trail magic.”
If you happen to be Christian,
unexpected gifts such as these aren’t magic at all.
They are reflections of God – they are gifts of grace.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,” he says,
“And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
As North American Christians,
we are challenged to live this verse of welcoming.
We are challenged as a country to be as welcoming of the stranger
as is the little town of Monson, ME.
I’m sure by now you’ve heard the news reports of the unaccompanied children
who have been coming to the US borders from Central America.
This week I received an email from one of our Lutheran communities,
Santa Maria congregation which worships at Augustana Lutheran Church in DC.
Here are some statistics they shared from the Salvadoran embassy:
– 350 unaccompanied girls and boys – mostly from Central America – are being detained along the México-United States border each day.
– Over the past 8 months, over 50,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained
– The situation is now considered a humanitarian crisis.
The embassy describes hundreds of youth detained in a bleak environment
in the United States
with nothing to do.
Santa Maria isn’t asking for much…
The congregation is asking for other Lutheran congregations in our synod to partner with them to help provide games, toys, Spanish books and Bibles for the boys and girls in Arizona.
They are 10-17 years old and they have arrived to the US by themselves.
As we as a country decides what to do with these children,
we as individuals and congregations
are being asked to give really just a cup of cold water – a little bit of trail magic.
As you leave today, you can pick up a flyer
with some information about how to help.
Mary shared with us this morning,
that bidden or unbidden, God is with us in our traveling.
I invite you to watch for the trail magic which comes your way this week.
This day we are also being asked to provide a measure of welcome
for other travelers.
I also invite you to practice some trail magic for some Central American children or for other travelers who cross your path this week.