Saturday, July 6, 2024

“The Road of Life” - June 23, 2024 - Outdoor Worship + Car Show

Text: Mark 12:28-34

When COVID hit, we had to learn quickly how to do things differently.  We were all stuck at home for the most part, and so there was a need for connection.  Among other things, we started a weekly Virtual Coffee Shop – just a chance to visit with each other.  Four years later, the Virtual Coffee Shop is still going.  You are welcome to join us on Thursday mornings at 10 am.

This group talks about all kinds of stuff.  One morning we were talking about cars and ribbing Barbara a bit about her 1976 Camaro that she keeps in a garage and never actually drives.  Somebody half-seriously said we ought to have a car show at church.  And here we are!

The idea came from the virtual coffee shop and we wouldn’t have the coffee shop if not for COVID, so you could say that one good by-product of COVID is that we are having a car show today.  Who would have thought?

What does a car show have to do with church?  What does it have to do with faith?  Well if you look to the scriptures, plenty.

There are car references all over the place in the Bible.  In Acts we read that when the Day of Pentecost came, they were all in one Accord.  

We read that the Lord was with Joshua, and his Triumph was heard throughout the land.  It doesn’t specify if it was a Triumph motorcycle or a car, maybe it was a Triumph Spitfire, but it was definitely a Triumph.  And then in Psalm 98 we read, “All the ends of the earth have seen the Triumph of our God.”

Now you could make a case that God actually favored Plymouths.  God drove Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden in a Fury.  And speaking of unrighteous rulers, Psalm 2 says that God will terrify them in a Fury.  The first car I drove was a 1969 Plymouth Fury III and the scripture is right; it actually could be terrifying.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg.  Here’s one for you, Julie: Ezekiel 27:28 says, “at the sound of your Pilots the countryside shakes.”  And Jerilyn, Nahum 2:3 reads “the Chargers are impatient for action.”

There is absolute truth to some of these vehicle references.  Habakkuk 1:8 says “Mustangs are swifter than Cougars.”  Gabe is not here today but he has owned both and I think he would agree.  (Now that verse actually reads their horses were faster than pumas, but I think the implication and the intention of the Biblical writer is pretty clear.)  

There is also bad news in the Bible for Ford owners.  Jeremiah 52: “The Fords have been seized and the soldiers are in a panic.’  When the Fords have been seized, you know things are really bad.

Let me share a couple more vehicle references in scripture.  Paul and his companions apparently rode around in a VW bug, like Wes and Erin have.  In 2 Corinthians he writes, “We are pressed in every way, but we are not crushed.”

And then Gary, God is in the car restoration business.  In that beloved scripture, Psalm 23, we read those beautiful words of hope - for KIA owners such as myself: he restoreth my Soul.  It was right there in plain sight all this time, and I never noticed the vehicular implications of that beloved scripture.

Well, I better quit while I’m ahead, although I know, I know, it’s way too late for that.  

While we don’t have a car show every week, it is good to share some of our interests and try to connect what happens on Sunday mornings with what happens the rest of the week.

I decided weeks ago that I was going to preach about cars today in some way, but it was a little bit of a challenge.  I could have gone with “Chariots of Fire” or something like that, but I want to think together this morning about “The Road of Life.”  As we think together about life and faith as a journey, I think the scripture Kay read for us is most appropriate.  We are called to live a life that is focused on loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves.  That is the bottom line.  That is the way we travel through this life.

What are some of the particulars of that journey?

First of all, this is not a solo journey.  We are meant to travel with others.  

You may enjoy traveling by yourself.  I have made long distance trips by myself and actually enjoy that for the most part.  But the life of faith is not meant to be lived alone; it is meant to be lived in community.  In the big picture of life, we need traveling companions.  Even when I have been on those trips by myself, I have often traveled to be with others, and I often take pictures so that I can share the experience with others.  

Think about the trips you have made over the years.  What do you remember the most?  It is probably experiences you have had with family and friends you traveled with or maybe people you met at your destination.  I think of family trips we have made to so many places, often connected to ABC biennials in various cities around the country.  I think of cool sights and experiences and food we have enjoyed more because we were there together.  And I think of so many trips to Indiana and Arkansas, usually with a dog, to visit family.

I think also of mission trips over the years, some of those trips with many of you.  To New York, to South Carolina, to Chicago, to Green Lake, Kansas City, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico.  Traveling with others and serving with others made all the difference.

We are meant to travel through this life together.  Just a couple of weeks ago we looked at the scripture from Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens.”  As the Church, we are to be companions, to be a caring community as we journey through this life.

Now, what do you do before a road trip?  How do you get ready?  You have to pack, you take snacks, you may have to make some reservations.  And you have to make sure your vehicle is up to the trip.  And so you fill up the tank, you check the oil, check the tires, do you have plenty of windshield washer fluid?  You may need to do a little maintenance.  We have a few vehicles here today that do not get driven a lot and I know some of you had to make sure they were ready to go.  

Our lives are like that.  We need to take stock.  We need to make adjustments.  We may need a little spiritual maintenance from time to time.

We gather together each Sunday for worship, and you might think of worship as a maintenance check - a tuneup.  We come together each week to remember who we are and whose we are – to remember our calling and to prepare ourselves for the coming week.  Prayer and praise and worship are all preparation for the journey.

Now, when you travel, how do you find the way to where you are going?  Of course, there are those places we have been a hundred times, we know the way - but what about a new destination?  

In the old days, we used road maps.  I have a bunch of road maps at home as well as a few in the car.  But mostly we use GPS today.  Which is easy and great to get you right to the door.  

In 2008 Susan and I had a sabbatical, and our family traveled to Europe.  We flew into Zurich and had a Volkswagen Golf reserved.  They were out of VWs and gave us an Alfa Romeo instead.  We said, OK.

Several days later we were driving from the Black Forest in Germany to Switzerland, heading to a home in eastern Bern canton built in 1608 by my ancestors.  

We had maps but we were really relying more on the GPS, which was a fairly new thing.  And the GPS took us on winding rural roads.  As we stopped for cows wearing bells to cross the road, we were glad that we were not on the route we had originally mapped out.  It was a delightful afternoon and we wound up right at our destination.

We don’t get a GPS for the road of life.  It doesn’t quite work that way.  Thomas once said to Jesus, “‘Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?’  And Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.’”

The way to live is to follow Jesus.  That is the way.  I like the words to the song that Gary sang for us:

You’re my safe place – my hideaway
You’re my anchor – my saving grace

The way to navigate this life is to follow Jesus’ way of love and grace and compassion, both loving God and loving our neighbors.  Now that can be easier said than done.  In this world, acting with love and grace and forgiveness can sometimes seem like a crazy thing to do.  It takes faith.  Sometimes it feels like following that GPS through the cow pastures.  But it is faith in One who loves us and who is the way and the truth and the life.

Now we all know, there can be problems when we travel.  There can be breakdowns.  We all have stories.  Following seminary I was a campus minister at Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington-Normal.  I was driving to Springfield for my first yearly review at the state office.

I can’t remember for sure which car I was driving - either Susan’s 1981 Toyota Tercel or our 1988 Plymouth Colt.  Both were 5-speed manuals, by the way.  At any rate, a tire blew out on I-55.  I had to change the tire.  I was wearing dress clothes for the meeting and it got kind of warm working in the sun.

Cell phones were still a few years away.  So I showed up very late and sweaty and probably a little greasy for my performance review.  The sweaty and greasy part was probably good – it showed that I wasn’t just making some excuse for being late.  My review was with the state campus ministry director and his boss, and they were very understanding about it.

I can remember other breakdowns and travel issues.  Years ago the starter on my Chevette went out in the middle of Tennessee.  On the way to Green Lake our church caravan stopped at the Kwik Trip in Jewel for about an hour cleaning up after a certain toddler threw up in one of the vehicles.  Some of you were there.  I mean, this stuff just happens.

It happens while traveling through life.  Things will not always go according to plan.  There can be breakdowns in communication.  There can be breakdowns in relationships.  There can be spiritual and mental and physical breakdowns.  In the face of this, we are to respond with grace and forgiveness and understanding and humility – toward others and toward ourselves.  

We travel through life better when we understand that hazards and roadblocks and breakdowns are just part of the journey.  I can’t think of any faithful person in the scriptures who had an easy time of it.  We respond to those breakdowns we face by living in the Spirit.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  These will help us to navigate the difficult times.

As you are traveling, there are things you can do to make the trip easier, to make it better.  You can play car games or sing or listen to a podcast or a book on tape.  If it’s a long trip, you need to take breaks along the way.  Stop at a rest area.  Stretch your legs.  Stop for lunch.  Stop to see some of the sights along the way.  Go ahead and check out the scenic overlook – or take a short detour to see the world’s largest ball of twine, or whatever.

The thing about life is that so often, it’s about the journey.  It is about living day to day and enjoying the journey each day.  So having fun and time away, and yes, even having Car Shows at church are important.  

And rest is important.  We are not defined by our output or the work we do.  The idea of the Sabbath is to have a rhythm of rest built in to our journeys.  We are to love our neighbor and ourselves, and this is a way of extending that love to ourselves.    

Jesus would take time away, time to recharge, to rejuvenate, to pray, to reflect.  We read about him going off alone to a quiet place.  And we also read about Jesus at meals and at get-togethers with friends.

Which leads us to the last bit of wisdom this morning: as we make our way through life, enjoy the journey.  Enjoy the trip.  And know that as you journey through this life, God goes with you.  Always.  Amen.




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