A sermon for the First Sunday of Advent from 2010.
“Unsafe at Any Speed”
Matthew 24:36-44; Isaiah 2:1-5
November 28, 2010
First Christian Church
In the Spring of 1990, I was a junior at Michigan State University. For Spring Break that year, I went on a trip to retreat center outside of Norman, Oklahoma. We drove caravan-style from East Lansing, Michigan all the way to Norman. Now, one of the people responsible for driving was a fellow student, a sophomore named Ray. Ray’s Dad worked at Ford and was able to get company cars to drive around. Somehow, Ray was able to get his dad to let him use a company car on this trip. Said company car happened to be a Ford Taurus.
So, I ended up in Ray’s car as we drove from Michigan. We stopped at some point for lunch in Missiouri. I remember being in the parking lot of a fast-food joint and a group decided they wanted to go to Arby’s across the street. Ray thought this was a good time for me to drive the car.
Now, this was a bad decision for three reasons. First, the car was a stick shift, and I had never driven a car with a manual transmission. Second to get to the Arby’s you had to go uphill…in a stickshift. The third reason is that this Taurus wasn’t any ordinary car, but what is called among car geeks, the Taurus SHO. SHO stands for super high output and it is a souped up version of this plain family sedan. The original SHO, which this car was, had an engine made by Yahmaha, the motocycle company. Maybe if I had know I was driving a demon maskquerading as family sedan, I would have declined driving Ray’s car, but ignorance is bliss, so I went ahead and tried to drive the car.
I repeat, I tried to drive the car. Trying to remember to deal with the clutch was bad enough. The car would rev up (another bad sign) and then I would stall it. Start it again, the engine would rev, car would stall.
After many fits and starts, I got it up the hill and now was attempting the most challenging maneuver: trying to make a left turn, up a hill, and into the parking lot. I can still remember Ray saying something like “hit the gas” and I did just that.
Seconds later I had made the left turn into the parking lot and I’m pretty sure that everyone knew it. Why? Because when I hit the gas, I literally peeled rubber. The care sprung to life, and for a split second I felt like I was part of NASCAR. The tires squealed, and I roared into the parking lot of Arby’s complete with the smell of burning rubber.
It was safe to say that I never did drive that car again.
If there was any lesson to be learned, other than never try to learn to drive stick in a race car, it was learning to appreciate the power I was dealing with. After my experience, I learned to apprciate the sheer power underneath the hood of this car and most importantly, that this was no ordinary car. It was not safe.
The passage today found in book of Matthew is an odd one for this time of year. This the first Sunday of Advent, a time when we prepare the coming of the Christ child, and it is during this time that we tend to get sentimental. We like to sing Christmas hymns (even though it isn’t Christmas yet) about a little child born in Bethlehem. We have images of a manger with the baby Jesus and animals milling about. It all looks so peaceful and oh so very…safe.
And yet, here is this passage from the Bible where a grownup Jesus is talking about the coming of the Son of Man and not knowing the hour and about being ready. And if we read further on, there would be stories of ten bridesmaids that were locked out of wedding party and a tale about sheep and goats, reward and punishment. None of this looks peaceful or bucolic.
Growing up, many people thought this was about the second coming of Jesus and the lesson here is that we need to get saved and get right with God so that we won’t be “left behind.”
But what if Jesus wasn’t just talking about future time, but was talking about the present time? What if Jesus wasn’t talking about just about the judgement that is to come, but the judgement of Jesus now?
When Jesus spoke to his followers, he might just have been talking about his own time. There were many who wanted things to be as they were and missed seeing the Messiah, God’s anointed right in front of them. Many of the religious leaders of that time missed out on Jesus, because they refused to see him. They were not ready to for the coming of the Son of Man.
If you read the gospels, you always find that the people one would expect to be ready for Christ’s coming would be most unprepared. The religious leaders like the Pharisees tended to think that they knew all about God and about the coming of the Messiah and Jesus wasn’t it. A man that ate with sinners and broke the religious laws, someone who was disruptive to their way of life, how could this man be the Messiah?
And yet, Jesus was the Messiah, the one who came to those who hearts were prepared for his coming, the outcasts, the forgotten, even the villians. They were ready to hear the message of the Son of Man.
For us modern folk, the message here is to be ready for when Jesus returns. We can hear in this text of that future day when Jesus will come and we must give an accounting of how we cared for our sisters and our brothers. But the message is also that Jesus comes today and everyday. God comes in our daily lives and we must have the eyes to see when Jesus breaksthrough.
All of this talk about the coming of God and God’s judgement is not what we expect in Advent. We want that sweet baby Jesus. But Advent reminds us that Jesus is not safe. Jesus keeps on barging into our lives and messing up our plans. Jesus points out that we don’t have it all together and that we need to get right with him. Jesus power to heal, to love the unlovable reminds us that we are dealing with something more power than anything we ever imagined.
What if we lived waiting for the coming of Chirst, not knowing the time when Jesus might arrive? What would this church look like if we spent time doing works of justice towards those in need in preparation of Christ’s return? What if we thought that in the face of the poor or the outcast we might encounter the Living Christ.
Advent is a time for preparing and waiting for the Christ, but it is also a time we are reminded that God is not safe. We can get ready for wild ride with Jesus, but we can’t domesticate or tame Jesus.
In C.S. Lewis’ novel The Lion , The Witch and The Wardrobe, there is a conversation about the nature of Aslan. The children in the story find out that Aslan is not a man but a lion and knowing about the power of lions, the kids are scared. One of the children, named Susan asks,”Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” Mrs. Beaver replies, “That you will, dearie, and no mistake, if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else silly.”
Then Susan’s sister Lucy asks, “Then he isn’t safe?” That prompts Mr. Beaver to tells the young girl, “Safe? Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
The problem today with the church is that we want to worship a safe God, one that is controllable and predictable. But God isn’t safe. We should live out our faith with fear and trembling. But know that God is good as well.
Twenty years ago, I didn’t know the power of that Ford Taurus. Don’t be the same way of God. We worship a power God of love and judgement. Be prepared to meet Jesus now. Today. Thanks be to God. Amen.