Sermon Date:March 20, 2011
Scripture: Genesis 12: 1-4a; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3: 1-17, Psalm 121
Nic was a big guy in many ways. He was tall, and even though he had put on a little weight in middle age, he still had a certain youthfulness and confidence that other men envied. Nic was a big guy at work too, having successfully risen to the top of his profession, known as a leader, not only in the local company, but also at the corporate level. People listened when Nic spoke. They paid attention, sought his guidance.
Nic drove a large black Escalade. He loved the way the Escalade roared to life when he turned the key in the ignition, the way he sat up high above the rest of the traffic, barely having to press the accelerator to gun past anyone in his way and to get to his destination in record time. The Escalade suited Nic, summed up who he was, really. Big, bold, in charge.
But lately, Nic had been hearing about a new car company that had come to town. Lots of people were talking about it, and the place had a great reputation for honesty.
In fact, one day when Nic had left his office for a quick business lunch, he had heard Josh, the go-to guy for the company, talking to a group of people on a noisy street corner, and Nic had been impressed with the guy’s knowledge about automobiles, traveling and life in general. Nic noticed that those listening to Josh hung on every word he said.
Weeks passed, and finally Nic’s curiosity got the best of him. He decided to visit the car company and get more information from Josh. But he wasn’t sure he wanted anyone to see him there. After all, why would a person like Nic, who drove a safe, solid, dependable, predictable Escalade even want to be seen at a place called Joy Rides, much less looking at cars?
So Nic went to Joy Rides late one chilly spring night, right before closing. Josh was still there.
Nic, rather embarrassed, said, “Hey Josh, nice to meet you. Sorry to come by so late. I’m Nic. I’ve heard that you have a lot of knowledge about cars and traveling. Have you got time to show me around before you close?”
Josh smiled. “Sure, Nic. In fact, maybe you’d like to test drive the car here at Joy Rides while we talk.”
Nic hesitated. He really hadn’t come to buy a car, just to get more information about the company from Josh—but what could be the harm in test driving a car?
Josh led Nic over to the car, oddly enough the only one on the lot, and Nic slid into the driver’s seat. He was instantly struck by several features of the car. The seat was warm and comfortable. The car, even though it had seemed small on the outside, was large and spacious. Nic was amazed by the visibility—even though the night was dark, he could tell that if he drove this car, he would be able to see everything around him clearly.
But where was the steering wheel? Nic looked over. There sat Josh, grinning. The steering wheel was on his side of the car.
“Ready?” asked Josh. He handed Nic the GPS, and Nic noticed that the destination read Eternal Life. All Nic had to do was to press GO!
Nic hesitated. He had come here to learn more about this company from Josh. He hadn’t planned to take a trip into eternity! And he certainly didn’t want someone else at the wheel.
So he asked Josh to tell him more about the car before the test drive.
“Sure,” said Josh. “This car comes with a driver.” He grinned. “That would be me.”
“And every trip in this car will change you. You won’t be a middle aged success story anymore. You’ll become young again, reborn!”
Nic felt for the door handle. He wanted to make his escape if this conversation got any stranger.
“What do you mean?” he asked Josh. “How can I be young all over again? That just doesn’t make any sense—and why would I even WANT to be young again? I like my life. I’m not here because I’m having a mid life crisis and need a new vehicle.”
Josh sighed. “Joy Rides aren’t for everyone, “ he said. “But let me tell you a little more, and then you can decide whether or not you’d like to take this car out for a spin.”
“First of all, your job would be to care for this car, keep it full of gas, keep the oil changed, have the proper maintenance done. But when you go for a trip, I’ll be the driver.”
Nic’s hand tightened on the door handle.
“Second, when you ride in this car, I’ll give you fair warning—you won’t know for sure where you’ll end up, since I’m the one who’ll be driving. I realize that there’s a real downside to driving around in that uncertainty, but I guarantee you that I am always with you, watching over you.”
Nic interrupted. “Can I ask a question?”
“Sure,” said Josh.
“This GPS says Eternal Life. That’s a little eerie. I get the feeling that a test drive might mean a big wreck, and I die. I’m not ready to die yet. I’m not ready for Eternal Life.”
“Nic, that’s one of the best features of this car.” Josh laughed, a deep belly laugh that made Josh want to laugh too, in spite of himself.
“Those who choose this car as their means of transportation find that eternal life, with all of its joys, being in the presence of God, starts right here and now. Travelling around in this car brings you joy so deep and wide and high that you can’t even imagine it until you experience it for yourself!”
Nic heard soft laughter welling up behind him. He hadn’t looked in the backseat yet, and when he turned around, he saw that the back of the car stretched out farther than he could see, and that it was filled with all sorts of people—some successful people like he was, but also the bum he’d seen panhandling in front of his office the other morning, black people, white people, old people, young people, and some people that from their dress, belonged to entirely different cultures. Would Josh really this car to all those people? And why on earth would Josh want to be the driver for that obviously crazy guy in the back?
“Wait,” said Nic. “Josh, what is this?” “I’d want my own personal car!” “I don’t want all those people riding around with me all the time.” “And why would you even want to offer this car to some of those people and to be their driver?”
“Nic, this car is for everyone,” Josh said. “I don’t choose who decides to take this car. It’s up to each person who test drives this car to decide whether or not they want it. It’s a decision I leave completely up to them. No pressure.”
“And to answer your first question–when you are going about your daily trips in this car, you may not be conscious of having the others along on the ride with you. But when you hit a bad time, you’ll find that all of them will be there with you to help you through it. It’s the community of those who’ve bought this car, the ones who know and trust me as their driver, the ones who are experiencing the joy of eternal life in the here and now, the ones who are blessings to one another.”
Nic was ready to leap out of the car at this point. He raised his voice. “How can I believe all of this? It’s ludicrous. Where do they make this car anyway? Where is your company headquarters? I need to research this company and see if it’s even for real!”
“Here’s my card,” Josh said. “My father, the Creator, is the head of this company. He sent me.”
Nic didn’t even look at the card. He slid it into his jacket pocket.
Silence fell in the car as Nic considered whether or not he wanted to risk a test drive. What if he liked the car? What on earth would happen if he traded in his Escalade and started riding around in this car? What would people think?
“Josh,” he finally said, “I don’t want to test drive this car tonight. I like the vehicle I drive, one that makes a statement about who I am. One that belongs to me, and to me alone. But I’ll admit, I’m sort of interested. So I have one more question for you. How much does this car cost?”
“It’s free,” Josh said.
That did it for Nic. How could such an ingeniously designed car be free? There had to be a catch. He definitely wasn’t interested right now.
Nic got out of the car. Josh asked if he had any other questions.
“Yes, actually I do,” said Nic, just to be polite. “How much trunk space does this car have?”
Josh just smiled. “This car doesn’t have a trunk. If you choose to take this car, you won’t need to bring any of your baggage along. Everything you’ll need for your trips is already in it.”
Nic and Josh shook hands, and Nic practically ran back to his Escalade. He eased himself into the familiar leather covered seat, switched on the lights, the high beams; turned the key, revved the engine a time or two and gripped the steering wheel, his very own steering wheel. He scratched off going out of the parking lot.
On the way home Nic thought about it. “Would I ever buy a car from Joy Rides and let Josh drive me around?”
“No way,” he thought. “No way.”
At the moment of our births, each of us begins a journey through life. And as our scriptures today show us, we get to decide how we make those journeys.
In the beautiful passage from Genesis, God calls Abram.
Abram is a person we know nothing about, other than who his family members are and where he lives. God doesn’t call Abram because of who he already is. God’s concern is who Abram will become.
God is giving Abram the chance to become a blessing. “You will be a blessing,” God tells Abram.
Abram has a choice. Will he choose to leave what he knows—his family, his land, his community—to go to a land whose destination is unknown to him? How will he get there?
And how does God intend to make of Abram a great nation and a great blessing?
These are answers that Abram does not have.
Like Nic, Abram has to decide whether or not to take a chance on Joy Rides. And unlike Nic, Abram takes the chance.
“So Abram went,” the scripture tells us, “Went as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.”
Centuries later, Paul points out in the passage we heard from Romans today that Abraham’s witness to us is a witness of his faith and trust in God, rather than in himself.
God’s grace and blessing filled Abraham’s life because Abraham took the opportunity to travel with Josh at the wheel. Abraham trusted in God’s direction for his life, trusted that God would be with him, trusted that God would provide Abraham with all that he needed to become the person that God wanted him to become—a blessing to others, and a father of many nations.
The Psalmist is also on a journey. This psalm, Psalm 121, is one of the Psalms of Ascent, sung by people who were travelling on pilgrimages to the temple in Jerusalem.
The journey to Jerusalem was not an easy one. And our journeys are not always easy either.
We can relate to the cry of the psalmist when we hit the rough times in our lives.
“From where is my help to come?”
The psalmist tells us that our help comes from the Creator, the maker of heaven and earth.
What a blessing to us that this Creator cares for each one of us, as insignificant as we are in the big picture of creation,
Our Creator cares for us enough to watch over us continually, both day and night. Our Creator preserves us from evil when we inevitably run into it.
Our Creator watches over us and is with us in our going out and coming in from this time forth forever more.
The season of Lent gives us the opportunity, like Nic did, to check out a different way of getting around on our journey through life.
So this week, as you continue your journey through this season of Lent, give this question some thought.
Do you intend to stay behind the wheel, or will you let God drive?