Proper 17a – Sunday 28th August 2011
Matthew 16: 21-28
My son gets bored easily on car journeys. He needs to be occupied. A computer game. A DVD. A book. An MP3 player. A bag of sweets. Anything. Otherwise, he starts getting on my nerves. After all, he is 14 years old. Nearly 15.
And when he’s bored he plays a game. Yellow Mini. Simple rules.
1. Spot a Mini car and you can punch your opponent on the arm.
2. Spot a Yellow car and you can punch your opponent on the arm.
3. Spot a Yellow Mini and you can punch your opponent on the arm twice.
Nothing complicated. Keeps him occupied for the entire journey from Oldham to Leicester. Fantastic.
However, when there’s just the two of us in the car it’s bordering on the dangerous. When he’s in the back with his older sister it’s mayhem. They argue, they fight, they claim they saw the Mini first, they fall out, the punches get harder – but they’re occupied!
But when it’s just the two of us I have to remind him that I am actually driving a car.
I think Jesus once had a game of Yellow Mini with his disciples – and it was Peter who got punched on the arm! Yet again, I’m delving into The Message version of the Bible for inspiration this week and as soon as I saw the passage title I was hooked: You’re Not in the Driver’s Seat.
Then Jesus made it clear to his disciples that it was now necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, submit to an ordeal of suffering at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and then on the third day be raised up alive. Peter took him in hand, protesting, “Impossible, Master! That can never be!”
But Jesus didn’t swerve. “Peter, get out of my way. Satan, get lost. You have no idea how God works.”
Jesus didn’t swerve. I like that. He had his mind made up. He had set his course. Nothing that anybody said or did would deflect his course. If only I had that strength, that determination, to be that resolute. But how often do I get blown off route by the slightest wind or distraction or criticism? Freecell is definitely the tool of the devil!
I must admit that the one time I’m not usually blown off course is when I’m in the car. My wife, my sons, my daughter might well be telling me that I don’t know where I’m going (and I don’t mind admitting that usually I never tell them that I’m hopelessly lost!) but I stick to my current heading, I follow my instincts, I look like I know what I’m doing and where I’m going, and 10 minutes too late I end up pulling over and getting Google Maps out! In my spiritual life (and also my physical and emotional world) I need to hear Jesus say: You’re not in the driver’s seat.
Then Jesus went to work on his disciples. “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?
This is the stuff of multiple sermons. Such inspiration. How long can I go on for? Be brief? Ok.
How often do we get the slightest bright idea and we’re off and running. Who’s in the driver’s seat? Who’s in control?
Don’t run from suffering – we often think that faith is a universal remedy to all our problems. Faith is all about living as the people we are – with all our problems, with all our troubles, with all our distractions. God has made us, God has created us in his image – with all our foibles, bad habits, talents and gifts. How often have you heard it said at a funeral – “When George was born they broke the mould!” That’s because we’re all unique. All God’s children. All loved equally and overwhelmingly. So faith isn’t about changing the person we are, it’s about becoming the person God created us to be. Avoiding the pitfalls, growing gracefully, learning from our mistakes, embracing suffering.
Self sacrifice. Wow. Deal or no deal?
“Don’t be in such a hurry to go into business for yourself. Before you know it the Son of Man will arrive with all the splendour of his Father, accompanied by an army of angels. You’ll get everything you have coming to you, a personal gift. This isn’t pie in the sky by and by. Some of you standing here are going to see it take place, see the Son of Man in kingdom glory.”
And if we persevere, if we are determined, if we allow Jesus to sit in the driver’s seat and be guided by him we’ve got a personal gift waiting for us. Not riches and wealth in this lifetime. Not fame and fortune just around the corner. Sadly, not always good health and successful relationships. No empty promises. That’s not what’s guaranteed – although people do see those riches in this life – and remember, we must not be blown off course if that is not our lot in life.
But seeing the Son of Man in his Kingdom glory, that’s what I’m living for, and working for, and striving for – even if sometimes I want to sit in the driver’s seat just for a while.