Sunday, February 11, 2001

Arrive Alive

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: 1Peter 5:1-11


Do you sense, here and there, an increase in discourtesy and incivility? Just how well did the audience at the elementary music concert behave? How, exactly, would you characterize the communication you receive by e-mail? When the telephone rings during dinner time does your heart leap expectantly, or are you conditioned to expect a conversation that is mercantile, anonymous, harsh, brutal and short? What do you see on the streets, the actual streets, where you live?

One morning I watched a man back his car out onto a busy street. It was early and the snow drifted lightly onto the pavement. He calmly continued a cell phone conversation as the car meandered back into the street. He did not notice, or was not paying attention, as two cars came toward him, one from the east close lane and one from the west far lane. They honked, he proceeded. They braked, he proceeded. They went over their respective curbs to avoid collision, he proceeded. They gestured memorably as he proceeded, conversation continuing, not a worry in the world.

Do you sense an increase in motorist discourtesy and incivility? Is this very basic aspect of community life any indication, any measure of the spiritual awareness of our time? One driving teacher admonished her pupils, "drive always so as to arrive alive." Is this how we drive and live?

The first Letter of Peter, written during the empire wide persecution of Christians and others in the late first century, is generally understood to be a long essay on the meaning of baptism. Our chapter happens to address features of life with which we are very familiar: relations between leaders and followers, the young and the old, the strong and the weak, those inside and those outside. Under the impress of Roman domination, so artfully recreated in our youth production last weekend, the earliest church crystallized for later ages some rules of the road. I think it is important for us to recognize when this passage is read that men and women sacrificed to give us this Word.

The flock felt very much like sheep when subjected to the Roman lash. Exemplary behavior truly was valued, because it set a course for safety, safety in the midst of persecution. No matter how the empire behaved, these few could take on new clothing - humility, love, grace. Yes, they knew anxiety, the fear of being thrown to lions. They knew of others who, due to their identification with Jesus, and their willingness to call him "Lord", where eaten by lions, as others watched. So when the writer said, "Be sober. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour", they heard more than just a fine literary phrase, well-turned, and holding colorful metaphor. They heard a stern warning, meant to help them arrive alive, through all the journey of life.

My friend Ken McMillan says, "plan for the worst, hope for the best, then do your most, and leave all the rest".

The early Roman church also had its motto: "Be sober. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour."

In a three point sermon, we would say: Pay attention. Be honest. See others. Here are some simple rules for the road, as you back out of the driveway, coffee splashing and cell-phone dancing: concentrate, communicate, compensate.

Driving Home

1 Peter may have some lasting meaning. It helps, around the house, if you do pay attention, and if you are honest, and if you do "see", really "see" others.

What a rich and healthy time this is in our life together! I marveled last weekend to observe our church in worship services and in youth theater, and in adult classes and in musical ensembles and in service work and in new forms of communication—all at the same time and that more than 50 of our leading women went away for the weekend. By all reports those were glorious days away on retreat! Still, there is the moment of return, of re-entry. I wondered how those moments went….

Honey, I'm home"
How was the retreat?
"It was just great! We laughed and cried. Margie and Robin were there. The food was fine. What a real treat in the middle of winter!
I am so glad.
"Honey, uh, what are these two partially eaten bananas doing on the kitchen floor?"
It's a funny thing, you'll be amused by this…
"Never mind, I know how hard it can be…(silence)…uh, honey, where is the dog?"
It's a funny thing, you'll be amused by this…
"No, I'll look for her down the block, never mind…(silence)…Honey, why are there eleven pairs of shoes and one hockey skate in the middle of the living room? What is this, a prayer meeting for footgear?"
It's a funny thing, you'll be amused by this…
"I doubt it. Anyway, how was church?"
It's a funny—
"Don't tell me. You didn't go."
Well, the alarm went off, and I just rolled over for a minute, and then it was already 9:00 so I figured we would just listen to the service on the radio.
"Well, ok, I have to give you credit, there, that is better than nothing. What was the sermon about?'
It's a funny thing, you'll be amused by this, we didn't actually listen…
Yes, it was a good and joyful thing, men, when you ducked as the frying pan came sailing toward your scalp. Those skillets can smart. And they leave a little bump on the forehead.

All attempted humor aside, how is your home front driving going? Have you avoided recently all rolling stops, all marginal speeding, all running of red lights, all unlicensed travel? I think we still have some unfinished driver education at home, when it comes to women and men. Sometimes our need can be revealed, apocalypsed, to us on a winter weekend, when least we expect it. Do we pay attention, when the other asks? Do we honestly state our needs, so the other truly can hear? Do we "see" the hurt and desire of another and work to bring out the best?

Here is a Biblical imperative, wrought for us in the fire of first century trouble: pay attention, be honest, see others; concentrate, communicate, compensate.

The Scripture reminds us: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you." For Paul and the Colossians it was a kind of slogan.

"Be sober. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour."

Driving From Home to Church

Most of us drive to church. We park carefully to leave space for the less mobile. We filter out into the far reaches of the back lot. You know, there are some similar lessons that we learn over time not about driving to church, but about driving in church. A measure of civility is required to maintain a community. We learn that when someone really needs us to stop and listen, really stop and really listen, a rolling stop is not good enough. We learn that speeding through work that has some gracious, reasonable and venerable speed limits, set for our own good, can cause an injury or two. We learn that running a stop sign, whether it is a cautionary octagon in red about use of resources or personal morality or use of language or use, let us beware, of another person - we run real risk when we run red lights. We learn that driving when and where we are not licensed, especially in licentious behaviors, does lasting damage, generationally lasting damage. Few of us get through life without an existential traffic ticket or two.

Even in the best of circumstances, there are occasional collisions in church life. Of all the things that worry us, these are the greatest. They are in some measure inevitable. They are going to happen. But we want to do our very best to make them as few and as minor as possible.

In fact, the New Testament presumes that accidents happen. Matthew 18, yet another of the teachings of Jesus recalled for the need of the church, counsels us about car repair. Speak privately. If you need to, take a friend. If more is needed, gather the church. What is most astounding is the end of this paragraph on ecclesiastical driving: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

My friend says, "There are four rules in life. Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. Don't get too attached to the results." This is his motto.

Here is another slogan. 1 Peter has some wisdom to share with us in the life of the church. "Be sober. Be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."

Or, in three point parlance:

First, pay attention. Truly attend to the presence, form, voice, history, needs, hurts, longings, desires, doubts, graces, failings - the soul - of another. Wherever you are, be there.

Second, be honest. Name the truth as you have experienced it and as you need to name it for your own salvation, worked out in fear and trembling. You can be kind, and still be honest. There are ways, and we learn them better as we age. Praise in public, criticize in private. Communicate clearly, early, truly, surely. If you signal to turn left, turn left. Trust others, the Spirit, your heart, God.

Third, "see" others. The first letter of Peter, and the whole of the Bible, remind us to watch and measure not from the heights but from the depths. " Seeking someone to devour." I think our best guide to this verse is through our own suffering, which is in fact what the letter of Peter later says.

The church is always both a representation and a demonization of the divine, wheat and tares together sown. Tillich taught us that.

Concentrate, communicate, compensate.

Drive So As To Arrive Alive

There come moments in life when we wake up. For some people, as for Paul, there is one earth shattering and road splitting moment. The heavens open and a voice speaks. For others, as for Peter, there is a series of moments. Peter liked the snooze control. A moment by the Sea of Galilee, and the leaving of nets. Leaving home. A moment in Caearea Philippi, and the dye is cast. Growing up. A moment outside the court of the guard in Jerusalem, in the fire light, and tragic denial. Seeing our worst selves. And then a glorious moment, on the far side of trouble, call it Easter morning tombside, when we see who it is who has loved us enough to give us life, and forgiveness and eternal life. There come moments in life when we wake up.

Is this such a moment for you?

I mean. Are you ready to concentrate and communicate and compensate? Are you ready to wake up and live the life of a dying man? Are you ready to pay attention and be honest and see others? Are you ready to start to drive concentrating all your attention and communicating with real honesty and compensating for the hurts of others you see? Are you ready to wake up?

I mean. It is one thing to audit the course, another to sign up for credit. It is one thing to sit in the stands, another to lace up your own cleats. It is one thing to say hello on Friday and goodbye on Sunday, another to commit. And: it is one thing to sit in the pew and sing the hymn, another to say to yourself, "I am a Christian. Come what may, I am a Christian."

If you love Jesus you will do something for him. This week. Volunteer to watch kids. Sign to become a member. Write a check. Maybe most radically: give yourself 15 minutes of attentive silence every morning. This is a call to wake up and live. Whether you push the snooze alarm or swing your legs to the floor, the word is the same: pay attention, be honest, see others.

Then you will drive as to arrive, alive

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