Last Friday I wrote that I would do some blogging this summer about motorcycles and faith. Those thoughts have turned into this 3-week sermon series.
In my seminary, like in most colleges, all first-year students had to take several “intro” classes. Intro to Church History, Intro to Public Speaking, Intro to Old Testament, and Intro to New Testament were those necessary, but less than scintillating classes. My seminary used two professors for each of the classes, probably to expose us to more of the faculty, and to keep their faculty members from getting investing too much time and effort into such pedantic classes. Possibly the honor of teaching them went to the ones who drew the shortest straws.
It showed. The professors were mostly dry in their recitation of the facts. Except in Intro to Old Testament when Dr. Dennis Olson lectured. Dr. Olson drew me in to his lectures when he closed them with practical application. He often gave mini-sermons based on the Old Testament, demonstrating to us that we could preach effectively from the Hebrew Scriptures. One of those stories particularly grabbed my attention. It went something like this:
A man stands in a motorcycle showroom admiring a brand new bike. He walks around it several times looking closely at the two-tone paint job, noticing the shine in the chrome, and feeling the attention to detail evident in the stitching on seat. If love at first sight is possible and applies to inanimate objects, this was it. He dared to grab the handlebars and swing his right leg over the seat to sit on the machine.
Knowing he had a nibble, the salesman sauntered over to reel in the catch of the day. ”Beautiful bike isn’t it?”
“Sure is,” said the customer.
“If you think it looks good in the showroom,” the salesman continued, “you should see it on the open road. The sound of that motor beneath you as you lean into a curve with the wind in your face… man, there is nothing like it.”
“Sounds great,” said the customer.
“You know what?” the salesman said, feeling that tug on the line that assured him the hook was about to be set, “Let me go get the keys and a helmet and get you a test ride.”
“Alright,” said the customer.
As he returned with the key, dealer plate, and a helmet, the salesman decided to put a little slack in the line by inserting some small talk. “By the way, my name is Steve.”
“I’m John,” said the customer.
“What do you do, John?” asked the salesman.
“I’m the pastor at the church up the street.” There was a pause…
The salesman recovered, reeling as fast as he could by changing the direction of the conversation. “You know,” he said, “motorcycles are not as dangerous as people think. The visibility is way better than a car, the handling is fantastic… If you take a rider’s safety course, you’ll be fine.”
Why I ride?
It has been more than 20 years since I heard that story, and yet it stays with me. Probably because motorcycles have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
I was maybe 7 or 8 when my dad bought his first bike, a Kawasaki 500. A couple of years later, he traded up to a much bigger bike, his first Harley, a ’69 Shovelhead, policeman’s special. I remember riding on the back of that Harley to LIttle League practice and soccer games. Man, that was cool. As high school students, my brother and I both had dirt bikes we would ride down the abandon railroad tracks near our house to the sandpit about half-a-mile away. I got my license about 15 years ago, and rode on and off for a while, but it wasn’t until moving to Colorado that I got my 1999 Honda Shadow Aero and became a rider.
This spring after a long hiatus due to a flat, there always seemed something more important to spend money on than motorcycle tires, I finally got it fixed and got the bug back. Like the salesman in the story said, there really is nothing like it. You will think this strange, I’m sure, but when I first started it up again, the sound of the engine rumbling moved me. The smell that fills my garage is one of the best. My commute has changed from 15 mundane minutes to the best parts of my day. A ride to make a pastoral call at the hospital becomes so much more than time to kill. I credit the ride with stress reduction. You really cannot think of anything other than riding when your riding, or you might make a mistake, and mistakes on a motorcycle can be costly. I find myself closer to creation. I notice the trees, the animals, the moisture in the air and the temperature fluctuations. I find myself singing praise songs quite a bit from saddle of my motorcycle. I know, not what you would normally think of from the stereotypical biker.
During these past few months, stories have come flooding back to me of things I have learned from riding that translate into our spiritual lives. A few of those stories have become this sermon series. The first being this story Dr. Olson shared in my Intro to Old Testament class back in seminary.
At the end of the story Dr. Olson asked us these rhetorical questions:
“Why is it that a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is seen more at home on a lawn mower than on a motorcycle? Is the Gospel safe and mundane like a lawn mower? Or is the Gospel exhilarating and even a little dangerous, filling us with a sense of adventure? We ought to preach the gospel less like a lawnmower and more like a motorcycle ride.”
Or in my words: Where did we ever get the idea that we were born to be mild? How did we ever come to understand the life of faith as safe, secure, and quite frankly a little boring? When did Christians become this white-bread, vanilla, play-it-safe bunch? How did we ever come to conclude that the Gospel is a lawn mower, back and forth across the same patch of ground at 4-miles-per-hour?
When you read the Bible it is hard to come to that conclusion. We read that Jesus was crucified for the sake of the gospel, Paul was imprisoned and eventually executed, John was exiled, Stephen was stoned, and almost all of the disciples were arrested and/or sentenced to death. With all of that it is hard to believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a nice, little add-on that will get us the peace, safety, and security we long for in life.
That is not the life that Jesus intended for you. Jesus says in today’s scripture lesson that he came that we might have life – abundant life.
In this passage, Jesus is embroiled in a controversy with the Pharisees, religious leaders of the day, as he often was. In the midst of the controversy Jesus contrasts two types of leaders – one represented by the Shepherd whom he identifies as himself, and the other as thieves. The Shepherd, he says, comes in and out using the gate. The thieves jump the fence. The Shepherd calls the sheep by name and the sheep follow. The thieves are not known by the sheep, so they do not follow. The Shepherd becomes the gate for the sheep, giving them security and freedom. The thieves take the sheep by force.
Then Jesus says this, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
I have come to give you life, Jesus says, abundant life. Not to steal your life from you. The Message says it this way, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” But my favorite is the TNIV that puts it this way, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
One author, Mike Yaconelli, puts it this way:
When you become a Christian, when you decide to follow Christ, you decide in favor of passion. Jesus came to forgive us of our sin, yes, but His mission was also to introduce us to the passion of living. Most people believe that following Jesus is all about living right. Not true. Following Jesus is all about living fully (Yaconelli 94).
What would it mean to you to have life to the full? Where is your passion in serving God? What is God calling you to do?
I don’t know about you, but I can tell you what it isn’t. It is not mowing the lawn. That’s necessary, but it doesn’t exactly fill us with passion. An abundant and full life is a life of adventure. A life of excitement and thrills.
Now don’t get me wrong, I like lawnmowers. In fact, my dream retirement job is on a grounds keeping crew at a golf course. After a career in pastoral ministry it sounds like a peaceful and productive way to make a little money. Riding a mower, getting some sun, and at the end of the day looking at a freshly mowed fairway and saying, “I did that.”
While it makes us feel good to see a freshly cut lawn, there are not too many dads here today who have said, “You know what I wanna do for Fathers Day? I want to mow the lawn.” It makes us feel productive, but it doesn’t make us feel alive. It doesn’t stir our passion. It’s nice, it’s safe, but it’s not the best of life.
The best comes when we live out of our passion!
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day lived a passionless, albeit faithful life. For them the faithful life was all about living right. In Matthew 23 Jesus tells us that these guys would go into their spice rack when the time came so that they could tithe their mint, dill, and cummin. Now that is going out of your way to be right. That is also a passion killer.
Where is your passion? What gets you all worked up in your faith? Maybe your passion is to share what Jesus has done for you. Maybe your passion is the poor in the area – when you see someone in a parking lot or on an exit ramp with a cardboard sign, your heart breaks. Maybe your passion is the children you teach in school, or the kids that are coming to VBS tomorrow, or the patients you serve, or the clients you see. Maybe your passion is for the people in other parts of the world who don’t have access to clean water – something that seems to simple to solve. Maybe its AIDS in Africa, or Malaria, or hunger. Maybe you have a passion for the Native Americans on the reservation struggling in poverty, or another population that struggles. Maybe like me you have a passion for making sure that people who have heard for sometime that God is angry with them KNOW that Jesus loves them, oh how he loves us! What is your passion?
Back to a riding image:
Have you ever seen this sign? I saw one recently on 105 out between Palmer Lake and Sedalia, which is a pretty nice ride by the way. A yellow diamond is a warning sign. In essence that sign says, “Warning: Church ahead.” I know that is meant to alert drivers on a Sunday morning to pay attention to their onslaught of traffic that might be coming out of their driveway and onto the road. But I think if we were doing our job well, every church should need a warning sign. Not because of our driveways but because some passionate, dangerous, countercultural people meet together there. Warning, if you go there your life might just be changed, consumed by their passion. If you hang around with those people they will encourage you to do some risky stuff, albeit for some very good reasons. Warning: Church.
On Thursday night my family and I went to Acacia Park for what was called the City Wide Night of Worship. People from churches in the downtown Colorado Springs area all got together for a night of free food and worship music. The organizers of the event, who happens to be a young man about 18 years old, writes this on their website:
Citywide Night of Worship is about three things. The first is to bring the body of Colorado Springs together. Not just this or that church but the entire city body… The second is when we come to find that we are family whether we are rich or poor, young or old, then the poverty on our door step becomes a problem.
It’s not just “homeless folks” on the street anymore. We are one family and included in this family are the poor and homeless (Matthew 25:45). This should lead us towards action. The third is worship. What better thing to do at a family reunion then just give praise to God?
The free food was key. As you probably know there is a homeless population that lives in and around Acacia Park. So without it being a “handout” kind of thing, people were brought together and they all shared in the food. Homeless people were eating side by side with those who were going home later that night. There was no separation between the people who came with the churches and the people who were just already there. All ate together until they had their fill. I heard this week that the organizers were told that it would never work, that the idea was just crazy. Hundreds of people attended both last year and this. That is some dangerous passion. Warning: Church.
We are sending some of our kids next weekend to Denver and another group to a Reservation in Busby, Montana. They will work with the people in the area and learn what it is like to struggle in Denver, or to live on a reservation as a Native American. Several years ago when our high school students went to Savannah, Georgia they met several African-American homeowners, and heard stories of racism and racial tension. They don’t go there just to learn. They don’t go there just to paint houses. They go there to be witnesses to the love of Jesus for all people. They go to make a difference. That is risky passion. Warning: Church.
One of the things I hear most when people hear about my motorcycle riding is that they worry for my safety. Believe me, I want to be safe. Please don’t hear me saying that we should be stupid for Jesus. I’m not.
Is it safe?
Safety is important to me when I ride. I wear a helmet every time. I also wear a riding jacket that would protect me from the pavement if something were to happen. I practice my riding quite a bit. If you come during the week, you might see me trying to make tighter and tighter turns in the parking lot as I work on my lean angle, giving me more agility on the road. I work on my motorcycle to make sure it is in good, safe riding condition. And I pay attention when riding. Riding definitely makes one a better driver.
Safety is important, and I understand that riding is a bit dangerous. But whoever said safety is a virtue?
I rather like the way C. S. Lewis describes God in a couple of places in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Early in the story, when the Pevensie children first come to Narnia, they meet a couple of talking beavers who are very excited to meet them. Mr. Beaver begins to tell the children about Aslan, the Christ figure in the story. Then we read this:
“Is – is he a man?” asked Lucy
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion, the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh,” said Susan, “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before
Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “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.”
Much later in the book, when Lucy has now met Aslan and trusts him, Aslan plays with Lucy. They are running through the grass together and wrestling, chasing. Then C. S. Lewis writes this:
It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia, and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind (quoted by Yaconelli 32).
He’s isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s a thunderstorm and a kitten.
Lewis might not have said that a relationship with God was like a motorcycle ride. Instead he wrote that living a life of faith was like playing with a lion.
Seems to me that when you think about your life of faith, you can just live it safely checking boxes on the way to heaven. Went to church today. Check. Said a prayer today. Check. Read the Bible today. Check. Was nice. Check. Mowed the lawn. Check.
Or you can live a life of passion, a full, abundant, better-than-you-can-imagine life. A life where you might find yourself playing with a lion. A life of that entails some risk, yes, but makes you alive! May you and I be the church that needs a warning sign – not because of its parking lot, but because of our passion.
After church you may want to mow the lawn. Me? I’m going for a ride.
Yaconelli, Mike. Dangerous Wonder: the Adventure of Childlike Faith. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998.