Saturday, April 21, 2012

On the Road Again!

RCL Easter 3B
22 April 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

For an audio recording of the Sermon at our 10.00 a.m. service please click on the following link:

            As a boy growing up in Colorado Springs I was surrounded by a supportive community of adults.  My father, a member of the United States Air Force, worked in an office populated by military and civilian personnel who enjoyed being with one another, whether at work or at play.  It was the rare weekend that did not involve some sort of outdoor activity, sometimes in one of our favourite mountain locations some miles to the west of Colorado Springs, or at our home.

            I remember one such event, a large picnic gathering at one of the mountain parks outside of Woodland Park, a small town about thirty miles or so to the west of the Springs.  I think that I was ten at the time and, like many boys my age, had begun to be fascinated with cars and moving machines of any sort.

            One of the younger servicemen in Dad’s office had recently bought a motorcycle.  It was a powerful machine and it became a magnet for all the boys my age and a bit older.  The owner quickly realized that all of us were eager to take a ride and he gladly obliged us.

            Now these were the days when wearing a motorcycle helmet was not only rare but frowned upon by ‘real’ men.  Only motorcycle cops wore helmets and that, we thought, was only to make them look more menacing!  So, one by one, we hopped on the back of the motorcycle to be treated to a thrilling ride up and back the dirt round bordering our picnic site.

            When my turn came, I climbed onto the motorcycle and wrapped my arms around the owner.  We slowly gathered speed as we drove away from all my friends.  We reached the end of the road and turned around for our return trip.

            I don’t remember clearly what happened next.  Perhaps I loosened my grip around the driver’s waist.  Perhaps we were both distracted for a moment.  Perhaps the young man driving the cycle decided that he had had enough of stately runs back and forth.  Whatever the chain of events was, I remembered this:  He gunned the cycle.  He gunned it again and popped the clutch.  The cycle reared up like a horse and took off at great speed.  I flew off the back and landed on the side of the road.  I wasn’t really hurt, just winded, but my parents came running down the road with the young man roaring ahead of them.

            That, my friends, was the end of my motorcycle career.  I have never ridden one since and I am always uncomfortable during my commuting into Vancouver with a motorcycle ahead or behind or beside me.  My imagination runs wild and I can foresee disaster.  Even though I know there are safe riders and the number of accidents seems to be low, I have this deep-seated fear of these mechanical beasts.

            In today’s readings we are being asked to ride a motorcycle we have ridden before.  Every Sunday we hear three readings and join in the recitation of a psalm, hoping that God will speak to us and help us be faithful signs of God’s love in action.  Most of the time the ride is somewhat sedate.  The readings are often pretty clear or, at least, not too obscure.  We have started the practice of reading ‘illuminations’ that help put the readings into context.  We have become good riders, wearing our helmets, remembering our road safety rules and driving within the speed limits.

            But today we have readings that may throw us off the motorcycle.  Today the readings are clear reminders that what the Scriptures say may not always be what the Scriptures mean.

            1)  In the first reading from Isaiah we hear the familiar account of Isaiah’s vision and his call by God to undertake the ministry of a prophet to the people of Judah in their time of national crisis.  This story is so familiar that we may miss the implications of the closing verses of this portion of Isaiah’s vision:  “And [God] said, ‘Go and say to this people:  “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.”  Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6.9-10)

            Isn’t the job of a prophet to help people understand God’s word?  Isn’t God’s desire that we look for God and listen for God?  Yet here God seems to be telling Isaiah that his ministry is doomed from the start, but that God expects him to fulfill it nevertheless.  Is it any wonder that many rabbinic commentators could not accept this idea and taught that God is talking about what is likely to happen rather than what God wants Isaiah to do?  Is it any wonder that some Christian commentators misused this text to boast of the superiority of Christian faith to Jewish faith by suggesting that Christians have listened where Jews have not?

            2)  In our second reading Peter speaks to the people who have gathered in response to the healing of lame man near the Temple.  In so many words he says to them, “I know that our scholars and teachers have been studying and interpreting the Scriptures for many centuries, but they and you got it wrong about Jesus of Nazareth.  He was the promised Messiah, but you read the Scriptures wrong.”

            Imagine that!  Hundreds of years of searching the Scriptures in order to know when the Messiah might come and, when he does come, we end up missing the signs.  What are we supposed to do?

            3)  In today’s gospel the risen Jesus appears to the disciples after his appearance on the road to Emmaus.  Here these people are, followers of Jesus for the last year or more, listening to his teaching and they still need a lesson in the interpretation of the Scriptures!  What’s a believer to do?

            My friends, every day we can turn on the radio or open a magazine or watch a television programme where someone speaks with utmost certainty about what the Scriptures say.  It can be quite daunting and Anglicans, in particular, often feel unprepared to enter into any conversation about the Scriptures.  But the truth is that conversation about the Scriptures, wrestling about what the Scriptures mean, is not solely a task for so-called experts or for clergy or for self-identified prophets.  It is a shared task for the entire community.  And why is a shared task?  

  • It is a shared task because we claim that the Scriptures record millennia of human experience with the God who created all things.  
  • It is a shared task because we claim that the Scriptures record the early Christian community’s memories of the words, teachings and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call ‘Lord’ and the one who shows us what it means to be a human being fully alive.  
  • It is a shared task because we claim that the Scriptures record the wisdom of God’s Spirit that continues to work in us and through us to achieve God’s purposes for all creation.

            We are not without tools.  One such tool is our God-given reason that allows us to dig into a reading and to sift what applies to us in our time and our situation.  Another tool is a tradition that links us with Jews and Christians throughout the millennia who have pondered the same questions we have and who have sought to find the meaning couched with the many words of the scriptural texts.

            We also have each other.  In many Jewish and Christian communities the study of the Scriptures is a regular activity.  Together we read the Scriptures, perhaps for the coming Sunday, perhaps working our way through a single book of the Scriptures, and we talk with one another about what our questions are, what our confusions are, what our revelations are.  Together we grow in our knowledge but also in our humility and modesty, our willingness to say that we sometimes do not know nor understand what these texts are saying to us.  But we will keep proclaiming these words and we will continue to wrestle with what they might mean for us and for all of God’s creatures.

            Yesterday I was working with our diaconal applicants and postulants in a seminar on the Anglican ethos.  We got into a conversation about the Anglican theological method, sometimes called the three-legged stool of scripture as interpreted by reason and tradition.  One of our postulants, Karen Saunders, who is to be ordained deacon with Christine, suggested the image of a tricycle, the front wheel being Scripture which drives us and the two back wheels being reason and tradition to give us stability.

            In a flash my memory of my early encounter with a motorcycle came over me, but with a new insight.  I realized that the image I now had was not of a tricycle but of the new Can Am Spyder Roadster, a three-wheeled vehicle that has both power and stability.  After my near-disastrous encounter with a two-wheel cycle in my childhood, I have discovered redemption in the image of the powerful Spyder, the rear wheel being the Scriptures driving me forward into God’s future and the two front wheels of reason and tradition giving me the stability to navigate the uncertain terrain in front of me.  I almost went out yesterday afternoon to test-drive and buy one!

            I hope that in the months ahead we will find a venue in our life here at Saint Faith’s for the kind of engagement with the Scriptures that will help us wrestle with what is said and meant.  Perhaps you have had your own experience of falling off the motorcycle we call the Scriptures.  Perhaps you are a bit daunted by the idea of entering into this strange world.  Well, let’s hope on our three-wheeler together and explore what treasures and mysteries there are to be found!  Amen.


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