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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Jesus Take the Brakes

2016-06-05 Lk 07 11-17 Jesus Take the Brakes

We did one of those Drivers' Ed classes. The instructor started off with a test for the parents. I learned some things.

True or false: The correct position for your hands on the steering wheel is 10 and 2.

False. It USED to be 10 and 2. Now it's 9 and 3. Why? Because at 10 and 2 if your airbag deploys, it'll blow your arms off. Not really. Just backward.

Second question:

What's a red light mean? Stop.

What's a green light mean? Go.

What's a yellow light mean? Go very fast.

Wait, go back. WHAT does a green light mean? Go? Ehhhh! Wrong! Green means Go IF the intersection is clear. Driving rules are tricky. Like Leviticus. But that's the way intersections are. Tricky. You've gotta stay alert. Because you never know who's coming. You never know who you're gonna run into.

It could be, as in today's scripture, it's Jesus you run into. He might save you from a crash. He might cause one. He tends to show up unexpectedly at the intersection of one thing and another. So keep your eyes open. You don't want to drive past him.


Carrie Underwood had that song a few years ago, "Jesus, Take the Wheel." It was big.

Jesus take the wheel

Take it from my hands

Cause I can't do this on my own

I'm letting go

So give me one more chance.

Save me from this road I'm on.

Jesus, take the wheel.

Sweet song. But as Country Music goes, I'm more of a Robert Earl Keen fan. I like his song, "Swervin' In My Lane."

Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing.

'Cause sometimes all my days are filled with rain.

As I travel down life's highway, things ain't goin' my way

'Cause there's always someone swervin' in my lane.

You keep a swervin' in my lane and it's causing' lots of danger.

I'ma honkin' on my horn, I'ma [displaying a hand signal].

I keepa switchin' on my bright lights, but you're just too dim to know,

When your swervin' on life's highway, you're running someone off the road.

(Pure genius.)

When your life is out of control, it's not the wheel you need to give to Jesus; it's the brakes.

Oh, look up ahead. The signs say danger. The yellow warning lights are flashing. Trouble. Trouble with family. Trouble with work. Trouble with church (God forbid). What do you do? If you're wise, you slow down and assess the situation. If you're wise you count to 10 about 10 times. You pray. You phone a friend. That's exactly what you do. Because you're smart. Or, you do what I like to do. You see those yellow caution flags as a signal to #GoVeryFast and plow through, because it's not "my way or the highway;" it's "My Highway. And you'll get used to it."

A therapist friend of mine describes only children - like me - as, "It's not my way or the highway; it's, 'What highway?'" Of course I drive distracted. Isn't that what we all do? Go around distracted by whatever's on our minds or hearts? Clueless. Unaware. It's the state our life licenses come from.

Jesus, take the brakes. Lord, slow me down before I hurt someone. Before I hurt myself. Before I get all headstrong and reach ramming speed. Ramming speed never ends well.

Especially at an intersection. Until Jesus shows up to help us put on the brakes.


Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.

Two crowds. One coming into town. One going out. At the bottleneck of the gate, they collide.

Today's scripture takes place smack in the middle of an intersection. At the gates of the town of Nain, two crowds run directly into each other. Crowd A is outside coming in. Jesus and his disciples and a "large crowd" of followers. Crowd B is inside going out. A funeral procession. Crowd A is so excited and happy. Crowd B is a funeral procession. Crowd B is a  Middle-eastern funeral procession. Both Crowd A and Crowd B are loud and noisy and religious. But Crowd A is loud and noisy and religious because it's Jesus and they're not Presbyterian. Crowd B is loud and noisy and religious because, it's a Middle-eastern funeral procession.

And bang! Right there on Nain Main, in the middle of the town gates, the two crowds converge. Both crowds wanted to Go, but neither checked to see if the intersection was clear. So, smart driver adults: Who's at fault, here? Did the funeral run into Jesus? Or did Jesus run into the funeral? What will go into Officer Luke's report?

What is it the courts say when they can't establish who's at fault? What do they call it when something happens that no person can be blamed, or proved wrong, or even right?

An act of God. Right? Funny when courts and insurance carriers are better at recognizing acts of God than we are.

God, or the Holy Spirit, or Jesus, has this awkward habit of running into us, especially when we're driving distracted. We stay distracted. We stay so distracted we don't even know we're distracted. We're absolutely certain we know where we're going. We know who's in the right lane (us) and we know who's in the wrong (them). We're so certain of the destination we've already made up our minds about.

But you can get lost in your own certainty, can't you? It might be we're sure our world has ended - as almost assuredly did the mother of Nain who had lost her adult child. It might be we're so sure we're so right we don't even need to look around for the pathetic klunkers who might be left.

I'll be so glad when they finish the roundabouts at Maloney Road, so both the Presbyterians AND the Baptists will spend hours going in circles. There's some deep symbolism in that.

Whatever the flavor of our faith, the straight and narrow of our certainty does seem, eventually, to intersect with Jesus. On a curve. At a gate. Do we run into these acts of God, or do they run into us? Maybe a little of both. And there's always a spiritual impact. Our egos and our assumptions might take a beating, but Jesus tends our wounds with compassion, and grace, and salvation, and healing.


As he [and his disciples and a large crowd] approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother's only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town.

The crowds meet at the gate. Now, watch closely what happens when Jesus runs into the mother.

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, "Do not weep."

Now. I'm no genius of pastoral care. But "Do not weep" is NOT what you say to a widowed mother who has just lost her only son. If an idiot preacher said that to me, I would want to run him over, repeatedly. When a mother buries a child, she is entitled to weep as long as she wants. "Do not weep" collides with my sense of compassion. Probably because as faithful as I'd like to be, I still see death as scary and final. But Jesus? He sees a wider road.

Look where Jesus goes next.

Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, rise!" The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.

At least one crowd, the funeral crowd, and probably the crowd around Jesus knew what they knew about life, and about death. They knew A + B = C. They were lost in their certainty, keeping to the well-traveled lanes of how things work. Jesus slams the brakes. It was pretty jolting, too. Look what Luke says next:

Fear seized all of them;

I can only imagine.

I think we have this illusion that when Jesus crashes into our lives it's supposed to be rainbows and unicorns. Here's at least one case - but there are plenty more in the Bible (and maybe in your journal) - where the intersection of Jesus and Main will scare the stuffing out of you. Think about it. If - If Jesus can plow through your certainty, break your absolute and irrefutable knowledge of even death, what else, what else can he spin your brain around? If you hold onto what you are sure you know for as tightly as I do, it's scary. If Jesus can even refute death, it's scary to even think about what he might prove us wrong about next.

Fear seized all of them; and…

...and they ran away screaming. Nope.

...and they went to a church where the preacher only told them what they already knew. Nope, nope.

...and they shared medication and agreed never to speak of this to anyone again. Nope, nope, nope.

The Bible says, as only the Bible would,

Fear seized all of them; AND... they glorified God,

When you're suddenly proved wrong about what you think you think, even and especially about something as deep as death, it's perfectly OK and natural to be scared. But in this story, as with all of Jesus's life, death, and resurrection, neither death nor fear gets the final word. Ever.

And they glorified God.

They GLORIFIED God. What, exactly, does that mean, glorified? Did they sing hymns and have a prayer meeting? Maybe. That would seem appropriate. Or did they take up a collection for the widow and her son to help pay for the funeral costs and get them into financial security? Maybe. That could be appropriate, too. Did they turn Crowd A and Crowd B into a new Crowd C is for Compassion? That's good enough for me.

The Bible doesn't say. Luke doesn't tell. I find that very annoying. Because whatever they did, I'd like to do it, too. I'd like to be on that road, that path, that direction. But it doesn't say. It just says, they glorified God.

The Bible doesn't give us a map. But it does give us a sign. It gives us a sign that points to the compassion of Jesus. The signs point to the glorifying of God. The rest of the way is up to you. And to me. And up to us... as a church.

God calls us to do some scary things. God calls us as a church to set aside our prejudices, to turn away from our well-paved paths. God calls us as a church to point the way, to move together in the compassionate way, and to trust that Jesus will take the brakes if and when we get distracted by our short-sighted self-enchantment.

Nothing. Not even death - not even hard-headed we - nothing will get in the way of Christ Jesus our Risen Lord.

That ought to be a little scary. But don't let that stop you from glorifying God.