I opened the sermon with this bumper and clip from the movie Cars.
I know exactly what Sally means. On day three of my motorcycle journey with my dad to California, we awoke in a hotel just south of the Grand Canyon and got on Interstate 40 to continue our journey, the interstate that Sally is talking about. Within a few miles we saw an exit sign that said, “Historic 66.” One of our goals for our ride was to spend as much time as we could on “The Mother Road” so we exited and to experience another slice of Americana.
The ride was… nice. There were sights along the way, small towns, popping up between stretches of desert, but nothing too memorable. That afternoon we arrived in Kingman, Arizona in time for lunch. At our table in the diner we discussed how to continue the rest of the day. Looking out the diner window we could see the signs and the entrance ramps for I-40, and thought it might be a good idea just to hop on, as Sally said, “to make great time.”
The other choice was to stay on Route 66 for a little bit longer. The person in the souvenir shop said we could take Route 66 to Needles, and pick up 40 there. She said it was a nice ride. So we decided to give it a shot. We passed the entrance ramps for 40 and continued on our way. After several minutes we noticed we were not on 66 anymore. Apparently we had missed a turn. We turned back toward Kingman resigned to the fact that we would probably just get on I-40. It just seemed simpler.
Then, just before arriving back in Kingman, we found the sign we had missed for Route 66. My dad put on his right signal and together we made the turn to continue our journey on the “American Highway.”
As portrayed in the movie Cars, much of Route 66 in Arizona, like much of Arizona, is a lot of nothing. Leaving Kingman that day we experienced more of the same. It was fun, but I think we each wondered if it was worth it. We wouldn’t have missed much if we had decided to get on 40.
Then, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, at the top of a hill there was a little souvenir shop on the side of the road. Time to stretch the legs and figure out how far from Needles we were. Not too much farther. So we got back on the bikes and continued southwest on 66. That is when everything changed.
The desert road turned into a mountain road, and it began to move with the contour of the land, as Sally said. We were on a series of switchbacks. Hairpin turns, uphill and down, no guard rails, and great scenery – it was, and continues to be, the greatest ride I have ever been on. Leaning the bike hard to make the turn and throttling out of it to climb the next hill. It was fantastic. We rode 2,450 miles on that trip to California and it is those 20 we talk the most about.
We ended up in Oatman, AZ, an old, gold-mining town that has become a tourist attraction for those who, like us, happen to stumble upon it. There were old western buildings – the saloon, hotel, and more – and for some reason there were donkeys wandering the street. We walked around town for a little while, and even bought t-shirts to commemorate, not the stop in Oatman, but the ride we had just been on.
After the break in Oatman we got back on the bikes to continue the great ride on Route 66 to Needles. There, smiling ear to ear, we finally got onto I-40. Headed for my brother’s house in Long Beach.
That night my journal entry began with a three-word sentence. “Interstates are awful!” Then I wrote this:
OK, that’s not completely true. They’re great for truckers trying to get freight from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. But for the rest of us…
Today I learned that we miss a lot when all we try to do is get to point B. The shortest distance between two points may be a straight line, but the most interesting distance never is. The best stuff is off the beaten path. Memories aren’t made on the smooth, straight road, but in the twists and turns of life. Sometimes it takes almost getting lost, stepping out from the known into the unknown, going the extra mile, seeking out the signposts.
It’s not the destination
The marketing managers at Harley Davidson who are really good at what they do, used to put a slogan on just about everything Harley that said, “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey” (or some form of that). So true. There are much more efficient ways to get from where you are to where you want to go, than on the back of a motorcycle. But we don’t ride just to “get there.” We ride, as the commercials said, because it’s about the journey.
I think Harley Davidson was on to something – not just for motorcycle riding, but for all of life. Abundant life doesn’t happen on the straight line of the interstate. The best of life happens in the twists and turns of Route 66.
The Gospel of Luke makes it clear that Jesus had a destination in mind. Our scripture lesson for today illustrates that point with the last verse: “Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22).
Luke introduces the reader to the journey way back at the end of chapter 9 where in verse 51 we read that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Later in Luke 17:11 Jesus is described as “on the way to Jerusalem.” In 18:11 Jesus says, “we are going up to Jerusalem.” In Luke 19:28 we read, “After [Jesus] had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.” Scholars often call this section of Luke, 9:51 through 19:28 as “Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem. Luke invites us to come along for the ride.
In Luke 13:33 Jesus sums up well the purpose for his journey when he says, “Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.” Jesus has a specific destination and purpose in mind. He is marching to Jerusalem. He is going to his death on a cross. Yet he doesn’t take the Interstate. Jesus knows where he is going, but he knows that it is not about the destination. It is the journey that matters. There is much to be done along the way.
If you just flip through your Bible looking at the headings, you will notice that on his way to Jerusalem Jesus takes the time to teach along the way. He also sends out his disciples to share the gospel. He tells the parable of the good Samaritan. He shares the Lord’s prayer. He casts out demons, confronts the religious leaders, and talks about reconciliation with those who have hurt you. He heals people who are sick, the parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. He proclaims the kingdom, has dinner with a tax collector named Zacchaeus, and blesses little children – all on his way to Jerusalem.
Jesus took every opportunity presented to him to teach, heal, welcome, bless, and reach out to the people he met along the way. He was going to Jerusalem, but he never lost sight of the work to which God had called him. There was more to his journey that just making great time and getting there. There were people along the way. People in need of a comforting word from God, in need of a healing touch, needing to know that they were loved.
Jesus could have made better time. He didn’t have to stop all along the way. But for him it was not just about getting from point A to point B. Jesus is noticing things along the way that truly matter. For Jesus it is not about the destination; it is the journey.
Jesus had this mission he was to accomplish, but he never lost sight of the importance of the people in his life, those he encountered daily.
Slowing down to become aware
II shared with you this clip from a silly little kids movie from several years ago called Cars. Not only does the movie talk about Route 66 and Interstate 40, it also has a great message. Lightning McQueen, the red car in the clip, is an up and coming superstar in racing. He is very motivated, very self-focused, and very ready to become the celebrity he believes he deserves to be. We get glimpses in the movie of just how alone he has made himself, driving away anyone who might get in his way or steal his spotlight.
When he gets stranded in Radiator Springs, that old town on Route 66, he learns about something more important – people. Well, in this case cars. But those around him who care about him for who he is, and not just what he can do. In the end, his heart softens and we see that for him the friends have become the central piece in his life.
In my first sermon in this series I talked about why I ride. One of the reasons I said then was that when I’m on my motorcycle I am more aware of my surroundings. I see things better from my motorcycle saddle. I feel the world around me. I hear the sounds better. My senses are alive. Until you have done it, it is hard to describe the sensation of sitting at a red-light on Academy Boulevard surrounded by other vehicles; or to know that the sprinklers are on a Kings Deer Golf Course before you can see them because you can feel the coolness of the moisture in the air; or for a guy from New Jersey to pull off the side of the road right next to the longhorn steer who are feeding up against the fence.
Jesus seemed to have a similar sense as he walked the dusty streets to Jerusalem. He wasn’t just trying to get there. He was journeying.
I believe the passage we read this morning explains why he can do this. Jesus gives these two brief parables about the Kingdom of God – a mustard seed and yeast. There are several levels in which one could interpret these parables. Today I focus on just one of them.
Earlier in Luke 13 we find Jesus embroiled in another confrontation a synagogue leader because, once again he healed on the Sabbath. In response to the indignation of this leader Jesus gives this great example pointing out the hypocrisy of the religious leaders. He asks if they do not untie their oxen and donkeys to lead them to water on the Sabbath. If they think it is OK to do that “work” for animals on the Sabbath, how can they not see that it is OK for Jesus to do the “work” of healing a human being on the Sabbath? So there is tension between those who put the rules over the people and Jesus putting the people over the rules. In the context of this conversation about the priority of rules and people Jesus gives these two, very short parables about yeast and a mustard seed.
One of the things that yeast and mustard seeds have in common in Jesus’ day was that they were small, ordinary, and easily overlooked. Yet in many ways they are miraculous. From the tiny mustard seed, an entire mustard tree is grown – large enough, Jesus says, that birds make nests in their branches. Yet if you are not looking for it, the seed is easily missed.
The same is true of the yeast. You cannot see the yeast the dough, and yet when it is mixed in with the flour, it makes all the difference in the bread, causing it to rise. Everyday the people ate bread, not really thinking about the yeast and what it had done for the dough. It is easily overlooked, and yet it makes a great deal of difference.
Jesus took his time and was able to see what others often missed. One of the greatest was that Jesus saw people. I think of that line from the woman at the well who invites her friends to ““Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” (John 4:29). She knew that Jesus had seen her. He was aware of the Kingdom of God all around him in the people he met. On the interstate of life, it is easy to miss those kinds of things, the ordinary blessings of the everyday.
In the book of Acts we learn that the very first Christians didn’t call their new-found faith Christianity. Rather they called it The Way. They also didn’t call themselves Christians, but “followers of The Way.” They saw themselves on this journey with the resurrected Jesus, and invited others to join them. They told stories about how Jesus had made the paralyzed walk, as had been done for them spiritually so that they could follow The Way. They also shared stories about how Jesus made the blind see, because they too had received a new awareness of mustard seeds and yeast.
Get off the freeway sometimes
Contrary to what I wrote after that ride to Oatman, interstates aren’t awful. They are actually quite helpful and useful. But life is much more memorable when from time to time you don’t go for a drive just to make good time, but rather to have a good time.
The question to consider today is, “Do you need to get off the Interstate, and go and find your life’s Route 66?” Are you missing important things along the way? Are you so focused on the destination that you are missing the ride, the journey, the people in your life? Or to put it bluntly, are you missing God and God’s Kingdom on your way to your destination?
Monday through Wednesday of this week I attended a retreat. Each day of the retreat started wonderfully. The agenda was put aside; the friendly chatter stopped; and we were invited to come into the presence of God. Sometimes the leader rang a bell that called us to silence and reflection. Sometimes he played some quiet, soothing music. On the retreat I found it easy to just be with God, to allow life to slow down. It was fantastic.
I’ve been trying to recreate that every morning since. It’s much harder. My mind is filled with the day’s agenda, and the desire to get it started is sometimes overwhelming. The temptation is to put off time with God until “I get there,” wherever there may be. I’m tempted to get on the interstate of life and make good time; then there will be time for God. But there is always another destination and little time for rest.
Maybe it’s time to take the next exit, slow down, and enjoy the ride.
At the retreat, I was introduced to a prayer that spoke to me about my desire to get going and my need to slow down:
Patient God, we are people in a hurry.
We confess that we value faster more than deeper, and getting there more than growing.
We miss the tiger lily on our way to the art museum, the wren’s song on our way to the concert. God, we even miss the child on the way to the adult.
We hurry to do things ourselves, God, because your steady, deliberate slowness irritates and scares us.
Teach us to trust you so we can simply wait. We only know how to wait with fingers tapping.
God, some days we don’t have any fun.
We don’t have the time or the energy for fun.
We’re too busy trying – trying to get caught up, trying to make sense of our lives, trying to be better people.
God, show us when we try too hard.
Teach us not to be afraid to let go. Teach us to trust you. Teach us to be gentle with ourselves.
We confess that we think we’ve done some things right.
But sometimes it all feels like a perpetual struggle – between fear and love, anger and love, pride and love, pain and love;
a struggle between foolishness and wisdom, individualism and responsibility, how others define us and how we define ourselves.
We commit ourselves to keep on, but we get tired, impatient, angry, and scared, so then we give up and give in,
then we fail you, each other, and ourselves.
Have mercy on us, forgive us, free us, love us, through Jesus the Christ we pray. Amen.