Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lights On The Highway

A few years ago I took a trip to New York City to meet with some folks at our denominational mission agency headquarters to talk about Haiti. Outside of my first ride on the NYC subway and a couple decent slices of pizza in Greenwich Village, the trip turned out to be a bust. Five out of the six people who were supposed to meet with us bailed at the last minute. I never did get to talk to anyone about our denomination's work in Haiti, and to top it off, my flight out of LaGuardia was delayed due to rain.

When I had left two days earlier, my ticket said I was supposed to land in Dayton by 7pm, so instead of driving my car to airport, I decided to ride. It was June, so I knew I could get home before dark. No problems, right?


My flight was supposed to be direct from NYC to Dayton, but with all the changes and cancellations I ended up on a plane bound for Cincinnati. I arrived a little before 11pm, and having missed my connecting flight the airline offered me an all-expenses paid overnight experience in C Terminal. I found two other guys trying to get to Dayton, so we split the cost of a car service... about 60 bucks apiece. By the time we arrived in Dayton it was after 1am, and it was raining.


I uncovered my bike, put the soaking cover in one saddlebag, put my clothes in the other, put on my raincoat and water-proof gloves, and headed for home.

Have you ever ridden at night, in heavy rain, when the sky is completely dark, and you can't see a thing? I hadn't. Ever. I avoided, whenever I could both riding at night and riding in any other weather than whatever it is we call "good weather" here in Ohio. I'm what you call a "fair weather" biker or as my hard core friends like to call it, I'm a wuss.

But I'd just spent my last sixty bucks on a car ride, and I really wanted to go home, so into the night I rode.

I didn't have a visor, so my glasses were my windshield. The lines on the road were obscured from the rain and lack of available light. I couldn't see squat.

Soon I was passed by a semi going about sixty. I settled in a fair distance behind him, and just followed his tail lights as far as I could, until he pulled over for the night. The rest of the evening I either lived off the head lights of vehicles coming up behind me, or followed tail lights of those ahead of me so I could stay on the road. I just followed the lights on the highway, until finally, very late at night, or very early in the morning, I saw the unmistakable glow of the refinery, the lights and flame lighting up the rain in sky.

It was a beautiful sight, all that orange light. I meant that home wasn't that far away. Lights on the highway, guiding me home, to a city shining in the middle of night.

You probably don't think of Lima, Ohio that way do you? Well, I can tell you, soaking wet in cold rain, that's exactly how I felt.

Jesus described himself as the light of the world. He does this many different times, but the one I like the most happens after an unusual occurrence in the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem. It's described to us in the 8th chapter of John.

Jesus prays alone that morning to start the day on the Mount of Olives, the same Mount of Olives where he will descend into Jerusalem in Palm Sunday to the cheers of "Hosanna", and the same Mount of Olives were there is a garden called, "Gethsemane", which is a word that means "olive press", where he would sweat blood the night before he died, begging his Father for another way to save the world from sin and death. He prays on the Mount of Olives, and then descends into the city, through the Temple Gate into the Temple where he begins to teach.

Soon, though, the Temple priests and authorities, into the middle of the Court of the Gentiles, drag a woman accused of adultery. And in that moment, these learned scholars who were tired of getting their butt handed to them again and again by a carpenter's son, decide to use the occasion to see if this time they could get him say something either stupid, wrong, or so offensive that the crowds who loved Jesus - the least, the last, and the lost - would quit following him around and maybe even turn on him so they could arrest him without incident or riot.

"Moses", said the religious super-preachers of the day, "commanded us to stone an adulterer to death. What you think Jesus? What do you think we should do?"

In the year where we pay special homage to lady bikers, I think it's appropriate to use this scripture this day. In a world where women had no say, no power, and no standing, Jesus looks past what is, to what should be. He befriends women. Champions them. Empowers them. In a world where a husband can leave his wife with absolutely nothing and no repercussions, Jesus holds those men accountable for their actions. There are no second-class citizens in Jesus eyes... not lady-bikers, not 1%ers, not weekend biker warriors, or even wusses on Kawasakis.....

Those who appear the furthest away from God, are loved by Him the most. Don't hear that much any more, any where do you.

But it's true. And so Jesus kneels down, thinking about his answer, and begins doodling in the dirt with his finger, not saying anything. The priests wouldn't leave him alone, but there he knelt, just doodling. And then, slowly, he got up. In the Greek it tells us that he moves toward the center of court, next to the woman who is all but doomed, and utters those powerful words.

"He who is without sin, may cast the first stone."

After everyone, dumbfounded, drops their stones, he turns to the woman, tells her that if no one else condemned her, neither did he, and told her to go and live a better, new, life.

And that's when he does it... he looks at the crowd and says, "I am the light of the world; those who follow me will not walk in darkness, but will have Light in life."

"I am the light of world; those who follow me will not ride in darkness, but will have Light in life."

You know, all this crazy worship service is a little light. Just a dim taillight on the highway of life chasing after the ultimate Ride Captian to let you know you are either on the right track, or if you have been riding in the darkness, that there's someone safely ahead of you that you can follow until that day you see the glowing light of Home.

I don't know, maybe in the story you identify with the Pharisee. I know they're out there. I get complaints every year. Too much rock music. Too much fun. Not enough Jesus. Not enough about salvation. I baptized a little baby this morning. You can bet I'll get a letter or two about it. About how baptism is for believing adults and teens only. If you're out there thinking this, that's fine. Come see me later. We can have a little discussion about what the Greek word "Oikos" and how its how it's used in the the sixteenth chapter of Acts. I'd be happy to have that conversation with you.

But I wish we wouldn't. Because there's a whole world out there filled with condemned people, people who don't know any better and just follow the crowd picking up their rocks to throw, and confused people standing by not knowing exactly what to do. You can rile up the crowd if you want, but remember... Jesus is just doodling in the dirt right now, and he's the light in those people's darkness.

For your darkness.

This little worship service and the short prayer I'll say for so many of you when you pass me by later - "May this bike, and all who ride upon it, be blessed by the Living God" - is all geared to just let you know that if you came looking, hoping, wondering, whether or not Jesus Christ really does teach us what's important about life. How to live. How to love. How to forgive. How to be forgiven. How on that Friday he took your nails, your crown, and your cross, so that on Easter morning you wouldn't just be gifted with life after death, but life in a world filled with death, well then you have come to the right place because that's what this service is... a light on the highway, guiding you home.

You are loved exactly as you are, infinitely, without hesitation and measure.... and yet, you are promised so much more than what you have. You are meant for greater adventures that you don't need to necessarily go seek out on some highway somewhere. Follow Jesus, and if you do it right, you'll find yourself looking in your rear view mirror, in the darkness and the rain, and there will be a headlight.... following you.

I started visiting this guy in the hospital. Every year he comes to the blessing. He's very, very sick. We don't ever use the words "going to die" around here because only God knows how many days each of us gets, but let's just say he knows he's most likely more days behind him, than in front of him.

I sat and we talked about it. He's got little kids. Lives filled with lessons that need to be taught that he's not sure he'll be around to teach. But there's one lesson, not really the one the you want to be assigned, but an important lesson none-the-less he decided to take on. He decided to tell his kids the truth about his disease and most likely what that disease will result in.

And then he did the most remarkable thing. I mean, he isn't a saint or a perfect guy or anything. Ask him or his buddies and they'll tell you he's far from it. But he did this remarkable thing. He tells his kids the truth about what's coming, and then he tells them this.... that he loves them.

You see he doesn't want them to wonder. He doesn't want them to ask "what if". He doesn't want to leave it unsaid. He wants them to know. To know that he loves them, that he's found peace with Jesus, and that the love Jesus has for him and for them, can't be defeated by death.

A light on the highway for those kids. A light on the highway for all of us in that room. A light on the highway for all of us here.

You might be in a place where you feel like Jesus is doodling in the dirt as the fate of your future hangs in the balance. Or maybe you were following someone you thought was taking you home, but just took you for a ride. But in terms of what God wants for you, and what others need from you, Jesus is the light. The light emanating from a beautiful place you call home. A light that seen in a thousand little lights, all on the highway, following the one plowing through the darkness on his divine Kawasaki.

Jesus is the light. If no one else has condemned you, neither has he. Now go and live a better, good, loving, disciple-making life.