Sermon from Blessing of the Bicycles

Today’s service is going to center around the theme of peace. We live in a world that is largely absent of peace.  So much is happening around us, we find ourselves often overwhelmed in situations of chaos.  Much of our time in this world is spent managing that chaos, trying to bring order, and trying to bring peace both into the hearts of ourselves and others.

The Hebrew term for peace is “Shalom” – and it refers to a state of being complete and being whole and it also refers to a sense of welfare and safety both for an individual and a community. Peace comes when we are looking at and thinking about all the parts of our lives and peace comes when people’s needs are cared for and when all of us are in a place of safety.

Jesus talked about peace all the time – he said that following him, being his disciple, was actually about following a way of peace, a way of shalom.  That we should experience that peace and we should also embody it in our own lives.  We should become instruments of peace in the world.  Working to become complete and working to ensure others are cared for and safe in the world.

And so we enter into this conversation today about peace.  And we do so by looking at one particular part of our lives.  We’re focusing on the way in which we transport ourselves from one place to another.  This part of our lives has a particular tendency to be a place of chaos, a place where peace is difficult to experience – and a place that can do great damage to us and to others.

And so today we will use the topic of cycling to be an entry point into a much larger conversation about transportation and how this area of our lives, might become a place where WE become instruments of peace.

Last spring, Martin and I drove up to Toledo for the night to see a concert.  Just as we were arriving in town,  we came up to a stoplight behind this woman who was transporting her child in the back seat of the car.  The light turned green but she was turned around messing with something in the back.  So, we waited a few seconds, but it was clear that the woman didn’t realize that the light was green.  So, we gave a very gentle honk on the horn to let her know.

Now, I have to be honest, I was unprepared for the response.

She looked back at us and started screaming.

When we had the opportunity to go around her, she gave us not a single but the double finger.  And if that wasn’t enough – she stuck out her tongue at us.

And I’m sure all of you could tell similar stories – where you experienced hostility from someone on the roads – and it seems to come out of nowhere.

Cyclists will tell you all kinds of stories of people shouting obscenities at them simply for being on the road.

My favorite story was of a woman simply biking down the road, only to be tailed for nearly a mile by a car.  The car finally went around and yelled something profane at her.  As they passed in front, their license plate, read, “Honk if you love Jesus!”

Something about driving, something about the anonymity of being in a vehicle and speeding away seems to give us license to behave in ways that are not truly who we are and who we want to be – where we even stop seeing each other as people, as other human beings who also have somewhere to be and who also are dealing with difficult things.  The roads are almost a battleground where we feel like its US against everyone else out there.  This idea of road rage is real.  We’ve all experienced it in one way or another.

And there can be a tendency among us as drivers or cyclists to get into conversations about the ridiculousness of drivers and how some people are just idiots.  And while that can be fun to tell stories of the crazy things people do – that’s not our goal today.

Our goal today is not to place blame on people – on anyone.

we aren’t interested in talking about who is to blame for the chaos that exists on our roads – but we are here to say that this chaos exists.

Because here’s the thing, if we’re really honest with ourselves, we know – cars are not the problem.  There’s nothing inherently bad about cars, and there’s nothing inherently bad about driving.

The problem is not traffic laws or speed limits or congestion…

And the problem is not in that “idiot driver in front of you driving 25 in a 45.”

The problem is in here.

And what the world could use now are more and more people who are seeking to be instruments of peace.

The author of Ephesians wanted this understanding of peace to be a part of the community to which he was writing.  The author was writing to a Christian community in Ephesus – they were a young and diverse church – trying to figure out what it meant to follow Jesus in the chaotic world of ancient Palestine.  And in the midst of this, someone had begun teaching them some things that weren’t true.  Someone had begun teaching them that this world, the one we were living in now – wasn’t what was most important – but that there was another world, a different reality where truth really lies, a heavenly realm that was all that mattered – and so the decisions that we make on a daily basis didn’t really matter.

And the author of Ephesians says that this could not be farther from the truth.  These false teachings are mentioned in verse 6.  Don’t listen to them.  What we do in this world, it matters,   If we are to be followers Christ, if we are to be living this way of peace and Shalom, then we have to look at all the areas of our lives, all the places we may want to talk about… he says we should bring them into the light, examine our lives and begin to make wiser choices.  The version Meredith read today says, not to be simpletons.  But as Children of the light, of God’s love and compassion, we ought to make wise choices, choices that bring wholeness to ourselves and choices that promote the welfare and safety of all people.

I have to start with a confession.  Even though I am a recreational cyclist and did bike to church this morning and to work 3 days this week, I love driving and I am a recovering crazy driver.  I love getting in my car and rolling down the windows.  I love listening to music and zooming down the highway.  I love escaping from the world sometimes.

My love affair with driving started at the young age of 16 when I got my first car, a Geo Tracker convertible.  Let me tell you, I was HOT STUFF.  The feeling of driving down the road, through the mountains of Arkansas in that little convertible was so liberating, and I felt so independent.

But it didn’t take long for me to take a good thing and push the limits of reasonability.  Over the course of the next 6 years, I managed to get in 2 minor accidents and acquire 6 speeding tickets.

By the time I started my first job,  what had begun as an enjoyable experience became a daily race.  I found myself behind the wheel of the car each morning – irritable and frustrated at the ridiculous people who were in front of me.  Didn’t they understand that I had somewhere to go?  Driving lost the enjoyment and became a race against time and a race against everyone else on the road who I soon began to think of as my enemies.  Some of my friends would “joke” that they were a little scared to ride in the car with me some times.  I was out of control!  Driving with me was anything but peaceful.

In the Spring of 2000, I received my 8th traffic ticket and a summons to appear in court.  Things had gone too far.  I remember thinking that something had to give.  And it was the beginning of Lent.  I had never really given anything up for Lent before – but this year, I decided that maybe God was trying to tell me something.  So, I thought I’d give up Speeding.

But I wasn’t quite ready to go Cold Turkey.  So, I gave up Speeding more than 5 miles over the speed limit.

And I remember how different I felt in the car after that point.  My ride to work was less stressful.  I enjoyed the ride.  I was relaxed.  I didn’t almost run anyone off the road.  And I even found myself courteously allowing people to cut in front of me!  I was looking at the world entirely differently.  For the first time in years, I was peaceful and promoting peace for others around me.  The only thing that had changed was me.

We mentioned earlier that the term peace in Scripture is about completeness, wholeness – being able to look at all the different parts of our lives and see the entire picture.  And not only that, but peace is connected to how our lives intersect with others, beginning to understand that the choices we make impact others… both for good or for bad.

And I think that spring was the first time where I began to make the connections between the choices I was making and the influence it made on the world.

I’ve talked with a lot of cyclists over the last few weeks about their decision to start biking.  Even for those who began biking out of necessity because they simply didn’t have a car, many found themselves feeling more peaceful, more connected to others, less frustrated, and more in tune with what was going on around them.  For many folks, the simple act of cycling has brought more peace and less chaos into their worlds.  It has helped many to become more healthy and more fit.  It has saved money.  It has saved gasoline.  It has created opportunities to be in community both with others and also with nature.  And for some, it has empowered them to be independent and take ownership of their lives.  For some, it has been their primary or only form of transportation and has been a necessity and a place of thanksgiving.   And I don’t want to glamorize or exalt biking as a higher calling, but there are certainly a lot of aspects about biking that do create more wholeness in the individuals that bike but also in their communities.  So, whether you intend to our not, as a cyclist, you can be a true instrument of peace in the world.

So, as we think about the specific context of the roads today.

I want you to think about - whether you are a cyclist, a driver, a walker, or a bus rider –

How can I be an instrument of peace on the roads?  How can I behave in such a way that increases the peace and safety of others on the road?  How can you be an instrument of peace?

Because as much as all of us have had bad experiences on the road, all of us can also tell some stories where someone was gracious to us.  We have all had experiences where we had moments of human interaction where someone let us cut in front of them and waved kindly.  We’ve had moments where we were the one who made a mistake and people helped stop it from happening.

When you see a bicycle, let it remind you to be an instrument of peace.

Let it be a sign for others that there is a different way of being in the world.

As people of faith, we have an opportunity to make different choices.  To live our lives in the light when no one is looking.  To drive gently, to be instruments of peace in the world no matter what form of transport we use.  And to constantly be looking for ways that we can remain connected to one another.  To see each other as human beings.  The choices we make matter.

May you be instruments of peace this week, this month, and this year on the roads that you encounter.  May others be blessed to be the recipient of the peace that you offer.