Bike Blessing Sermon & Some Beatitudes for Urban Transit

 Bike Blessing Sermon -- May 20, 2012

Summit on 16th UMC -- Rev. Lucy Waechter Webb

Text: Mark 5: 21-43

April mentioned at the beginning of the service that today is a celebration between the partnership between Summit Church and Yay!Bikes, and is one example of how we attempt to bring the sacred and secular together. Meredith led a study this winter on faith and transportation, which was another great example of this partnership. And as she was searching for possible curriculum, she found there is not much out there. So being the entrepreneurial spirit that she is, she wrote one!

The guiding theme for the study was thinking about how transportation, the time it takes to move our bodies from one place to another, is part of God’s design for the world, and for our lives.

Which, I have to admit, is not one I deal with easily. I can offer countless examples of how I wish I could skip the drive it takes to be to the meeting across town on time, or the hours it takes to get to another state to visit my family. I am usually more frustrated by the time it takes to move myself, and feeling like it is a lost time in my schedule.

I learned this best about myself as I travelled to Uganda a few years back. There, they travel mostly by foot, and have a much different system and infrastructure than ours for transportation, and so their realities are different. So when we were scheduled to meet a group for 5pm for dinner, we had arrived, not only on time, but maybe early, and were ready and waiting. But to travel in Uganda is unpredictable, and often you might even meet someone on the road whom you haven’t seen in awhile. And so your cousin or your friend invites you in for dinner and you stop and eat. And we’re waiting while 6pm, and 7pm and even 8pm rolls around before our folks roll in, not only 3 hours late, but having already eaten! You can imagine how we were frustrated, but for our Ugandan brothers and sisters, they found opportunity in their travels and they seized them in the moment.

Our stories and images in pop culture are particularly revealing of our own desires for transportation to happen differently, I think.

  • Harry Potter and his wizard friends are able to disapparate (apparition) from one place to another. They disappear in a puff of smoke and reappear in their desired location.
    • Now, this was a skill that had to be developed, much like riding a bike or driving a car, but it was part of the design, part of how witches and wizards were created as beings.
    • For the older generation, you might think of the transporters in Star Trek. Now the transporters were non-human machines developed to transport each person. SO the design was not in the human itself, but was an attainable gift to be developed through technology.
      • Perhaps, perhaps we’re just not there yet. Maybe one day we will be able to step onto a platform that magically takes me from Columbus, OH to Portland, OR so I can share supper with my sister and be home in time for bed to wake up in Ohio for worship the next morning. But condisering we haven’t even reaching the stage of the Jetzen’s hovercraft as a daily method of transport, I think we’ve got a long way to go to reach the transporter or disapparation.

The point is moving, transporting our bodies from one place to another is part of the design. It is part of our daily lives and part what is necessary to live life.

And if we begin to talk theologically about this, in the Christian faith, we call life good, and understand all of creation to be created good. So how then is transportation, part of the design of God’s world, also good?

And furthermore, how do we take ourselves, from the place of considering our movement as lost time, a nuisance, to an intended time, a time full of potential?

A very simple place to start is to ask ourselves the question, “What’s the opportunity?” How do I move from place to place each day, do I walk, bike, drive, take the bus? And in that movement, what is the opportunity for me?

This is where I find the story of Jesus instructive this morning. I asked Liz and Daniel read the story the way they did this morning to highlight the two stories that actually take place in the text. It’s a story within a story, one interrupts the other. But the thread that holds them together, is transportation. Jesus is moving from one place to antoher, and that journey connects each miracle story. Jesus sets off with a crowd in response to a desperate man’s plea to come and heal his dying daughter. The man in desperate, fearful that they may not even make it back in time before his daughter loses her life. But on the road, as they are walking something happens. Now first of all, before I talk about the woman, it is interesting to note that the primary way Jesus got around in his ministry was to walk. And often, the opportunity that presented, was to not only walk with other people (as in this story), but to interact and encounter other people as well (as also happens in this story). If he had been riding high in a chariot with fast moving horses, or in an enclosed car, it would have been impossible for this sick woman to encounter him along his path.

Now Jesus had every reason to push through, right? There was a crisis before him, a task at hand that was not only important, but time sensitive. A little girl’s life was on the line.

But he chose to stop. He opened himself to the people and possibilities that he did not even plan, but were instead presented before him. He saw opportunity, unexpected, but good. And he used that opportunity for good.

Now, I’m wading into dangerous territory here because we can say, well it was Jesus. I’m not Jesus. There were serious consequences to his choice, a girl died, and we cannot pretend we could remedy the situation in the same way. So I’m not arguing we need to overlook every crisis in front of us. But the story does offer a radical lesson to pay attention, to seek opportunity. It teaches me, to slow down. To recognize that the goal I set in front of me is not necessarily the immediate priority in each moment. I will get there.

What is the opportunity when I travel from work to home? From home to the store? God has designed us to move, to carry ourselves from point A to point B, and so how might be use that time and space? How can it be a blessing, a gift in our lives? What is the potential?

So there are lots of reasons I could offer to get you thinking, walking or biking for good health, driving in the car can be time alone and away to think and breathe in between the hustle of our lives,  riding the bus or train can present us with opportunity to meet people we would not otherwise encounter. But one thing Meredith has learned in her work, and I have learned this week, is that everyone has good stories about transportation. Some of them are funny, some of them brought joy to our lives, and sometimes they bring challenge. But all of them, present themselves as opportunity. And so this morning we invite you to encounter one another, to share stories of transportation in your lives, and to ask each other what is the opportunity in your own life as you move from point A to point B, and what is the opportunity for us as a community to think about transportation in our ministry?

There are three questions we have prepared for you today. And you can guess what one of those questions that one of those questions might be: What is the opportunity? So before you get started I want to offer a couple reflections I’ve had this week on that particular question in my life. I thought both about long distance travel, and also about daily shorter distances.

-       Daniel and I have travelled a lot in the car together, and one of the things I cherish most about that time is our conversation and time together to talk about things we often don’t have time to delve into during our weekly schedule. In addition, we have been reading alound together in the car, working through essays from a favorite writer Wendell Berry, and sharing our thoughts about it as we travel. It is in many ways sacred time away from our daily routine.

-       My daily transportation often includes many forms, walking, biking and driving to work. I am fortunate to live close by, about a mile and a half, and so I have several options. But I really do wish I would bike more. I feel so good after I do. Just earlier this week I biked home from a Presbytery meeting in Clintonville, it was 8:00 at night and I was tired from a long day, but after biking home I arrived with renewed energy, and a sense of letting go of all the work stuff that had disappeared on my ride home. Something that doesn’t easily come for me in a short drive. As I wondered why I don’t bike more, I realized I often think about the barriers to biking before I think about opportunity or benefits. I think about the clothes that won’t work with the bike chain, or how long it will take. And so I quickly write off the possibility. The opportunity.

So now, we’d like you to turn to a neighbor or two, and take two minutes or so to answer each question. We’ll offer each question one at a time, and at the end we’ll come back together and have a few minutes for anyone who would like to share part of their discussion with the larger group.

The last bit of instruction about this is about the blank cards in your bulletin. Many of you know that as partners (SUMC and Yay!Bikes) seek to enhance one another work in the world. Yay!Bikes is teaching Summit about transportation and how that intersects with our faith, asking us what is the opportunity we have as a church? And we in turn, can provide additional insight and feedback to Yay!Bikes about how the world is thinking and reflecting on transportation. So as you answer each question, we invite you to record your responses on the blank card numbering them 1, 2, 3, and place them in the offering plate later in the service.

Questions: (2 min each)

  • Share a time when your movement was constrained by injury.
  • Share a time when you notice yourself or other people struggling with transportation options and you or others might have been helped with that challenge.
  • What is one opportunity for yourself and for this church to focus more attention on transportation?

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(SOME) BEATITUDES OF URBAN TRANSIT

Blessed are the bicyclists, who travel as commuters or for pleasure, who harness human energy and ingenuity to power their travel along roads and trails.

Blessed are the pedestrians, who feel the contours of the land under their feet with every step.

Blessed are the bus and train passengers, who ride shoulder to shoulder with strangers who become brothers and sisters on their daily journeys.

Blessed are the motorists who drive with care and caution, showing mercy to their fellow travelers on the road.

Blessed are the truck drivers, the train conductors, the bus drivers, whose daily labor connects us with new resources, new places, and new communities.

Blessed are you when you breathe fresh air, drink clean water, observe blossoming flowers, and yearn to create a world where every person can share in such delights, for you shall be called children of God.

 Liturgy by Pastor Audrey deCoursey at Highland Avenue Church of the Brethren, Elgin, Illinois - 22 April 2009