Who’s Driving This Car – July 21, 2019
Psalm 8, Acts 5:27-42
July 21, 2019
The story is told of the two “elderly women” driving down the road in a car… They are very old friends, so Mabel doesn’t want to say anything when she sees Sadie go through a Stop sign. But then it happens again! And again! And finally Mabel says very kindly, “Sadie, I’m sorry to say something, but you just went through a couple of Stop signs. And Sadie says, “Oh, was I driving?!”
Let me ask you, When you’re in the car with someone, is there ever a question of who’s driving? Patty and I have this new thing we say, which I think I made up. When one of us thinks there’s just a little too much “input” from the passenger seat, we say, “Oh look! The big round thing is in front of me!” (In an airplane there are two sets of controls! I’m sure glad they don’t make cars like that!)
The driver is the one who’s controlling the car. But I think we’ll agree that there are other influences in where the car is going. Road direction and signs, detours, GPS, passengers’ “suggestions.” Those are all the things that influence where we go. And technically, the driver has the final say about where the car is going. In an airplane, you may have two pilots, but there is always one who is designated “Pilot in Command.”
In our story for today, we have the ongoing saga of the disciples in the earliest days of the Church, and how they had to deal with those who were trying to silence their message about Jesus… again! So, they’ve been arrested. I believe it’s three times, now. And they’ve been told, they’ve been given a legal injunction, not to speak about Jesus. And their answer, if you remember, was, “You tell us,” Peter said, “should we obey you, or should we obey God?” And again, I think that was a masterful answer!
Well, now things have gotten even more acrimonious. (Don’t you love that word?) Things were more hostile. It got to the point where the disciples were showing no sign that they’re going to stop preaching about Jesus. And they were continuing to connect the religious leaders to his death. And when we get to verse 33 we read, “When they [the council] heard this they were enraged and they wanted to kill them!”
That’s how bad this got. Can we imagine a group of Church leaders getting so upset with someone that they wanted to kill them? Sometimes we read words like that and we miss the impact! This was reaching a critical point, a meltdown! And it was the message of Jesus – it was the future of the Church – that was at stake!
I love what happens next. And this is the focus of this message today. One of the Pharisees stands up and asks to speak. His name is Gamaliel. Luke tells us that he was a wise and well respected member of the Council, and some scholars believe he was the teacher of Saul, who would become Paul.
Gamaliel sends the disciples out of the room, and this is what he says to the council. “We’ve seen this kind of thing before. We’ve seen people start movements like these and try to make something of themselves, and one by one they’ve failed. So here’s my advice. Leavethese men alone. For if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail. Butif it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” That is so great! Leave them alone. If this is all their idea. If they’re just making all this up so they can be in control, it will fail. Andif that happens, your problem will be solved! Butif it’s true, if what they’re doing is really from God, you won’t be able to stop them!” “And what’s worse,” he said, “you may even find yourselves fighting against God!”
What he’s asking them to consider is, “Who’s driving this car?” If this is all about what the disciples want to do, or what they feel is the right thing to do, if its’ all about them having power and authority, if it’s about them being in charge, if it’s really about them driving the car, that’s one thing. But what if it isabout God? What if they really are doing what God is calling them to do?
Friends, I believe that has been a litmus test for the Church ever since. As an old pastor friend of mine used to say, “It’s not about us deciding what to do, and simply asking God to bless us.” “It’s not about ‘Here’s what we want to do, may it by your will, God.’ It’s about finding out what God wants us to do!” And, it’s about having the strength to set aside our will, and follow.” In everything we do in the Church, and in our lives, for that matter, this should be in our thoughts and prayers. “God, is this what you want us to be doing?”
Not, that doesn’t mean that we don’t take initiative. It doesn’t mean that we don’t use our God given creativity and ability. He’s the one that gave time to us in the first place! So, we should use what he gave us and step out and try things we think would be good for his Kingdom. We should act and pray for God to bless us and prosper us. And remember the definitions of those words I offered a couple of months ago. Blessing is something God does outside of our efforts. Prospering is when he takes what we’re doing and increases it. But no matter which it is, we should have in the background the question, “Who’s in charge?” “Who’s driving this car?” Is it us or is it God?
50 years ago yesterday, Neil Armstrong flew his Lunar Module down to the surface of the moon, and landed. (You know I was going to say something about that!) And I hope you’ve been watching the shows commemorating that event. If you did, one thing you’ll remember is that a big part of that event, was the work of the flight controllers. Yes, Armstrong and Aldrin were the ones at the controls, but it was the flight controllers in Houston who gave them the “go, no go” for everything they did. “You are go for powered descent.” “You are go for landing.” It was the stated job of the Flight Controller to “do everything possible in insure the success of the mission.”
Maybe that’s a good analogy for us. Maybe we should look to God for a “go, no go” decision for the things we do. Because God wants the best for us. God wants success for us. And we have to consider that it’s often when we insist on our own willthat we end up nothaving that “best” that God wants for us. That’s true for churches. And it’s true in our individual lives.
The Good News is that God never gives up on us. He never says “Oh he or she (or they) have strayed from my plan for them. I’ll just write ‘em off.” No. The Good News is that there’s always an ongoing relationship happening. There’s give and take. God is constantly working with us, trying to guide us, trying to show us his plan. Bringing us back when we’ve strayed.
It’s our job to keep in touch with him, to keep listening, to keep striving to figure out what he wants us to be doing. That’s the beauty of life in the Church. That’s the beauty of our life of faith. It is God reaching out to us and us reaching out to God in an ongoing relationship. Sure, we’re going to blow it. We’re going to miss seeing his message to us. We’re going to forget who’s driving this car! But we worship a God who is always ready to forgive, to guide us, to bless us and prosper us, if we keep seeking him!
So, in closing I would echo the words of Gamaliel. If what we are doing is of our own will, it will fail. But if what we are doing is of God, we will not be able to stop it!
Eternal God, we thank you that you reach out and lead us back, again and again. We thank you that you are ever ready to hear, to forgive, and to show us your Grace and mercy. Help us to stay close to you. Help us to have the ears to hear you. Help us to have the strength to follow where you lead us in Jesus’ name, Amen.