Proper 17 A 14
The man in the driver’s uniform said,
“Hey, I have to leave my bus for a minute.
Can you watch it for me?
“Oh, and by the way. Just one thing to remember.
DON’T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS.”
So begins Mo Willems’ children’s book entitled—you guessed it---
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.
It is a hilarious picture book about a pigeon who’s absolute desire is to drive a bus.
Every time you turn the page the pigeon shows up and tries a new ploy
to get you let him to drive the bus.
The child’s job is to yell NO! to the pigeon every time.
Kids love it, because they know what it’s like to want to be in the driver’s seat,
And they know what it’s like to be told NO.
Turning the tables is pretty fun.
But let’s face it: We all want to be in the driver’s seat, right?
We want to be in charge of our lives.
The thing we hate most is to have someone else tell us what to do.
Makes you feel like a child.
That’s what was going on with the disciples in our Gospel story today.
Jesus had just revealed to them that he was the Messiah.
And now Jesus goes on to tell the disciples what that means.
Now, you can imagine they must have been expecting something grand.
The Messiah was the promised King, like David!
The Messiah was the Son of God!
But Jesus bursts their bubble and tells them that he was going to suffer and die.
Instead of being acclaimed as the Messiah, he was going to get killed.
He did mention something about rising again after three days,
But the disciples were so worked up about the suffering thing, they didn’t even hear it.
Peter says, “Jesus, this can’t happen to you! It’s not in the plan!”
But Peter was thinking about an earthly plan, the kind of plans you and I make every day.
Plans with goals, and steps and measurable results.
But Jesus wasn’t looking for that kind of success.
He wasn’t looking to move up the ladder at work
He wasn’t trying to create a new program
He wasn’t trying to “grow the church.”
Jesus had a spiritual plan, and it looked pretty different than what the disciples had in mind.
“If any want to become my followers,” Jesus said, “let them deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.”
The plan is that Jesus is out to make followers.
Now the idea of “followers” isn’t that popular these days.
In the church, as with any other organization, we want leaders, not followers.
We need people with vision!
We need people with organization!
People who will delegate but also roll up their sleeves and make sure stuff gets done.
Following sounds so… sheep-like.
That’s because when you’re a follower, you’re not in charge.
That’s what Peter and the disciples had trouble with.
Eugene Peterson in his modern version of the bible The Message puts Jesus’ words this way:
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead.
You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am.
Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.”
It’s a hard thing to give up being in the driver’s seat.
It means giving up control and taking direction,
It means letting go of your ego
The disciples had surely been thinking they would be leaders,
Sitting at Jesus’ right hand and left when he came into his glory.
But now they were followers, and they didn’t even like where they were headed.
We are often the same, knowing that we are followers, but still trying to lead.
We say, “Give it to God,” and yet, still we hold onto to stuff:
Hold on to responsibilities, worry, old ideas that don’t work, dead dreams.
We want to give it to God, but it’s so hard.
We know that God is good, but sometimes we don’t entirely trust God.
Sometimes we don’t like where Jesus is heading with us.
I think this congregation knows something about following Jesus through unknown territory.
After all, things have changed a lot this congregation started almost 50 yrs ago.
The pictures of Newington from those days show farmland!
Now Newington is almost entirely built up, a suburb of Hartford and town in its own right.
This congregation was full of Danes and Swedes-
now the congregation welcomes people of many backgrounds.
Over the years, this congregation has stepped out and tried new things:
like liturgical dance in worship, working with a missionary in Brazil, & resettling a refugee family
All of these changes required that people let go of a former way of doing and thinking.
All required that people get out of the driver’s seat and let Jesus lead this congregation to a new place.
God is calling us to do the same today.
Churches grow naturally in towns that are growing.
But if Newington is mostly built up, that means we have to work harder to reach out.
We can’t expect that by simply opening our doors that people will join us.
We have to go where the people are.
I found that out when I lived in Manchester.
For eight years I had worked and lived in the neighborhood of the church,
but I really didn’t connect with my neighbors.
Until I became a stay at home mom.
Then I was out and about, talking with people on the sidewalk,
playing with their kids, listening to their troubles.
I had to get out of the driver’s seat with my expectations that if we play the right music
or have the right programs that people will come to the church.
I had to meet my neighbors on their own terms,
doing the ministry of accepting them and caring for them right where they were--
and then some of them were ready to consider stepping inside the church.
Our congregation has been rethinking our involvement in the community
We have been asking
How can we be visible in the community?
Our folks offered hospitality at the Memorial Day parade, bathrooms, coffee and lemonade.
We have our booth at the Waterfall festival.
We wore our yellow “God’s Work, Our Hands” T shirts last year cleaning up yards
working at Food Share, and packing personal care kits for LWR.
Now our folks are learning to tap into the media with Newington Life and Facebook to get the word out there.
But I’d like to push that question a little farther, because it isn’t just about being visible.
Jesus actually did most of his ministry outside the synagogue, the house of worship.
So I am asking, how can we actually do ministry in outside our worship space?
Some churches take their worship outside, like Church at the Pond in Bushnell Park.
Another brought a prayer list to a community event
so that people who stopped by could add a prayer request.
What can we do to engage people in what matters to them?
All of these questions require us to get out of the driver’s seat.
In fact, it’s like hopping into the car of the person we are trying to meet and going with them.
Kind of like what Jesus did—he journeyed with people.
We can learn from others, just like Jesus wanted his disciples to learn from him.
We can let their lives shape and form us, not just the other way around.
We can see Christ’s face in them.
What that happens, that’s when you know its Jesus in the driver’s seat.
It’s the beginning of a new program year here at church.
As we consider how best to reach out to the people of Newington and beyond consider this:
How can we meet our neighbors where they are?
What might you need to let go of in order to meet your neighbors?
Who is in the driver’s seat?
We’ve done it before, and we can do it again—let’s let Jesus take the wheel.