Monday, July 18, 2016

Speed. I Am Speed.

Here is my sermon from Sunday. The text was Luke 10:38-42:

Today we continue in our series in the gospel in Pixar looking at the movie Cars. Cars tells the story of Lightning McQueen, whom we just say, a racecar who is trying to become the first rookie racer to ever win the Piston Cup (He did what in his cup?) In the last race of the season, McQueen has a huge lead on the last lap when his tires blow allowing the two main competitors Strip Weather, also known as The King, who is in his last season, and Chick Hicks, the racer who is in perpetual second place, to catch up and there is a three way tie to end the race. McQueen’s tires blow because he has fired three crew chiefs and refuses to listen to the rest of his team, because, as he says, he is a one-man show, which then causes the rest of the team to quit. It is decided that to resolve the tie that there will be a three car race in California the next week, but on the way to California, Lightning accidentally comes out of the truck he is riding in, and in his confusion, ends up in a small town by the name of Radiator Springs, the cutest little town in Carburetor County, along Route 66, and while being chased by the police for speeding ends up tearing up the main street, where he is then arrested and sentenced to pave the street before he will be allowed to leave. While in the town he encounters a strange collection of characters that includes another former piston cup racer who has become the town doctor, but who has hidden his true identity from everyone else.

Up to this point, McQueen has seen racing and life as a zero sum game, as he has just said, there is one winner and 42 losers. One person is at the top, and everyone else is a loser in both senses of that words, of not winning the race and also not winning at life. Lightning has confused the idea with winning with being a winner, the same mistake that Chick Hicks will make at the end of the film, and we often do the same thing. There are some things in life that really are races, but not many, or certainly not as many as we would like to make them, especially when we turn life into a race and want to declare winners and losers. Seth Godin has said, in a competition in which the point is to win, you’re not supposed to enjoy the ride, learn anything, make your community better, slow down for anything, you’re supposed to win. It also justifies the use of any means in order to reach that end, winning. And when we treat life as a race, with winners and losers, then we end of cheating, literally and figuratively, everyone, most especially ourselves.  And so what Lightning has to do is to come to the realization that that is what he is doing with his own life.  He has equated “I won the race” with “I am a winner,” and he realizes how he has treated everyone else in his life, that he doesn’t have any real friends, that everything and everyone is a means to an end, just as others, like his agent Harrv, only see him as a means to an end.  As a result he is rushing through life, and life is rushing by him, and he’s never getting the time or taking the time to stop and learn how to smell the roses, as it were.  This becomes clear to him when he has an afternoon off from paving the road, and Sally, the owner of the local motel, the Cozy Cone, takes him for a drive…

Now this is the one area of the movie with which I disagree, as if the creation of the interstate highway system was what sped up the country, because I think it’s a chicken and egg sort of situation. There was a demand for faster travel by many people and so the interstate highway system met that demand, and may have then also simultaneously encouraged other people to go faster. It’s like FedEx, they didn’t create the demand for people to absolutely, positively have to get things places overnight, instead Fred Smith saw a demand, and then used his small family inheritance of $30 million to meet it, which then also allowed others to shorten timelines because now there was a way for those deadlines to actually be met. These things feed off of each other, and they do so in our lives as well. We wonder how we ever lived without the internet, or smart phones, or maybe even cars and indoor plumbing, and while we may curse their existence at times now, except the indoor plumbing, we also know that we could not live without them, and are even very reluctant to give them up even when we have the opportunity. We want them and we don’t want them. They speed us up, which we enjoy, but regret not being able to slow down. We know we should do take time off, but we find it hard to do it at the same time. Like Lightning, we want to go and go and go, to win that race, and we can do that for a while, but it’s not ultimately going to make us happy.  And unless we take time for the proper pit stop, we are eventually going to blow out of tires, like Lightning, or more likely run out of gas, which if you watch racing you know is not as uncommon of an occurrence as you might think.  And scripture has something to say to us about this, something commonly referred to as Sabbath.

Now there are two reasons given in scripture for the reason that we are supposed to take a Sabbath, or a break, a day of rest. Does anyone remember those two reasons? (Because God rested on the seventh day and also because they were slaves in Egypt and thus had no control over their lives but now they do) Now that’s a little different from how we have come to understand Sabbath, in that while worship later gets associated with the day of rest, we are not told that the reason we are to have the day off is to worship God. That is not to say that worship was therefore considered unimportant, because it’s not, and it these two ideas came to be associated, first because if you had a day off then you also had time to worship, which you might not otherwise have the time to do, and the second reason was because if we are to rest and enjoy the creation, to understand the important things in life, then it would make sense for us to take the time to worship the God who created the world and in whom we live and move and have our being.

Now the other piece is to know that we don’t worship on the Sabbath. The Biblical Sabbath, the seventh day of the week is still Saturday, but we worship on the 1st day of the week, the day of the resurrection. It’s why it’s also sometimes called the Lord’s Day, and we don’t have time to go into all the reasons why the church decided to worship, and move the day of rest to Sunday, but one of the thing that it did, although this has certainly not always been the case, was to remove many of the rules that had accumulated around Sabbath observance. Indeed, what was one of the things that Jesus got in trouble for a lot? Violating the Sabbath, which led him to remind his accusers, to remind us, that we were not made for the Sabbath, that it was made for us. It was a day of rest, but also a day to remind us of what is truly important, and where we get and receive our identity, which is not from the things of this world, but from God. And so when we say that we are going to stop working, that we are going to take a day of rest because God has told us we should, or more properly that we should follow God’s own example, then we are willing to say, at least for that period of time, that our priority is with God, because time is a zero sum game. That is we cannot gain more time. No matter how much we would like more time, there is still only 24 hours in a day, and so what we do with that time, how we use it says everything about what we consider important.

Stephen Covey, used to talk about the need to put the first things first, that is to focus on the things that are most important to us, and he did so using this demonstration. These little rocks are the things that seem to dominate our lives, things that are happening all the time that seem to take up all of our time. Some of them are important and some are not, some are urgent and some are not, but they are the things that overtake our time and our lives, and distract us from the things we want to do, or maybe need to do. For me, when I begin the day, I want to be reading scripture and praying, but I come into the office and make the mistake of checking email, and pretty soon the day is over and I never got the things done that I wanted to get done. Sound familiar? That is what I believe Jesus’ is chastising Martha about. It’s not about the fact that she is doing things, it’s important to do things need to be done. But it’s about her priorities and the fact that she is worried and distracted by many things, but there is only one thing, and at that moment the most important thing was to present with Christ. But she wasn’t. We get pulled around by many things, many of which, but not all of which, are unimportant.  And this can happen even if you are retired.

But when we have these things dominating our time, if we want to then try and fit the things that we consider important into our schedule, they simply don’t fit.  But when we decide to put what we consider most important into our schedule, into our life, which has to include time to rest and recreate, and put it in first, then they fit and the other things can go around them. Now this is the one area where I think Covey was wrong, because it’s not then about filling in the rest of the space, but also being able to cut out things from your life.  It’s about taking control of your life and your schedule so that you control them rather than them controlling you. That’s really what God was saying to us, that recreation is really re-creation, so it’s not just taking time off in order to rest, but also to understand how that rest allows us then to be able to go back out and create because it teaches us, or reminds us what is truly important.

That’s what Lightning’s time in Radiator Springs teaches him is that the time away from everything that he thought was important, shows him that those things are not the things that really matter most, and those ideas come from Lightning’s creator John Lasseter, who is the chief creative officer for Pixar. Lasseter had worked very long hours on Toy Story, Toy Story 2 and A Bug’s Life when his life Nancy reminded him of the importance of spending time with his five boys “Be careful. One day you’re going to wake up and the boys will have gone off to college and you will have missed it.” Upon completion of TS2, he took the summer off and took his family on a two-month RV trip. “I reconnected with my family in a way I hadn’t been able to do for a long time. Being on the road together with them, having this great adventure driving the small highways and going where the wind blew us, make me realize that the journey is the true reward.”

Lightning McQueen comes to realize the same thing, and in the last lap of the last race, as he is prepared to win, he sees something happen and does something that just a week before he would have never considered possible…  McQueen discovers that the thing he desired the most, winning, is not really as important as he thinks it is, that the means do not justify the ends, that life is not a race and that what is going to bring him happiness is not some old empty cup, but the relationships he has developed, and the time he has taken to move out of the fast lane and the mentality that there is only one winner. Because when we take time for rest and focus on the things that are truly important, we all become winners. I pray that it will be so my brothers and sisters. Amen.

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