ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH JULY 7, 2019
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
WHO’S IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT?
Psalm 91: 1- 10; Galatians 2: 17 – 21; John 12: 20 – 26
My husband loves to drive and he’s a good driver. The only times his car was damaged are when a tree landed on it during a windstorm, and when a deer leaped in front of us. Terry enjoys driving. If he were a dog, he’d hang his head out the window. He likes the speed, the adventure, and the sense of freedom. He likes to feel the car hugging the curves. And although he wouldn’t like me saying so, he likes to be in control. However, he’s also a better driver than I am, so I’m happy to let him drive. I used to be a confident driver, until I hit black ice on the 401 and rolled my car in the ditch. Since then I’ve been a nervous driver. Unfortunately for Terry, I’m even more nervous as a passenger. I make gasping noises, grab the dashboard, throw my hands over my eyes and yell, “watch out!” When the traffic stops suddenly, I automatically slam my foot down on the invisible brake peddle? It’s amazing that every car I’ve ever ridden in has those invisible brakes! Now and then, I’m useful to him, but try as I might, I’m not the one in control. My life is in Terry’s hands.
Spiritually speaking, we like to be in the driver’s seat. We’re happy to have Jesus riding shotgun. It’s handy to have him along in case we require his services. “Jesus, I have a health issue and need healing; I’m anxious and need peace; I’m sad and need comfort; I’m dying, and you’re my ticket into heaven.” However, we don’t want to hand over the key fob because if Jesus drives, we’re not in control. He is. In fact, not only have we surrendered our fob and our car, we’ve put our life completely in his hands. Paul goes so far as to say, “I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not ‘mine”; it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2: 19 – 21) This means, I’m dead to my ego; I will no longer satisfy every self-centered ambition or whim. It’s not about me anymore; it’s about Jesus. I’m dead to my mouth; I will no longer gossip, flatter, condemn, criticize, lie, intimidate, manipulate or exaggerate. It’s not my mouth anymore, it’s Jesus’ mouth. I will no longer waste or hoard my money. It’s not my money anymore, it’s Jesus money. Moreover, I no longer rely on myself. It’s not my life anymore, it’s his. I’m in the passenger seat. I have relinquished control. Jesus makes the decisions; Jesus sets the pace; Jesus steers me out of harms way and it will be Jesus who slams on the brakes and saves me. That doesn’t mean I’ve become a passive, helpless doormat. It means that my life is not “mine”, it is lived by faith and in constant consultation with Jesus, who loves me and died for me. It means that I’ve surrendered the driver’s seat to the better driver.
Surrender is no one’s favorite word. We associate it with defeat, failure, giving up, losers. Jesus is clear that no one finds themselves (Matthew 10:39), becomes his disciple (Matthew 16: 24) or bears fruit (John 12: 24) without surrendering. There is no way for any human being to come to God that doesn’t involve surrender. Think about that. How might you finish that sentence? Christians often tell people that to come to God they must ‘commit their lives to Christ’. Rev. Josef Tson, a Romanian pastor who survived years of persecution under Communist rule, noted that “the new key word in modern American Christianity is ‘commitment’. When a new word comes into usage, it generally pushes an old word out. The old word that ‘commitment’ replaced is ‘surrender’.” What’s the difference between commitment and surrender? When you make a commitment, it’s your choice. You’re still in control. But surrender is different. If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to hand over your money, you don’t commit yourself to a happy outcome. You surrender.
Twelve Step recovery groups such as AA have been the path to freedom for the vast majority of addicts, world-wide. Surprisingly, at no time is the addict told “try harder”, or “decide not to drink”, or “get a grip on your problem”. Instead of mobilizing the will, AA encourages people to surrender their will. “Surrender your self and sobriety becomes possible”. They know that deep change requires something other than self-will, determination or commitment; it requires letting go.
In an interesting study two groups had freshly baked chocolate chip cookie placed in front of them. One group was free to eat them, the other was told to resist. After a time, both groups were given an unsolvable math problem. The test was to see which group would persevere in solving the puzzle. Those who’d exercised their willpower over the cookies, gave up first. The ‘will’ is fine for making one-time decisions – taking a job, joining AA, buying a house. It’s no so good at overcoming ingrained habits or attitudes. Think about the tasks to which we normally apply will-power: decision making, projecting an image, resisting temptation, persistence, breaking a habit. The harder we work at something, the more it drains our energy. Surrender is the only choice that produces energy. Surrender, letting go, or going with the flow of the Holy Spirit replenishes our vitality. Acts born of our will put us on a hamster wheel of commitment and determination, without necessarily producing the desired results. Surrender sets us free and gives us peace. When we surrender to Christ, we’re united with him, making it possible for us to float on the sea of God’s will.
Surrender is not pleasant. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he encouraged them to “take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” The NRSV reads, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice..” ( Romans 12:1). In a ritual sacrifice, an animal would be killed, then placed on the altar and consumed by fire. What would happen if you put a live animal on the altar and said, “Stay there until your consumed”? It would jump off! But Paul encourages us to crawl back on to the altar. We are to be a living sacrifice, surrendering day by day, moment by moment. And yes, if you think that sounds, looks and feels like death, you’re right. Surrender isn’t comfortable. It requires something of us. Surrender means living as God desires you to be; handling problems in ways that honour God; giving up your will; following Christ to the best of your ability; losing your life. It requires repentance – giving up some behaviours we really enjoy. It requires confession – speaking truthfully about our struggles and failures. It requires speaking the truth in love – confronting others to set boundaries or foster reconciliation. It requires forgiveness – wishing the peace of Christ on someone who, like yourself, doesn’t deserve it. If it was pleasant, it wouldn’t be surrender. The discomfort is how you know you’re on the right track.
Surrender isn’t fun. When someone wins – whether it’s a war, a sport’s event, a lottery, or freedom from cancer– the body’s response is to jump up, raise our hands and do our happy dance. The posture of surrender is that of bowing down, kneeling, humbly getting close to the dirt. When believers pray, we bow before our Lord. When a subject meets a King, she kneels before her master. When a man proposes marriage, he gets down on one knee before his …well you get the idea. The two postures seem contradictory, but Jesus knew that if you want to experience victory, you start with surrender.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggled with the torment of surrender. He prayed that if there was any other way for him to save creation, God would allow it. “If there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?” (Matthew 26:39). Even Jesus surrendered. He put God in the driver’s seat. And just as surrender led to resurrection for Jesus, it leads to new life for his followers. Paul wrote, “our old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ, your real life, shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you.” (Colossians 3: 3 & 4). The hope of our faith is that, in the aftermath of our surrender, we’ll share the very nature of Christ. Christ will be our life. We will share in his glory. One day, everything that is small and petty, ugly and sinful in you will be gone. You will be the “me” God designed you to be. You will be the kind of person people look at and say, “What a great God, God must be, to have thought up such a glorious creature!” That will be you “in glory”. You’ll bring glory to God. You’ll be your best and truest self.
The way to glory is oneness with Christ. To walk in that oneness, we need to surrender. To surrender we need humility. Paradoxically, life comes by dying; freedom comes by submitting to God’s will; victory comes by surrendering. Who holds the key fob to your soul? Who’s in the driver’s seat? Are you ready to let go?
A little girl went shopping with her Dad. He said he’d buy her whatever she wanted, so she chose a necklace with shiny beads that looked like pearls. The girl wore them constantly. She wouldn’t take them off. She wore them to eat, to play, to bathe and to sleep. Her Dad was struck by her attachment to the pearls. One evening, as he was tucking her into bed, she said, “I love you Daddy”. He asked, “Will you give me your pearl necklace?” She looked at him and shook her head no. A few nights later, the same thing. “Love, you, baby.” “Love you Daddy.” “Will you give me your pearl necklace?” Again, the answer was no. A few nights later, the same thing. This time, when the father asked for her necklace, the little girl took it off and said, “Here, Daddy, I love my necklace, but I love you more.” Her Dad smiled, then he reached into his pocket, took out a velvet box and handed it to her. She opened it and saw an even more beautiful necklace, this one made of real pearls. For weeks he had brought it to her, waiting for her to be willing to trust his love enough to surrender the false pearls and receive the true pearls.
When, in love, we freely surrender our false, sinful selves to our heavenly Father, when we are willing to trust his love enough to let go of what we cling to, his gracious, loving response is to smile and gives us back the real thing. A self that is infinitely more precious, more beautiful and more glorious than anything we can imagine.