Good morning. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Christina Kapteyn. I am a regular at the 9 AM service with my husband Kevin Dekkinga and our sons, Willem and Pouwel. I am a co-leader of the Becoming an Anti-Racist Beloved Community group and a member of the rector search committee.
I am also an avid cyclist. I credit much of my joy and sanity to the endorphins generated commuting and exploring new and familiar places by bike, either alone, or with my family. This past summer, Kevin and I took our boys on a 200-mile bike camping adventure in Wisconsin. Now I know some of you are thinking, “wow, 200 miles on fully loaded bikes with kids in tow…what an excellent metaphor for the Hell mentioned in our gospel reading today”…but trust me, it was amazing.
You see, it flipped the normal formula for vacation on its head—the journey was the point, not the destination. It forced us to slow down and be fully present with our children, to help them wonder in the ordinary things along the way. You would be amazed at how many hours can be filled with Pouwel’s impression of an angry cow and Willem’s choreography to the Talking Heads song, Once in a Lifetime.
One morning, when we were packed up and heading out of Madison to begin a 55-mile day of dodging thunderstorms, I was riding up a particularly grueling hill when a sign caught my attention. It was a sign I’d seen hundreds of times before, but on this journey-focused vacation, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was the “Drive Like Your Children Live Here” sign that I am sure most of you are familiar with. Aldermanic offices hand out yard signs with this message here in Chicago, but in this more affluent neighborhood in Madison, it was a permanent fixture. I confess that until this point, I saw these signs as a clever trick to remind people to drive more safely. They tug on our emotional heart strings and familiarize the strange places we are traveling through so that we are compelled to travel with caution. But on that day, on my fully loaded bike, with my muscles screaming for relief and my child tugging on my shirt behind me, that sign broke my heart.
What is it about driving that is so dehumanizing that we need a sign to remind us of our children in order for us to do it more safely? What happens to us when we buckle into those climate-controlled living rooms on wheels that makes us callous to all their harm? The anonymity of driving acts as a license for some pretty horrible behavior. I readily admit that when I am behind the wheel of a car I yell obscenities and curses at total strangers that I would never have the courage to say to their face. But the damage is much worse than that.
We dismiss 40,000 deaths and 4.5 million injuries a year from traffic violence as the cost of doing business. We are so complacent about these casualties that we label them all “accidents” as if they cannot be prevented.
We rant and rave about climate change, but fail to acknowledge that personal vehicles account for 1/5 of all US greenhouse gas emissions. When this is pointed out, rather than simply driving less, we look to cars to solve the problem, falsely believing that electric cars are free of harm.
I could continue on for hours about how our car-centric culture drives systemic poverty, racism, school segregation, police violence, and mass-incarceration, but I only have 10 minutes, so I will save those for another time. But before I move on, can we just acknowledge one thing—that the act of driving is usually just plain miserable. I mean, am I the only one here who, while stuck in traffic at the Jane Byrne interchange, has the impulse to climb on top of my car and scream, “This is madness! If we just worked together, we could have it so much better!!”
How have we gotten to this point?
Why do we subject ourselves so readily to so much harm, all for the sake of getting to our destination a little bit easier?
Why is it when the status quo limits just enough of our individual discomfort that we dare not ask for better, even when we know the status quo isn’t working?
Why do we fail to see that a little more input could lead to an exponentially better output?
Why do we refuse to expect more from our journeys?
What would the world look like if we could take that common complacency and turn it into collective courage?
This brings us to our gospel reading, where we find Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus clearly did not believe in the merits of a 10-minute, three-point sermon…seriously, this thing is a doozy. He takes what the disciples and the crowds thought they knew about religion and turns it all on its head.
According to Matthew’s account, Jesus began this sermon with the beatitudes, teaching that blessings come not when we are confident in what we have, but when we are clear about we need. He moves on to metaphors about salt and light, showing that a religion that does not season and illuminate the world around it is useless and should be thrown away. He starts teaching about the law, the foundation of Jewish faith and asserts that the religious leaders of the day had gotten it wrong. Like in our reading today, Jesus takes the sins that would have been technically disqualifying to salvation in Judaism and uses them to show there is no such thing as a perfect score. In the rest of the sermon he teaches the crowd to turn the other cheek, to love their enemies, to give with humility, to pray simply, to set aside worry, to resist the temptation to judge, to seek boldly, and to build their faith on solid ground. I told you this sermon was a doozy. But at its core, Jesus teaches that right relationship with God only comes with right relationship to each other. Holiness is a journey, not a destination. You see, the power of Jesus’s message was not the solace of assured salvation. The religious leaders of the day were already offering that. The power of his ministry was that he was bold enough to cry out against the status quo that missed the point, to dare the world to give up complacency for courage, to stop focusing only on the destination and reclaim the journey.
Dear friends, as we move into Lent, a season of spiritual discipline, I challenge you to disrupt your journeys. Turn your focus from the destination and be present as you travel. Train your eyes to see your fellow travelers. There is power in the shared journey. Make space for your souls to connect, weave stories from disparate threads, sing songs with resonant notes, stain your cheeks with common tears. Embrace your vulnerability, do not fear discomfort. Believe that a little more input can yield an exponentially better output. And remember the gospel message that the journey that is not traveled boldly enough to lead to the cross is a journey that will never experience the wonder of the resurrection. So let us trade our complacency for courage and reclaim the journey. Amen