Do I Really Have to Read the Manual?

What Comes as Standard Equipment for Anyone Calling Themselves a Christian?

As you know, today is Trinity Sunday. And since my husband and I recently got a new car and I’ve been trying to read the manual, I’d like us to consider what safety features come as standard equipment in the most basic model. Not of a model car, but of a model Christian. What does God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit want the consumer to know, the disciples present before Jesus at that time, and now, to know? Let’s see, according to the manual… 

Ah, here it is, (holding up the bulletin) the Quick Reference Guide. Jesus begins by clearly laying out some basic operating safety features. You know, the ones everybody needs, like seat belts, head rests and safety glass. “Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah.”

Sometimes essential things become such a part of the norm, they become common. Like parts of the liturgy during church, we think we already know what they are all about. Like Trinity Sunday. I mean, come on, what more do we need to know about the Holy Spirit? We’re familiar with that. Let’s just skip that part of the manual. (Flipping through pages.)

Yup, it says here that every standard model comes with features put in place to always function. There’s a note here at the bottom: If you call yourself a Christian, you may not be taking advantage of every safety feature put in place. This quick reference guide is not meant to substitute for the complete driver’s manual provided by the manufacturer. Okay, back to the full manual. (Holding up the Bible.) Ooo, this car has a backup camera. Sweet. How many of you have ever driven a car with a back-up camera? Okay, not everybody. How about a rear view mirror? Now, that ought to include everyone old enough to drive. Kids, keep listening for when you become old enough.

In today’s section it says, “The first factory installed safety feature is a preset limit on just how much Jesus is going to let people know in advance.” He knew that if he forced his disciples to know their futures, they’d get overwhelmed. They wouldn’t be able to absorb it all. They’d be likely to fall apart and suffer damage.

That’s why we can only live one day at a time, right? Our lives, like cars, have preset speed limits. Whether you’re a baby, a teen, thirties, fifties or nineties, none of us can live more than one day at a time. Jesus doesn’t let anyone move too quickly toward their destination. The gospel reassures us that Jesus knows and handles many things we can’t. Between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, everything the future holds is well managed. We don’t need a dashboard light to tell us when this feature is working, we have the light of day and the dark of night to remind us how God looks out for us 24/7.

The earth’s cycles and rhythms are automatic safety features pre-installed during the time of Creation through the work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, the Holy Trinity functions like a car alarm that goes off when you approach another vehicle too closely. God, too, says, “Back off,” when you get too close to things that might wreck you.

The reading continues: “When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into all truth.” When you and I were learning how to drive, somebody sat in the passenger seat pointing out the mirrors, buttons and knobs. They explained the controls before they ever let you turn the key, because they had the wisdom of God, lol.

But no matter the number of our years or how experienced we become, we never stop wanting to crank the engine and make it roar. Few of us want to wait until we receive all of God’s instructions before we take off and step on the gas. Regardless of our stage in life, or what decisions we face, Jesus sits beside us as a driving instructor. God is the father who has to say as my father did, “If you don’t do as I am about to teach you, for your sake, and all the people around you, I can’t let you drive.”

What my dad actually said was (pause) “…Never mind, it’s Father’s Day, so we’ll leave it at that,” lol. I love my Dad. He just turned 90 and came to watch me graduate at St. Peter’s (Smile).

The Spirit will not speak on his own, but what he has heard. And, he will declare to you what is to come. Whoever prepares to sit next to the student driver isn’t one who comes unprepared or uninformed. They wouldn’t be a very good instructor if they sat down next to you and said, “I have no idea how this works, but we’ll figure it out as we go along.” No, Jesus reassures the disciples and us that we can trust the Holy Spirit to guide us with the very same wisdom that God the Father and Jesus concur with. The same wisdom that created Heaven and Earth and certainly know how stuff works. 

“When the Spirit comes, what he does and what he says to you will glorify me,” Jesus says. From the Greek word doxa, pronounced (dough-ksa), we receive the word glory meaning to enhance the esteem or reputation by word or action (Danker Greek NT Lexicon).

The Spirit’s not starting up some driving school of his own, you might say, he’s opening a new franchise. And, everything human beings consider a disadvantage of franchising works for the Holy Trinity. The high initial cost is about to be paid by Jesus on the cross, the Trinity absorbs the continuing management service fees, supplies the product and runs the business with a proven record of success.What better deal can Jesus offer his disciples then, and us now, than that?

If Christians sitting in pews represent the basic model of Christianity, how do we look in an advertisement for God? If a rotating 360º view of you was featured in a commercial or you were seen racing down the road to go to work or to pick up your kids, would the disclaimer beneath your image saying, “Some features shown in the model above do not come standard,” refer to the good or the bad things you do?

Does what you do in your daily life enhance the esteem and reputation of the Holy Trinity through word and action? I realized recently that when I hesitate to mention the name of Jesus, I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of God’s reputation, but that of Christians, in general. It takes guts to be considered as one “of them”.

And yet, going to church or graduating from seminary can only change a person so much. When a driver carelessly threatened my life the other day, I was shocked. It had been easy for me to maintain control of my car in spite of his action, but I couldn’t maintain my composure. All of a sudden, out of the left corner of my eye, I saw a lone long finger pressed up against the glass. I quickly pulled my hand down, shocked at what had been my immediate response of indignance.

The other driver was too busy driving too close, too fast, so he didn’t notice. But, I did. While he moved quickly out of sight, I sat frozen in disbelief. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my behavior as a Christian. I certainly hadn’t done anything to esteem God’s reputation.

 My first thought was to check my neck for my collar. Thank God, no one but God saw what I’d just done. I comforted myself by thinking, “ I would never say the foul words the gesture stands for. As a kid, I saw the gesture used for years before I ever understood its verbal curse. Regardless, I learned how to use it.

“That’s all it takes to sin,” Jesus said. Thinking angry thoughts. Not only the tongue reveals the contents of our hearts, but our body language. My unconscious action was not how I think, so I thought, unless I’m really mad, apparently.

You see, the Holy Spirit knew that if I get angry in my mind with any regularity that it’ll become normal. No indicator lights will go on. I’ll be able to get angry and not feel convicted of sin at all. But, boy oh boy, did I feel the shock of the Holy Spirit at work when I acted on my righteous anger. As I practically had an out-of-body experience over it, the image burned in my consciousness. The Holy Spirit is alive and well.

Both materially and spiritually present, right here, right now, within you is God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this space, in the words found in this Bible, your driver’s manual, in standard features built into your daily lives. Through Word and Sacrament they call DANGERto mind. They guide you down the right path and continually teach you how to act, so you too, can participate with the Spirit, and glorify God.

When my two-year son loved to sit in the driver’s seat of my little red Hyundai pretending to drive, the key wasn’t in the ignition. I was sitting in the passenger seat all right, but I wasn’t explaining to him how to shift gears or when to apply the brakes. That came when he was ready.

Jesus says, “There is much more I have to tell you, but you’re not ready, so I’ll let you do this for now because I want you to live in the moment. There’s no reason to take on the rest of what life has in store for you, right now.”

Jesus was, and is very in tune with the needs of his disciples. Jesus knows that some people like to plan ahead, want to prepare and know everything possible. Jesus knows that some like developing strategies with military precision. Jesus knows we want more than we can handle.

So God’s strategy is to provide Driver Assistance Technology. Read your manual. Rely on the Holy Trinity for guidance as much as you rely on your Global Positioning System. Don’t hide the Bible like you hide the Driver’s Manual of your car, by tucking it in a compartment only to be consulted when an indicator tells you there’s a problem. Don’t be scared to read it, not all parts of it are dry and technical. Who knows, you might learn something that not only makes you a better driver, but a better Christian, one who’s better able to operate faith in a safe and responsible manner.

Like car airbags, the Holy Spirit is hidden, but there. The Spirit will be deployed in a dire emergency when your life is at stake, but Jesus reminds us not to force the Holy Spirit to remain folded up and cramped in your brain and prayer life. And, it’s true, like airbags, once the Spirit gets deployed, things take on a different shape and never are the same, because of grace.

Unlike airbags, grace is intended to get used over and over again because it is a standard feature of every Christian. We’ll never be branded model Christians, no matter how hard we try. But, all will recognize our maker as we live life. The Holy Trinity walks with us, in us and among us. Feel their 3-dimensional presence during worship today, and from here on out as we too, continue to offer words of praise, and participate in actions that seek to glorify God. Amen. 

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Vicar Nancy Brody

Vicar, 2018-2019

Nancy Brody was called to serve as pastor of Messiah Parish in Halifax, PA. Her congregations are named Messiah Lutheran Church (Fisherville) and St. Peter (Fetterhoff’s).

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