On a night over 40 years ago, Ed’s boss dropped by the house. “Say, Ed” the man said, “Our company has some baseball tickets that we can’t use. Would you like them?” Now Ed wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but standing behind him was his son, Charlie, a 12 year old who was crazy about the game. Ed looked at his son and said, “Sure, I’d be happy to have them. Thanks so much.” After he closed the door, Ed made a dream of Charlie’s come true when he handed him the tickets so Charlie and his friends could see the St. Louis Cardinals play baseball.
The boys all thought Ed would drive them to the ball park. But it was a chance for some teenage boys to take a step toward manhood. So, Ed gave Charlie and his friends instructions about how to use the bus so they could go to the game themselves. Ed took the boys down to the bus stop. He waited with them until the right bus came along and put them on the bus. Ed told them how to buy a transfer from the driver. And he even talked to the driver. Back then, it cost them a whole 65 cents to ride the bus. That first ride was kind of scary though, because they really weren’t too sure about how to make that transfer.
When it was time to get off at the transfer stop, the bus driver took time to help them and remind them which bus they needed to get on. The bus driver even made them buy a return ticket and transfer so they wouldn’t spend all their money on popcorn and cokes and not be able to get back home. And then the bus driver warned them: “Remember now, get on bus number 342. Don’t you be getting on any other bus now, or you’ll get lost.”
And then the bus left. The boys watched half a dozen buses pull up but they were the wrong ones. They even argued over whether to get on one bus or not, because its sign said it was going to the ball park. But instead, they waited and got on the bus the driver told them to get on.
They made it to and from the ball game just fine. The transfer went without a hitch. As a matter of fact, that was the start of something great. After that Charlie and his friends often took advantage of free tickets from Ed’s supervisor and rode the bus to the ballgames. One of the things Charlie long remembered, though, was that first trip on the bus. He remembered how scared he was about getting on the wrong bus, and how safe he felt in the hands of that kind bus driver who gave them careful instructions. And he recalled how excited he felt when they made that transfer and got on the right bus to the ball park (Strayhorn)
The letter to the Colossians is all about getting on and staying on the right bus. The church in Colossae was probably started by Epaphras, who taught the Colossians about the good news of Jesus. Paul had been to Colossae, helped start the church there, did some teaching, and then left town. The Colossians were very new followers of Jesus and the folks who knew the most about Jesus lived far away in Jerusalem. So the Colossians were pretty much on their own as they began to live as Christians. As a result some folks in Colossae were beginning to get on the wrong bus. Some teachers with philosophies very different from Paul’s were beginning to influence these new Christians. These false teachers encouraged the church members to avoid all forms of pleasure, and limit their food and drink in order to draw closer to God. The worship of angels was encouraged. Paul got wind of these practices and wrote this letter to the Colossians to tell them how to get back on the right bus. He called them back to the basic teachings of Jesus and the message of God’s love and grace.
Paul instructs the Colossians to get on the bus that leads to living lives worthy of Jesus Christ. When we live lives worthy of Jesus we will bear fruit. We will do kind things for other people. We will be patient with others and persevere in our acts of kindness and service. When we are on the right bus, we will continue to grow in our knowledge of God. We will draw on God’s divine strength when we come upon tough times in life. And the right bus is full of gratitude and joy.
Today we have recognized and expressed appreciation for the efforts of those who serve in the ministry of teaching folks of all ages and of caring for children. The scriptures tell us how vital it is to continue to grow in our knowledge of God’s will and to gain spiritual wisdom, so we place great value on Christian education. Just like the boys traveling to the baseball game needed instructions about how to navigate the bus system, we need instructions about how to get on the right bus and stay on it. And it’s not only children who need instruction. All of us are encouraged to continue to learn, to persevere in growing in faith. And we can’t grow in faith alone. We can’t grow only through worship. Christian Education in a group setting is a crucial part of being on the right bus!
In our gospel lesson today a young lawyer basically asked Jesus which bus would take him where he wants to go. What must I do to bear fruit and live a life worthy of Jesus Christ? What must I do to live a joyous and abundant life now and eternally? Jesus asked the lawyer what he thought the answer was and the lawyer replied by reciting what we know as the Great Commandment. But the lawyer wanted to be sure he was on the right bus, so he asked Jesus for further clarification—“Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered the question with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Your neighbor is anyone who is in need. Anyone! To be on the right bus, Jesus says we must bear the fruit of loving acts of kindness to our neighbors. And the author of Colossians would add we must persevere in being kind and loving. This is not a once and done assignment. It is an on-going, life-long assignment.
Jesus is not asking us to perform miracles, transform the whole world, or solve the problem of world peace. Jesus is telling us that the ticket for the right bus is to love our neighbors. And sometimes love is best expressed in the little things we do. One author writes, “it is when we are engaged in the most mundane activities that we make the most difference in another person’s life” (Brehmat). Mamie Adams always went to a branch post office in her town because the postal employees there were friendly. She went there to buy stamps just before Christmas one year and the lines were particularly long. Someone pointed out that there was no need to wait in line because there was a stamp machine in the lobby. “I know,” said Mamie, ‘but the machine won’t ask me about my arthritis” (Bits and Pieces).
Graduates, we are celebrating with you the completion of one phase of your education and the beginning of a new season in your lives. Today’s scriptures call you to be sure you are on the right bus as you walk into that next phase of life. The right bus which is living lives that are worthy of Jesus Christ. Let your lives bear the fruit of kindness to your neighbor, not only in your work, but in all of your living. Remember how important those small acts of kindness, such as asking people like Mamie about their arthritis can be. And for those of us who have not just graduated, we begin a new phase of life each week. Every Sunday we are invited to begin again. We are invited to once again climb up the steps and get on the right bus. Each week, we need to examine ourselves and make sure the sign on the front of our bus says it’s headed to lives that are worthy of Jesus Christ. We must be certain that we are on the bus that bears the fruit of kind and compassionate care for our neighbors.
Junior high and senior high work campers and advisors, in a few weeks you will be caring for our neighbors in North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York. The scripture text for this summer’s work camps is from 1 Peter and includes these words: As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. Today’s scriptures call all of us to be on the bus that takes us to a way of life shaped by God’s life. Our scriptures call us graduates, teachers, helpers, work campers, each one of us to live lives worthy of Jesus Christ. To live lives that are blazing with holiness. Lives that point the way to Jesus.
Bits and Pieces. December, 1989, p. 2. Sermon Illustrations.com.
Brehmat, Alan. The Waking Dreamer.
Strayhorn, Billy D. “Get Your Transfer Here.” A Hope That Does Not Disappoint: Second Lesson Sermons For Sundays After Pentecost (First Third) Cycle C.