Adapted from a sermon first delivered by Rev. Ken Streitenberger, Associate Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church.
Maybe you’ve heard the story, but I hope not, about the fellow who was driving through town one day and stopped at a traffic light just behind a covered 2-ton truck. The driver of the truck got out of his truck and had a length of 2 x 4 in his hands. He walked toward the rear of his truck and then began to beat on the side of the truck. He gave it 3 or 4 really good raps. The man in the car behind thought that was rather strange conduct, but didn’t think any more about it.
The light changed and both vehicles continued on. Two blocks later they were both stopped again for a traffic light. And again, the driver of the truck got out, 2 x 4 in hand, and beat on the side of the truck. And again, the fellow behind the truck thought that was strange.
On three more occasions as they were following one another through town, these same two vehicles stopped at traffic lights and the driver of the truck always got out and always beat on the side of the truck with a 2 x 4. Needless to say, the truck driver had aroused the curiosity of the man in the car behind him.
Finally, the man in the car determined he had to find out what was going on. At the next traffic light, nothing would do but that he get out of his car and approach the man with the 2 x 4. So he did. He described to the truck driver what he had observed at the lasts five traffic lights and asked the driver to explain why he was beating the side of his truck every time he stopped. Here is what the truck driver said: “My friend, it’s like this. This is a 2-ton truck. But I’ve got four tons of canaries inside. I pound the side of the truck because I’ve got to keep half of those canaries flying all the time."
Now isn’t that a pretty good description of the way we view life on occasion? We’ve got a 2-ton truck loaded with four tons of canaries and we’ve got to keep half of them flying all the time. Sometimes we feel like life asks too much of us. Sometimes we feel like life gives us more than we can handle. Sometimes we feel like life has given us double the load we can carry and so to survive we have to try to keep half of that load juggled in the air.
And when we feel like that, our common tendency is to want to run away; to flee the pressure; to escape the responsibility. And that is not just a modern-day tendency. We see that same response in the scripture lesson of the day. Just prior to what we heard read, Jesus has laid out some pretty hard and harsh requirements for those who would be his followers. It was a shock to the people who heard it.
It was more than many of them could bear, or at least more than they were willing to bear. And because of the strenuousness of those requirements, a good number of Jesus’ followers turned back and would not go with him any more. They ran away. The load was too heavy. The responsibility was too great. The pressure was too much. So they ran away.
Jesus’ response was to turn to the rest of his followers - the group known as the disciples - and he said to them, “And what about you, wouldn’t you also like to leave?” Their response - or at least Peter’s response as he spoke on behalf of the rest - was, “Lord, to whom would we go? Where else could we go? You are the one who gives us life!”
The disciples didn’t run away when the rigors of apostleship became great. Instead, they ran to God. They ran to the source of their strength; they ran to the source of their hope; they ran to the source of their encouragement. They ran toward the one who gave them life.
We could learn a large lesson from the disciples – not from the followers who ran away but from the disciples who stayed. When our load gets heavy, when the demands of apostleship get burdensome, when life seems to be requiring more than we think we can possibly give – we ought not to run away, we ought to run to God. We ought to run to the God where we find our renewal and refreshment and stamina and direction.
All of us at times are faced with hard tasks and difficult responsibilities and occasions of unpleasantness. I’m sure that if we could interview the people who are seated around us this morning we would find that in each of our lives there have been times when we have all felt like giving up, throwing in the towel, running away, and shouting that the struggle wasn’t worth it.
All of us, in many areas of life, have known – and perhaps still know - overload. Parents feel it. Children experience it. People of all ages know it. There are vocational decisions. There are marital struggles. There are relational problems. There are emotional mountains to climb. There are a plethora of occasions when we want to run away and give up rather than face the challenge, and risk the failure.
Maya Angelou is now a famous author, poet, and writer – director of several TV and film productions. Even Poet Laureate of the United States. In the 1960’s, though, Ms. Angelou was asked by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to become the Northern Coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In trying to decide whether or not to accept that position, she talked with her producer and friend, John Killens. She said, “But what is a coordinator? Can I do it? I would rather not try than try and fail.”
“That is stupid talk, “ her friend responded. “Every try will not succeed. But if you’re going to live, live at all, your business is trying. And if you fail once, so what? Old folks say, ‘Every shuteye ain’t sleep and every goodbye ain’t gone.’ You fail, you get up and try again.”
Frequently, we give up, run away, turn back from our challenges because we are afraid of failure. Failing is no disgrace. Not trying is the real disgrace. When the stakes are high, when the load is awesome, we don’t need to turn and run away. We can run to God. We can ask for God’s strength. We can tell God that with God’s help, we are willing to give it a shot.
A minister in the AME Zion Church tells the story of a young man who was a very good track runner. This young man had been recruited heavily by various colleges for a track scholarship. One day during a track meet, this young man was all set to run. As the race started, all the runners got off to a good start. But as the coach and the coaching staff looked on, this young man began to fall behind.
In fact, he was quite far behind. But they continued to watch and as they watched, they saw he was gaining ground. He continued to gain ground until finally at the ribbon he was about three inches ahead of the next fastest runner and won the race.
The coach and the rest of the staff and a group of fans gathered around this young man after the race. They wanted to know what had happened when he fell behind and how he overcame the head start the others had. The young man replied, “Something went out of my legs. I don’t know what, they just felt lifeless.” And then he added, “So I prayed.” “What did you pray?” asked the coach. “I prayed, ‘O Lord, if you will help me pick them up, I will put them down.’”
The young man turned to God for his strength and resurgence –and discovered in the p roc ess the miracle of cooperation with God. Friends, when our legs, indeed when our hearts and bodies, feel lifeless, like the sap and spirit have gone out of them, we need to turn to our God for strength and resurgence.
We need to discover that miracle of cooperation with God, of being co-workers with God. We need to make that almost simplistic commitment that says, “Lord, if you will help us pick them up, we will put them down.”
Good people of Epworth, and friends who have come with friends, as we are in the midst of our Sabbath worship, it is appropriate for us to be reminded that when the times get hard, when the struggles are fierce, when the challenges become great – we don’t have to give up; we don’t have to turn tail and flee away; we don’t have to surrender to defeat. We can run to our God.
We can discover as did the disciples –and millions of others since— that in God is our strength, in God is our hope, in God is our encouragement. We can discover anew that, indeed, in God is our life.
In a few moments we will celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I would suggest that as we partake of the elements this day, we be aware of the succor and strength God has promised. Indeed, let us use these moments of communion to accept God’s lifting of our whole truckload of canaries.
And in response to God’s gift of lift, let us allow our communion with God to be a time of celebration and praise and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God for the spiritual renewal, fresh determination, and new resolve that are ours through Jesus Christ.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rev. Ken Streitenberger is the Associate Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo, Ohio. Epworth is an exciting, growing, and dynamic church with a heart for missions and a passion to grow in its faith in Christ and service to the world. If you are looking for a church where people are friendly and welcoming, we invite you to try Epworth.
Epworth offers three Sunday morning services: at 8:30 a.m., our blended worship service brings together a traditional worship style and a contemporary flair. Our traditional worship service begins at 9:45 a.m., followed by the contemporary worship service at 11. We are located at the corner of Valleyview and Central Avenue in Toledo, across from Wildwood Metropark.
Epworth United Methodist Church
3077 Valleyview Drive
Toledo, OH 43615-2237
Telephone : 419-531-4236
FAX : 419-531-7487
Corner of Valleyview and Central Ave, across from Wildwood Metropark