Summer Settings Series
Road Trips II
Summary and Themes for Preaching:
The purpose of this “Summer Settings” sermon series is to connect people’s favorite summer destinations with the biblical and theological importance of similar settings. The hope is to help people see the stories and events in the Bible with new eyes and new understanding, identifying with our ancestors in the faith in ways we might not have known possible. In so doing, we can gain a better understanding of how God worked in their imaginations and how He is longing to work in ours.
Going deeper, this series is a set of four two-week themes: mountains, lakes/streams/rivers, beaches, and road trips. The first week features an Old Testament passage with a passage that transitions toward the New Testament. The second week focuses on a New Testament passage.
Last week, we considered Abram and the way that God may send us out on a journey, waiting to see his will without knowing the destination. Today we move forward to Saul on the Damascus Road and consider how God meets us in the midst of our journeys and sends us onward with a course correction. In each case, we go out and look for direction from God and hope to respond faithfully. A major difference, however, is that Abram went out with a willingness to be shown while Paul went out already thinking that he knew God’s way. The same can be said for the characters in our additional passage, Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan.
Saul’s backstory is well known: a student of Gamaliel, a persecutor of “The Way” (the early church…more on that later), a Roman citizen, and an up-and-comer in the ranks of the Pharisees. He set out for Damascus with the intent to round up followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. Jesus encountered him on the way, blinding and questioning him, and then sent him to Damascus to be healed (in multiple ways). Saul thought he was going to Damascus for one purpose, but Jesus sent him there and beyond with another.
Last week we asked whether we meticulously plan our road trips or whether we leave enough room for the Spirit’s leading, because being at the whim of the Spirit can yield a much greater experience than we might plan for ourselves. That is a question of starting with openness and seeking, while this week’s is a question of purpose: why are we going? In the case of a road trip, are we going in order to force a family bonding moment (contrived posture)? Are we going because we are bent on seeing or doing something specific, like Wally World (narrowly focused posture)? Or, are we just going simply to be going, without expecting anything unforeseen to happen on the way (obligatory posture)?
Obviously, similar questions can be asked of our lives in general, and not just road trips. Saul set out on the road with the intent to force (contrived) a specific outcome (narrowly focused) that he saw as part of his duty (obligatory). Jesus encountered him and changed his course. For Saul, it probably took Jesus encountering him to change his course. Jesus isn’t always as “on the nose” with us, which can be good because it’s less disruptive but bad because we often don’t notice. As a result, we remain unchanged, and we return from the trip with the same mind we had before it.
There is an extra note about Saul’s initial mindset that can be easy to miss. Saul was “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (v.1 NIV). That is a common but questionable translation, since the word for “breathing” is a hapax legomenon, empneo, that more literally means “breathing in.” In other words, Saul—accomplished but still young, ambitious, and impressionable—was in an environment in Jerusalem in which he was steeped in his colleagues’ hatred for the early followers of Jesus. That’s the air he was breathing, and it poisoned him against Jesus’s followers.
Jesus encountered Saul and we usually take note of the blindness, but we often miss the breathing. Saul’s companions—the ones who had breathing that same toxic air to Saul—were “speechless.” Later, when Ananias spoke with Saul, he said, “Jesus…has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (emphasis added). “Spirit” (pneuma), of course, connotes breath and wind. Jesus had stopped the breathing of Saul’s companions and had given Saul a breath of fresh air through one of his own followers.
When we journey, are we really open to taking in fresh air? Do we actually try to exhale the toxic things we’ve been taking in and allow Jesus to fill us with his Spirit? Do we think of ourselves as being sent to refresh others?
One downside of road trips—and perhaps vacations in general—is that they are self-serving. They are consumeristic. How often do we set out for the mountains, beach, lake, or road with the opportunity to bless others built into our plans? Or, how often are we simply going our own way and not attentive to the opportunities Jesus puts there?
The parable of the Good Samaritan helps with these questions because both the priest and the Levite were simply going their own way. The priest “happened” to come across the injured man “by chance.” The Levite was going “in the same way” (mixing translations in each case). The Samaritan, however, was “on a journey” (“as he traveled” in NIV), suggesting purpose. He was also equipped for a journey. His plans did not initially include helping an injured man, but he was equipped to do so and understood in his own purpose that God might give him additional purpose.
When we are on our way with Jesus, do we allow him to be our way? That is how he defined himself (John 14:6- “I am the way,” with “way,” ‘odos, meaning “road”). Are we intentionally following him, already equipped with the Spirit, ready for him to show up in our path and even to lead us to others? We can still take journeys in which we wait for God to show us His own purpose and plan, but we already know a good bit of that purpose and plan, which includes us as His messengers.
Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.) His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.
Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music. He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now. As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.
Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).
From TPW’s quotes page on mission
You can do something other than working with God in His purpose, but it will always be something lesser, and you couldn’t come up with something better.
If we’re going to impact our world in the name of Jesus, it will be because people like you and me took action in the power of the Spirit. Ever since the mission and ministry of Jesus, God has never stopped calling for a movement of “Little Jesuses” to follow him into the world and unleash the remarkable redemptive genius that lies in the very message we carry. Given the situation of the Church in the West, much will now depend on whether we are willing to break out of a stifling herd instinct and find God again in the context of the advancing kingdom of God.
Key Sermon Illustration
From TPW’s illustrations page on the missional church
What it Means to Be Sent into the World
[Jesus] sends us into the world as he was sent into the world (John 17:18; 20:21). We have to penetrate other people’s worlds, as he penetrated ours: the world of their thinking (as we struggle to understand their misunderstandings of the gospel), the world of their feeling (as we try to empathize with their pain), and the world of their living (as we sense the humiliation of their social situation, whether poverty, homelessness, unemployment or discrimination).
Taken from The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor by John R. W. Stott Copyright (c) 2007 by John R. W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Isaiah 6:8-9
LEADER: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
ALL: And I said, “Here I am, send me!”
LEADER: And he said, “Go…”
ALL: Lord of Hosts, you have sent us, we have said we’ll go. Please give us the courage to stand for you, to break the chains of injustice, and proclaim your Good News.
Prayer of Confession
Almighty and gracious God, Your love is everlasting and filled with patience. In our sinfulness, we run away, yet You seek after us. We make foolish choices in spite of the fact that You teach us a better way. We hurt You and others, and, instead of hurting us back, You forgive us. Our pride often gets in the way of our efforts to reveal Your glory and goodness. We try to bear the imprint of Christ throughout the world, yet we often do just the opposite and fail to be the people You’ve called us to be in Your Word. Forgive the sin in our lives and grant us hearts to follow the example that You gave us in Your Son, Jesus. In His precious Name we pray. Amen.
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Chruch
Assurance of Pardon
Adapted from Psalm 25:6-9; 1 Peter 3:18
LEADER: Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of our youth and our old age, and our rebellious ways; according to your love remember us, for you, Lord, are good. Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. In him, we are forgiven.
ALL: Thanks be to God!
May you be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Amen.