Sunday afternoon I drove to La Guardia International Airport to pick up my mother, sister and nephew who are visiting us this week. Traffic started to pick up around exit 4 on the Hutchinson River Parkway. By exit 3 it was at a standstill. “Why, on a Sunday afternoon would there be so much traffic?” I asked myself. I lacked an answer for the next mile which took about a half an hour to traverse.
Then I saw lots of red and blue lights ahead and I thought the worse – there was some terrible accident and potential loss of life. As I got closer I saw what had happened: a semi-truck had entered the Hutch (ignoring the signs of it being a passenger vehicle only road) and somehow missed the “low bridge” sign as well. This truck must have come to a screeching halt as the trailer got wedged underneath the bridge. My immediate reaction was to laugh, shake my head, and say, “Well, that will do it!”
Traffic was at a standstill because three lanes now became one to get around this truck stuck in the middle lane. As soon I passed the truck I zipped on my way to the airport. (It appeared that there were no injuries, but I imagined the awkward conversation between the driver and numerous state troopers who had diverted traffic waiting for help to arrive to free the vehicle.) On the way back (family members retrieved from LGA and now in my car) my sister took this picture from my passenger seat. It appeared as if that awkward situation was not going away anytime soon. Now traffic had backed up for miles, and I felt fortunate I made it through that mess when I did.
The freedom we find in faith is not a license for reckless behavior. Even though we don’t define ourselves under the rubrics of rules and fulfilling the law to the letter, they still apply to us. We often get this confused. We say if Jesus accomplishes everything for us, can’t we do whatever we want? This really is the wrong question – our salvation is not determined on the basis of being able to fulfill the law’s requirements (thank God – because none of us can do it!), but that does not mean our actions do not impact others or that it doesn’t matter how we live or what we do. Just look at this accident. The driver either was not paying attention to the rules designed for safety or he chose to ignore them. In either case – whether it be defiance or ignorance – he destroyed his truck, caused a traffic jam, probably damaged whatever was being hauled, and put other people in danger (this accident certainly could have been a lot worse).
Our lives are like this too. Faith does give us freedom. It is a freedom which trusts that God acts on our behalf – and that our past, present and future are directly tied to what Christ has done, is doing and will do in our lives, rather than keeping score by how many rules we have broken and how many things we have done to make up for them. However, what we do still has a lasting impact – and those rules put in place for our safety and for the safety of others are to be followed for our own good. A great line I cherish is, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.” What changes in light of our faith is our relationship to rules, laws, and commandments (or whatever we might call them); because they are no longer our task master. Instead they show us ways we are meant to live with each other, the ways in which we so often don’t, and the ways we can take the gift of faith entrusted to us and live it out.
We all need a reminder of this, especially when our lives come to a screeching halt because we choose to ignore what God intends for us. Our actions matter to God. Our actions matter to each other. This is why we confess our sins every week together at church and to one another in our relationships. We are not perfect, and we cause a lot of accidents and the traffic jams that go with them. The implications that pile up because of them are at times more than awkward, they are overwhelming, and we are stuck.
Yet a loving God meets us by the side of the road. We are stuck – wedged in-between the road below and a weight that crushes us from above. This is why the Father seeks to protect us. This is why the Son of God incarnate, crucified and risen matters. This is why the Spirit sends us out to others. This is why faith in such a God grants freedom. We are stuck beneath a bridge with no way out. There is no way to look the other way and pretend what we do doesn’t matter because now three lanes have gone down to one and maybe no one is moving at all – because of us. God alone moves us out of the way. God alone cleans up after the mess. Christ on the cross for you and me reveals it. Faith believes that God alone loves us enough to do something about what lousy drivers we are with our own lives. It is still going to be awkward. We are still going to get a ticket and be liable for those goods smashed beneath that bridge when we are reckless. We should still read the signs carefully and look out for the other guy. We should also trust that God is with us; that God forgives even the unforgivable; that God seeks us out even when everyone else turns away or speeds off. Just look to the cross and you’ll see it. Just look to your neighbor and see how much they need it too. But check before you turn and please use your blinker, the driver next to you may not be looking.
“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15)