Dressing in the Dark

Posted: January 23, 2017 by Matt Horan in Uncategorized

By Matt Horan

A couple years ago I preached a sermon on Matthew 12:30-35 at Seminole Heights United Methodist about our motivations in ministry.  Do we participate in the life of the church out of a superstitious, “karma-like” fear that something bad might happen if we don’t, and a hope that the chances of good things happening will increase if we do?  Do we feel guilty if we don’t?  Are we trying to affect how we’ll spend eternity by our participation, as if we’re storing up points in our favor?

To test and see if the congregation was alert and understood the concept of motivation, I asked them to watch a compilation video of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch’s infamous press conference before the NFL’s Super Bowl XLVIII to see if they could discern his motivation for showing up to speak to reporters on the required media day.

As an added element to help make the point, I ordered an “I’m just here so I don’t get fined” t-shirt to wear.  What if that was the motivation for your pastor showing up on Sunday morning?

The challenge in the end was to put aside the self-serving, superstitious, or fearful motivations that we grab hold of, and instead to cultivate an intimate friendship with God that gives us hopeful excitement about what a privilege it is to have the opportunity to sit in a front row seat and witness the miraculous work of God to build the Kingdom of God in earth as it is in heaven.

This morning I’ll confess that I did not feel a flood of motivation of any kind when my img_84511
alarm went off.  I stumbled around in the dark grabbing clothes to wear for driving the 7am carpool to my daughter’s middle school.  The trip does not require me
getting out of the car, so I feel the freedom to not really worry too much if I match.  I head home to get myself presentable for my day afterwards, and can worry about matching then.

Today, however, the return trip from carpooling didn’t happen as usual.  There was a disabled vehicle on Hanna Ave. just west of 9th St., and cars were taking turns going around it on the two-lane road.  When I got to the car, there was an elderly woman standing behind it watching cars go by her.  With no oncoming cars in the other lane, I stopped and rolled down my window to ask if she needed any help.  Instantly a car behind me started honking in protest, but she said, “I don’t know what to do,” so I pulled around her and parked in a residential driveway, getting out of my car in time for the person behind me to honk at me again as they went by.

Her name was Mary.  She was perhaps 75 or so, having lived in Tampa for the last 30 years.  I told her that I was the pastor at Seminole Heights in hopes that it might give me some credibility to let me help her out, but she immediately let me know that she was a Jehovah’s Witness–perhaps in case I got any ideas about her coming to my church!  In any case, she couldn’t have been sweeter.

I asked her to put the car in neutral so I could push it onto the shoulder, but when she got back in she tried the ignition and it started, so she waved and continued on.  I got back in my car and continued on my way as well.

Mary had made it to the corner of Hanna and Nebraska, but the car stopped again in the left turn lane in front of Tampa Fire Station #7.  I pulled around the corner and left my car on Nebraska in front of an auto dealership (thank you for not towing me!), and jogged back to help Mary.  I waited for an opening to push her around the corner so she could park behind me, but there was no break in the traffic to get her there.  A young firefighter spotted us and drove a fire engine with lights and sirens blaring into the middle of the intersection to stop everyone so that we could get through.

Mary told me that she’d just bought the car three days ago for $3,000, and it looked like to me that someone had really taken advantage of this sweet lady.  I asked her if I could try and get the car to the parking lot of our church, which was just a couple blocks away, and she was thankful for the help.  I got it to start, and it lasted until we got to Hanna and Central.  Larry the Crossing Guard stopped the traffic in that intersection, and a parent walking out of Seminole Heights Elementary spotted me trying to push the car around to park it in front of the church on Central.  He did the pushing so I could steer it, and when I thanked him he said his name was Chris, and that he knew me because I’d “taught his little girl about Jesus” back when she went to our preschool and came to chapel with me along with her VPK class on Wednesday mornings.

I popped the hood on Mary’s car, and brought the hose down from the church to see if it needed water in the radiator.  There’s probably not an area in the neighborhood with more foot traffic than that spot between the church parking lot (where many parents park to walk in with their kids) and the school before the first bell of the day, so as I was filling up the radiator and looking around under the hood, I got several “Hi Pastor Matt” greetings as students and parents filed past.  A mom from one of our great new young families in the church asked if I needed a hand after dropping off her kids.  A nice real estate agent named Tom pulled up to check and see if I needed any help as well, and we had a pleasant chat for a couple minutes.  A mom walking back to her car after walking her kids in offered to bring her car over to try jump starting it, and I couldn’t help but feel thankful for all of the people who gave a cheery hello or offered to help with Mary’s predicament.

Eventually I found that whoever sold her the car had made a poor attempt to fix a broken radiator hose–probably in hopes that it would last long enough to get her to pay for the car and drive away before the fix gave out.  I used some Gorilla tape and hose clamps to try and get the hose functional enough to get her to a mechanic.  She gave me a ride back to my car–thankfully still parked in front of the auto dealership on Nebraska–and then sweetly offered me ten dollars for my help! (It was a tempting offer considering the income report at last week’s church finance meeting, but I declined.)  We prayed together that her car would be fixed and serve her well after that, and then she drove away.

I got home and headed for the shower (though I was kind of impressed with the manliness of my dirty, mechanic-looking hands and felt like working on something else first).  I reflected with joy on all of the people that had lent a hand and encouraged me while helping Mary–a young firefighter, a police officer, Chris the Seminole Elementary and Seminole Heights United Methodist Preschool parent, Larry the crossing guard, a parade of elementary school students and parents, Tom the real estate agent, and the mom who had jumper cables and wasn’t afraid to use them.

I got to the bathroom, the smile still on my face as I looked in the mirror.  Each of those people that I met–Mary included–might have at first thought positively about a guy helping a sweet elderly woman with car trouble, but a glance at the shirt I’d blindly grabbed in the dark this morning might have made them question my motivations.


Maybe that’s why she offered me the $10?


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