Bringing the Text to Life
Sunday, March 1, 2020
AT A GLANCE:
When authorities need to stop a criminal who’s trying to flee by car, they have several options. The last one is the “Pursuit Intervention Technique,” commonly known as the PIT maneuver. Successfully executed, the technique sends the suspect vehicle spinning sideways and out of control. The cross is God’s final PIT maneuver. God tried spike strips (law) and ramming techniques (prophets), but now employs the ultimate device, the cross.
For material based on today’s gospel text, see “Necessary NO’s,” February 21, 1999.
One evening a while back in San Bernardino County, California, a car chase began about 6:30 p.m., coming to a conclusion about 90 minutes later.
The suspect in a car theft took off from Chino and led police on a chase that ended in Hawthorne. The erratic and meandering journey took officers to the Ventura Freeway, where the suspect vehicle sideswiped a Prius and nearly hit a tanker truck. After driving in the wrong direction, the thief pulled the car into the southbound lanes of the San Diego Freeway. There, the stolen vehicle was rammed once by a patrol car, but that did not deter this guy.
When he got into the Hawthorne area, having eluded capture for almost an hour and a half, a California Highway Patrol SUV executed a PIT maneuver, and game over. The car went sideways into a spin, and the driver was apprehended.
An increasing number of law enforcement agencies across the country are using the PIT maneuver as a way to bring car chases to safe conclusions. Using this tactic, an officer in pursuit uses their vehicle as a weapon to force a fleeing car to abruptly swivel sideways, thus going into a spin resulting in a loss of control by the driver. If this maneuver is initiated in an area where property and citizens are not at risk, it is a safe alternative to chasing a suspect into populated areas.
It might be unpleasant to use this as a metaphor for our relationship with God. But, in fact, it is a very common one, not only in the Bible, but in literature.
The link to Romans 5 is coming soon, but for now, notice that in the Bible, people are often running. They’re described as running away from God who, alternatively, is frequently depicted as wooing or chasing them.
Jonah is perhaps the best example. God’s hand is upon him, but Jonah is not comfortable with what God has in mind, and he tries to sneak away. He takes a compartment in the steerage of a ship hoping to hide out. You know the story.
The PIT maneuver in this case is the great fish which, by the way, was God’s idea. “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah” (Jonah 1:17). Game over. And after three days, the leviathan, irritated by the pit in its stomach, spits Jonah onto a beach where he lies prostrate and in complete surrender to the will of God.
The psalmist David writes, “Where shall I go from your spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7).
The Israelites are often depicted as people careening down a path to destruction. And in battle, they sometimes ran away, rather than standing their ground. See 1 Samuel 17:8-11.
The prophet describes sheep as having a propensity to wander astray (Isaiah 53:6), and Jesus also refers to the shepherd who, although in possession of 99 sheep, sallies forth at great risk to himself to find the 100th lamb that’s run afield (Luke 15:1-7).
In that same chapter, Jesus tells the story of a young man who runs away from home. We know how that turns out.
It’s weird. Sometimes we mortals believe we can outrun and outmaneuver God.
The 19th-century poet, Francis Thompson, captures this in his 182-line poem, “Hound of Heaven,” published in 1893. One review says: “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and unperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by his Divine grace. (Emphasis added.)
One person fitting this profile was, by her own admission, the 20th-century activist, Dorothy Day.
In his book about Day, Johann Cristoph Arnold writes, “Day felt the call to discipleship early in life (though only vaguely), but she first threw herself into other, ‘more important things.’ There was the lure of journalism school, and then politics. Then there was travel and a taste of the Roaring Twenties in New York City, Italy and Hollywood. There was also a novel, several film scripts, an abortion, a short-lived marriage and a baby daughter. Still it did not dawn on her that she was running from God, and that her yearning would never be stilled until she was obedient to him.
“Then came an unforgettable night in a Greenwich Village bar where her friend, playwright Eugene O’Neill, recited Francis Thompson’s ‘Hound of Heaven’ for her — a poem whose message left her reeling. It contains the verse:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days
I fled Him, down the arches of the years
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
“Day experienced what can only be called a conversion. Leftist friends mocked her new interest in the Gospels: didn’t she of all people, a Communist, know that religion was just a crutch for the weak? But Dorothy dug in her heels. Jesus promised the new society of peace and justice they were all looking for, she said, and if the Christians they knew were soft-minded hypocrites, that was not Jesus’ fault. She was determined to give him a try.”
Dorothy Day, like King David, the prophet Jonah and others before her, was the object of God’s loving and persistent Pursuit Intervention Technique.
To review this analogy: When the LAPD engages a suspect in a car chase, they hope first that the vehicle will run out of gas. Failing that, they hope the suspect will have a change of heart. The suspects who flee clearly understand that the law takes a dim view of their behavior. The LAPD officers in pursuit might try to get roadblocks into place. Failing that, officers may throw spike strips across the road.
When all means have been exhausted, the chief will authorize the PIT maneuver. The officer’s car now becomes the tool bringing the suspect’s surrender. The patrol car makes contact with the suspect’s rear fender and then pushes, sending the vehicle into a sideways spin and causing a loss of control.
Then, surrounded with no place to go, the runner emerges from the car with hands in the air, and then is usually told to kneel, and then may be asked to lie prostrate, whereupon he is cuffed and taken into custody.
This patience and reluctance by law enforcement is mirrored in the way God handles us during the chase. As Francis Thompson’s hound with the hare, God is relentless but unhurried, patient and yet passionate.
And yet, were the people to truly seek God, God would be found: “When you search for me, you will find me. If you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).
The Romans text explains how the PIT maneuver works.
The tool or vehicle is the cross. After providing the law, sending the prophets and exposing the people of God to disciplinary adversity, which failed to curb rebellion and disobedience, God uses the cross as a battering tool to send us spiraling into submission, hands in the air, on our knees and prostrate before him in complete surrender.
Of course, the metaphor breaks down because, unlike the California Highway Patrol, God is not going to force us to get out of the car, hands in the air, kneel and surrender.
That thief on the run in the opening paragraphs? The CHP stopped him with a PIT maneuver, but they had to smash windows and send in a K-9 unit before that miscreant exited the car, knelt and surrendered.
God’s not going to force us to surrender. We may need to stop before the cross, but we might not kneel.
Yet, Paul explains why surrender is our best option.
He has already reminded us that “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (v. 8). Now, in these verses, he explains the difference between Adam, our ancestor, and Christ, our Savior. And the question he implicitly poses is: “To whom are you going to surrender?”
Notice the contrasts the apostle Paul uses in this text between Adam and Jesus Christ:
Adam Christ (the Last Adam)
Disobedience, v. 19 Obedience, v. 19
Sinners, v. 19 Righteousness, v. 19
Sin came, v. 12 Gift of salvation
Judgment, v. 16 Grace
Condemnation, v. 16 Justification, v. 16, v. 18
Death came, v. 12 Life
Many therefore die Many therefore live
These verses, although theologically dense, explain how God through Jesus Christ exercised a PIT maneuver on humans determined to go their own way. The cross nudges us out of control, tips us out of our comfort zone, knocks us silly and sideways, and does it all with sacrificial love.
It’s the first Sunday of Lent.
If we’re ever going to start anew, is there a better time than now?
Perhaps we should stop running.
Perhaps we should reverse direction, and instead of driving the wrong way against traffic, turn our lives around and go in the right way with Jesus.
If we don’t sense the cross as an intervention technique, perhaps God has other ones that will bring us to attention.
Today is a good day to put our hands up in surrender.
Today is a good day to get down on our knees.
This is the meaning of the cross: There can be no more running away.
[NOTE: Sometimes, it is not the cross that is the PIT maneuver that redirects our lives, but a traumatic, seismic event we experience. Examples abound of this sort of thing. Think, for example, of Paul on the Damascus Road, Luther walking home on a stormy night, Augustine reading in a Milanese garden or Wesley’s “brand from the burning.” Question is: Why wait for God to throw spike strips across the road, or to ram our lives with an experience that takes our breath away or to execute a PIT maneuver on us that sends us into a tailspin? Why not commit or recommit now?]
—Kim Dunker, Timothy Merrill, Kevin Moore, Melanie Silva and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
Takeaway: When God uses a PIT maneuver, it is best to surrender.
Arnold, Johann Christoph. Seeking Peace: Notes and Conversations Along the Way. Plough, 1998.
Insheiwat, Shelly. “Long chase ends with PIT maneuver, K-9 deployment, suspect’s arrest,” April 13, 2018. Fox 11 Los Angeles, foxla.com. Retrieved September 12, 2019.
Click here to download a ZIP file of the March-April 2020 issue as Word Docs.
Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days
Out of the Depths to Thee Do I Cry
The Old Rugged Cross
Worship and PraiseW
Let Your Mercy Rain
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) (Tomlin)
Grace Flows Down
WFor licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on Romans 5:12-19
from Mar 01, 2020
Today’s epistle reading is embedded in Paul’s extensive reflection on our justification from sin. In this deeply theological discourse, he contrasts the profound consequences that two singular men have had. Specifically, Paul explores Adam and Jesus Christ as oppositional archetypes whose lives dramatically altered our relationship with the Creator, the former bringing death and conde... Read more (you must be logged in to read the commentary)
PIT stands for pursuit intervention technique. But it is also known as pursuit immobilization technique, precision immobilization technique, push it tough, parallel immobilization technique and precision intervention tactic. The technique is also known as tactical car intervention, tactical ramming, legal intervention and fishtailing. Other names include pit block, pit stop and blocking. It was developed and named by the Fairfax County (Virginia) Police Department.
Many years ago I was caught in a dramatic snowstorm that closed the airport and stranded me for two days. Not only were flights cancelled, but one could not even leave the terminal for comfort and sanctuary in nearby hotels. I watched the monitors as flight after flight was cancelled. As our plight deepened, frustration grew. People wandered the airport and, in some cases, in and out of restaurants and bars. The late afternoon quickly darkened into the evening; the howl of the wind outside deepened and was easily heard inside.
Suddenly the doors of the main concourse seemed to blow open, and several people wearing the white helmets and insignia of the Red Cross entered. They were soon followed by others with cots and blankets. From down the concourse I could see a large banner being unfurled with a giant Red Cross logo and the epigram “Help Found Here.” What struck me were not only the resources they had come to provide but also the effort they had made to reach us, to be with us and share our plight.
Beyond empathy, beyond sympathy, there is identification manifested in acts of personal accountability for others’ lives. Somehow, even at the human level, we are left feeling that this is too good to be true, too amazing to be believable. Such identification can be dangerously contagious! I do think that as all these strangers and wanderers made their way to the “cross,” they became more respectful of each other’s plight. What each received became a collective gift.
—D.M. Lundgren, “Pastoral perspective on Romans 5:12–19,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, Vol. 2 (Westminster John Knox, 2010), 40.
Car chases are a staple of the movies, as seen especially in the huge (and hugely profitable) Fast and Furious franchise. But when did it all begin?
The very first movie car chase took place in a 1903 film called The Runaway Match (aka Marriage by Motor). Here’s the plot synopsis (like most silent films, it’s not long: just over 4 minutes):
A couple elopes by car. The woman’s wealthy father gives chase, his chauffeur at the wheel — at a speed that looks to be about 25 miles per hour — until his car breaks down, a spectacular cloud of steam emerging from the radiator. By the time he arrives at the church, the deed is done. After some spirited fist-shaking, he reconciles to the new reality and embraces his daughter and new son-in-law.
Who could have imagined how sophisticated movie car chases would get, after that humble beginning?
You can view The Runaway Match in its entirety here. The car chase segment is short enough to show as a video sermon illustration: https://boingboing.net/2018/01/11/watch-the-first-car-chase-scen.html. Retrieved August 21, 2019.
Cars flipping over, cars crashing into other cars, cars flying out of planes and across skyscrapers -- that’s just a day in the life of Dominic Toretto [Vin Diesel] and his crew in the Fast and Furious movies. The insanely impossible stunts are probably the main reason why people keep flocking to the theatres. With the stunts getting crazier with each installment, it’s no surprise that according to some internet sources, more than 1,500 cars have been destroyed since the first film, The Fast and the Furious (2001). Some car models featured in the films may not be actual units of said models. Instead, replicas were built by the manufacturers or production crew for filming purposes.
Probably the most expensive car “destroyed” by this move franchise was a rare 1963 Corvette Grand Sport, valued at $5 million to $10 million. Viewers of the film Fast Five saw it driven off a cliff and into the Colorado River.
But it was all an illusion. The actual car was used only for “hero shots” — close-ups with actors sitting in it. Ten replicas built at a cost of $40,000 each were used for jump scenes and eventual destruction.
Sometimes a person on the run is attacked by pangs of conscience. One of the most famous of these scenes is Huckleberry Finn’s moral quandary as he’s rafting down the Mississippi River with Jim, the slave he’s helping escape from his owner, Miss Watson. Mark Twain’s genius is to personify in Huck all the moral contradictions present in a system that treats human beings as property:
“He was most free — and who was to blame for it? Why, me. I couldn’t get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way. It got to troubling me so I couldn’t rest; I couldn’t stay still in one place. It hadn’t ever come home to me before, what this thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it stayed with me, and scorched me more and more. I tried to make out to myself that I warn’t to blame, because I didn’t run Jim off from his rightful owner; but it warn’t no use, conscience up and says, every time, ‘But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody.’ That was so — I couldn’t get around that noway. That was where it pinched. Conscience says to me, “What had poor Miss Watson done to you that you could see her [slave] go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you that you could treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you your book, she tried to learn you your manners, she tried to be good to you every way she knowed how. That’s what she done.”
—Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, chapter XVI.
Is anyone in your congregation a crossing guard at a local school? If so, borrow the stop sign she holds up as she safely escorts the children across the street. If not, Google “Crossing Guard Stop Sign” or “Crossing Guard Clip Art” for an image to show the children. Ask the children, “What is the job of the crossing guard?” To see the children safely across the street. “What does she use to help her in her job?” She uses the stop sign. Continue to discuss the job of the crossing guard. What does the crossing guard do before she ventures into the street? Have they ever watched her in action? Remind the children that the crossing guard stops at the street corner; she looks before she goes out into the street, and she listens for oncoming traffic: Stop, look and listen. Lent is a special time of the year when we adults stop, look and listen. But this is something all of us can do, regardless of our age. Instead of filling our days with busyness, Lent is a time to slow down and pause in our days to be still and think about Jesus. Lent is a time to look around us and reach out to people who might need our care. Do you have a neighbor who might enjoy some cookies you made? Is there an older person who might appreciate it if you took out their trash cans each week? Lent is a time to be still and listen to each other. It is a good time to think about how we can be better people. Lent is a time to slow down — to stop, look and listen.