It’s Memorial Day and for more than 50 years, that has meant that I have listened to the Indy 500 race on the radio. As you have read last race day, the tradition started with my father when I was a young boy and I did my chores on Memorial Day, painting the railings on the front and rear stairs of our home on Claremont Avenue with beige Rust-Oleum. Dad would be cutting the dead iris on the south side of our house and every several years, we would also paint the grill. When I was young, we used the same Toshiba radio each year that my Dad kept on the shelf of his closet when it was not is use.
But these days, Andrew and I, who still carry on the tradition, use a black Panasonic transistor radio that I have had since I was in my teens. And this morning was no exception. I broke out the radio and turned on all the pre-race festivities. Andrew came in and joined me about 30 minutes before the singing of the traditional songs, the playing of Taps, the fly-over and the command to “start your engines”. We don’t talk very much, but I know that he and I have this date every year. Neither one of us would miss it. It’s kind of a bonding time that doesn’t change much from year to year. Even Janet knows that the radio is the only way that we can listen to the race – and Andrew and I have done this every year that he has been alive. So, I guess when you look at it that way, there were 3 years, between 1979 and 1981, when Andrew was born, that I didn’t have a race buddy. That’s because Dad died right after the race in 1978.
Each year I wonder when I will get tired of listening. After all, the older fellows, including the A.J. Foyt, Bobby and Al Unser, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford and many others are no longer behind the wheel and I don’t know so many of the newer drivers. I did visit the track this year with Andrew and spent some time in the Lotus garage of Jean Alesi, who started 33rd today. It was good to be back at the track for a day. It’s been a long time.
Anyway, as the start of the race drew closer, I found myself getting caught up, once again, in all the memories flooding back to me about listening with Dad, and now, with Andrew. I should know by now that I will probably never get tired of hearing the beginning of the race. It’s the unexpected emotion that haunts me each year. All of a sudden, it just kind of wells up in me and I’m not ready for the intensity I feel about the memories I recall. Sometimes I wish the old days were back and at least in my mind, I am back on the front stairs getting ready to paint that wrought iron railing. Other times, I remember when Andrew was small and he followed me around with the radio to make sure we didn’t miss anything.
But the emotions always catch me by surprise. And you know what? That’s the same thing that happens to me sometimes when I am in communion with God. I will attend a church service, sometimes even wishing I was somewhere else and then suddenly, I get caught up in the music, or a special prayer, or something else when God sends me a surprise. In a heartbeat, I am experiencing emotion, and worship, at a level that I didn’t think possible. Now I’m not new to church – I have attended for many years and you would think that it would become old hat for me. But that doesn’t happen. Almost every week, God nudges me in some special way that causes me to seek a relationship with Him at a deeper level. And that keeps me coming back, week after week after week.
That must have been what it was like to be one of the disciples. Certainly the lifestyle of following Christ was difficult. They never knew where they were going to stay, or what they were going to eat, or how long their journey would last. Yet the apostles stayed the course – now there had to be days that were tough. Yet every once in a while, something happened that surprised them and caused them to want to enter into deeper relationships with Jesus. That’s pretty special.
Even after the ascension of Jesus, when the disciples were indwelt with the Holy Spirit, they went out and healed people in the name of Jesus Christ. I imagine the people they ran across were just as emotional, and as surprised, as I am in church, or when the race starts each year. The verse for tonight is from a story where Peter has healed a man who couldn’t walk. In Acts 3:12, Luke tells us, “When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” The point here is that even though people knew that Jesus had healed people, and even the disciples had healed the sick or the crippled in the name of Christ, the healed and their witnesses were still surprised…. just like I was today.
My encouragement tonight is to remind you that God wants to send you a surprise. You just have to be ready for it, and in my experience, it helps if you are expecting it – knowing that it is going to happen. My prayer is that God will send you exactly the kind of emotional surprise that you need to have in your life. After all, we all love surprises, but there are none better than when God Himself decides to give you something special. Grace and peace…