April 11 – Traffic Light Theology

traffic lightYellow lights are not designed as five seconds of grace, they are designed as five seconds of warning.

If you live in or around Langhorne, you probably know about our new traffic lights. They’re at all your favorite intersections. Or soon will be. When the work is done, traffic will flow more freely and we’ll be happy. For now work is not done, and as poles and arms and signals are installed and lane markers are painted, traffic is a mess and we’re not at all happy.

New lights with computerized control panels should control traffic flow a bit better. But our Lenape Indian paths that became Four Lanes End that became the stage coach hub between Philadelphia and Trenton really weren’t designed for SUVs and text-messaging drivers. Things may get a bit better at best.

The new traffic lights with longer yellow lights and left turn lanes may regulate traffic a bit better, but they won’t make a single one of us a better driver.

Yes, longer yellow lights. It seems there was a federally-funded study on yellow lights. And Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia was ground-zero.  In case you don’t have the time or the interest to read the full report, it turns out that by increasing yellow light times on the Boulevard from around four seconds to five seconds, intersection collisions were reduced by 36%.

Sounds good. The report was issued seven years ago and, you may have noticed, yellow lights have been getting longer ever since (and red light cameras more and more common).

I think we may need another federally-funded study. Have you noticed that it seems that many motorists are on to the longer yellow lights? An extra second to make it through the intersection before the yellow bleeds to full red.  I know, none of us have taken advantage of the longer yellow lights, be we’ve seen those others who do.

Yellow lights are not designed as five seconds of grace, they are designed as five seconds of warning.

There were no traffic signals on the Apian Way circa 60 A.D., about the time the Apostle Paul traveled to Rome. But Paul knew about our yellow light problem.  He could have told us that longer yellow lights would lose their effectiveness after not much time had passed.

Before he arrived in Rome, Paul had written the Romans about the place of the law in the Christian’s life. First of all, Paul is all for the law.  “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin,” he writes in Romans 7:7-8. Such ignorance of the law is not bliss, however. Such ignorance puts us on a collision course as our lives hurl into that intersection with the righteous demands of the loving God who created us. Like a yellow light, the law is warning not grace.

In Romans 7, Paul says the law is good for helping him understand God’s loving demands. He offers an example. The law says “you shall not covet.” Not coveting is a good thing. It makes life with our neighbors a lot easier. But sin steps in and we find ourselves coveting all the more. Coveting an extra minute or two in our busy lives, we find cheap grace in the extra second of the yellow warning light. Paul says that the costly grace of God found at the foot of Calvary’s cross and Easter’s empty tomb, sets us free from our collision-bound lives of obsessing about two more minutes to satisfy the needs of the self.

Yellow lights warn us that it’s time to slow down, to stop and wait awhile. Red lights tell us to be patient, to be still, and green lights say it’s time to get going again. We’ll get to where we’re going none the worse for wear.

Life lived under God’s amazing, costly, grace is sort of like that. The law, that good gift, still warns when it’s time to slow down, to stop and wait awhile. Grace allows us to wait with patience, to be still and know we’ll get to where were going in God’s perfect time.  And grace allows us to get going again, not headlong into a deadly collision with sin, but set free to get exactly where the life that God has given us was meant to lead in the first place.

New traffic lights won’t make a single one of us a better driver. The amazing thing about grace is that it doesn’t just make us better people, it makes us new people! “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul writes at the end of Romans 7.

See you Sunday