orange train between fall trees

Riding the Train

Before I proceed with today’s message, I’d like everyone wearing a wristwatch to raise your hand.  Now, please switch your watch to the other wrist. More about that later.

My message today addresses God’s calls to us and our obedience to those calls. God’s calls to us essentially take two forms. The first is the primary invitational call to us – to join in a relationship with him and follow him through Christ. The second are calls to service that may occur one or more times during our lives. These are dramatically different in character, but defined by the same common element: faith. No matter the nature of the call, God asks of us simply to surrender our personal agendas and trust him. That requires faith because he rarely shows us what comes next. He calls us to act in faith in the moment.

We just heard scripture passages describing the calls to Abram and some of Christ’s disciples. These stories have always amazed me. Those who answered the invitation did not ask where they were going or why they should follow. They just answered the call. They just accepted the invitation to follow God where he leads. No conditions. No “if”s. Just faith.

I particularly like the story of Abram as God calls him to a journey and I’ve always thought of life in Christ as a journey — a train ride to be precise. I consider life in Christ as a ride on the train called the Church. God is the engineer and Jesus is the conductor. The train stops at many stations. Each station is packed with people carrying very heavy baggage and some folks are circulating through the crowd pointing to Jesus standing on the platform of the train car. Those folks are offering to help carry the baggage to Jesus and describing how he will take their loads from them. When asked where they get a ticket, the folks with the burdens are told that they just have to ask Jesus as he has already paid the price for their ticket. They ask what they have to do and are told nothing, “Just turn your baggage over to Jesus and follow him.”

Now when Jesus calls “All Aboard” some folks get on and some do not. Those that do have answered the invitational call to live in Christ and joined the Church. But very few give all their baggage to Jesus, insisting that they just can’t let go of some of it and so they fill up the church train with their carry on luggage. Jesus knows this makes the ride more difficult for everyone and just shakes his head, but the train moves on. And the only thing that Jesus has asked when we get on board the train is what we learned in our final passage of the day: “Go out and make disciples. I’ll be with you.”

When we first get on the train we generally are amazed at what we find and are enthusiastic about following Jesus and serving him as he asked. The people are friendly. The decorations are beautiful. The music pleasant. The discussions very gratifying and enlightening. But human nature being what it is, we eventually start thinking that we deserve a better seat. Or we have some music in our carry ons that we would rather listen to. Or perhaps even that we think we don’t like some of the discussions and instructions and start questioning whether we want to go where the engineer and the conductor take the train. And we get so absorbed about riding the train that we forget that the purpose Jesus gave us when we got on was to get off and be one of the folks in the stations telling others about him. For you see he cannot do that. He needs us to be his hands, his feet, and his voice. So when he gently taps us on the shoulder and tell us I need you to get off here, we sometimes don’t hear the call. Because we are too caught up riding the train! Or just as bad we get off the train when Christ has not called us to get involved because we want to do something no matter whether it is something we have been gifted or called to do. Somewhere along the line we came to believe that what happens to us during the ride is what matters instead of getting off when Christ calls us.

Perhaps my parable of the train is a little confusing, so let me bring it down to a concrete example or two. Kathy and I have long time friends named Townes and Ellen. Like most of us, they became Christians early in life and got on board the train, but were not particularly spiritual. They occupied their seats in the pew on many Sundays and went to some church activities, but pretty much had a Sunday-kind of relationship with Christ. As she approached her fifties though, with her children all leaving home, Ellen began to feel just a little tug at her soul and started taking some classes at divinity school, although not with any real purpose in sight. Townes acknowledges that he can pretty safely say that he never really heard any message from God in his life.

But one Sunday, as they were in their seats riding the train, they heard a story about a young boy in Russia who was orphaned with his younger sisters. He had been given an opportunity to be adopted in the US, but persuaded the families to take his sisters instead. The boy had true sacrificial love in his heart. Well at that moment Jesus walked up to Townes and Ellen and said “This is your stop. I need you to get off here.” Immediately after the service each admitted to the other feeling a strong call to adopt that boy. Townes says it probably is the only time in his life he heard a call to serve, so he was not someone in a heightened state of awareness. Moreover, they had raised their family and were comfortable where they were. There were all kinds of logical reasons why they should not get involved. But they got off the train anyway. They packed up almost immediately and went to Russia without having even followed all of the rules and, astonishingly, the boy decided to come with them and the authorities permitted it on the first trip. Their son, Edward, is now a thriving US teenager because Townes and Ellen followed on faith a call to serve that most of us would have thought insane.

Perhaps another slightly different example would also help. I have a friend Charles whom I have not seen in 9 years, but we talk periodically about matters of faith because I mentioned my faith to him once about 10 years ago when we were employed together. Several months ago he called me to tell me that he was thinking about getting off the train, but because he wanted to. He was losing faith that the train was taking him anywhere. Charles had just been advised that he was losing his job for about the 4th or 5th time in the last ten years. And he just was giving up on Christ because he could not see why things were happening to him this way seemingly all the time. So I talked to him about riding the train.

Charles and I discussed that when you get on board the train with Jesus, you accept his grace that transforms your life and give your life to him. Sometimes it may seem like he is stopping the train and having you get off at places you do not understand. And we rarely will because we are called to act in faith in the face of doubt and there just is not a whole lot of room for answer to “why?” Otherwise, we would not be acting on faith. Yes, the answers to “why” come sometimes, but most often only when we look back after the fact. And those come to reassure us that Jesus really was with us when we went out on faith. So I reminded Charles that riding the train with Christ, and answering his calls to get off and proclaim the good news, sometimes just required us to deal with discomfort and disappointment that we are not getting what we want, but to trust Jesus and know that even if you never see why you had to get off the train, that he was with you. I encouraged him to look at this new layoff as a stop of the train where he was being called to step out in witness to his faith and be blessed for doing so.

I followed up with Charles with phone calls and emails, but we never connected. Finally at the end of June he called me. When I asked him how he was he told me that he was calling me from the hospital where his wife had just had surgery for cancer. But what he wanted to tell me was that after our earlier discussions he had decided that he had to follow Christ, no matter where that took him. And shortly after that decision his layoff was rescinded and, at least for now, he is still employed. But the joy he was expressing came from the fact that when his wife received word of the layoff she scheduled a physical while she still had health insurance and went ahead with the physical. And it was that physical that found the stage one cancer that was removed in surgery.

Charles now knows that the very thing that he saw as abandonment by God and could not understand and did not want – the loss of his job – was actually the blessing that saved his wife’s life. He can look back now and see why he was given that stop and understands even more than ever that serving Christ involves being outside of yourself and focused on Christ. When he heard that I would be talking about riding the train with you today, Charles asked that I tell you his story and emphasize that it is important to get on board, but that serving Christ is not about riding the train. It’s what you do when the train stops and your name is called.

Friends this train we call the church is a wonderful place of nurture, worship, and fellowship and we are called to serve here to make it so. It is here that Christ lifts our burdens and gives us peace in our relationship with God. If you have never answered Christ’s invitation to join him, then I extend that invitation to you now. You have to do nothing more than in your heart at this moment to surrender your burden of sin and accept his grace that will transform you. But if you are already journeying with Jesus, our fundamental call from Christ is to go — go out and proclaim him; go out and teach; go out and serve. We will find fewer people needing to hear the message of Jesus, or need to see others living that message, within these walls. Remember, the only thing Christ asks of us is to “go out.”

The more we focus on riding the train the more the ride becomes about us: what we want, prefer, or are comfortable with. Back to your wristwatch. Wearing it on the other arms drives you crazy doesn’t it? It is uncomfortable and not what you are used to. You can’t wait to put it back can you? But can you still tell the time? Is there anything that you otherwise do that you cannot do because the watch is on a different arm? The fact that you may prefer to have it on the other arm really means nothing in the grand scheme of things. The world and your watch function just fine no matter which arm you use! And if you don’t change it back in time the new arm will be your preference. But recognize that just because you prefer something does not make it necessary. As just because something makes you uncomfortable does mean that you can’t, or shouldn’t, do it!

So how often are we riding the train focused on what we prefer instead of what we are called to do? I ask you to consider some of the weighty issues that have taken our focus recently such as what times our Christmas Eve services should be. Many of us had opinions and some felt the issue quite emotionally. We held meetings, had multiple personal conversations, and held votes. We treated that issue as if it was an essential aspect of the ministry of this congregation. But in the meantime one of our key ministries — the Appalachian Service Project – was foundering. And almost none of us were aware of it! We had the attention of almost the entire church focused on schedule changes, as if that was one of the key calls to us as a congregation, while a ministry of 28 years had almost no attention. A significant number of us know what it takes to make that ministry work and could easily have recognized that it was off track, but we simply did not stop to pay attention. I do not diminish the response when the crisis came to the fore. We simply were not focused there. When we should have been.

I submit that with this and some other issues we address we are riding the train and missing the stops! We have all too frequently become caught up on what we want to happen within these walls and have forgotten that Christ needs us to be off the train and in the station, carrying the burdens of others and telling them about him. In reading about church growth, I have learned that the measure of a congregation’s vitality is what it does within 2 miles of the doors of the church. Whether a church makes a difference in its immediate community is the key. I have to wonder how many times we as a congregation have been called to get off the train to serve this community and just missed the stop. How many people in our immediate community are carrying heavy burdens and need to see the caring face of Christ in someone and never see anyone from our church? Single mothers? Families struggling to make ends meet? Families with a mother or father, son or daughter, serving in Iraq or Afghanistan? The addicted? The grieving? The alien who can barely speak English? And on and on. How do we minister to them? Indeed, how are we ministering to our immediate community now? Are we really “going out” to the community just outside our doors? So I leave you with this final question “Are we as a congregation more about riding the train or getting off at the stops?”

© Thomas M. Trezise, 2009


  1. Pam Bowers on September 7, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I was led to your blog by your wife through Faithful Organizers. I love the sermon about the train, and it’s a great comparison! I’m usually the one trying to take the steering responsibilities over. =)
    I could not find a way on this site to have some way of being notified when new posts are made, but I would love to be able to do that. God bless you and your wife. I have a feeling that message is going to change many lives! Praise the Lord!

    • Tom Trezise on September 7, 2009 at 6:58 pm

      Thanks for your comment. I’ve had a good deal of positive feedback on this sermon. I’m still learning my way around blogging, so I don’t have an answer on trackiing. I know that if you register at you can track blogs, but I’m not yet sure of the notification process. If you would like me to email you with updates, send an email to my wife and I’ll update you when I add new posts. Don’t want to put email addresses here though. No reason to make it easier for spammers!

Leave a Comment

Welcome, I'm Tom

I'm Tom Trezise a retired lawyer and corporate executive with over twenty years of experience as a Methodist lay preacher. Raised in Appalachia, I proudly call myself a hillbilly at heart. I'm the executive director of The Everyday Kingdom, a non-profit devoted to fostering a community that helps people find and experience the peace, purpose, and joy available from living every day in Christ’s kingdom.

Search the Blog