Everyone seemed to enjoy the story about the ambulance in last Sunday’s sermon, and so I thought I would post it here. For those of you who are a little more spiritual and want to know what (on God’s green earth) a story about an ambulance has to do with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the click of a mouse will bring you the sermon in full audio or video.
Here’s the story:
When I was a junior in college, I started my own fraternity. I called it Omicron Zeta, and when you wrote the initials side by side they made a big “O-Z.” To anyone who didn’t know they were Greek letters, they just looked like the word “OZ,” as in “The Wizard of.” So, because it had been my idea, I got to be the Wizard. Other fraternity names, which were handed out in short order, were the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and Toto. My fraternity brothers and I were going to have jerseys made up with the names on the back. Someone had the idea of having, as our pledge pin, a three-and-a-half pound bowling pin. Our pledges would have to carry it around with them during the day, set it up on the corner of their desks while they were in class, and try hard not to knock it over. That’s about as far as we had gotten with rules and regulations when I found the ambulance at a flea market.
There was this big flea market that used to be held every Saturday at the edge of town, and when I went out there that next Saturday I saw this big, ugly ambulance with a sign that read, “$500 Firm.” It didn’t look like an ambulance, really. It looked like a hearse. It was long and dark with tail fins, and enough room in the back for a full-sized casket. I asked the owner about it and he said it wasn’t a hearse, it was an ambulance, and he proved it by showing me the lockers inside that were meant for medical supplies. “You see,” he said, “you wouldn’t need medical supplies in a hearse.” He made a good point. He also showed me the place on the top where the flashing red light used to be, and swore that the ambulance used to be white before it had been painted from stem to stern In a kind of dull, gray primer. “Best of all,” he said, “it’s a Cadillac.” And it was. I admired the Cadillac emblem on the front grill and took a look at the powerful engine beneath the hood.
I had this vision of this old ambulance, with a fresh coat of glossy white paint and the Omicron Zeta insignia stenciled on both sides in gold letters. We would call it the “Ozmobile,” and all of us would pile into it together to drive down to Lexington for pizza at Joe Bologna’s. It would be great. “Does it run?” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” he answered. “It runs good.” “Could I give it a try?” I asked, and he looked around warily. “Maybe not right now,” he said. “But if you come back this afternoon, with the money, we could take it out for a spin.” “Well,” I answered, “I don’t have the money right now, but I think I could get it.” “Why don’t you do that,” he said, grinning. “I’ll hold it for you.” And so, I hurried back toward the campus, to talk to my fraternity brothers and see if, among the five of us, we could come up with a hundred dollars apiece. Somewhere along the way, I made the mistake of telling my girlfriend.
“You’re buying a what?” she asked.
“An ambulance!” I said. “This cool, old ambulance that looks like a hearse. It’s only five hundred dollars, and, best of all, it’s a Cadillac.”
“You’re buying a what?” she asked, again.
“A Cadillac,” I said. “I’m buying a beautiful old Cadillac ambulance for my fraternity. We’re going to call it the Ozmobile.”
There was a long silence before she spoke again.
“You have to understand something, Jim,” she said. “When I think of you, I think of you as my future husband. And when you do something like this, it worries me. I wonder what kind of husband you’re going to be, somebody who buys old broken-down, hearse-looking ambulances at the drop of a hat. I mean, that’s not very responsible, is it?”
And I looked at her for a long moment, stunned. What kind of girl had I fallen in love with, a girl who couldn’t rejoice in the good fortune of a man who had found an old, broken down, hearse-looking ambulance (at a really good price!) that could be used to transport his rowdy fraternity brothers from one cheap pizza place to another? It just didn’t make sense at all. I said to her, “Look, you may think of me as your future husband and I may be your future husband (though it’s not looking likely), but right now I’m a junior in college. We’re supposed to be irresponsible!” But you know what? I didn’t buy that ambulance, and it wasn’t only because I couldn’t get the money together, it was because of her. It was because she wanted me to be someone other than who I was, and I—because I thought she was so pretty, because she looked so good on my arm, because I enjoyed carrying her picture around in my wallet so much—I gave in. In some ways I have been ashamed ever since because I don’t think it was what Jesus would have done.
I think Jesus would have bought that ambulance.