Easter 7C, May 12, 2013

May 21, 2013

The Ground Crew
Luke 24:44-53

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53 and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

I have come to feel that my life has been saved by a small remote control airplane that I purchased right before Easter. It’s sort of a long story, but bear with me.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a bit of a fixation on flying, and it has manifested itself in a variety of ways over the years. I built many model airplanes when I was a child, I would read reviews of the latest airplanes in Flying Magazine when I was a young teenager, and around that same time I wrote off and obtained a pricing sheet for a hot-air balloon kit. I built 3 different hang-gliders when I was in high school and I’ve actually logged at least a minute of cumulative flying time in the last one, although I was never more than a few feet off the ground.

So a few years ago I tried my hand at building balsa wood and tissue paper airplanes that were supposed to fly well under the power of rubber bands, but I’ve never had any success at getting one to fly. They look pretty good, but I’ve never understood what it takes to actually get one to gain altitude. They always just crashed quickly and very unceremoniously. I recently developed an attachment to one of these amazing little remote control helicopters that you can buy almost anywhere. And I discovered that the trick to flying those things is to have a good size indoor room to fly them in. The large area in our office is perfect. It’s got a high ceiling and no hanging light fixtures. I wore one helicopter out but I’ve got another one that still works. I’ve had to replace a few parts, but it still functions. Fortunately the batteries run down pretty quickly so I am able to get a little work done as the batteries recharge.

But what that helicopter did was to remind me how much I’ve always wanted to build an airplane that would actually fly, so I pulled out my most recent balsa wood plane project that I hadn’t touched in over a year, and I decided I was going to get that thing properly constructed and in the air. I called my friend Lewis Chesser, a retired United Methodist Minister who actually knows how to build and fly such planes, and he suggested I read this book that is the definitive guide on building and flying rubber-band powered airplanes. I got the book and I read a significant amount of it and I wouldn’t have understood much less if it had been written in Korean. I didn’t even understand most of the illustrations. You have no idea how technical a book about building rubber-band powered airplanes can be. I was discouraged.

And the truth is that is largely a lost art. If you go to a hobby shop today and ask them about rubber band technology they’re going to look at you like you came from another planet. But they can tell you about brushless electric motors, lithium polymer batteries, and other things that are involved in the state of the art today. And if you aren’t careful you will walk out of there with a Hobbyzone Champ RTF – which means ready to fly – in that one box is everything you need including batteries. It’s a plane that’s made from Styrofoam and this whole package only costs about $100. That’s no small amount of money, but when a husband only spends $100 on a new toy a wife is generally relieved.

I’m going to talk about Jesus in a minute, he’s not unconnected from my thoughts about all of this, but you’ve just got to endulge me for another minute. I’m not saying that you need to hear all of this, but it’s just hard for me to quit talking about this experience. I love this plane, and as I say, I think it has saved my life.

I took this plane out for the first time on Good Friday to this nice field that’s in the center of St. John’s Seminary up in the heights, and I was actually able to fly it around a little bit. I didn’t land it so well, but the grass was soft and I didn’t tear it up. We had guests coming to our house on Easter afternoon, and I thought my plane would provide some good Easter afternoon entertainment. Sure enough it was a nice day and after we ate I drug everyone over there to watch me fly the plane, and I was so excited. I got it up in the air, and I was trying to figure out how to keep it from gaining too much altitude, and you might say I overcompensated a bit, and within about fifteen seconds of it’s initial take-off I caused it to do a nose dive from about 30 feet and it cracked the wing off. My flying demonstration was over for the day.

Luckily that plane is very repairable, and over the course of the last few weeks I’ve gotten it caught in two different trees where I had to leave it for a couple nights before it blew down. I’ve crashed it in to a car and cracked the wing off on another occasion, and I’ve broken the tail off twice. Luckily I enjoy repairing it about as much as I enjoy flying it.

And it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that this plane has saved my life, because I’ve thought for many years that I would like to acquire one of those motorized ultra-light flying machines that you actually climb-in and fly. They look a lot like riding lawnmowers with wings. But I’m not so sure anymore that I was cut out to be a pilot. I have come to realize how easy it is for those things that go up to come down in unfortunate ways.

I’m thinking that I’m probably best suited to operate on the ground. And I’m thinking that’s where we all can do our best work.

This story of the ascention of Jesus is the story of Jesus telling his disciples that their job was to remain on earth and to trust in the power that would come to them from heaven. Life on earth had been transformed for them, they would go about their lives in a totally different way, but they were to live with their feet on the ground.

I’m not over my desire to fly, but I also know that true freedom is not a matter of overcoming gravity. It’s not about obtaining financial security or developing physical superiority. It’s not about political connectivity, hyper religiosity, or any of the other ways in which we try to rise above the obstacles and challenges of life on earth. What Jesus seems to be saying to his followers is to stay grounded in the things they know to be true. They had been first hand witnesses to the way he had lived his life, and they were to trust that God would empower them to do the same.

They weren’t nor are we to have false expectations of what this trust will provide in this life. Jesus didn’t promise that things will go better for us than it did with him, but he did provide assurance that we will not be without the power we need to sustain us through the trials of this life. Jesus didn’t want us to be ignorant of how God has been involved in human history from the very beginning, and he wants us to continue to gain understanding of how the story of God’s redeeming grace is revealed in scripture, but his instruction was not just to abide in the temple. His instruction was to go out in to the world to live and proclaim the truth about God’s affection for this world and to promote peace and harmony in this world. I think that’s what he meant when he said we are to proclaim the need for repentance and the forgiveness of our sins. This was not an appeal to have more tent revival meetings – this was an appeal to live on earth with genuine trust in message of Christ. It’s not that we are to be delusional about how things are in this world. Jesus was well aware of how broken this world can be, but he didn’t direct our attention away from this world.

Honestly, it’s a hard balance to strike. It’s hard to fully live in this world without abiding by the rules of this world, but that is what we have been commissioned to do. Our challenge is not to try to escape from the constraints of this world or buy in to the seductions of this world but to live in this world in a new way.

The disciples didn’t stand around wishing Jesus had taken them with him – they may have had some of those feelings, but we’re told they returned to Jerusalem with joy in their hearts. They were still on earth, but in a powerful way they had already been released from the bounds of this world. Their lives had been transformed and they had made themselves available to God.

And this is our calling as well – to make ourselves available to God for the transformation of the world. I have discovered that it’s not so bad to keep my feet on the ground, and by the grace of God I hope to discover what it really means to soar. I hope this for us all.

Thanks be to God. Amen.


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