Ascension Sunday, May 8, 2016

May 9, 2016

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 think my life may have been saved by a small remote control airplane. With the left wing detatched from the plane it’s currently unfliable, but fortunately it’s very fixable. I’ve fixed it on several occasions, and I believe it’s the abuse it’s endured that has extended the length of my life.


Let me explain. At an early age I developed a fixation on flying. My interest in flying manifested itself in a variety of ways over the years. I built many model airplanes when I was a child, I purchased Flying Magazine and read reviews of the latest airplanes as a young teenager, and around that same time I wrote off and obtained a pricing sheet for a hot-air balloon kit. That involved a lot more money and sewing than I could imagine, but then the best thing happened – I came across an article in National Geographic about Hang Gliding. That was the ticket for me! I went on to build 3 different hang-gliders when I was in high school. Two of them were do it yourself projects from mail-order plans, but the third one was a manufactured kit. I actually logged about a minute of cumulative flying time in the last one, although I was never more than a few feet off the ground.


I’m not sure why I never pursued actual flying lessons. That would have been the logical thing, but I didn’t go that route. I was always more inclined to want to build something that would fly.


A few years ago I tried my hand at building balsa wood and tissue-paper airplanes that were supposed to fly under the power of rubber bands, but I never had any success at getting one to fly. They looked pretty good, but I never understood what it took to actually get one to gain altitude. They always just crashed quickly and very unceremoniously.


One Christmas a few years ago, I got a remote controlled helicopter, and that little machine amazed me. The office area in my previous appointment had a really high ceiling, and that was a great room for flying a helicopter. I destroyed a couple of them over the course of a couple of weeks, but it put me back in touch with my ongoing desire to operate a flying machine.


I pulled out my most recent unfinished balsa wood plane project, 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 knew 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, but it was one of the most technical books I’ve ever read. I wouldn’t have understood much less of that book if it had been written in Korean. You have no idea how technical a book about building rubber-band powered airplanes can be. I was discouraged.


And the truth is building rubber-band powered balsa-wood airplanes 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. I walked in to Mark’s Hobby Shop one day hoping to get some advice about how to build my balsa-wood plane, and I walked out with a Hobbyzone Champ RTF – which means ready to fly. In that one box was everything I needed to fly a remote controlled airplane.


I’m going to talk about Jesus in a minute – he’s not unconnected from my thoughts about all of this, but I’ve got to tell you about my experience with this plane. I took this plane out for the first time to this nice open field that’s in the center of St. John’s Seminary up in the heights in Little Rock, 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 with children coming to our house soon, and I thought it would be fun to fly it for them, so I quit before I tore it up.


So a few days later after our guests arrived I made everyone follow me over to that field, 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 this plane is very repairable, and over the next few weeks I had the pleasure of getting to do quite a few repairs on on. I knocked a wing off on one of the few light poles that surround the field. I got it caught in two different trees where I had to leave it for a couple nights before it blew down. I crashed it in to one of the few cars that was parked nearby, and I broke the tail off on several occasions due to rough landings.


And that’s what leads me to say that my life was saved by that little plane. Before I had that plane I thought I wanted to acquire one of those motorized ultra-light flying machines that you actually climb-in and fly – the ones that look a lot like riding lawnmowers with wings. I used to think it would be fun to put one of those together, but I have come to believe that I was not 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. In fact I’m thinking that’s where we all can do our best work. This is not to say that there isn’t a place in this world for good pilots – I know we’ve got some in the room, but in terms of the really big picture, we are called to keep our feet on the ground.


This story of the ascention of Jesus is the story of Jesus telling those of us who aspire to follow him that our job is to remain on earth and to trust in this power that descended after he ascended. Life on earth was transformed by him, and he has invited us to go about our lives in a totally different way. Just as my little plane saved my life in a very practical way, Jesus has saved all of our lives in a really powerful way. Jesus showed us that our avenue to the greatest life is not through advancing ourselves in to the highest positions of power and influence. Jesus revealed us that we don’t gain the most by rising above others. We gain the most by keeping our feet on the ground and loving our neighbors as well as we can.


Jesus wanted us to obtain the highest form of life, and he wanted us to understand how we can best achieve this beautiful gift of abiding in the kingdom of God. He wanted us rise into heaven by walking on earth in a kind and loving way.


I’m not totally 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 seemed to be saying to those of us who want to be with him is to stay grounded in the things we know to be true.


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 our job is not to just become more religious.


His instruction was for us to go out in to the world and to live our lives in such a way that the truth about God’s affection for this world would be revealed through our lives. He said we are to proclaim the need for repentance and the forgiveness of our sins, but I don’t think we can best do this by having more tent revival meetings where we try to scare people in to grand pronounciations of change. I just don’t see that as a form of evangelization that works anymore – if it ever worked very well. I belive Jesus wants us to reveal the avenue to life by fully embracing the love and life of Jesus Christ. We are called to live our lives 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 know we all are tempted to want to rise above the messiness of this world, but Jesus asked us to be the ground crew for this heavenly endeavor. We are to remain in place and to work with whatever circumstances present themselves to us. It’s not easy, but the truth is that God will provide a way for each of us to soar in to heaven even as we abide on earth. This place will never be perfect paradise, but we can taste the fruit of full communion with God while we continue to abide on earth.


This is the message Jesus left with us as he departed from our midst in a physical sense. He promised to be with us in a new way, and it is in this that we are to trust, and to share, and to celebrate.

Thanks be to God – Amen.


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