Sunday, May 4, 2008

Becoming Ourselves - A Sermon

Back in the days of BC -- that's Before Children -- I got the notion to take flying lessons.  Flying in a small plane in beautiful.  You're at 5,000 feet, your instructor's at your side.  You're making the plane do what you want...  One day, we finished a lesson, and I had made a really good three-point landing.  When I stopped the plane, my instructor, Nick told me not to cut the engine, then he hopped out.

"What're you doing?" I shouted over the engine.  

"It's time," he said.  "You're soloing."



In case you hadn't guessed, soloing means piloting a plane for the first time all alone -- with nobody else in the plane.  My heart stopped.  I wasn't ready.  What if I did something wrong?  What if I crashed?  Nick shut the door, smiled, and waved.  I taxied back to the runway, cursing Nick all the way for leaving me alone in this death trap.  Then -- for better or worse -- I took off.

I only flew around the airport and made a couple of what they call touch-and-go landings -- you land and take right off again.  But after the first landing, Nick's voice came over my headset:  "You might want to retract your flaps."  I don't want go into what flaps do, but NOT retracting them would have been bad.

At the end of it all, I got out of the plane, shaking like a leaf, and there was Nick, a big smile on his face.  "Great job!" he said.  "Now you're a pilot."

That's an experience most of us have in some way or other.  When you learn how to ride a bike, eventually Mom or Dad lets go, and you're soloing.  When you graduate from High School -- as several of our young folks are doing this year -- you leave home for the first time and venture out.  

Or when you're a disciple, and Jesus says, "you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now," and then leaves -- takes off into the sky and disappears.

It says they just stared up into the sky, but I bet they were screaming in their heads, "Wait!  You can't leave!  We're not ready!  Why are you leaving us?"

Why indeed?  Why DID Jesus leave the disciples just forty days after his glorious resurrection?  After all, he had proven his point.  He had already defeated death, shown his divinity, changed forever the way we relate with God.  Why not stay with his disciples and help them get the church going properly?  I mean, forty days isn't a lot of time.

On the other hand, if he had not left, would they have ever said they were ready?  Would they have ever quit looking to him, asking, "Is this how we do it, Lord?"  Can you imagine a child learning to ride the bike -- and the parent NEVER let go?  There might not be any cut knees or bruised shins, but the child would never really ride the bike.

Nobody can truly become themselves until they are cut loose, with all the risks involved.

So, what was it that the disciples were becoming?  Nothing less that the Body of Christ.  As Jesus told them, "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  The Body of Christ, the Church, the followers who live out Christ's love and share it with a broken world.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples were left staring up at the sky.  The angels who came asked, "What're you looking up there for?  Jesus is gone."  They were saying, "It's time to become who you were meant to be.  NOW you are true disciples."

Jesus had to leave so they could grow up.  And they did.  They left rejoicing, ready to face the new world ahead.  To be the Body of Christ.

Today, WE are Christ's Body.  If we want, we can stare up at the sky, too, waiting to see Christ coming down again, never doing anything because we don't know if it we'll mess up.  OR, we fly.  We can take the risk of acting like Christ, of being his witnesses in a frightened world.   And we do so knowing that right here we will find enough guidance and grace and support to keep us in the air.

Remember how I made that first landing and forgot to retract the flaps?  But that voice came over the headphones and reminded me.  Even more than that, the voice told me that I wasn't as alone as I thought I was.  Someone was still watching me.

Jesus told the disciples that he would not leave them alone, either.  The Holy Spirit would come and give them strength.  Not the same as the instructor being in the seat next to you, perhaps, but everything we need to fully become ourselves.  Amen.