Up in the Air
Sermon preached April 12, 2015
Texts: Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31
Phil Collins, “In the Air Tonight:” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkADj0TPrJA
“To know me you have to fly with me.” These are the words of Ryan Bingham, the central character in Walter Kirn’s novel, Up in the Air and the film based on the movie. George Clooney plays Ryan in the film. [“Up in the Air” (trailer): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTL1FmvVCuA] They begin Kirn’s book.
Planes and airports are where I feel at home. Everything fellows like you dislike about them – the dry, recycled air alive with viruses; the salty food that seems drizzled with warm mineral oil; the aura-sapping artificial lighting – has grown dear to me over the years, familiar, sweet. (5)
Ryan lives to rack up as many miles as he can. When his sister suggests that he help his niece’s maid of honor get to the wedding by cashing in some of his miles, Ryan stays focused on his goal. I love my sister. Unfortunately, she’s ignorant. She doesn’t fly on a regular basis, so she doesn’t know what I’ve been up against out here. For years, Great West has been my boss, my sergeant, dictating where I went and if I went, deciding what I ate and if I ate. My mileage is my one chance to strike back, to snatch satisfaction from humiliation…. The conversation ends here: “My miles are mine.” (38, 39)
This book and movie pose questions about what matters, what we live for, what’s most important in our lives. The same question is posed by the writer of The Gospel of John.
Just after telling the story of the encounter between the risen Jesus and Thomas, who had raised questions about the resurrection, and letting us know that there is much more that could be told about Jesus, the gospel writer adds some comments of his own. These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. The gospel writer tells the stories about Jesus so that those who read them may have life in his name. And what is the center of that? We get a clue in verse 29. Jesus said to [Thomas], “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. What is going to give life is orienting your life to something that you do not see.
Christian faith, the Jesus way, is about orienting and investing ourselves in the invisible, the unseen, the not yet, things that may seem up in the air.
When I was in college, I used to write quotes on some of my class folders. When I was taking my experimental psychology class, I carried a folder with this Albert Schweitzer quote written on it. No ray of sunshine is ever lost, but the green which it awakens into existence needs time to sprout, and it is not always granted for the sower to see the harvest. All work that is worth anything is done in faith. I remember my professor saying that he did not really think that way, that for him, he needed to see results. To live the Jesus way is to trust that the good we do makes a difference, even if we will never see it. We invest ourselves in the unseen, and in the not yet, and this can be quite a challenge in a “show me” culture.
Another quote I have come to love over the years is the one in the Invitation to Worship. Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.” This is probably not true in every circumstance. We see beauty in all kinds of things. Keller was wanting us to think deeply about some of the most profound experiences of our lives. She is encouraging us to invest ourselves in the unseen, the invisible, the not yet. There is something of the Jesus way in her remarks.
One last story here, but not for the entire sermon. Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead were philosophers who, for a time collaborated together in the area of mathematics. Philosophically, they had some distinct difference which Russell shared by way of a story. “You think,” said Whitehead to Russell, “the world is what it looks like in fine weather at noon-day. I think it is what it seems like in the early morning when one awakes from a deep sleep.”
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe [and] that through believing you may have life in [Jesus] name. The Christian faith, the Jesus way, is about investing ourselves in the invisible, the unseen, the not yet. It is about trusting that good work we do will have its effect. It is trusting that some of the best and most beautiful things in the world are the things of the heart. It is to be open to those parts of the world that are like early morning when one awakes from a deep sleep.
As followers of Jesus we invest ourselves in the invisible, the unseen, the not yet. By investing ourselves I mean that we give our time, our energy, our attention, and yes, our money, to furthering the cause of God in the world, the cause of God we know in Jesus, whose way we trust, though we do not see him.
This week, the Steering Team for our Capital Campaign met for the first time. We are going to be moving the active part of the campaign into the fall, but you will be hearing about it from time to time as we ramp up for it. I have kiddingly said there is nothing like talking about investing in the invisible when you are encouraging financial commitments be made for tuck pointing – talk about invisible!
But what we are investing in here, with our time, our energy, our attention, our giving, both regularly and during capital campaigns, what we are investing in here, finally is people. There are things that can happen here that don’t happen other places. People can encounter the God of Jesus in unique ways because we are here. Lives are touched and changed, and often in quiet and unseen ways, ways that we can only talk about later on. We give our time, our energy, our attention, our resources to build for a future we cannot see, some of which we will never see. This building will be fifty years old in 2016, and I would like to think fifty years from now this will still be a place where people encounter the living Christ in ways that give life, that this will still be a place where the community gathers to discuss important issues and find ways to work together to address them, that this will still be a place where people find food and friends, that this will be a place where people are welcomed, where they are guided by the teaching and unconditional love of Jesus, and where they are inspired to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, that fifty years from now this will still be a place where people find hope and healing.
Christian faith, the Jesus way, is about orienting and investing ourselves in the invisible, the unseen, the not yet. But there is one more point to be made. This past week I had the pleasure of listening to the New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan at St. Scholastica. He spoke about violence and the Bible, and I think some of that will find its way into future sermons. In the book he has just published on the topic, of which I now have a signed copy, Crossan writes, “We live in a world of visible externals and invisible internals” (245). I think following the Jesus way it to pay a great deal of attention to those invisible internals, but the Jesus way is also about making the invisible visible, about taking what may be in the air and bringing it concretely to earth.
As followers of the Jesus way we cannot simply tell people to wait behind locked doors and Jesus, wounded side and pierced hands will show up. So how do we help make real the risen Jesus? Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them. (Acts 4:32-34a)
As followers of Jesus we orient and invest ourselves in what is invisible, unseen, not yet, but we do so in such a way that it becomes more real and more visible through our lives, and through our life together.
Last story. I was touched last Sunday by a lot, but including the story in the newspaper about St. Luke’s hospice volunteers. A Florida man died at St. Luke’s on March 13, but though family could not be here, he did not die alone. One of the hospice volunteers said, “It’s so important that people don’t die alone – to know they’re being loved.” That volunteer, here name is Nancy, was a seminary class mate of mine, and earlier in our lives, we were part of the same Jesus people group. She volunteers here quite a bit for Ruby’s Pantry. Nancy and others were making the invisible love of God real and tangible. Later in the week, Bill Van Oss, the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church shared that St. Luke’s was started by people from his church in 1886. They invested themselves in an unseen future, that now includes a hospice program surrounding people with family when their biological family can’t be present.
All work that is worth anything is done in faith. The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart. As followers of Jesus we make the invisible, the unseen, the not yet, matter. As followers of Jesus, we take those things that may seem up in the air, and make them more real, together, by the grace of God. Amen.