Sermon of the Week
Words to Build a Life On:
Nothing Can Separate You.
If you type in the phrase “Australian daredevil”
into your favorite search engine,
Bing or Google might answer back: Felix Baumgartner.[i]
Felix is rather extraordinary.
On Sunday morning, October 14th, 2012,
exactly 65 years to the day that Chuck Yeager
first broke the sound barrier
in his experimental, rocket-powered airplane
Felix climbed into a helium-filled balloon
and took it up to a height of 128,100 feet.[ii]
Now, to put that into context for you,
128000 feet is several times higher than commercial airliners ordinarily fly.
In fact, the highest that a jet aircraft has ever flown,
according to extremetech.com, is 123,500 feet,
so this was 5000 feet above that.[iii]
By comparison, another daredevil, the film maker James Cameron
went to the so-called lowest point on earth that same year, in 2012
diving seven miles to the bottom of the Mariana trench in the Pacific Ocean.[iv]
Baumgartner’s balloon climb, when you do the math,
was three times higher.
Extremetech noted that the climb up was the cushy part.
He had a climate-controlled pod that was kind of like a race-car cockpit
made of fiberglass and steel
and a cage of something called chromium-molybdenum
to help protect the occupant from the -70 degree temperatures outside.
But on that Sunday morning, October 14th, 2012
not only did Felix go up that high
but he also climbed out of that cushy climate-controlled pod
and fell back to earth.
How long do you think it takes to fall to earth from 21 miles above it?
It lasted 9 minutes and 9 seconds
with an astonishing 4 minutes and 22 seconds of that in what they call free fall
smashing the speed of sound
the way Chuck Yeager did, but Chuck had a jet engine to help him.
And then, thankfully, Felix pulled the cord on his massive parachute
and safely landed outside of Roswell, New Mexico.
Felix broke all sorts of world records with the stunt.
–Highest manned balloon flight.
–If he had just held out 14 more seconds he would also have set the record for
the longest free-fall time ever,
but really, who can blame him.
You might assume that those records were going to stand forever
But no, just two years later, Google’s then vice-president Alan Eustice
Decided “hey, why don’t I try that”
And went almost a mile higher, 135000 feet,
and made his own incredible free fall.[v]
Now: I don’t really know why Felix Baumgartner or Alan Eustice
would do such a thing.
You’re not getting me near one of those balloons.
But I’m glad that they didn’t pass out,
that their parachutes opened,
that they survived.
I’m not sure it matters whether you’re talking about a zip line,
a paltry 100 feet or so above a cliff face,
or jumping out of your high tech pod 22 miles up there
the possibility of death was apparently not, to them, a deterrent and they jumped.
They had tested their equipment. They did the math and knew the science.
But still: any time you do that, it’s a leap of faith.
They trusted, and they jumped, and they made it.
On the Tuesday after Felix’s incredible jump
One newspaper asked its readers:
“what stunt would you do, if you knew you would survive?”[vi]
On the one hand, that’s an interesting question to think about.
What would you do?
Go diving in shark infested waters
Buy a Harley
Go run off and live in the desert for a while
Wear a Chiefs jersey to Denver’s Mile High Stadium?
I think knowing that I would survive could give me courage, you know
a sort of attitude: a different outlook on life.
It’s a helpful question:
What would you do if you knew you’d be ok?
How would you live your life differently?
And on the other hand:
sometimes I wonder about using such superlative illustrations
of humanity pushing the boundaries.
It is amazing, to be sure,
what some people do:
climbing to great heights
scaling amazing mountains. Such bravery is inspiring to so many of us.
Some people in this very congregation have done similar amazing things.
At the same time,
I’m not sure they’re THAT much more remarkable, in the end,
–than taking a deep breath and
walking through the threshold of your first adult job…
–or letting your kid get wheeled off to her first surgery
and not being able to do anything about it but wait…
–or waking up and getting out of bed
the first day after your spouse has passed away…
–or keeping yourself together, somehow,
after the pain of something horrible done to you resurfaces again.
That’s every much a leap of faith, I’m sure of it.
When Paul, writing to the church in Rome
starts talking about heights and depths, powers and rulers
angels and things unseen
we don’t have to blink our eyes and wonder what he’s talking about here.
Felix is an extreme example.
I wonder if the Australian Daredevil was actually trying
to test the Psalmist
when he wrote about ascending into the highest heavens
or taking the wings of the morning
Look here, God, here I am
21 miles over earth
Are you there God? Its me, Felix. Lets do this.
Or, maybe, he had that other thought:
What in the world was I thinking when I agreed to do THIS?
We have those very moments here on earth, we know
feet firmly planted on the ground.
even though our knees wobble and our stomachs churn.
God, I need you.
I don’t know what’s around the corner
And I’m scared.
What could you do
How would you live your life
If you knew in those moments that it was all going to be ok?
Paul’s letter to the church in Rome
is a good and fitting conclusion
to our sermon series “Words to Build a Life On”
We have been looking carefully
at essential ideas of the Christian faith.
We’re learning that faith is NEVER simplistic
but that it can be expressed here and there
in a phrase or two
ways for us to use shorthand for saying
Look: See what God is up to!
We’ve had three basic movements in this sermon series.
We began exploring the greatest gift that God gives us:
Faith, Hope, and Love abide, those three
And the greatest of these is Love.
Those are words Paul wrote in another one of his letters,
that time to the faithful people of Corinth.
Love, it turns out, is what our whole faith turns upon.
God is love, says the author of First John.
We saw how “Love” becomes the key to understanding Scripture
and how knowing THAT helps us clearly hear and understand God’s voice
as we study and ponder and live the Bible in our daily lives.
The Greatest is Love.
That was our first movement.
The next movement,
The second part of our sermon series
was to explore together what
using Love as the Key means for the Christian Life.
So we looked at Words to Build a Life on from the Old Testament
Seek Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly with your God
three requirements for people who claim to walk God’s way.
And we looked at Jesus, of course
and his sermon on the mount:
Blessed are you when you stand where God stands.
We heard Paul encouraging the faithful to
Live Peaceably with All,
we explored what it means to Love our Neighbor as Ourselves,
and wrestled with Jesus’ challenge: You, You give them something to eat.
We saw that the call to Not Oppress the Alien, the immigrant,
is essential to understanding God’s call to justice
and we remembered that God has an expansive welcome
When we looked at the story of the Prodigal son:
He was lost, but has been found.
And finally, in this second part of the sermon series
We looked at Jesus’s parable of the sheep and the goats
where some received Jesus’ praise
for caring for him when he was
naked, or hungry, or sick, or in prison,
and for others, Jesus dismissed them
for failing to do the same.
And they asked him:
Jesus, when was it that we saw you that way and did those things to you
and Jesus replied:
Truly, when you did these things to one of the least of these
You did it to me.
All of those sermons were, in one way or another
exploring what it means to put Love at the center of our faith and our lives.
At the end of that sermon on the sheep and the goats
I had more than one person tell me
that sometimes its hard to know, you know
whether we’re more the sheep,
or we’re more the goats.
Their point was that we all might work hard at putting Love there
at the center of our lives
but we don’t always do it.
Some of us may do this more consistently or regularly than others
and some, we know, don’t even care
but even if we do
we sometimes fail. We’re not perfect.
And that’s the reason for the third and final movement
in this sermon series:
where we have transitioned from
exploring what it means to try to live out the idea
that Love is the Key to this whole ballgame
to what it means to have hope in a God
who is bigger and more merciful and more gracious and more loving
than all of our failures,
all of our faults,
all of our worries,
all of our fears.
A friend of mine
once reminded me of a joke the protestant reformer Martin Luther used to tell
when talking about the life of faith.
Luther, apparently, used to say that between Grace and Judgment,
its like a drunk man riding a horse:
you’re going to fall off on one side or the other.
There are some who stop here
and see God’s calling
as something that no one can possibly live up to
or maybe just the impossibly rare few
who are willing to get up into that balloon and go umpteen miles above the earth
trying to do it.
For the rest, why even try?
But not us.
We fall off on the side of grace.
We’re always falling off on the side of grace, everytime.
Because we think that the arc of scripture
leads us to that space of love and compassion and, most importantly, hope.
Because we hear an assurance
from Genesis to Revelation
that God is faithful still, through thick and through thin
and that we rest on God, we trust in God
to take care of us
even when we stumble
even if we fall
even as we doubt
no matter what.
That’s the third and final movement:
throughout it all, have hope.
Have hope in the place where you find yourself, seek its welfare
for God has a plan for you, a plan for wholeness and not for harm
so that you might see a future with hope.
Have hope, and exclaim with boldness:
We will not fear,
though the earth should change,
or the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.
This final movement has been all about hope
in trusting that its all going to be ok
that God’s got our back.
But what do we do when we can’t hope?
When we have our doubts,
when we are overcome by guilt,
when we see things falling apart?
And at that moment,
the apostle Paul taps us on our shoulder
and says to us:
do not worry
for the spirit will help us in our weakness,
when we are searching for how to pray
but we don’t know the words to say,
when we are speechless.
In that moment, that very Spirit
intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words
God’s very self interceding for us
What are we to say?
will hardship, or distress
or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword
cut us off from the love of God?
Nothing will separate us.
Not death nor life.
Not angels nor rulers.
Nothing that is currently happening, nor anything yet to come.
Not height or depth or, frankly, anything
will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We fall off on the side of grace, every time.
because God is Love
and love nurtures the beloved
every single time.
It’s what makes God, God,
this ability to see through our faults and our limitations
and love us even so,
to be there when we need Her to be there
to hold our hand in every
leap of faith of our lives.
God has given us ways to live that matter.
We’ve tried to put some of them in shorthand
so that we can remember them.
What are your favorite words to build a life on?
Take a moment, grab that pew pencil or pen
(there might be one in the ritual of friendship pads)
and jot down on your bulletin
some of the most important aspects of faith, for you.
Go ahead, its ok.
boldly claim this faith as our way of life:
the centrality of love
the call to make Jesus’ Love a central part of our decision making
and the hope that God will help us
through all trials of our life, through thick and thin
because nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from God’s love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That kind of life:
its more exhilarating than free fall
more powerful than the principalities and powers
that seek to hinder justice and peace
its so wonderful and weighty, that true belonging is possible
because God formed us and knows us and cares for us.
These are the best Words to Build a Life On.
So lets get living.
May it be so.
[i] More likely, you’ll get Dale Buggins or Robbie Maddison. We seem to default to motorcyclists with our daredevils.
[vi] From a sermon by the Rev. Dr. John Lentz called “Leap of Faith.”