There was once small plane with 5 passengers on it. Halfway to their destination, the engines started sputtering and failing. The pilot came out from behind the curtain wearing a parachute pack on his back.
He said, “Friends, I have some bad new and some good news. The bad news is we have an engine malfunction and we’re going down. The good news is there are several parachutes here along the wall. The bad news is that there are 5 of you and only 4 of them. So you’ll have to work it out among yourselves.
“I know you have many choices in air travel and so I’d like to thank you for choosing our airline and wish you a very pleasant evening — wherever your final destination may be.”
With that, he was out the door.
A woman leaped up. “I am one of the most prominent brain surgeons in the northeast. My patients depend on me.” She grabbed a parachute pack and leaped out.
A man stood up and said, “I am a partner in a large law practice and the office would fall to pieces without me.” He grabbed a parachute pack and leaped out.
Another man stood up and said, “I am purported to be the smartest man in the world. My IQ is so high I don’t even want to mention it — it would make you feel bad. But surely you understand that I must have a parachute.” He grabbed a pack and leaped out.
There were only two people left on the plane now, an elderly grandfather and a teenage boy.
“Son, said the grandfather, “you take the last parachute. You’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you. I’ve had a good run, and I’ll take the fall on this one. God bless you and safe landing.”
The teenager looked up at the older man. “Thanks, so much sir. That means a lot to me, really. But there are still two parachutes left. The smartest man in the world just grabbed my knapsack!”
Ah we laugh! – but imagine what the smartest man in the world is thinking as he hurtles towards the earth – pulling on the teenagers ipod cord thinking it is a rip cord and nothing happens –
- how long do you think it took him to realized that he had grabbed the wrong pack? –
- what do you think goes through his head when he realizes it is the wrong pack? –
- I wonder how much life reflection happens in the few seconds it takes to hurtle towards the ground –
- how much smart does not matter?,
- how many times in his life has made other wrong choices? –
- how many times he has made right ones? –
- who and what he leaves behind?
I think that we are in some way we have all been in that place – midair – free falling towards the ground – grabbing onto to something for a kind of sense of identity and purpose in life, as if our lives depended on it
- hoping we made the right choice! That we actually have parachute and it will open at the right time.
- hoping that when we committed to the path we are walking on we made the right choice –
- hoping that we grabbed the right packsack to take with us.
Our stories today are mid- air stories – happening right in the middle of the things – Abram and Sari – in the middle of the desert, at the late stages of their lives trying to live the covenant that they have made with God – even when it seems so likely that it will not come to pass, this promise of a child– so much so that Sari had taken matters into her own hands and convinced her husband that a child by someone else would be just as good – and without fully understanding the complexities of human relationship and jealousy and envy she convinced her husband that creating a child with her servant woman Hagar would be a good substitute for a child of her own – and so he did – and Ishmael was born –
and it was then that Sari began to understand the complexities of relationship – and because of her jealousy and envy of Hagar and the boy, Ishmeal, she banishes them from the camp – sends them out into the desert to fend for themselves–
A out of sight out of mind solution – at least for Sari
I can imagine that she feels like she grabbed the wrong backpack – she never imagined how much pain a child of her husband’s born to another woman could cause her.
But God is not done with them yet –and God comes yet again to Abram – comes to him and re-states the covenant – reaffirms the commitment and reminds Abram of the promise of descendants like the stars of the sky, the sands of the desert –
- and then in simple language tells Abram that he and Sari will have a child together
- – in spite of their age,
- in spite of their former meddling in God’s plan with Hagar,
- in spite of the their wandering away from God –
God is there to reaffirm the promise,
- to reassert his commitment to Abram and Sari – and with that he gives them new names –
new names in their old age, Abraham and Sarah
new names showing how even in our later years, even in the midst of endings –
God is there offering new beginnings –
new names, a new baby, and a new life for this old couple –
and then remember the rest of the story – where it goes from here – a son is born – Isaac – and still God is not done with Abraham and covenant and the testing and the challenging. Until the last breath is breathed, until the last shovel of dirt is placed on his graves – God is not done with Abraham and Sarah – and even beyond – the covenant continues. The commitment that God makes, is fulfilled over and over and over again and it becomes more than we can ever imagine.
Fast forward a few hundred years to another desert, and another person who has entered into a covenant relationship with God. We are mid –air right now – midway through Jesus three year teaching, preaching, healing, journey to the cross. And over the past few days just before we join this part of the story, Jesus has taken bread and fish and blessed it and fed thousands of people – and his disciples watched and witnessed and participated. And then he another altercation with some scribes and Pharisees – where once again Jesus came out the victor in their war of words– and then, they met a blind man on the road – and with only his hands and some spit – Jesus made this man see again. And through it all there was his disciples – watching, witnessing, wondering – and then Jesus turns to his disciples and says
“you know what my friends – you need to prepare yourself, for the road that I am on leads to my destruction, and the journey that we go on heads toward suffering – for I will be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes – and I will be killed – but on the third day – I will rise.”
Here is Peter’s mid-air, the plane is going down moment – and here he is having to choose the backpack or the parachute!
He reaches for the backpack and says: “What do you mean you will die – what do you mean you will suffer – what do you mean – years ago, I left all I know, I ceased to be a fisherman so that I could follow you and fish for people – what do you mean – Jesus? How dare you change course mid stream – this is not what I signed on for – this is not what I agreed to.
How many of us have been there with Peter – right in the midst of life, and wham! Smack! OHHHH! The carpet has been ripped from beneath our feet and we are on an airplane going down without enough parachutes.
- I am sorry sir, your child is in jail
- Mam, it’s cancer
- Your fired
- I want a divorce
- You will need to declare bankruptcy
- Your partner is developing demensia
How many times have we been in that place that feels like a free fall out of an airplane without a parachute? This is not what I signed on for! This is not what I committed to! This is not what I planned! This is not how I wanted it to go!
But God is not done with us yet – as God was not done with Abraham and Sarah – as God was not done with Peter.
God was there offering new beginnings – So, as Jesus completes the covenant promise of his life on this earth – Peter life and Peter’s commitment from God, also shifts gears and he becomes the rock in which the church is built
and remember the rest of the story – where it goes from here – Peter walks with Jesus up that mountain and witnesses the transfiguration and then walks beside Jesus into Jerusalem – and witnesses to the events of the last week of Jesus life on earth –
- and in spite of the denial,
- in spite of falling asleep in the garden,
- in spite of being scared and frightened during it all
God does not give up on Peter and even though the way is fraught with many difficulties, and there is testing and challenging times, the church is formed, and the memory of the Christ on earth is kept, and Peter was the Rock. God was not done with Peter – not until his last breath was breathed, until the last shovel of dirt was placed on his grave – God was not done with Peter – and even beyond. The commitment that God made, was fulfilled – this is what covenant promise is – God is not done, God is never done – and Peter’s life became more than he ever imagined.
As it is for Abraham and Sarah and Isaac too– as it is for Peter and the burgeoning church – it is for us – God continues to honour God’s covenant promise to God’s beloved people – us – until the last breath is breathed, until the last shovel of dirt is placed on our graves – God is not done with us – and even beyond. The commitment that God makes, is fulfilled and it becomes more than we can ever imagine.