March 3, 2013 “ 3 Lent C
Exodus 3:1-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
Twenty years ago I did something I had always wanted to do and would love to do again but haven’t done since: I went skydiving. I mentioned in a Sunday School class that it was something I wanted to do and after the class several people came up and said, Let’s do it. So we set it up and went on one of those November days that happened to be perfectly clear. 8 or 10 of us sat in a little room at some little airstrip near Cheraw, South Carolina, and got our instructions. What we were going to do is called a tandem jump. The way that works is that you put on a pretty simple harness and a guy with a parachute hooks you onto his harness so that he is on your back. Two at a time we were going to be taken up in a plane with our partners that we had just met and now would entrust our lives to. The instructor was telling us how that would all work.
He finished his instructions which seemed a little too brief to me, basically saying that we would fly up to 11 or 12,000 feet, the door of the plane would be opened and we would either jump out or the guy we were strapped to would push us out and we would fall about a mile or a mile and a half in 45 “ 60 seconds, then the guy would hopefully open the parachute and we would float down the other mile or so. Any questions?
We had a lot of questions. I asked what that might feel like while we were free-falling for that mile or so. In my mind it sounded like a very long roller coaster fall where your stomach kind of comes up into your throat. The instructor said that different people felt different things and that it might feel like I was falling but that it probably wouldn’t. He said that we would probably hear a lot of wind but wouldn’t feel too much until the guy opened the parachute and then it would feel like we were suddenly sitting down in a nice soft chair. That didn’t make much sense to me so I asked how it could be that we would be free-falling for more than a mile and wouldn’t really feel anything.
The instructor then began to explain that what we would be experiencing was called sensory overload. Basically what that meant was that we were going to be feeling so much at one time that we wouldn’t feel anything at all until our senses adjusted. The only way you can really get into trouble, he said, is if your senses never adjust. Does that ever happen?, someone asked. Hardly ever, he said.
So off we went. Since all this was my idea, everyone else suggested that I should be in the first plane so two of us, with our partners who we just met and to whom we were entrusting our lives, climbed into a little plane and took off. I was surprised, to begin with, at how long it took the plane to climb to 11,000 feet. On the way up the pilot and the guys with the parachutes asked about how we had come up with this idea. The other person with me said, Well, he’s my priest and he told our Sunday School class he wanted to do this and we thought it was a good idea at the time so here we are. The pilot said that, since I was a priest and since it was such a clear day that we would go up a little higher so we climbed to about 12,000 feet.
Then, with no announcement, the guy who was going to videotape us, slid the door open and threw himself out of the plane. The guy I was strapped to helped me edge over to the door and I peered out to see the landscape way, way down below and out we went.
The instructor was exactly right about the sensory overload. My ears were working great. I heard a tremendous rush of wind but I didn’t feel anything else. My eyes were wide open but I didn’t even see anything for about 15 seconds. Then my system adjusted a little and I could see what was going on. The guy videotaping us swooped in pretty close to us and then swooped back and did a backflip or two. Then all of a sudden we did a backflip or two and few other little maneuvers. Now remember all this takes place in about a minute so pretty soon there was this loud ruffling and then a big tug and the sensation of sitting down as the parachute opened. Then for the next ten minutes or so we floated to the ground and talked back and forth. The guy was a little intrigued that I was a priest and asked a few questions about that. I remember him saying that maybe being a priest was kind of like what he did. I guess you help people open their parachutes so they won’t splatter themselves all over the place.
Eventually he began to coach me on how we were going to land. When we get close to the ground, pull your knees up and then, when my feet hit the ground, put your feet down and run a few paces to absorb the shock. If you don’t do that your feet are going to get tangled up in mine and you’re going to break your leg. Thankfully we landed very easily. Lots of fun. Maybe a few of you can talk me into doing it again.
So what’s that got to do with anything? Well, our gospel lesson is a little like a tandem skydive jump. Most everything is out of your control but that little bit that is within your control you need to take care of. Jesus begins by talking about some tragedies that have occurred and asks if the listeners think those things happened because those people were more sinful than others. That question has plagued humankind over the years, propelling us into a kind of spiritual sensory overload. Our sinfulness does cause us problems and does have consequences. The more bad stuff you do seems to eventually catch up with you. Yet there are some really bad people out there who seem to be getting off scot-free and we can be going along doing our very best to be faithful but still our whole world might fall apart for no apparent reason. Sinfulness has consequences but there’s a whole lot more to life than doing right and receiving rewards for good behavior. Good things happen to bad people; bad things happen to good people. It’s all very confusing and we can get completely lost in that kind of question. Spiritual sensory overload. So Jesus says, Bad things sometimes happen for unexplainable reasons. But, you know, you are sinful and you need to repent before you hit the ground too hard and break something.
Life is confusing sometimes. We leap out into the day and get hit with a lot of stuff that overwhelms us. And sometimes we get so lost in trying to gain control or come up with some easy explanation that we completely forget to let go and trust and enjoy the ride. We get so worried about what everybody else is doing or not doing that we forget that, even though we don’t have much control, there are some things we can do to absorb the shock of each day.
A lot of life cannot be explained. That can be so frightening that we forget how wonderful the ride really is. And sometimes we abdicate our responsibility and don’t do what only we can do. Maybe God is carrying us down with a parachute but, you know, when you hit the ground you need to be ready. You don’t have much control but the job assigned to you is pretty important. What is that job today? What’s your part of this adventure?
Jesus says for us to have faith and repent. Trust God and take responsibility for your own actions instead of getting lost in everybody else’s actions.
Have faith, trust God, let go of all those other people out there and what they need to be doing. Quit trying to explain everything with a tight little formula. Repent, look at your own soul, tend to your issues, turn to Jesus Christ and be saved, cling to him as if your whole life depended on it, be obedient to his instructions. Have faith and repent. That’s our Christian rhythm.