(…continued) Pastor and author Max Lucado tells the story of being on an airplane one time, when the weather was bad and the flight became very turbulent. The excessive turbulence and bouncing up and down and from side to side made most folks more than a little nervous. There wasn’t much moving around and not a lot of talking. The mood became even more somber when the pilot told everyone to fasten their seatbelts and stay in their seats. His voice sounded nervous, and the flight attendants looked nervous as they hurried around to check everyone’s belts, and then they went to their own seats to belt themselves in.
So it was very noticeable, and then very annoying, that this one guy in the back of the plane was constantly chuckling, and sometimes laughing out loud. Lucado listened for other voices, imagining a couple people trying to lighten the mood with a little humor. But there was no talking by anyone, just this man laughing on and on. Finally, Max Lucado had to know what was going on, so he unbuckled his seat belt for a moment, stood up in the aisle, turned around, and looked. Three rows back he saw the man– who had headphones on, and was apparently listening to something really funny, and all he could do was laugh.
Now, everyone else on that flight was sitting there, feeling the storm, hearing the pilot’s warnings, noticing the flight attendants’ anxiety, and thinking about the storm outside. They weren’t laughing and they weren’t even talking because their minds were on the storm, thinking “what if this and what if that.’ They were, perhaps, remembering that other plane that had gone down in bad weather the previous month killing everyone on board. So they were all tuned into thoughts like that, and they were miserable.
But that one guy, with the headphones on, was tuned into something entirely different. He was listening to something funny, and his mind was on the jokes, and he wasn’t miserable at all. He was having a wonderful time. He was feeling the turbulence like all the others, but he was not thinking about the danger, but something else occupied his thoughts, and that affected his whole outlook and disposition.
That is a powerful illustration of life and how we approach it; and, we can go two very different directions with the story, using it to illustrate two very different approaches to life.
On the one hand, the story illustrates how something very unimportant, jokes and funny stories, can distract a person from something of ultimate importance– that he might soon be dead. This is a parable of our whole society, preoccupied as we are with entertainment, sports, news, celebrity gossip, and the like; and, distracted from and uninterested in matters of God and our eternal destiny. The music is always playing, the television is always on, there are texts and snapchats and Facebook and everything else to be constantly checking. And we can remain distracted until it is too late. “Be careful little ears” what you are listening to all the time, and be careful of what you are missing out on.
Many years ago, about this time of year, my next door neighbor was dying of cancer. He was a good neighbor, and a Christmas and Easter member of my congregation. I visited him as a friend and as his pastor, and I assumed he might want to talk about what was next. I would have good readings from the Bible ready to share with him, and would pray with him, and even thought he might want to talk about some issues in his family that he had previously told me about that he might want to settle before he left them. But he was not interested in any of that. He politely listened to what I said, but then would always steer the conversation back to what he really wanted to talk about— the Minnesota Vikings, who were having a great year, and were being talked about as Super Bowl contenders. He was in complete denial of his condition, and totally distracted by sports. His plane was going down, but he had the headphones on and was happily tuned into something else.
On the other hand, God does give us something different to tune into, something wonderful, powerful, and eternal. When we tune into that, it truly can give us a different disposition and a different reaction to the tense flight of this whole life— not by distracting us, but by giving us the truth that will set us free from fear and despair and hopelessness. With faith in the promises of God, we can face even death with courage and hope, and not denial and distraction. When we hear the voice of God, from John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul, or whoever, those truths can begin to change us and strengthen us and give us a firm foundation that can handle anything. With that message playing in our headphones, we might not be laughing when our plane goes down, but we won’t be whimpering either.
John’s message was to prepare yourself– prepare yourself to hear about Jesus, to know Jesus, and to listen to Jesus, so you can become the kind of person Jesus wants you to become, now and forever.
Luke 10:41-42 — Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Luke 8:18a — (Jesus said), “Therefore, consider carefully how you listen.”
Philippians 4:8 — Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things.
John 8:31b-32 — Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
O God of Peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, that in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of Thy Spirit lift us, we pray, to Thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer