Jesus at 32,000 Feet

air-tranIt’s true.  You can blog from almost anywhere.

 

At the moment I’m sitting in the William P. Hobby Airport, sipping a tall coffee and savoring the last few bites of a cheese Danish.  I’ve come to Houston to lead a preaching workshop at Christ Church Cathedral for some Episcopal priests-in-training, and since no one is picking me up I have a few minutes to spare.

 

It’s still early.  I got up at four this morning to get to the airport by five.  Two flights later here I am in Houston.  I saw the sun rise gloriously between Richmond and Atlanta and now it’s at full strength, coming in through these big windows and filling the place with God’s own light. 

 

My seatmate on the last flight was having allergy problems and she wanted to talk about them.  We finally got around to questions like, “Where are you going and why?”  I told her I was on my way to Houston to lead a preaching workshop.  “What about you?” I asked.  She seemed to blush before telling me that she was an exotic dancer on her way to a national competition.  “And now this!” she complained, pointing at her puffy eyes.  But as we talked she told me that she had grown up in a Christian family, that her father, in fact, was a pastor.  She looked down and said, “My parents aren’t too happy about some of the choices I’ve made.”

 

She talked about trying to live by their rules for years and years, and how finally she decided she just couldn’t do it anymore.  “Now I live by my own rules,” she said, lifting her chin.  That’s when I heard myself saying, “You know, Jesus said there were only two rules that really matter: loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving your neighbor just as much as you love yourself.  He said all the law and the prophets were wrapped up in those two, which makes me think that if we could do them we would have nothing to be ashamed of, not even when we stood before God.” 

 

Since she seemed to be listening I added, “When I’m trying to make moral decisions I sometimes ask myself, ‘Will this get in the way of my love for God?  Will this drive a wedge between me and my neighbor?’” 

 

She looked thoughtful.

 

“Your dancing,” I asked:  “Does it get in the way of your love for God?  Does it drive a wedge between you and your neighbor?”  “No,” she said.  “Not at all.”  But then she admitted that it had strained her relationship with her parents.  “It doesn’t keep me from loving them but it seems to make it harder for them to love me.”  And then she breathed a heavy sigh and fell silent.  Finally she looked over and said, “Thanks.”

 

“Thanks?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, thanks,” she said.  “That helped.”

 

I don’t know how it helped, but as I sit here sipping coffee I’m thinking how remarkable it is that a Baptist preacher and an exotic dancer had a conversation about Jesus at 32,000 feet.

 

But he’s like that, isn’t he? 

 

You never know where he’ll turn up.

 

14 thoughts on “Jesus at 32,000 Feet

  1. “Nothing is so cruel as the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together) I’m not sure I would have done any better had I been in the same situation, but I worry that such a gentle, Socratic approach to a person who’s clearly living a sinful lifestyle might just give them an excuse to keep on sinning. After shaming her accusers into giving up their self-righteous condemnation of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus told the adulteress, “Go and sin no more.” The same Jesus who teaches us to love God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves also commands us to repent and call others to repentance.

  2. Hmmm….I halfway agree with Moger, but having just dealt with some sinful issues in my own life, I can see how the gentle approach was what saved me. The listening ear. The sideways wise words.

    The pastor didn’t rebuke her – but loved her. And had I not dealt with something recently, I would have said he was “too kind,” about her profession.

    I don’t know. All I can say is that his approach might have worked for me, whereas had he told her she was a disgrace, she would have probably just lumped him into the category with her parents. I would bet she will think about “God and others” now before most of her decisions, and perhaps this was the seed that will grow later.

    We have a new teacher this year for my 8 year old who aced grad school (for education) but she sucked at teaching. Sometimes the ways that we are taught in books to behave don’t always work in real life.

    just sayin’

  3. Yes, Jesus did admonish the woman caught in the act of adultery to “go and sin no more,” after he had dispatched her accusers. However, he did not accuse her. Nowhere do we see Jesus accusing sinners. Instead, we see him loving them. Change motivated by a response to love will be far more lasting than change fostered by coercion.

    Thank you, Jim, for another lesson in Christian education.

  4. I believe that there are no coincidences – that everything happens for a reason. A Baptist preacher sitting next to an exotic dancer at 32,000 feet is an interesting combination. I believe with all my heart that your words will/already have changed her life in a way you may never know.

    I had a conversation with a kind Baptist preacher at ground level, at a Starbuck’s awhile back, and it changed my life forever.

  5. You always break everything down to the lowest common denominator. Thanks for showing us the simple way to do it. I think I too often get in my own way.

  6. What I appreciate about your approach with this lady, Jim, is that you did not paint her into a corner. She had already said she had tried to live by the rules she’d been taught. Your way of sharing didn’t hem her in, but gave her room to move forward, off the position she defended. We’ve all heard sermons of “severe rebuke.” They don’t work for me either. Kudos to your gentle manner, which included respect for the lady. I believe good for this lady will come from the encounter. This is my prayer.

  7. Jim,
    I agree whole heartedly with Janet. She needed the kind and sensitive manner in which you handled the conversation, and I do believe something wonderful and healing will come from this. God arranged that seating on the plane!

  8. It is amazing to me how the love of God, moving through us can, can change hearts and yes, even lives. I have to
    agree with irabird — I had to do a little eye glass cleaning after reading. Thank you for sharing this beautiful and simple testimony.

  9. Great example of witnessing Christ like. We sometimes do not know what happens to the seeds we plant along life’s journey. But, we can be sure that God’s Word does not return unto us void.

  10. If we serve a God who loves us and knows all, I believe he will do the convicting in our lives. We need to love God and our neighbors, and leave the judging to him.

  11. I am reminded of your sermon from last summer, “A World Full of Weeds.”

    I pray that Brother Moger would not be so quick to whip out the rule book and jump to judgment. All of have sinned and fallen short. Any of us could imagine our own reaction if we had been rebuked, rather than your method of giving her something to think about, and leaving the outcome to the workings of God in her heart.

    Like the parable of Jesus and the wheat and the weeds, when one attempts to pull up the weeds, the wheat is destroyed.

    My grandmother had a saying: “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Love always wins out over judgment, if not proximately, then ultimately.

    Well done, good and faithful servant.

  12. What amazes me is how you can sit in a plane, flying at 32000 feet, in the midst of a wonderful demonstration of the power of science and the success of the scientific method, then log on to the internet… another amazing feat of science… only to talk about how thrilling your Bronze Age myth is.

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