"Oxygen Masks & the Turbulence of Life" – Luke 21:25-36
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."
Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."
Whenever we board an airplane with our boys, the stewardess takes the time during the safety demonstration to stop by our aisle to personally remind us that in the case of an emergency, should the oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartment, we are to put our masks on first, and then assist our children with their masks.
Makes sense, right? Take care of yourself first, and then you can help others. After all, you can’t help anyone else if you’re passed out on the plane.
In this case it absolutely makes sense to save yourself first. Save yourself, and then you can save others.
But what about the turbulence of our daily lives? What about those perilous times when no metaphorical oxygen masks automatically fall into our laps? What can we do when we can’t save ourselves?
That’s not an idea we like to think about. We’d prefer to believe that we can save ourselves. We’d prefer to believe that we can overcome any adversity through hard work, determination, and innovation.
Some of our Christian brothers and sisters have been instructed and trained to go out into the world and ask people this question: “If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?” Or maybe you’ve heard this asked with the phrase, “Are you saved?”
If you answers “no”, the evangelists will take the occasion to urge you to accept Jesus as your personal Savior. They want to make sure that when you die, Jesus will save you from spending an eternity in hell.
The problem with I have with this approach to discipleship…well, there’s several…but one problem I have with this approach is that it utilizes Jesus is an oxygen mask that you put on yourself; as if believing in Jesus is an action that you can do on your own accord; or a decision you can make for yourself. If that’s true, than that means we have the power to save ourselves. Just believe and you’ll be saved. The problem is that belief in Jesus as the Son of God – the Messiah, the Savior of the Nations – is not a decision we make for ourselves.
No one makes a logical, well-reasoned, rational decision to believe in Jesus. No one would choose to believe in Jesus. After all, he died on a cross, condemned on all sides. And what is his instruction to anyone who would follow him? “Take up your cross and follow me.” In other words, “This is how it will end for you too.”
Anyone using logic and reasoning would run away from Jesus; or perhaps even be among those shouting “Crucify him!”
We don’t believe because of logic, reasoning, and scientific calculations; we believe because we have been given the gift of faith, which is what we call the work of the Holy Spirit.
Only one person in the history of the world ever truly had the option to save himself. Jesus could have put his oxygen mask on first; he could have chosen a different path and avoided his fate on the cross. He could have amassed an army. He could have hidden until things calmed down. He could have tried to work better with the Romans and the religious leaders. He could have called upon God to destroy the unrighteous.
But self-preservation was never Jesus’ goal. His entire life was lived with the objective of making sure that everyone else had their oxygen masks on first. He could have saved himself; but he didn’t.
If Jesus wouldn’t or couldn’t save himself; what gives us any reason to believe we can save ourselves?
The brilliant poet W.H. Auden, in his Christmas poem For the Time Being wrote, “Nothing can save us that is possible: We who must die demand a miracle.”
And a miracle is exactly what the gospel offers...
– an impossible possibility
– a reality that transcends the everyday real
– a Truth deeper than all else we have been told is true
– a story that stretches beyond and encompasses all our stories so as to give them meaning, integrity, and purpose.
The Bible does not tell us of things we have seen and know for ourselves. Instead, it describes a reality that stretches beyond the confines of our finite, mortal existence and therefore has the capacity to redeem us and this life and world we share.
Each of us faces oppression in our lives.
Some are oppressed by physical limitations and poor health. Some are oppressed by people in authority. Some are oppressed by debilitating thoughts of negativity and depression. Some are oppressed by an overwhelming sense of powerlessness, inadequacy or past failures.
Today’s gospel text reminds us that there is only one constant in the universe – the saving word of Jesus Christ. Everything we think is permanent, even the sun, moon and stars, are passing away.
Which means that whatever it is that is oppressing you; whatever it is that is holding you back from being the person God has created you to be…your oppressor, real as it may be, is temporary. Your oppressors will fall and you will be saved by the eternal word of Jesus Christ.
So stand up, raise your head, for your redemption is drawing near. Not because of anything you have done, but instead because of what God has done for you. In your fear, panic, and desperation, Jesus has already firmly affixed your oxygen mask. So breathe deeply; inhale God’s presence, for God is all around you.
My prayer for you I that you would have irrational hope and exuberance because God loves you. My prayer for you is that you would fall in love with the God who loves you above all else. And my prayer is that God would lead you to unexpected encounters with amazing people who desperately need to know that Jesus has already affixed an oxygen mask on their heads; all that’s left to do is to breathe deeply.