Last year I applied for funding for a three-month sabbatical that would have taken place this summer. My plan was to travel across the country and explore other churches similar to Oak Lawn: historic, inclusive, urban. Funding was denied by the Lilly Endowment-- not because the project was not worthy; it did not meet their qualifications. Lilly sabbaticals are more personal in nature-- renewal for the pastor, while our proposal was more of an academic model for sabbatical. I was pretty upset for a few weeks, because I was very excited for what we would have learned.
Later, a family in the church came forward with a special gift to send me on a mini-sabbatical to explore churches. So this week I have been making plans for a couple of learning trips this summer. One trip will be to Los Angeles, the other Washington DC. I'll share more about this later, but the short of it is: the DC trip I'm taking the family with me-- we're driving. The LA trip is a solo-- meaning I will fly. And many of you know I do not like to fly. And later in the summer I am flying to a conference in Denver. So I am already getting nervous about the airplanes.
I have not always been so uncomfortable on airplanes. Maybe it was the anticipation of going somewhere new, or excitement about a new project, but flying didn't become uncomfortable until 10 years ago or so. I have had many conversations with pilots about this, who assure me flying is safe, turbulence is not only normal but necessary, and that they are very good at what they do. No doubt. I heard once that fear of flying is a control issue: driving my car I have the illusion of control. Sitting in coach, 35,000 feet in the air... See, I am starting to freak out now!
This morning-- literally just 20 minutes ago-- I had a thought: maybe the difference in my reaction to flying is that I have more to lose. A decade ago I was in my early 30s, I was married, with one infant child. Ten years later, I am in my early 40s, still, thankfully, happily, married-- but with three boys, one of whom, Miles, turns 8 tomorrow. Is my discomfort-- not fear-- of flying more about my fear of losing what is most important to me?
When we are faced with the fear of losing what is dear to us, sometimes our perspective changes. All the statistical information about the safety of flying goes out the window-- yikes!-- when I am afraid. What about the rest of my life-- on the ground, as God intended? The economy is stronger now than it was a few years ago, but uncertainty is still there. If I am afraid of losing income, status, even my home, how will it impact the rest of my life? Our church is facing decisions that will lead to changes, and that anxiety-- how do we deal with that? When we have something to lose, do we cling to it at all costs-- even if it means acting out in ways that are hurtful to others? Later in our sermon series on forgiveness we'll examine a text (Luke 17) when Jesus commands the disciples to forgive when someone repents. Their response? "Increase our faith!!" It's hard work. We must learn to relinquish control, lay at the feet of Jesus that which is most dear to us, and honor God as Lord not only of our lives, but of all creation. "If you love your life you will lose it," Jesus says. "Those who lose their life for my sake will save it" (Luke 9:24).
So when I board those planes this summer I will need to remind myself to be still. I will give thanks to God for the many blessings I have received-- not earned, but received as a gift. I will allow God's Spirit to enfold me and carry me where I need to go. In fact, I can have that same attitude today. And so can you. Whatever anxiety you are feeling, whatever you have to lose, I invite you to go ahead and surrender. That anxiety, the fear, the need to control, the uncertainty about the future. Lay it at the cross. Let it go. Today. Right now. Be ready to take up your own cross and follow the Lord into your promised future. Be thankful, and be faithful.