High-flying geese and the church

Way back then, he looked so, so, so old. He waddled to the pulpit and all my fears of what seminary would be like were instantly intensified. But, this first chapel experience at Wartburg Theological Seminary would turn out to be one I would never forget. His voice cracked and his speech was extremely slow, but each word was an artful expression of why he loved the church, with all its brokenness, failure, and disappointment — the church is where God has chosen to show his love to us. We all sat there in tears!

Today I’d like to share a few of the reasons why I love the church. In doing so, I’m going to borrow some analogies from a little book called, High-Flying Geese.

Did you know—that when at least 25 birds fly in formation, their aerodynamics are drastically improved? They have a range increase of 70% over a single bird doing his own thing. Geese fly in formation. That isn’t news. But it may be news to learn that in formation, they have a 70% advantage over a single goose.

Reflecting on our years at Mt. Zion

We have seen you fly in formation in so many ways:

  • all those people helping the poor through Tosa Cares
  • musicians — singing, playing together, making beautiful sounds…
  • Sunday School teachers — united in creatively teaching the story of Jesus
  • Marketing team members — sharing ideas about how to invite others to come and see
  • Leadership teams — praying, thinking together and leading the flock of Mt Zion to follow Jesus

All this flying in formation, proclaiming the Gospel and so much more, gets done because more than just the pastors are doing the work of God’s people, the church.

Geese become airborne with air and breathing

Most air-breathing animals have lungs that are dead ends. They breathe in air to cleanse the blood, and then exhale it. But birds have open-ended lungs. They breathe in air, to cleanse the blood, but then the air goes into a marvelous system of sacs, and even the larger bones! So an otherwise earthbound creature is now buoyant in both water and air. In short, birds are held up not only by the air around them, but in them as well!

Remember the story of Pentecost, when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, “And suddenly a sound came from heaven, like the rush of a mighty wind and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. We sing hymns like “Breathe on me, Breath of God,” and in prayer we invite God to come into us to fill us with his Holy Spirit, so that we can become airborne.

Content to stay where we are

The explanation to the Creed reminds us that without the Holy Spirit, we can’t have faith. We can’t be airborne and we are content to stay where we are. Soren Kierkegaard tells a famous parable about a wild goose.

The wild goose went to live with some tame geese. The wild goose was fetermined to change these tame geese, who now are content to only live a life of leisure. The food was plenty, there were no dangers, they were so comfortable. But, the story turns, and the once-wild goose lives with the tame heese, until he himself becomes tame. Every year, when other wild geese would honk in flight overhead, he would flutter his wings a little, and rise a bit, and resolve to join them. But he never did!

Every congregation lives in constant danger of becoming like that once-wild goose. Now tame, content, apathetic! God made us to be airborne disciples, daily answering the call to pick up our cross and follow him. That is what it is to be the church, faith active in love. We come to worship because this airborne community of faith has discovered what it takes to remain airborne. The lifting power of the church is sustained by the indwelling of God’s gracious, Holy Spirit.

We get that Holy Spirit through God’s word and sacraments. That Holy Breath fills our lungs and keeps us above the despair and guilt of the world. That is also, why we love the church.

Honking — intense, loud, urgent

Most of us have heard geese honking. It’s intense, loud, urgent — important to what they are doing. It’s how they keep in touch, how they encourage each other, how they alert one another to danger. The church needs honking too!

Like a flock of geese, we, too, are a community in flight — a community in passage. We are not only a people of the way, but we are also people on the way. We honk especially loudly in worship, when we sing together, pray together, confess the faith together. Like the old saying goes, “when we pray together, we stay together.” This honking keeps us flying in formation.

Geese keep company with the fallen

One November day, two geese, somehow separated from the family to which they belonged, settled down on a small beach behind a tavern, in Tiburon, California. The two geese quickly won the interest of the bartenders and the waitresses and the people. Soon, it was discovered, that one goose was blind, and that the other had bravely sacrificed his migratory freedom to stay behind, to keep his mate company.

A child who was late in returning from an errand, explained to her worried parents that she had come across a friend who had dropped her beloved china doll, and it had smashed to bits on the sidewalk. “Oh,” her father said, “You stopped to help her pick up the pieces?”

The child answered, “No, I stopped to help her cry.”

We help others to cry. God’s love is stronger than death itself. Thank you for each funeral you come to, each hug you give, each time you share the love of God in some way.

Geese change leaders

High-flying geese change leaders when the leader gets tired, and can’t lead his best any more. Another of the geese flies into position and takes over, and the flock continues moving ahead, airborne by the air in their lungs. That’s true in congregations too.

Let’s recap, Mt Zion

  • When flying in formation so much more is accomplished.
  • Open lungs for flight. Only the Holy Spirit gives us life — we can’t fly on our own, we need God’s Holy Spirit.
  • Honk from behind. We keep the faith and we encourage one another along the journey of life.
  • Keep company with the fallen. As disciples we pass on the love of God. Becoming air-borne through the merciful, forgiving Holy Spirit, the grace of God lifts us again.

Mt Zion flock may you always breathe in this Holy Spirit, rise again and again and again, and fly high! Amen.

 

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