The words of Psalm 8, read by Karen a few minutes ago, reveal a sense of awe and wonder for the universe common in people in ancient times. Said the Psalmist to God: “When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?”
The citizens of our nation looked at the moon for decades dreaming of a day that an American might journey there and be the first to set foot upon it. As you all know, 50 years ago, yesterday, Astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, and tens of thousands more working behind the scenes for years made that dream come true.
The three astronauts only had to travel 953,054 miles on the rocket ship, Columbia, to get to the moon. It was a roundtrip which took 8 days to complete. Imagine the frequent flyer miles they would have earned if they took that celestial flight today!
My son, Casey, was fascinated with the moon as a child--He and I recently watched a CNN special which I had taped on the moon landing and it used footage in H.D. from NASA and the National archives which was breathtaking. At times I felt close to tears as I thought about all the things that had to go right for those astronauts to first, make it to the moon, then set the lunar module safely down upon it, explore the surface, then take off and dock with Columbia, and make it back to earth.
It took a unity of purpose which is lacking in our nation and around the world today. It seems at times we are more focused on terrestrial extermination than celestial exploration in 2019.
Sadly, just 50 years after two Americans walked on the moon, our democracy is in real peril.
I remember President Nixon congratulating the astronauts after their historic journey—yet many Americans today seem to want a King rather than a President.
For those of us who are, at times, discouraged by life on earth in 2019, the success of the voyage of Apollo 11 can give us hope that it’s not too late for us to come to our senses and be the United States of America, again, rather than the hopelessly divided states of America.
The voyage of Apollo 11 reminds us that Americans can do anything we put our minds to. We can overcome the most challenging obstacles and scale the highest mountains, even daunting peaks of racism, homophobia and xenophobia (the fear of strangers)—overcome them if we just take a leap of faith and allow God’s wisdom and grace to guide us.
Speaking of courage amid obstacles, I learned an interesting fact this past week about that historic day when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin approached the moon’s surface on Lunar Module Eagle.They faced a sudden and dangerous challenge that no one knew about at the time.
A journalist writes:
“In the final descent to the moon…astronaut Neil Armstrong had a problem that he did not tell Houston about.
“In a span of just 12 minutes, the astronauts would have to bring their lunar module from 50,000 feet above the moon—orbiting around it at several thousand miles per hour—to the moon’s surface in what was basically a controlled fall.
“Unbeknownst to anyone at Mission Control, unvented air had pushed the Eagle farther and faster apart from Columbia than planned, and it was on a path that would overshoot its carefully chosen landing spot by four miles.
“At several hundred feet above the moon’s surface, Armstrong could see a large crater with boulders the size of cars. He took control [of the Eagle] from the computer and flew it manually, slowing the descent dramatically to only 9 feet per second.
Maneuvering with only about 20 seconds of fuel left, he located a lunar landmark as a reference point and settled the Eagle onto the Sea of Tranquility so softly that neither astronaut felt the impact.”
Friends, I will never forget the smile on my dad’s face and the tears in his eyes as we watched the coverage together of Neil Armstrong preparing to be the first person to walk on the moon—I was 10 years old and my Dad, Ted, was 34. Still grieving the murders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy in 1968—Americans needed a healing unifying moment in 1969 and Neil Armstrong gave it to us.
As he stepped down onto the lunar surface, Neil Armstrong said:
“That’s one small step for a man—one giant leap for mankind.” An estimated 530 million people watching on live TV celebrated the historic moment. Such a historic day was made possible by Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collin’s courage to take “a leap of faith”—for the mission to the moon had only a 50-50 chance of success. With these odds would you have agreed to go if you were a well-trained astronaut?
In our second lesson this morning we heard the story of two sisters, Mary and Martha, who were challenged to take a leap of faith so that they could live as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Mary, despite the pressure upon her to stay within culturally defined gender set for women in the First Century, takes a leap of faith, and sits at the feet of Jesus.
That was the posture of serious students in Jesus’ day, male or female. By her actions that day Mary essentially says: “That’s one small step for a woman, one giant leap for womankind.” With a leap of faith, Mary ignores the sexist attitude of the world around her, including her sister, who wonder why she put down her broom and apron in order to be a student of Jesus. Mary will not accept the place that her sister and society says she belongs. She hungers to leave the kitchen and go to school—the School of Christ.
A careful reading of the text shows us that Mary is never critical of Martha’s choice to cook and clean and serve the guests—it is Martha alone whop uses angry words toward Mary and is even critical of Jesus, her houseguest. Jesus, to his credit, does not take the easy way out and say: “I’m staying out of this!” He doesn’t stay neutral and allow these two sisters to work out their differences alone. In choosing to take sides we could say that Jesus too takes a leap of faith. With his words praising Mary’s choice to be a student of his teachings—Jesus reveals the equal place of women in his community of faith. And the right of women to determine their own destiny—to make choices of what path they will take in life.
After being accused of not caring about what’s happening in her home, Jesus says to Martha rather pointedly: "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."
Kristin Berkey-Abbott, director of education at City College’s campus in Hollywood, Florida, who blogs at Liberation Theology Lutheran, commenting on the story of Mary and Martha writes: “Many of us women were raised to be like Martha. Think about the last time someone visited your home. Perhaps you spent [hours or days] before their arrival getting ready…
sometimes the process of getting ready for the arrival of guests can leave us too exhausted to enjoy their visit.” [Friends, Martha doesn’t seem to be enjoying Jesus visit in the slightest.] Martha scurries around so much that she can’t be present for Jesus.
Berkey-Abbott asks:“How often are our lives similar? We often get so consumed by the chores of daily life that we neglect to notice the sacred in our midst.
“Though this story [in Luke] revolves around women, men are not exempt from this paradigm. All [of us] must wrestle with the question of how to balance the chores that are necessary to sustain life with the spiritual nourishment that we need so desperately….
“In Martha’s defense, she does have a visitor. Perhaps this makes her behavior different, a bit more amplified than usual. She’s likely making special efforts so that her guest feels welcome. The ancient world had expectations and rituals around hospitality that were much more rigid than anything most 21st century Americans experience.”
“But when Jesus tells Martha that she worries about too many things, the implication is that all the issues that cause her anxiety aren’t ultimately very important.”
Friends, Jesus says: “One thing is needful and its not cooking or cleaning—it is being awake to the presence of God in your midst. Save the work for later—sit with Jesus now. “It’s a story that we, with our increasingly hectic lives, need to hear again for we need to be reminded to stay alert. Busyness is a drug that dulls the senses.
Charging through our to-do lists, staring at our phones, can be a way of quelling the anxiety. But in our busyness, we can forget what’s really important. We can forget to focus on Christ and [his teachings and living the way he invites us to live] “Whatever the customs of hospitality Martha is adhering to, Jesus spends much of his ministry reminding people that social expectations can keep us from what is most important: our relationships with God and others. “[Indeed] Jesus reminds Martha [and all of us] that Mary has chosen what’s most important: listening to God.”
In closing, no one had more on their minds, 50 years ago, yesterday, than those astronauts as they sat on the moon in the lunar module Eagle, far from earth preparing to walk on the moon. Imagine the “to-do” list of two men who are 500,000 miles away from the earth with the hope of making it back home in one piece. No doubt they are alert as human beings can be, yet, with much on their minds.”
I wonder if there was there any room in their minds on that historic day for a thought about God? I certainly wouldn’t judge them if they didn’t. They had a lot on their plates.
Then to my surprise I came across the following detail about that day on the moon which answered my question if God was on their minds.
An historian writes:
“The mood on the lunar module was sober. Both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin knew how important their mission was.”
Said Neil Armstrong years later: “I was certainly aware that this was a culmination of the work of 300,000 to 400,000 people over a decade and that the nation’s hopes and outward appearance largely rested on how the results came out…”
Friends, despite that pressure, astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, a member of the Webster Presbyterian Church just outside of Houston, Texas, was not too busy or too distracted or too stressed, to sense the sacred in his midst—to sense the presence of God. At one point, Buzz Aldrin pulls out a tiny silver chalice, 3 inches high, that he had brought on the flight with him in order to celebrate the Lord’s Supper deep in space.
But first, with a message that any person on earth, no matter their religion could embrace, Buzz Aldrin gets on the modules microphone and says:
“Houston, Tranquility, over.
A voice on earth responds:
“Tranquility, this is Houston, over.
“Roger, this is the LM pilot.
I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in,
whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate
the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.
Roger, Tranquility base.
And then Buzz Aldrin quietly read to himself these words of Jesus from the gospel of John: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Whoever remains with me and I in him, will bear much fruit. For you can do nothing without me.”Moments later, astronaut and Presbyterian, Buzz Aldrin, celebrated communion—he alone partook of the host and then drank from the tiny chalice.
Looking back on that moment Buzz Aldrin wrote: “In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup.”Said Aldrin: It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements.”
Friends, whenever we find ourselves feeling over-burdened, or overwhelmed, by the stresses, sorrows or challenges of life, may God’s grace enable us to quiet our hearts and minds. For it is in such moments of stillness, our spirits at peace, that we are able to truly listen and to sense the presence of the sacred. To sense the love that will never let us go.