Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sermon for Year B Epiphany 5

“Every day is a great day now”

Every day is a great day now.

Those might be the words of Simon’s mother-in-law
after Jesus heals her.
In our modern day world of medicine
we usually don’t take a fever all that seriously.
But this was not the case in the first century.
People could die from a fever.
We hear the story as part of Mark’s gospel
because it is another example of a healing miracle performed by Jesus.
No less amazing than causing demons to come out of amn.
Simon’s mother-in-law is healed.

Every day is a great day now.
Actually those are not the words of Simon’s mother-in-law.
Those are the words of Gerry McNamara, a friend of a friend of my brother.
This friend, an attorney like my brother, was on the US Airways flight
that crashed into the Hudson River.
You likely know that everyone—all 155 passengers and crew—
survived that crash.

Gerry McNamara shared his experience with the members of his firm
And some friends
And my brother emailed me a copy
of what Gerry wrote about that experience.
His email was titled: Every day is a great day now.

I share this story with you
Because I believe it directly relates to our gospel reading today.
And I will get to that.
But first, listen to this story.

Listen to it with parallel ears—
Hear the story of Gerry McNamara’s experience.
Hear the story of Simon’s mother=in=law.
Hear, perhaps, your own story of a time
when you have received a second chance.

Here is the story:

Thursday was a difficult day for all of us at the firm
and I left the Park Avenue office in the early afternoon
to catch a cab bound for LaGuardia Airport.

I was scheduled for a 5 pm departure,
but able to secure a seat on the earlier flight
scheduled to leave at 3 PM.
As many of us who fly frequently often do,
I recall wondering if I’d just placed myself
on a flight I shouldn’t be on!

I remember walking on the plane and seeing
a fellow with grey hair in the cockpit
and thinking,
“That’s a good thing—I like to see grey hair in the cockpit!”
I was seated in 8F,
on the starboard side window and next to a young business man.
The New York to Charlotte flight
is one I’ve taken what seems like hundreds of times over the years.

We take off north over the Bronx and as we climb,
turn west over the Hudson River to New Jersey and tack south.
I love to fly, always have,
and this flight plan gives a great view of several NY landmarks
including Yankee Stadium and the George Washington Bridge.

I had started to point out items of interest to the gentleman next to me
when we heard a terrible crash---
a sound no one ever wants to hear while flying—
and then the engines wound down to a screeching halt.

10 seconds later, there was a strong smell of jet fuel.
I knew we would be landing
And thought the pilot would take us down no doubt to Newark Airport.
As we began to turn south I noticed the pilot lining up on the river—
still—I thought—en route for Newark.

Next thing we heard was “Brace for impact!”—
a phase I had heard many years before an active duty Marine officer
but never before on a commercial air flight.

Everyone looked at each other in shock.
It all happened so fast we were astonished!
We began to descend rapidly and it started to sink in.
This is the last flight. I’m going to die today.
This is it.
I recited my favorite Bible verse, prayed the Lord’s Prayer,
and asked God to take care of my wife, children, family and friends.
When I raised my head I noticed people texting their friends and family—
getting off a last message.
My Blackberry was turned off and in my trouser pocket…
no time to get at it.

Our descent continued and I prayed for courage to control my fear
and help if able.
I quickly realized that one of two things was going to happen,
neither of them good.
We could hit by the nose, flip and break up, leaving few if any survivors,
bodies, cold water, fuel.
Or we could hit one of the wings and roll and flip with the same result.
I tightened my seat belt as tight as I could possibly get it
so I would remain intact.
As we came in for the landing,
I looked out the windows
and remember seeing the buildings of New Jersey,
the cliffs of Weehawken, and then the piers.

The water was dark green and sure to be freezing cold.
The flight attendants were yelling in unison, “Brace! Brace! Brace!”

It was a violent hit—the water flew up over my window—
but we bobbed up and were all amazed we remained intact.

There was some panic—people jumping over seats
and running towards the doors,
But we soon got everyone straightened out and calmed down.

There were a lot of people that took leadership roles in little ways.
Those sitting at the doors over the wing did a fantastic job…
they were opened in a New York second!

Everyone worked together—
teamed up and in groups to figure out how to help each other.
I exited on the starboard side of the plane,
3 or 4 rows behind my seat
through a door over the wing
and was, I believe the 10th or 12 person out.

I took my seat cushion as a flotation device
and once outside saw I was the only one who did…
none of us remembered to take the yellow inflatable life vests
from under the seat.

We were standing in 6-8 inches of water and it was freezing.
There were two women on the wing,
one of whom slipped off into the water.
Another passenger and I pulled her back on
and had her kneel down to keep from falling off again.
By that point we were totally soaked
and absolutely frozen from the icy wind.

The ferries were the first to arrive,
And although they’re not made for rescue, they did an incredible job.

The first ferry boat pulled its bow up to the tip of the wing,
and the first mate lowered the Jacobs ladder down to us.

We got a couple of people up the ladder to safety,
but the current was strong,
pushing the stern of the boat into the inflatable slide
and we were afraid it would puncture it..
There must have been 25 passengers in it by now.

Only two or three were able to board the first ferry before it moved away.
Another ferry came up,
and were able to get the woman that had fallen into the water
on the ladder,
but she just couldn’t move her legs and fell off.

Back onto the ladder she went;
however, the ferry had to back away because of the swift current.

A helicopter arrived (nearly blowing us all off the wing)
and followed the ferry with the woman on the ladder.
We lost view of the situation
but I believe the helicopter lowered its basket to rescue her.

As more ferries arrive,
we were able to get people up on the boats a few at a time.
The fellow in front of me feel off the ladder and into the water.
When we got him back on the ladder
he could not move his legs to climb.
I couldn’t’ help him from my position
so I climbed up the ladder to the ferry deck
where the first mate and I hoisted the Jacob’s ladder with him on it..
When he got close enough we grabbed his trouser belt
and hauled him on deck.
We were all safely off the wing.

We could not stop shaking.
Uncontrollable shaking.
The only thing I had with me was my Blackberry,
Which had gotten wet and wasn’t working.
(It started working again a few hours later)

The ferry took us to the Weehawken Terminal in NJ
where I borrowed a phone
and called my wife to let her know I was okay.

At the terminal, first responders assessed everyone’s condition
And sent people to the hospital as needed.
I stayed with my sister on Long Island that evening,
then flew home the next day.

I am struck by what was truly a miracle.
Had this happened a few hours later,
it would have been pitch dark
and much harder to land.

Ferries would no longer have been running after rush hour
and it would not have been the same uplifting story.
Surely there would have been fatalities, hypothermia, an absolute disaster!

I witnessed the best of humanity that day.
I and everyone on that plane survived
And have been given a second change.
I wanted to share this story—the story of a miracle.
I am thankful to be here to tell the tale.
There is a great deal to be learned including:
Why has this happened to me?
Why have I survived
and what am I supposed to do with this gift?

For me, the answers to these questions and more will come over time,
but already I find myself being more patient and forgiving,
less critical and judgmental.

For now I have 4 lessons I would like to share:

1. Cherish your families as never before
and go to great lengths to keep your promises.

2. Be thankful and grateful for everything you have
and don’t’ worry about the things you don’t have.

3. Keep in shape. You never know when you’ll be called upon
to save your own life,
or help someone else save theirs.

4. When you fly, wear practical clothing.
You never who when you’ll end up in an emergency
or on an icy wing in flip flops and pajamas or high heels
and of absolutely no use to yourself or anyone else.

Thanks to all you have reached out…I look forward to seeing you soon!
That is one person’s story of a day that he thought would be his last day.
He was give a second chance.
And now every day is a great day.

Simon’s mother-in-law was given a second chance.
She was saved from a fever, an illness, that could have ended her life.
In Jesus, we see the very best in humanity.
Someone who takes time to help someone who needs help.
The best of humanity reaches out and touches and heals.
We all know that not everyone gets a second chance,
Not everyone is saved from disaster.
That is the part we do not understand.
That is where our ways are not God’s ways,
God’s mind is not our mind.

But often we say that miracles like those in the Bible
don’t happen any more.
Perhaps we only need to open our eyes.
Miracles do happen.
A plane lands in the Hudson River and everyone—EVERY ONE---survives.

God works through Jesus.
God works through a pilot on a USAirways flight.
But not just through the pilot—
through everyone—the flight attendants, the passengers,
the ferry boat crews, first responders, every one.

God works through you and through me.
In ways we cannot ask or imagine.

When we see life—daily, ordinary life—as the miracle it truly is,
We begin to understand why Simon’s mother-in-law,
When healed,
got up and immediately began to serve.

The Greek work for “serve” in this passage is diakonia.
The same word that is the root of our word deacon.

She served because she was thankful.
She served as a way of showing her gratitude to God.
She served not because it was her duty or anyone’s expectation.
She served because in Jesus she had seen the best of humanity.
She received a second chance.

She did not care that she understood the miracle of her healing
or how it scientifically happened.
She only cared that she had a new day to offer her gifts,
to God and to the people in her life.

Every day is a great day now.
This is how we are called to live.
This is how we are called to serve.

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