What Happens When The Church Fails To Launch?
June 4 2017
As a child I was fanatical about NASA. I can remember playing on the school playground pretending to be an astronaut and remember when John Glenn made the first orbit around the earth, and distinctly remember the excitement when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. As I got older I built Estes rockets and launched them into the air. My dad’s experience of being a pilot in World War II made him excited about NASA and space exploration, so it was a passion we shared, It seemed that all of America was enthralled with NASA during the 1960’s. I have a friend who is a minister in Florida who still loves anything to do with NASA and tries to make it to the Kennedy Space Center to watch a launch whenever he can. NASA still holds the attention of many people. Some of you know Dan Combs, a local man who loves NASA. There was an article about him and programs he does about NASA in the newspaper recently. NASA and space travel still captures our attention.
Picture with me a rocket on a launch pad. The sky is clear and blue . The white shell of the spacecraft is gleaming in the sun. The countdown concludes — five … four … three … two … one … blast-off! It’s a thrilling moment. Except when the rocket fails to launch.
Exactly 21 years ago today, on June 4, 1996, a cluster of four spacecraft were launched on the maiden flight of a rocket called Ariane 5. Unfortunately, the rocket flew off course just 37 seconds after launch. Disintegration began, and then its flight termination system caused it to self-destruct. Ka-boom! The four spacecraft were lost .No people were aboard, fortunately, so it was not like the1986 Challenger disaster that killed 7 astronauts, but it was still a costly failure. The problem with the Ariane 5 disaster was an error in the software design. It became one of the most expensive software bugs in history, resulting in a loss of more than $370 million dollars. Since that time, the Ariane 5 has become one of the most reliable of rockets, with more than 90 flights.
Acts 2 tells us the story of another type of launch. The launch of the Church. On the day of Pentecost, the apostles of Jesus were all together in the city of Jerusalem. The word “apostle” means “messenger” or “one who is sent forth.” The apostles were on the launch pad, ready to be sent forth.
Five … four … three … two … one …
Acts 2: 2 tells us what happened:
“Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind”
The sound filled the house where they were sitting, like the firing of the main engine of an rocket.
Then verse 3 tells us that “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” Perhaps these tongues looked like the fire that comes out of the two solid rocket boosters that ignite just a few seconds after the main engine of the Ariane rocket.
Then verse 4 continues the launch — “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”
The apostles began to “lift off”, as it were, causing amazement and astonishment among the people gathered in Jerusalem. This international crowd heard the apostles using a variety of languages, “speaking about God’s deeds of power” as verse 11 puts it. Then the apostle Peter took a bold stand in front of the crowd and told them that the coming of the Spirit was a fulfillment of ancient prophecy. The launch of the Christian church was the beginning of a new era, one in which, as Peter put it in verse 21, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (v. 21).
We have a lift off.
On the day of Pentecost, the Christian church experienced a successful launch. It escaped the gravitational pull of a skeptical crowd and achieved an orbit that it continues to inhabit today. But we each have a role to play in keeping the church from crashing and burning. It seems that at times the Church faces a “failure to launch syndrome.” I’m not suggesting that the Church did not launch at Pentecost. It did. The power of the Holy Spirit was present. Full, complete countdown and launch. But I am saying that that sometimes, the local expression of the church universal has problems getting off the launch pad.
Why is that?
It happens when Christians are not adequately fueled, properly programmed and on the right course. Only when all three are in place can the church complete its mission. It happens when we are not adequately fueled, properly programmed and on the right course So let’s do a countdown:
Three: At times we need to be adequately fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that the apostles blasted off successfully in Jerusalem because , as it says in Acts 2:4 “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. Without the inspiration of the Spirit the local expression of the church will never get off the ground.
So where can we get this high-octane, highly volatile spiritual fill-up? We can get it in worship, for starters. We can pray for the Holy Spirit to help us hear God’s Word. We can ask for the Spirit to heal us, touch us and transform us. We can trust the Spirit to make Christ present to us in the bread and cup of Communion that we will celebrate in a few minutes. Worship is not just a human activity. It’s an activity that is both human and divine, with Jesus really present through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, we need to get out of our comfort zones to experience the power of the Spirit.
So – countdown — three – we need fueling by the Holy Spirit.
Two: We need to be need to be properly programmed to connect with our neighbors
On the day of Pentecost, the apostles “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability” as Acts 2:4 tells it. These backwoods Galileans did not expect the international crowd in Jerusalem to learn Aramaic, the language that each of them had grown up speaking. Instead, they used the diverse languages given to them by the Spirit to speak to the people around them about God’s deeds of power. We can program ourselves to make connections, learning new languages and new communication tools to reach our neighbors. Everything we do should be programmed to make connections.
So – three – we need fueling by the Holy Sprit –
Two – we need to be properly programmed to connect with our neighbors.
One: Inspired by the Spirit and programmed to make connections, we can embark on a mission of sharing good news with people around us. In Jerusalem, Peter stood up and promised that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”. He gave his hearers a message of inclusion and hope. While we may not join Peter in preaching on street corners, we can follow his lead by building relationships based on authentic concern.
So here is our countdown.
Three – fueling b the Holy Sprit
Two — properly programmed to connect with our neighbors.
One – embarking on a mission of sharing Good News with all people.
If we can let God work in our lives and our church in these ways, we will not have a failure to launch, but will launch with God’s spirit and be the Church that God wants us to be.
Friends—come to the table and partake of the Sacrament. Let God speak to you and empower you to be the Christian God calls you to be. Let all of us experience the fueling of the Holy Spirit, the programming of God to connect with those around us, and embark on the mission of sharing God with all people. The Sprit can indeed come upon us, and we can have a lift off. Amen.