Fifth Weekend of Easter (B/RCL)
May 2-3, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Here’s a question for anyone here who was alive in 1969: does the date of July 20, 1969 ring a bell?
I was visiting my Grandma Horton, Aunt Flo & Uncle Ed in Yonkers. I had permission to stay up very late – to see Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong land on the moon.
Here’s part of the Apollo 11 story that isn’t so well known, but that was published in Guideposts not too long after that first lunar landing. Buzz Aldrin was an elder in the Presbyterian church he attended in Texas. He asked his pastor to allow him to take Holy Communion into space with him. Aldrin did indeed transport 1 Communion wafer and a small vial of consecrated wine to the moon.
Shortly after he and Armstrong had landed the Lunar Module “Eagle” on the moon’s surface, ¼ million miles from home, Aldrin transmitted this message back to Earth:
“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.”
Then he ended the radio transmission and read a verse from today’s Gospel from St. John: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
Later Aldrin explained:
“In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup… I ate the tiny Host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the communion elements.”
Aldrin had intended to read the verse from John over the radio, but was dissuaded by NASA personnel who didn’t want to add fuel to the fire of the lawsuit Madelyn Murray O’Hare was pursuing to protest the fact that the Apollo 8 crew read from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas.
Being one of the first two people to walk on the moon could definitely give you a swelled head! But Aldrin chose to remember that we are but branches, grafted onto the Christ vine, and that without our Lord we can do nothing.
The verse reminds us that we are in as great a need of intimate connection with Christ as a baby still in the womb needs its intimate umbilical connection to its mother. We are in as great a need of intimate connection with Christ as a blind person needs her life-giving, life-saving connection with her Seeing Eye dog.
We’ve all heard of the Boston Marathon, run on Patriot’s Day, but I learned of another race, the Boston Athletic Association’s 5K, which attracted 10,000 runners this year. A special component of that race is the Blindfold Challenge. We have a family friend named Becky who is studying optometry in Boston. She and her friend Katelyn participated in the Blindfold Challenge, a creative, daunting fundraiser for Perkins School for the Blind, of which our friend Jane Lang is an alumna. (Jane has blessed our youth and the rest of us by sharing the story of her experience at Perkins School, and the freedom that having a Seeing Eye dog has given her for many, many years now.) Becky ran the 5K blindfolded, with Katelyn as her sighted guide. They finished the race in 29 minutes and 14 seconds, which they were pretty proud of, since Becky had never run a 5K before, and they were a tandem team, a double-wide unit in a sea of 10,000 contestants!
The thank you note we received fir for sponsoring them ended with a quote from a famous alum of Perkins who attended from 1888-1892: Helen Keller. She wrote, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.”
Earlier in His Last Supper discourse in St. John’s Gospel Jesus tells us what that fruit is going to look like:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
Family Promise and the Furniture Bank are two examples of faith-active-in-love ministries performed by our community. They are forms of loving outreach we can perform because we are grafted to the Christ vine.
Jesus goes on to say in today’s Gospel:
“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” (John 15:7)
Isn’t it interesting that He says to His disciples, “You will become my disciples”?
And aren’t we skeptical about believing, “Ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”?
God doesn’t give us a series of blank checks to fill in whatever amount we want to serve our own needs. God the Father does give us the chance to be in such close communion with His Son, to abide in the same sacred space as His Son, through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, that we come to know what God wishes for the world. When we ask for our Father’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, we can ask for whatever we wish, and it will be done for us. Here’s the key: our wishing will be shaped by our abiding. The dear desire of God’s heart will be our heart’s desire, too.
On the way to church yesterday the wedding flowers apparently tipped over in the florist’s van. They arrived with very little water. We refilled the vases, but you may notice there’s a very tired, peaked looking hydrangea in the vase to the left. It’s like a branch cut off from the vine in today’s Gospel. We need to be like the tree in Psalm 1, planted by living water, its roots reaching so far down that even in time of drought its leaves never wither. Dwell in the Word. Seek out the Sacrament. Commune with our Lord in prayer. Don’t take the summer off from worship or prayer. Remember: “Whoever abides in the Lord bears much fruit. Apart from him we can do nothing.” “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham