by David Phelps
"Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person." - Mother Teresa
It's time for my fifth(!) annual column about the balloons that decorate our church on Easter Sunday morning. This time, I'll be talking about what happens before church, as well as during and after. As you may have guessed, those balloons don't just appear in the nave of the church, fully inflated with strings tied on them; someone has to put them where they belong. This Easter Sunday, I was one of the people who tied the strings on the balloons after they were inflated. At one point, Susan Ford and I took opposite ends of the same string, and we were preparing to tie it to both of our balloons. Fortunately, we realized our error in time. Afterward, I wondered, who is holding our string?
If no one is holding the string of one of the balloons, or if it doesn't have a string tied to it, the balloon will go up to the ceiling at the first opportunity. If you're outside, it will go off in whatever direction the wind is blowing. If we don't have anyone holding our "string," we will go off in all directions, like the balloons. The only way we can have order in our lives is to be sure the right one is holding our string.
I thought of this again during the service, when we read the Prayer of Confession: "We have turned away from what is right and good. We have participated in those actions which sent Jesus to the cross. We have rejected Christ as out of date and impractical. We set our minds on things of the Earth rather than on your will." This is the very definition of "sin:" Turning from the way of God to our own way. Just as a balloon cannot hold its own string, we cannot control our own lives.
One night, on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus' disciples were in a boat that was being tossed about by the wind (Mt. 14:22-24). Jesus walked toward them on the water and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." (Mt.14:27b). Peter got out of the boat and began walking toward Jesus on the water, but when he looked at the wind and the waves he began to sink. He cried out, "Lord, save me!" and Jesus immediately reached out and kept him from sinking (Mt. 14:29-31). As soon as Peter forgot who was holding his string, the wind began to blow him about, but when Peter and Jesus returned to the boat, the wind grew calm again (Mt. 14:32).
Without Jesus, the disciples were scattered and confused (Mt. 26:31). And without Jesus in our lives, we are also confused and directionless.
Winds from weather are not the only ones that can toss us around in life. Paul warned the Ephesians about "every wind of teaching" (Eph. 4:14). When our faith is solidly anchored, the storms of weather, life, and teachings can blow against us and toss us around, but they can't make us lose our connection to the one who holds our string (Mt. 7:24-27).
All around us, there are people who have no one holding their strings; they have no one in control of their lives, no source of stability. The winds of life are blowing them about and they are in danger of being blown away with no one to keep them in place. We know how they can gain the same stability in their lives that we have in ours, and we owe it to them to let them know.
There's another wind, one that creates order instead of disorder, and gives direction instead of chaos. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples, ". . . a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting." (Acts 2:2a). When we went out onto the church lawn and released our balloons, they seemed to fly off at random. But we know that the God who controls our lives is the same God who controls the winds (Mk. 4:39-41, Lk. 8:24-25), and that God will blow the balloons where they need to go. And when we go forth, we are driven by the strong, sure wind of God's spirit.
"Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.
I sink in life's alarms when by myself I stand; imprison me within thine arms, and strong shall be my hand.
"My heart is weak and poor until it master find; it has no spring of action sure, it varies with the wind.
It cannot freely move till thou hast wrought its chain; enslave it with thy matchless love, and deathless it shall reign."
"Make Me a Captive, Lord," vs. 1-2