As you may well know, there are many frustrating things about flying these days. Long lines at security checkpoints - even in our new airport.
Extra fees for extra luggage. All sorts of restrictions that did not exist prior to 9-11.
But there is one thing that is especially frustrating. It doesn’t happen that often – but when it does, almost everyone lets out a moan or a groan.
It’s when the pilot announces there will be a delay in landing – and the control tower has instructed him or her to enter into a holding pattern.
And then the anxiety begins to rise over making connecting flights, or getting to a meeting on time, or just getting home for dinner.
Sometimes the holding patterns are due to weather, or increased traffic being diverted from someplace else. Often it’s because the plane which is leaving the gate where you’re supposed to go – has been delayed in leaving.
No matter what the cause – holding patterns when flying – can really be frustrating.
And they are in life, too.
Some of us are in jobs that feel like holding patterns. We are sort of “stuck” doing the same things over and over and over again –and we can’t wait for the day when we get to retire or have sense to take another job. . .
But one month becomes six, and two years become five – and well, nothing changes.
Unhealthy habits can be like holding patterns. Many of us continue to eat foods that aren’t good for us, or fail to get enough exercise, or fall into addictions that threaten our very survival – but we keep on going, and going. . .
And many of us are in holding patterns in relationships – holding on to grudges for years, or stuck in ruts which we never seem to get out of. Things just stay the same year after year.
And we even get stuck in holding patterns in our faith.
Jesus told the chief priests and the elders: “When John the Baptist came to you - You did not believe him.
But tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you say that, you did not later change your minds and believe in him.”
That was the tag line to the parable Jesus told them. The parable is rather short - as compared to last Sunday’s parable – a dad asks his sons for help in the vineyard - one says no - but then changes his mind. One said yes - but never goes – who did the father’s will?
Jesus says the first - the one who refused – but then changed his mind and went. Then Jesus tells his listeners what would have shocked them all: tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom before all you religious people. . .
UNTHINKABLE – they would have thought.
IMPOSSIBLE - they would have said. These are bad people – they were sinners – certainly outside of God’s good graces. . . But Jesus was implying they were actually doing something to please God - so that they were on the fast track to heaven. . . And what were they doing??
They were attempting to turn their lives around - -that is, they were admitting something was wrong, and they were being honest about what needed to change – and were allowing God to show them a new path forward.
All the while the chief priests and elders were way to comfortable in their own goodness – were embracing a kind of self-righteousness, convinced they were doing things right and they did not have to change a thing. >>
And so they were in a holding pattern – circling and circling - acting exactly the same and thinking exactly the same year after year.
Many of the sinners among them were in a holding pattern, too – repeating the same harmful behaviors – the same sins - over and over again.
They, too, were stuck – mired in lifestyles of which they were probably NOT proud, or maybe even ashamed of.
But some of them listened to the voice deep within them, and listened to the voice of John crying out in the desert - and listening now to the words of Jesus.
AND THEY MADE A CHOICE: to leave their holding pattern - leave what was familiar and comfortable and known – to embrace a new life - filled with God’s grace, mercy, and love.
BECAUSE God’s grace, mercy, and love – are available to anyone at anytime – who respond to God’s invitation to be saved.
The good, but challenge news is: God does not want us to remain in a holding pattern month after month, year after year. God does not want us saying “someday I’ll make the changes I need to make, but not right now.” Or “I’ll get around to it – eventually.” Or “I’m not doing anything really bad, so I’ll just keep at it.”
NO - what God wants is for us to be more – and give more – and love more.
And God doesn’t want that a year from now or after we have settled down in our new job, or home, or family.
God wants us to leave our holding pattern in this moment – in this very day - and to start heading toward our true destination: into the loving arms of God who wants to help is to be the best versions of ourselves — NOW.
We might expect another day – but we might not get one. Our bedsheets could become our burial sheets . . .
And God gives us the means to break our holding pattern - in this moment - in this very day - by giving us the Eucharist – which helps us to change more and more into the image and likeness of Christ –
For what difference does it make if the bread and wine on the altar are changed in the Body and Blood of Christ – if we, at the altar, remain the same?
We just need to do what the tax collectors and other sinners did: we need to honestly admit that we need to be better – decide we can be better – and then do what we need to do to be better – all with God’s help.
Moments in time...