Thursday, September 2, 2010

Annie's Story ©

Editor's Note: I wish I could remember exactly when this sermon was first written, but for some reason it's not dated.  He preached it for the second time at his parents' 50th wedding anniversary the summer of 2000.

Annie had been impatiently looking forward to her vacation in Greece for several months.  It was winter in the Northwest, but it was a balmy and sunny climate on the island she had picked for her week long personal retreat.  She had her Bible, some study helps, and her devotional journal.  The beach village was far enough from the resorts and tourist spots so that she had been able to pack light – as far as wardrobe was concerned.  This was a time for spiritual re-creation.  She knew she needed it.  She had gotten “a little lax” in her spiritual disciplines in recent months.  But just getting on the plane helped her feel closer to Jesus.

A typical cold and rainy day made it easy to say good-bye to Seattle.  The flight to London had been uneventful.  She was midway between London and Athens when she heard the sounds of a serious conflict – yelling and shoving up in the front of the plane.  A flight attendant was on her intercom to the cockpit, and her face hinted that something was wrong.

And then the pilot himself was on the public address.  The news was not good.  He announced that a group with a strange religious name (Allah’s Right Arm of Vengeance) had commandeered the plane.  Annie’s flight had been hijacked.

It felt like hours, but in fact a few minutes later the pilot came back on the intercom to say the terrorist group wanted to land on schedule in Athens.  In the mean time they would come back and speak directly to the passengers.

Three men with weapons walked back toward the middle of the plane.  One began speaking in a loud, angry, ranting voice.  A second man held a picture of Jesus, about 2 feet by 3 feet in size.  The third man began to translate into English, the angry foreigner’s speech.

The tirade was filled with toxic hate for all Christians.  They had contaminated and ruined his homeland.  Every disease, industrial accident and criminal event was blamed on missionaries and Christians in general.  To make it personal, the speaker’s only daughter had died during surgery performed by a missionary doctor.

Then the translator said non-Christians would be free to depart in Athens.  All they had to do was spit on the face of Jesus.  With the speech done, the speaker went back to the first class section with some other comrades, while the remaining two men walked to the back of the plane.

Annie felt a movement and turned to see her neighbor jerk a crucifix from her neck and stuff it in the crack between the seats.  Around the plane she heard muffled conversation and a few stifled sobs.
Annie thought she would vomit.  Her stomach was so upset she couldn’t think or pray.  She had never been so scared.  The thought flashed through her mind:  No one knows what Jesus looked like.  In the picture the hijacker held – Jesus had blue eyes.  Annie knew there wasn’t much chance of “the real Jesus” having blue eyes.  And after all it was “just a picture”.

It seemed like only a few moments had passed before they landed and were parked in the middle of a runway.  One emergency exit had been deployed.  And then it began.

Apparently none of the first class passengers were Christians because Annie heard a lot of noise – shouting and crying and people sliding down the chute, but no gun fire.

When they came through the curtain into her section she could see some slobbery spit dripping down the picture.  The first person pointed to got up and seemed genuinely glad to spit on the face of “the picture” – Annie had stopped calling it a picture of Jesus.

A few more were not so obviously happy about it.  Some had tears, some just looked terrified but they all spit as much as they could muster . . . until a teenage boy was pushed forward.  He tried to wipe the saliva off the picture with his sleeve.  One of the terrorists clubbed him in the stomach with the butt of a gun.  Two others screamed at him to spit.  He said very softly, “I choose Jesus.”  One of the terrorists shot him above his right ear.  Two others dragged his body up to the front of the plane and threw it down to the tarmac.  Annie thought she could hear the thud from where she was sitting near the back of the plane.  If she hadn't hear it, she was sure she felt it.

The terrorists gave another frenzied speech about how easy it was to get off the plane alive – if they would just spit on Jesus.

Annie began to search her heart – how much action, how much commitment does faith require?  What did Jesus mean in Mark 8:35 when He said, “If anyone is ashamed of Me . . . The Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in His Father’s glory.”

Did He mean that to apply in a situation like this?  After all, had not Peter expressed real shame for Jesus, when he was afraid for his life?

The context of this passage is the Last Supper.  The meal had just concluded when Jesus told them of their coming cowardice.   The closeness and affection of this new covenant meal, intended to bond them into a family, was being ruined with talk of disloyalty and betrayal.  This was ironic -- focus of the meal was violently spilled blood and broken body of their leader.  None of the disciples seemed to hear the good news of Jesus’ rising after His death.  The bad news was all they heard.  Peter was especially offended.

In a way it was progress.  Always before, when Jesus predicted the details of His death – the disciples ignored it.  Peter is finally convinced that the crisis will not be avoided.  But now he plans to join Jesus in the battle and if need be, die in a heroic death.

Peter does not doubt that others will fail – but he is so convinced of his own loyalty and strength that he declares that even if he is the only one left, he will not fail Jesus!  Peter is not blowing smoke.  His feelings are sincere.  But he is clearly weaker than he knows.  And Jesus tries to tell him.
I understand Peter’s protest.  How often have you or I been convinced that a particular sin is the farthest thing from us – when it is the closest of all?  The things we least anticipate are our sudden failures.  Peter sincerely thought his loyalty was stronger than the rest.

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