I want to begin a short series of sermons starting with the question, “Who is packing your parachute?”  The question is not an original one.  The question comes from a man named Charlie Plumb.  Some years ago, I had the honor of spending some time with Charlie.  Charlie was a US Navy pilot during the Vietnam War.  Charlie was shot down over Vietnam and held in their prisons for 2,103 days, that is just short of 6 years.  He was confined to 8’ x 8’ cell most of that time.  He was tortured and he was starved.  In 1973, now 50 years ago, Charlie and the other prisoners of war were returned to the United States.

          I want to introduce Charlie to you through a video segment as he introduces the question, “Who is packing your parachute?”  VIDEO

          Charlie’s story is compelling and asks, “Who is packing your parachute?” and by implication, “Whose parachute are you packing?”  How might we approach these questions in a way that brings a deeper sense of purpose to our lives and a greater understanding of the ultimate reality of God?  Let’s consider first what a parachute in Charlie’s case represented.  For Charlie, the parachute was first an essential piece of equipment necessary for life.  Charlie would not live without that parachute.  Second, Charlie’s parachute was a gift provided by another.  Charlie did not own the parashoot nor did he pack it. Someone gave it to him.  Third, Charlie’s parachute, when deployed, gave Charlie great joy.  Charlie was not happy about landing in Vietnam, but he had joy in seeing the 15 of 18 panels above his head.  A parachute for Charlie was essential to his life, it was a gift from another, and it brought great joy to Charlie when it was used.  Let’s keep those thoughts in mind as we now shift our attention to our New Testament reading today from the Gospel of Luke.

          Luke shared with us that Jesus appointed seventy-two people from among his followers and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. “2 He [Jesus] told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road’” (Luke 10:1-4).

          The 72 people Jesus appointed were not a collection of random people who happened to be standing around one day with nothing to do.  The 72 people Jesus saw that day had seen Jesus’ miracles.  They had heard Jesus’ teachings and words of life.  They had witness Jesus stand up against the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  The 72 people had received Jesus as their Lord.  These 72 people had been equipped with life because they had received lifegiving truths from Jesus.  They were saved.  Salvation by faith in Jesus which is essential for life had been given to these 72 people, just as Charlie Plumb’s parachute, essential to his mortal life, had been given to him.  The 72 were saved.

          Do we think about our salvation often? Believing in Jesus, having faith that Jesus was and is the Son of God and that through him we are forgiven all our sins and given life should be foremost in our minds, but we know it is not. We know that the commonplace experiences of life blur and make dull the magnificence of being saved.  This is why it is so important for each of us to join in worship.  Worship creates the renewing opportunity for us to refocus our hearts, minds, souls, and strength on God.  It must have been an awesome moment in the lives of the 72 believers in Jesus to stand before Jesus and be appointed by him to go forward and share the essential lifegiving news that had been given to them.  We too can have that sense of wonder if we remember daily that we are saved.

We also see here that Jesus was in and around the lands of Samaria, an area that was hostile to the Jews and unwelcoming to Jesus.  Jesus was on a mission to make his way to Jerusalem. Nothing would deter Jesus from his mission to arrive in Jerusalem and share the good news of God’s kingdom with those who would receive it.  As Jesus prepared move forward, Jesus appointed 72 people to go ahead of him.  The mission of the 72 was to prepare the people of the different villages and towns for Jesus’ coming with the message of salvation. 

Jesus saw that what he was asking these 72 people to do was difficult and potentially dangerous; hence they would be lambs without their shepherd among wolves.  Jesus told them to take with them nothing of material value, no purse, bag, or extra sandals.  Having nothing of value to carry did three things for the 72 appointees. 

First, if you have nothing of material value, thieves will not bother with you.  When vacationing in Oahu, we learned to leave nothing of value in our rental car and to keep the car unlocked.  Thieves would then be able to go through your car, realize there is nothing valuable, and leave the car alone.  If you locked your car, the thieves would smash their way in to see what was of value. Jesus’ appointees had nothing of material value to thieves and robbers they would encounter on the road.  Second, having nothing of material value kept Jesus’ appointees humble and focused on the mission.  Third, having nothing of material value made it clear to the villagers and townspeople that the value Jesus’ appointees possessed was in the message of salvation through Christ.

Jesus then told his appointees, “5 When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.  8 When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:5-9).

Jesus gave the 72 practical instructions on being gracious and grateful guests.  And then Jesus told them to do two specific things for their hosts.  First, if there are sick among your hosts, offer healing. Second, to all, offer the message of hope that the kingdom of God, the Son of God has come.  To offer healing to another person is a ministry of grace, it is a gift given to the 72 appointees through the Holy Spirit.  Some of you have been given the gift of bringing healing to the bodies of others.  You treat the wounds and scars of illness and injury.  Some of you have been given the gift of bringing healing to the soul of others. You treat the wounds and scars of trauma and tragedy.  And all of us have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to share the good news of the kingdom of God.  With and through the Holy Spirit you and I have been given the opportunity to bring hope to everyone we meet.

The Holy Spirit given to the 72 appointees is the same Holy Spirit given to you and me.  The Holy Spirit is not ours to own nor is the Holy Spirit of our creation.  The Holy Spirit is given to us to accomplish a mission. Like Charlie Plumb’s case, the parachute was not of his creation nor was the parachute his to own.  The parachute was given to him to be used.

I want to fast forward to the end of today’s passage.  In a single sentence Luke summarized the entirety of the experience of the 72 appointees after they had gone to the villages. After the 72 appointees completed that mission, we read in verse 17, “17 The seventy-two returned with joy” (Luke 10:17a). 

I find these few words amazing and inspiring.  The 72 appointees were sent into these towns and villages nearing the end of Jesus’ public ministry.  We will say in or about the year 33 A.D.  Luke, our author, was not one of the 72 appointees.  Luke interviewed eyewitnesses and compiled memories from those who were present during Jesus’ ministry.  Luke wrote his gospel account likely around 62 A.D., or about 30 years after the events.  Thirty years after the 72 appointees went into the villages and towns ahead of Jesus to heal and bring the good news of Jesus to those who had not heard of him the experience was summed up in one word, joy.  “17 The seventy-two returned with joy” (Luke 10:17a).

Joy.  Joy is not the same thing as happiness.  Happiness is based upon temporary experiences.  We can see this if we fill in the blank in the statement, “I was so happy when…”

  • You smiled at me.
  • They played my favorite song.
  • They finally went home!

Happiness is temporary and cannot remain when circumstances become difficult.  Joy on the other hand is an experience of God’s grace.  Joy sustains us amid trouble and hardship.  Joy allows us to see good in the immediate circumstance regardless of how difficult they may be.  When our good friend Charlie Plumb looked up and saw the 15 of 18 panels on his parachute intact and working, Charlie was not happy for he was drifting slowly into enemy territory.  But even in amid difficult circumstances Charlie could express joy that he had been equipped by another with a lifegiving gift.  The 72 appointees experienced joy when they allowed the Holy Spirit to work through them.  And so can we.

          Who is packing your spiritual parachute?  Are you saved and allowing God’s Holy Spirit to move you into a ministry of grace?  If you are, then you know joy.  If you are not extending God’s grace, then like the very old commercial used to say, “Try it, you’ll like it.”  It fact, more than like it, you will find joy.

          Today, is a special day because we celebrate with the Lord’s Supper.  This is special because today Jesus packs our parachute with something extra, a visible and tangible reminder that we are saved.  Jesus knew our everyday existence would make our relationship with him dulled.  The Lord’s Supper was intended to change our dullness by reminding us that the source of our salvation, the source of our life, comes from our Lord and Savior, Jesus.  The Lord’s Supper was intended to change our lackadaisical attitudes by remembering our salvation was a gift.  We did nothing to earn our salvation.  All the work necessary for us to move from death to life was done for us by Jesus upon the cross.  We alone need to accept and believe in what Jesus did and who he is.  Finally, the Lord’s Supper was intended to remind us that even in the most difficult of trials, trauma, and yes, even gently landing in enemy territory, there can be joy in possessing and exercising the presence of God’s Holy Spirit.

          Let us prepare ourselves to remember that we are saved and therefore have the gift of life and joy.  Amen and Amen.