A few years ago, Theodore J. Wardlaw, President of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas, was charged with writing an article about “Preaching on Generosity.” I found it helpful as we find ourselves working through our financial distress that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus. The article had nothing to do with a “tried and true” stewardship campaign but a call to remembrance that “we were born to be a blessing and to bless others and to receive the blessings of others.” Such an attitude is all set in the framework that “life is measured not in terms of what we own, but in terms of Who owns us.”
Wardlaw goes on to share that one of his favorite columnists was Roger Rosenblatt who years ago collected some of his most cherished essays into a book titled The Man in the Water. The book’s title was originally the title of a particularly moving piece Rosenblatt wrote back in 1982 when a commercial jet taking off from Reagan National Airport in Washington was unable to get airborne because of ice on its wings and hit a bridge and plunged into the frozen waters of the Potomac River. Rescuers came from everywhere, and television cameras captured dramatic footage of a man clinging with five others to the tail section of the aircraft that was bobbing up and down in the frigid waters. Every time a helicopter lowered a life-line and a flotation ring to the man, he would wave it off and pass it to another of the passengers. Time after time until that man – overcome by the cold himself – finally went under himself, joining the other seventy-three on the plane who did not survive.
This act of selflessness grabbed Rosenblatt to put into words what a lot of folk were thinking as they were watching the televised drama playing out before their eyes. “At some moment in the water he must have realized that he would not live if he continued to hand over the rope and ring to others. He had to know it, no matter how gradual the effect of the cold. In his judgment he had no choice. When the helicopter took off with what was to be the last survivor, he watched everything in the world move away from him, and he deliberately let it happen…The odd thing is that we do not even believe that the man in the water lost his fight….He could not make ice storms, or freeze the water until it froze the blood. But he could hand life over to a stranger….The man in the water pitted himself against an implacable, impersonal enemy; he fought it with charity; and he held it to a standoff. He was the best we can be.”
Some may look at this man as a hero. Truth is, every day I am reminded that the world is filled with living embodiments of generosity. They may not have always started out that way, but after encounters with the One who owns us, their discovered their faithful destinies. “He was the best we can be,” could aptly portray how we describe Jesus to others. But we also are able to see Jesus in others and perhaps one day within ourselves. For we are not our own; we belong instead to the One who owns us!
See you Sunday,