Oh Lord, uphold Thou me, that I may uplift Thee.
I want to begin this morning by sharing with you a story I heard sometime ago. It s about Heath Bottomly, who some of you may know as a famous WWII pilot. But what I wish to share this morning isn t about his heroism . . . it goes back to his childhood living in Montana with his six brothers and his father.
One day in August of 1928, Heath s father came home from work talking about a family vacation. That was something they d never done before.
Soon they were in Glacier National Park . . . truly one of the awesome wonders of our country. If you ve ever been there . . . ever driven the Going to the Sun highway which bisects the park in places which seem to touch the sky . . . or hiked the Highline trail which gives views that appear to overlook the whole of creation, you have to wonder if its views like this that Moses saw as he stood over looking the promised land.
Well . . . Heath, his brothers and his father began climbing to the highest of all the glaciers in the park. Finally they were at the top, out of breath and took a winded look around. Dad said, Ssssh. Listen. Heath, with all the patience of a nine year old said, I don t hear anything. It s just the wind and the water going down over the edge of the cliff. I don t hear anything. Dad said, Ssssh. Just look around. Heath said, I don t see much either. Dad went on to explain that from this very point where they stood, they could see four states and Canada. He explained how the stream that trickled down from somewhere up over the edge of the cliff was where all the great oceans began. That left the boys a bit confused. You see the stream was only about a foot wide. That was it. Dad continued to explain that when the water got to the edge of the cliff, it broke into three main branches. Main branches? They were only about three inches apart! But right there, the water did something quite unique.
The water on the right fell into the Misty below and eventually found its way into the Columbia River which dumps into the Pacific Ocean. And the water on the left to the East made its way to the central seaway of the waters that feed into the Mackenzie River that finally find their way to the Arctic Ocean. But the water that shot right over the cliff and fell a thousand feet below onto the mossy rocks . . . that water made its way to Saint Mary s Lake, which is the headwater of the Milk River, which feeds into the Missouri which feeds into the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico . . . and finally into the Atlantic Ocean. [p]
The boys were spellbound. Then the their father did something quite unforgettable. He walked out to the edge of cliff got down on his hands and knees . . . and then down on his belly. He slithered his way right to the edge. When he was there, he reached out his hands and let the water trickle through his fingers. The boys were amazed. After a few minutes, he came back from the edge. And declared that this was the top of the world. This was where all the great seas were born the waters running through his fingers were the waters that make the great tides and oceans. Little Heath s mind was racing such a drama.
Then their father motioned to the boys that it was time to start heading back down. They got into a line and began snaking their way to the bottom. But little Heath didn t move. He had something else in mind. He turned and started walking to the edge himself. There, he got down on his hands and knees, and then his belly and slithered to the rim. But what he did was very different. He put his hand, and his arm, and then half his body right in the path of the stream going to the left and the center. And he redirected all that water to the stream heading to the right. And he sat there . . . and he sat there . . . and his body was freezing he was ice cold from the frigid water.
Soon, his father came back grasped him by the arm and pulled him from the edge of the cliff. Looking him in the eye Heath s father said: Son! I m so proud of you. Because you are only nine years old and already you understand that you can change the world. You took water that was going into the Atlantic . . . and specifically, deliberately directed it back into the Pacific. Dad grabbed his hand with a great big smile and ran to catch up to his brothers.
Imagine how Heath felt. He was on fire with the thought that he had the potential to change the world. You see, for Heath, the Atlantic would always be the shallow ocean and the Pacific the deep one, because of what he d done.1
The power to change the world believe it or not that is what God has given us, the power to change the world, the power to make this life of ours a little better, a little kinder, a little more just. In our reading this morning from the Epistle to the Hebrews the author says, What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet. God has given us the greatest of gifts the richness of this earth, the pleasure of one another s company, his son Jesus to show us the way, and the ability to make decisions about how we are going to live in this world. And in spite of the fact that our individual choices may seem very trivial when weighed against the billions of people on this planet, they do in fact make a difference.
Like Heath lying on that cliff we may at times feel as if all we can do is change things very little, as if the good we try to achieve is only a drop in the bucket, a trickle of what it takes to actually make this world a better place. And form our limited point of view that may be absolutely correct. But we must never forget that the decisions wee make, the actions we set in motion, whether for good or for ill, they have a life beyond us, they continue downstream, and far below us as our small ripples join others and they do indeed make a difference.
Blessedly, I have been given the occasion to see that the thirty minute conversation I had with a person struggling with addiction, a conversation I considered wasted breath, was in fact the beginning of their road back to health and sobriety. Blessedly, I have seen that one class, one lecture on the nature of faith, the importance of prayer, or the never ending love of God can open a person to God s presence in a way he/she never before imagined. Blessedly Dana, Nancy and others have shown us that a few dollars of support, given to a person at a critical time in their lives, can mean the difference for a family on the edge between having a home and being homeless. Blessedly, I have seen that very simple acts of love and support given to children day after day in our Children s Center can mean all the difference for a child at risk. Literally, that simple love and attention can set them on paths to health and wholeness when they might well have fallen through the cracks.
Why should you give of your money and your precious time to a world in need when those efforts seem like only a drop in the ocean? – because those actions have the potential to change the world. Our faith is predicated on the belief that one man – who taught and healed and loved those around him for three short years – did in fact change the world. He changed it by the way he lived and he changed it in his willingness to die for all that is good and right and true. You and I who follow this man have the exact same calling.
Are you willing to get wet? Are you willing to do what you can to shift the currents of life in the right direction? Are you willing to put yourself and your gifts out there in service to something greater then your self? Give because God has given to you. Give because you have been blessed. Give because none of us can ever show enough gratitude for all that we have. Open your hearts, open your wallets and give because you know that in the end it just may make all the difference in the world. Amen.
1 Adapted from a sermon by The Rev. Peter Wiley