The flight home was canceled.
Gracious and generous friends had provided for my family to go visit them in Arizona. My only condition: I couldn’t take an additional Sunday away from worship. So, leave on Monday, fly back Friday night on a redeye, so even if it’s late, I would be back in time for worship. I arranged a pulpit swap so that I could repeat a sermon. (And now putting those two thoughts so close together, I realize that I wanted to be home for worship… and then wasn’t home for worship. I’m a genius.) Part of the pulpit swap was preaching at 5:30 Saturday evening, but we were due to get back at eight in the morning. Even getting in late, I should be able to get in a nap before preaching, right?
And then they canceled the flight.
About a hundred passengers crowded around the service desk on Friday night, staring in disbelief. This woman was a maid of honor flying to the wedding. This couple was going on their first vacation in a decade, to an all-expense-included resort. Five days.
And then they told us: Busy holiday weekend. Every other plane is booked solid. Soonest we can get you out is Monday.
Yes, they had to call airport security. Yes, I was nearly witness to/ involved in/ willing to start a riot.
I’m going to name names: Spirit. Spirit canceled two flights on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend and sent notices out five minutes before they recommend that you be at the airport. We had no problem with them on the way down (several annoyances, but no problems). And then, as they start dealing with the mob… well, maybe it was the employee fed up with someone canceling a flight and her having to deal with it, but she was not gracious to anyone. “I found a flight for you on Monday. It’s that or we refund your ticket. Those are your choices. No, I won’t try to find anything else.” No understanding given, just… well, I wasn’t pleased.
They tackled each passenger individually. International fliers were given priority (and this is a thing I understand and support). An hour and a half after we were supposed to take off, I got tired of waiting and went up to the counter and found a woman. I explained, “I’m a pastor. I need to get home for worship. I’m supposed to be there at 5:30 tomorrow.”
And this woman, oh, God bless her. Her face broke. “I understand. I’m a Christian. I’m going to get you home.”
And she did. About a half-hour later she called me. Flying home on a different airline later that morning – takeoff at seven, home by one. Her airline lost more than two grand on the swap.
By that time, it wasn’t worth driving back to our hosts and then back to the airport. We said goodbye, and my Bride and children bedded down. I stayed awake to watch over them (and also, I couldn’t sleep on the airport floor). Made it to the airplane on time. And… I passed out at last.
For two hours.
Plane touched down. We got home by four. No time for a nap – time to change, review sermon (probably a good idea, huh?) and get to the church.
By then I’d slept two hours over the previous thirty-eight. If this were college, I’d have no problem. But now… oh, exhaustion. I got dizzy simply standing. Every time I sat down, I blacked out briefly. How could I possibly have enough energy to preach a sermon? How could I stay conscious? I honestly feared passing out in the middle.
And God’s Word was preached. He fed his people.
And I’m not the one who did it. Or, rather, I can take no credit. None. I had no energy. How could I? My mind was gone. And yet, God used me. He gets all the credit, and I get none. He took this sorry, exhausted shell of a man and used him to encourage his people.
This morning: three church services. And, man, did I not want to wake up. And once again, God carried me through. Once again, I can take no credit. I got an email from a person I don’t usually hear from thanking me for the sermon, calling out one specific part. Somehow God took me at my most exhausted and blessed his people.
Because it’s not about the messenger. It’s about the message. It’s about law and gospel, sin and grace. It’s about God’s love for us at our weakest, at our most evil, at our most shameful… and being broken on our behalf, taking the wrath of God, and giving us his righteousness. And that message, whether spoken from lips wide awake or lips heavy with sleep, that message gives life.
I got home and fell onto the bed. My Bride, oh, how good she is! She brought lunch up to me because I didn’t have the strength to go down the stairs. I slept… and then, it was time for our evening service here.
I had prepared this before leaving and had reviewed. I knew I could teach it, but man. Sleep sounded so good.
There are not many weeks when I am happy that no one shows up. (I don’t think it’s ever happened to me, but low attendance can be an instant depressive episode.) But today… no one showed. And the computer broke, meaning we couldn’t stream. I had only my family there.
We did a family devotion – deeper than I would usually go with just us, sure, but…
…I am content. God has given me rest. I’m not happy about the decisions others have made. I’m not pleased that others are sick or have chosen to say that other things are more important than praising God.
But I’m not upset that I now have the opportunity to rest.
Over the next week or so, I hope to type up some observations from my vacation. God used it well to encourage me and give me rest… even if the ending was exhausting! For now, I am content. God has used me, even as a shell, to bless his people. It is good to be used by an expert craftsman.
And now, I’m going to go sleep some.