“Under the Influence”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Acts 1:1-14
I Peter 4:12-17, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11

I had an experience last night that I will not soon forget. I helped a beekeeper remove a few thousand bees from a space in the corner of our house above the basement wall. I wore one of his “outfits” and did not get stung even once, but my skin still sort of crawls as I recall it. He was stung on the chin once — through his veil — when he leaned against the basement wall in order to look up into the floor joists.

He hardly flinched when it happened. He just rubbed the spot gently and said, “Hmm, I shouldn’t have done that.” Then he went back to his work. He is a young man, but he demonstrated remarkable wisdom and gentleness. At one point, I stepped back to the opposite side of our laundry room and looked at hundreds and hundreds of bees flying around this gentle soul, while he carefully placed others into a cardboard “hive.” I thought about Jesus’ words, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

After he had influenced as many as possible to take up a new residence in his box, he reluctantly allowed me to more directly control the remainder into the receiving end of our shop vac. I think that pained him more than the sting. After spending about four hours at his task, he simply thanked me for the bees. I tried to tell him, but I wonder if he has any idea how grateful I am that he took them!

A man was once asked to contribute to a symposium entitled, “The Books That Have Most Influenced My Life.” He submitted two: “My mother’s cookbook and my father’s checkbook.” Most of us remain under the influence of our parents forever. Early on it is direct control; later on it is more like remote control — influence. In his excellent work, Remember Who You Are, William Willimon tells a story that reveals how some of the best influence in our lives is often unknown or not clearly remembered. He says:

“Not long ago I commented in my mother’s presence, that one of the most useful courses I took in high school was typing. I have always been grateful that I knew how to type, and I have used my typing skills every day of my life.

‘Aren’t you glad that I made you take typing?’ my mother said, in an offhand way. ‘Made me take typing?’ I asked in disbelief. ‘Yes, I remember it well,’ she replied. ‘You didn’t think you needed it and thought it would be a waste of time. But I told you it could be helpful in later life. You hated it at first, but I insisted that you stick with it.’

“I was surprised, to say the least. I was in the process of congratulating myself on my wisdom, my insight, and my forethought in deciding to take a typing course in high school, only to be told that it was not my idea at all. In fact, I had very little to congratulate myself for. My typing skill had come as a gift, the result of someone else’s care and direction of me.”

Glendon Harris tells this story: “My wife has related to me how she was introduced to cigarette smoking by college classmates when away from home for the first time. She decided against the habit on the basis of not wanting to displease her father who was strongly opposed to it. It was a case of influence or remote control, rather than direct control, for her father probably never knew about it.”

It is the time of the year for many graduations and confirmations. Young men and women continue to move from the direct to the remote control of their parents. Some will proudly announce their intention to live their lives under the influence of another Parent — their heavenly Father.

As the Easter Season draws to a close, so do our readings from the Easter-Baptismal sermon in First Peter. The conclusion contains some excellent advice for graduates, confirmands, and all Christians: “Bow humbly under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may lift you high. Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you.”

Many people think that God handles His universe and people’s lives by direct control. I cannot believe that without being baffled by such things as the murders in Littleton, Colorado, the Holocaust and Hiroshima. We want God to have direct control when we see something we think He ought to control. We often pray for it. On the other hand, we would be the first to gripe if He were violating our free will.

We need to look for God’s remote control in and around us. Jesus promised to be with us always. He also promised to send the Holy Spirit. These great promises, coming just before His death and just before His ascension, reveal Jesus not as a puppeteer, manipulating us from above, but a presence within us, providing guidance, direction and influence. It is clear, at least to me, that the greatest influence God wants to exert on His world is what we do in it. His kingdom and dominion are not the rule of a despot, but the influence of a parent.

It is also clear to me that God wants to influence the world through us. At the time of His resurrection and at His ascension, Jesus emphasized the need to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and all the world and to make disciples of all peoples. His mission is our mission. By His death and resurrection He has set us free from death, sin and the power of the devil. He has also set us free to be His ambassadors, the voice of His Gospel and His hands of service in the world.

Jesus’ prayer for His disciples was “that they may be one just as You and I are one.” Oneness with Him and the Father is the goal of the Church as well. Jesus’ prayer can be our prayer for confirmands and graduates, for ourselves and for our children everyday.

I never had a remote control toy of any kind. The airplanes and helicopters fascinate me, but they are too expensive for a mild curiosity — especially since a novice at the controls could spell disaster. I understand that some of them are now rigged either to turn back or stall if they approach the edge of their signal range. Can you imagine operating the controls and having your airplane get out of range? You would look rather foolish running helplessly after it as it flew off into the sunset.

God’s way of remote control includes our freedom to move out of range. Many people are close to God and His Church at the time of their confirmation or Baptism. Over a period of time, however, His influence and presence become less and less for them. God never moved, but somehow they got out of range. Oddly enough, they didn’t go anywhere either. In fact, it’s where they didn’t go that caused the problem.

It is such a simple invitation, but has such everlasting significance — won’t you come to the Word and Sacrament this Sunday, and get under THE INFLUENCE?

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