"A Work in Progress"

Have you ever spent time watching eagle's, they're so majestic and powerful.

Well in many ways the eagle reminds me of God not only because of their majesty and power but because of the way they prepare their children for life.

And when I think about how God has interacted with me throughout my faith journey, often times it has been in a way that is best illustrated by how a mother eagle interacts with her children.

The mother eagle builds her nest on the side of a cliff, not on the top where it would be vulnerable but on the side.

It's built with great skill, a nest largely constructed of branches intertwined to make it strong.

On top of the branches there are smaller sticks and then they are held there by briars woven over them, and then on top of the briars lies a covering, which is often the skin of animals or rags collected by the eagles, or soft downy feathers and grass to make it soft and comfortable.

And once the eggs have been laid, it becomes a great place for the eagle to sit until they are hatched. Then it becomes a mother's duty to feed those little eagles, a seemingly endless task.

She feeds one at a time, going away, bringing back food, then another, then another, and I am told by people who study eagles that if you mix the eaglets up while she's gone, when she comes back she pauses a moment and then she knows exactly which one got fed last and goes on to the next one.

That's uncanny in and of its self. She makes sure they are all equally nourished. One day when she comes back however, she doesn't rest on the side of the nest as she had been doing. She's got nothing in her mouth to feed the little eagles and they are puzzled. This time she flies up and hovers almost motionless in mid air about three feet above the nest.

I don't know if you knew an eagle could do that or not but it can do what a hummingbird can do. Almost remaining stationary with all of its weight, moving its wings ever so gently above its nest. And I suppose if little eagles could talk, one might say to another "well, look how big mother is. I never knew mother was so big and so powerful and so strong."

And that's the point.

The mother eagle must now teach her little ones that they are destined not to stay in that nest but to fly. They are supposed to fly. And that those curious appendages on their backs actually have some useful function. They are called wings and they are to be used when they've grown enough.

So on this particular day, hovering overhead, the mother eagle descends into the nest, snuggles up against the little ones with her great head beside them, and begins to move them out of the center of the nest ever so slightly to the edges, then all the way to the edge she nudges them.

Then again if they could speak one would say "Mother, you wouldn't!" and just as the eagle says that, the mother tosses them out of the nest. What a moment as they go plummeting downward, downward toward the earth. Surely thinking that they were about to be destroyed by their own mother. But not so.

Quick as a flash, the mother eagle swoops down, catches them on her wings or her back, and brings them back up to the nest. Does she do this because she doesn't like them anymore? No, because she loves them and they have to learn how to fly, and they never will as long as they are safe and secure in the nest.

And on another day sometime later, when the mother returns to her young, she stands on the edge of the nest and begins to pull out the feathers and the leaves. Then she breaks up the sticks and gets rid of those. And she pushes them down on those briars.

"Mother," they might say, "what are you doing to us?"

She pays no attention, continues to pull the nest apart, and as long as they stay in the nest, she will never teach them how to fly. So she lets them down in the bottom of the nest, all the grass is gone, all the downy feathers, and she lays down one of her soft strong wings, and she invites them to get up on the wing.

They don't want to do that so she beats on them. That's called tough love, I think. She beats on them, and then finally one of them will take its little claws, and hold on. Then they all get on there and then she takes off. Flying, soaring, and lifting herself straight up, and they are flying.

Those little eagles hold on for dear life as she goes up, mile after mile, soaring, drifting, winging her way across the sky. Then she returns to the nest, puts her wing down again, they get back on those briars, and say "Whoops!"

Jump back up on her wing and away they go again. It's a marvelous thing. Then sometimes when she's flying, she puts on the brakes in mid air, lurches forward, and they all fall off. Again plummeting to the earth, and again she swoops down, and catches them amazingly on her wings with superb accuracy. And then finally, she repeats this until they stretch out their own wings and fly.

Side by side, soaring, gliding with their mother. Returning to their nest, they look, and then fly back to the sky. Done forever with the nest.

In many ways this is how God helps us leave our comfort zone by getting us to fly, encouraging us to move forward on our spiritual journey.

And as I look back on my spiritual journey thus far I can see where God threw me out of the nest several times, and said Wade you have to fly, but don't worry I'm there to catch you if you fall. This was never more true then my call to ministry.

Some of you have heard this story before, but I share it again because for me it illustrates God's desire for us to move out of our comfort zone so we can continue to grow. To move out of our pews which have become our nests, if you will, to the world where it is uncomfortable and challenging. It also illustrates how God attempts to communicate with us when pushing us out of the nest.

One Sunday in 1994 I read the scripture lesson during the morning worship service. This was the first time in my life that I had ever spoken in front of a congregation. Immediately after the service a member of the congregation came up to me and stated he thought I did a great job reading and he asked me if I had ever given any thought of going into the ministry.

I certainly appreciated the comments and thanked the person. But then I said to myself, me a Pastor, you have got to be kidding. Again in 1995 I read the scripture lesson during the morning worship service. Immediately after the service a women in the congregation came up to me and stated she thought I did a great job reading and she asked me if I had ever given any thought of going into the ministry.

Once again I expressed my thanks to the person for the kind comments, But as I had done before I said to myself, me a Pastor, you have got to be kidding.

It's clear to me now God was using these people to get through to me, like the mother eagle beating on her baby eagles, and at the very least to plant a seed, an idea.

Then in the spring of 1997 my pastor asked me if I would serve as the Stewardship Committee Chairperson. I reluctantly said yes and quickly added I have no clue what I'm supposed to do. My pastor gave me an overview of the position and handed me 3 books on Christian Stewardship so that I could brush up on the subject.

That year as we left for our summer vacation I threw the books into a bag, and I can remember saying something like, "I'll take these along in case I get bored." I wasn't much for reading back in those days I found it boring, but I took them along anyway. By the end of our week's vacation I had read all three books and was looking for more. You see these books opened my eyes to a lifestyle, a Christian lifestyle, which I had not experienced in quit the same way before. God was beginning to make the nest uncomfortable. Of course once again I didn't realize it at the time.

Then in the fall of the same year my pastor asked me if I would be willing to preach a sermon on Stewardship. My jaw about hit the floor as I said, me are you crazy? But once again I hesitantly said yes. Although extremely nervous I enjoyed preaching that Sunday morning about a topic I have become very passionate about, Christian stewardship.

As before, several people came up to me after the service to express their kind thoughts on my effort, and once again a member of the congregation ask me that question, have you ever thought of going into the ministry? This time that question resonated even louder within me. But as I did two years earlier I dismissed the notion and didn't think anymore of it.

At this point God was probably saying, "What do I have to do to get through to this guy?" We all need to understand that one way God reveals His plans is through others. In my case God was using members of the congregation and my pastor on a repeated basis to get my attention, kind of nudging me with his wing if you will.

But as before I continued to ignore God, and continued to view these comments as just being very kind and thoughtful. But God being persistent didn't give up on me, and I thank Him for that. Since nudging me with his wing wasn't working God decided to try a more direct approach in the summer of 1999. It was time to be thrown from the nest.

For 16 years my family had gone to the beach in the summer to enjoy a week's vacation. The first 10 years we always went with John and Helene, very good friends of ours. John and I always had a mission when we went to the beach. That mission was to find a large conch shell. You know the kind of shell you can put up to you ear to hear the ocean through. We knew finding such a shell on the area of the Outer Banks we frequented would be somewhat of a rare find because of the ever present sand bar just off the shore line. Finding any shell intact larger then a 50-cent piece, other then clamshells, on that beach was considered a good find. However, that didn't deter us from our annual quest and it always gave us something to do. Unfortunately John and I never did find a conch shell.

About ten years ago my good friend John died of a rare disease. At his graveside I vowed to continue looking for "our" shell anytime I went to the beach knowing he would be with me in spirit. So every year since John's death I looked for "our" shell with no luck.

Well in the summer of 1999 my family once again ventured to the beach, as we always did for our annual summer vacation. I was especially looking forward to this vacation because for a year I had been struggling with feeling empty not really knowing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

I had become very frustrated because by most "worldly standards" I was very successful. I had a successful professional life, a wonderful family, and seem to have what most people strive for. What more could there be and what could possibly be missing. My frustration grew and grew, and was taking a toll on me. I experienced restless sleep every night, a feeling of inadequacy, and self-doubt. I just felt unfulfilled and felt something was missing in my life.

But being the proud person I am, the man that can resolve any problem, I kept trying to figure this out on my own. Once again I believe God was trying to get through to me. He was trying to get my attention, he was nudging me. Anyway, I was bound and determined to figure out what was bothering me. I figured a vacation was just what I needed to sort everything out.

So that summer as we arrived at the beach I once again did what I had done every year since John's death. The first day on the beach, I stood on top of the sand dune, faced the ocean, looked to the heavens with out stretched arms and asked, "John, is this year I find our shell?"

This year, while I was standing there, without really thinking about it I also started to pray "God I am frustrated with what I am doing with my life and don't know why. I need your help so I am turning my life over to you. You lead and I will follow."

Following that quick prayer I walked down to the beach to join my family and friends where they had set up our towels and chairs. My boys, as they usually were, were down in the water playing so I went down and stood in the water with Susan to watch them. I waded into the water just far enough so the waves would break at my knees. As I stood there watching the boys I felt something hit my leg. It startled me and I jumped thinking it was a crab or some other sea creature attacking me.

When I looked down to see what it was I saw a white object next to my foot so I quickly bent down to grab it before it washed back out to sea. To my amazement that object was this conch shell.

Needless to say I was very excited.

As I walked back to our beach towels with the shell I remembered the prayer I had said earlier. As I stood looking at the shell I was overcome with this indescribable feeling, I truly felt the presence of the Holy Spirit throughout my body. I immediately knew that the shell in my hand was God's invitation for me to open my heart to Him, to leave the nest and to fly. At that moment I knew God was there with me, he was there to help; all I had to do was turn my life over to Him and fly.

For the rest of our vacation my mind was filled with thoughts of nothing but becoming a pastor. God used this moment to call me, to reveal his plan to me. The key was I had to surrender myself to him, trust him, and open my heart to let him in. By the way this conch shell was the only shell of any kind we found the entire week, and I've never found another one since.

Now my spiritual journey much like most peoples has been filled with peaks and valleys, and long and winding roads. But without exception I find that when I stop asking God how he can fit into my agenda, and ask God how I can fit into his agenda I tend to walk a straighter path.

Now it's not without it's challenges and I clearly remain a work in progress. Often times when we speak of our spiritual journeys we want to speak of the final destination. But I don't believe our final destination is what we should focus on, it's the journey.

Through the blood of Christ our final destination is assured.

And I think all to often if we focus solely on our final place with God, rather then on the journey and the excitement of growing, learning, and sharing with others what the ultimate destination is all about, we miss an important part of life.

I want to encourage all of us as we walk with God to leave the nest and to fly, to step out in faith and trust that no matter what we do God will be there to catch us, to support us, and to lead us.

Spread your wings and allow the gentle blowing breeze of the Holy Spirit to carry you as you continue to grow and mature in faith remembering that "God will raise you up on Eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand."


Read other homilies by Pastor Wade