Be The Anvil Upon Which Many Hammers Are Broken

Wright Brothers Bicycles

Samuel Pierpont Langley.  It’s not a name that most people know.  Langley was important in the early days of flight.  He was given the enormous sum of $50,000 around 1900 to pursue the dream of manned flight in an aircraft.  Langley was already well known on the East Coast.  Born and educated in Boston, teaching at Harvard, Secretary of the Smithsonian, followed around by the New York Times.  Langley seemed to have been chosen by fate to have the tools to discover the secret of manned flight.  He seemed to be motivated by creating a place in history.  He spent time with Cornelius Vanderbilt and Alexander Graham Bell.

If it were to happen – certainly it would happen for Samuel Pierpont Langley.

A few hundred miles away there was a Bishop in the United Brethren Church with two boys – Orville and Wilbur.  The New York Times was not following them around.  There were no college graduates in the Wright team.  They had a bicycle shop; probably not worth more than a few thousand dollars. 

We essentially know the rest of the story.  But we might ask, “What really was the difference between the Langley project and the Wright project?”

Some have noted that the difference lay mostly in perception and vision.  Orville and Wilbur were not burdened with the weight of being experts.  They were not burdened with the weight of great expectations.  Rather they were filled with a spirit of discovery, adventure; with the distinct advantage of being amateurs.  Their joy was in the pursuit; and they filled others with that joy, so that those supporting their work gave only what they had in abundance; sweat, blood, and tears.

Each time the brothers went to fly, they had to carry five sets of parts, because that is how often they expected to crash before dark.

On December 17th, 1903, without the experts, without the New York Times, without the best and the brightest, the Wright brothers took flight. They were far from their Ohio home.  They were far from anyone; out in the coastal dunes of North Carolina where the wind was constant and the beaches empty – Kill Devil Hill.

In this section of Luke’s Gospel we find parables, stories, word pictures that Jesus is using to help open the minds of His friends.  Not unlike what we do with children.  Tell them stories to help them understand things that larger than the world they currently inhabit.

We have been in the land of dishonest stewards, of rich and poor men, millstones and mustard seeds.  Life with God is larger and more mysterious than life as you have known it.  While you are growing in the midst of the larger reality, you will be prone to “lose heart.” 

You may feel small, insignificant, or as though God is absent; you may “lose heart.”

And so when all else fails, I want you to be like this widow, become an irritant, be persistent, persevere; using what may be the only tool that you have left, become a stone in God’s shoe. 

This widow is small in her world, and perhaps insignificant.  She has an empty toolbox.  No money, no status, no importance, no virtue signaling, no cultivated opinions, no social registry.  She takes her last tool and uses it to pry a stubborn world to bend.  She is persistent.

When Jesus says “pray,” I am not thinking only of words that rise in the heart or the mouth while sitting a position of repose or worship.

Think about that prayer that you might find yourself saying in a doctor’s office, in a board room, standing over a 4 foot putt at the golf course; that prayer that is collectively uttered in the 4rth quarter when the kicker walks out on the field.  Aren’t those prayers as well?

My sense is that Jesus is talking as much about a disposition in life, a trajectory, as He is about an activity that we have come to call prayer or praying.

Jesus is telling his Friends that they need a little of the pestering spirit about their prayers and their search for God.  They need to be hungry for God; hungrier for God than they might be for anything else in the world.

I believe this is what we see happening on the beach at Kill Devil Hills North Carolina – folks with a smaller tool box, fewer tools, but having the one tool that matters.  Persistence.  Passion.  Hunger. 

If you read an account of life in the North Carolina Barrier Islands, places like Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, it is filled with hours and hours of mosquitoes, biting gnats, scarce food and water – a place Orville called a little Sahara desert.  The Wright brothers spend many weeks across a few years praying and working for their miracle.

Although it was a desert, it was the best place in which to potentially experience the miracle of flying.  I imagine that the Wright brothers walked home many nights tired, with mosquitoes, without their miracle, and with sand filling their shoes.

And then there is a Thursday night when Orville and Wilbur Wright ended up walking four miles to Kitty Hawk, sending a telegram home to Dayton, Ohio.  Again, their shoes filled with sand from a day chasing their dream.  Their father the Bishop read the first word, “Success.”

Each of us are calling out to God in our lives, in that disposition that we call prayer.  And most of us, at least some of the time, wonder where it all leads, where it all goes; “is the universe indifferent to the presence of my needs.”

Jesus is being a friend and a guide; encouraging us before we quit, before we lose heart in our prayers to God, to simply notice {you might say} whether we are walking home with sand in our shoes.

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