With the recent passing of Neil Armstrong at the age of 82, we lost one of America’s great explorers – and my generation lost one of its great historical and cultural icons. In the summer of 1969, I was entering the sixth grade, and was a major space geek who followed just about every aspect of the Apollo 11 moon flight – in fact, I seem to recall spending a lot of that summer putting together a rather flimsy cardboard model of the Lunar Module! Extreme? Perhaps …but I know I wasn’t alone in that back then – those of us who are old enough to remember that particular July will no doubt always carry with us those grainy, black and white television images of Neil Armstrong stepping on to the surface of the moon for the first time. Apparently, however, one of the more interesting things that happened on that historic walk on the moon is something that few people know about.
It seems that Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had been instructed to put up a series of reflector shields at a specific location of the lunar surface, so that via laser beam technology an observatory in Houston would be able to study the moon’s environment long after the astronauts had returned to earth. The astronauts set up the shields at what they believed was the exact location, but when the scientists back on earth gave the laser technology a test run, the lasers sent from earth missed the shields on the moon completely. The scientists immediately radioed back to the astronauts that obviously, they’d miscalculated the placing of the shields, and so Armstrong and Aldrin checked and rechecked their recalculations, and told Houston to try again. But nothing was working.
What America didn’t hear on TV that night was that things apparently got a tad testy, with the scientists in Houston quite literally snapping at the astronauts on the moon to stop wasting time and money and find the right coordinates! But I guess the moon is rather a good place to be in an argument, because the two astronauts pretty much shouted back in unison, “Look, why don’t you guys try to figure out where the blazes you are!”
Turned out that despite all the technology there on the moon, nobody thought of what was happening on earth. And sure enough, 30 minutes of calculations later, the scientists discovered that they had miscalculated by some 200 feet the accurate coordinates of the McDonald Observatory in Houston!
There’s a lesson of faith and discipleship to be learned there. Jesus tells us that as his followers, we are “the light of the world,” but before we start beaming our light to illuminate the bright way for others, we’d best know exactly where we are and how and where that light is shining! It’s easier than we realize for our lights to become hidden, or worse, to shine off in some odd direction based on where we happened to be at the time. Like the Pharisees and Scribes of Jesus’ time, men of faith who knew the letter of the law but couldn’t grasp the love that fulfilled the law, you and I run the risk at times letting our faith veer off from the Christ-centered to the self-centered. Before we set out to shine for God, it’s always a good idea to come back to the source for a bit of recalculation – through prayer and meditation, in worship together with kindred hearts, we rediscover what discipleship truly means, and what our light is for!
Because that knowledge makes a big difference whether we realize it or not. William Willimon has put this very well: “It’s a great gift to know that your life is caught up in some vast, cosmic program of Jesus. You are the way Jesus is busy turning inside out the whole world, enlivening the whole universe. So little things you do, little things like the way you spend your money, the words you use to speak to other people ….the jokes you tell, the manner in which you spend your time are transformed from being purely personal matters …into great cosmic witness to the Light of the World.”
Simply put, your very life is a witness! You … you of all people (!) … and me along with you; we are meant to be a light to those in darkness, a light that will be part of the furtherance of God’s will and purpose in the world. It only stands to reason that we might need to be spiritually recharged and directed as you begin (Church is a great place for that to happen, by the way . . . just sayin’!).
As the song goes …“let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”