“Flying First Class”
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
Bus Grace Video
Grace. God’s unearned, unmerited love is what unites us and binds us together. We never know when it will enter our lives. It’s always there; always available, we just never know when the Grace of the Kingdom of God will break in upon us. And it does. Over and over again. Sometimes, out of the clear blue, when we least expect, Grace Happens. Our spirits are lifted.
Grace is like having our tickets or seats Upgraded to First Class when we’re flying? When we experience God’s Grace it’s like Flying First Class. And that’s what brings us here today. Let’s look at the passage from Ephesians 1:3-13 (NRSV) and see what Paul has to say.
 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.
 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,
 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace
 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight
 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,
 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.
 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit”
Have you ever flown First Class? I’ve only had the privilege of flying in First Class three times. Twice when I was in the Coast Guard. Both of those were with military standby tickets. In other words, if there was room on the plane, I got seat, if not, I stood by until a seat going my direction opened up.
The third time I chose to fly First Class because I needed the room. I had made a very fast trip to St. Louis for a family crisis. After a week of being with my family in that situation, I was worn out and I just wanted to spread out and have some room on the flight back, so I upgraded my ticket.
The one thing I remember most about First Class seating was the amount of room you had. The seats felt half again as wide as those back in the cattle car, I mean business class or economy class sections.
On long, cross country or international flights, the other amenities in First Class were awesome. The food didn’t taste like the rubber chicken, stale bread and half done frozen veggies all served with a child’s tea party size silverware. The one First Class meal I experienced actually came with shrimp cocktail and fresh fruit.
I think Flying First Class, especially when I didn’t pay for it, was fun. I also think Flying First Class is a metaphor for the kind of life God wants us to live in Christ. The Apostle Paul talks about how God has “lavished the riches of His grace on us.” and to me that equates to being Upgraded to First Class.
A. You see, in the world’s eyes we’re all pretty worthless unless the world can get something from us. But in God’s eyes we are all God’s children. And God doesn’t really want anything more than to “lavish God’s love, and the riches of God’s Grace, upon us.” God offers us an Upgrade.
I read about a preacher who flying to a continuing education event a few years ago and was sitting in the first row of the economy section where he could look into the First Class Section. As he was watching the passengers board, he noticed an older couple in First Class. They were all smiles and friendliness and looked like the kind of people everybody would want to get to know. He also noticed a couple of soldiers who were just coming back from overseas. When this couple saw them, their faces lit up; they stood up, engaged to soldiers in conversation and then exchanged their First Class tickets for the soldiers economy class tickets.
The soldiers had the most surprised look on their faces and when they realized it wasn’t a joke smiled from ear to ear. He said, the older couple had huge grins on their faces too as they went back to the economy seats. As they walked by he heard the man say to his wife, "I love doing that."
This preacher said he couldn’t help himself; once the flight took off he went back, excused and introduced himself & asked why. Now here’s the cool part. They both acted a little sheepish and shy but had grins on their faces and said, "Oh, it was Nothing. But it sure made those soldier's day, didn't it?"
And then he explained, "We’re not bragging, but we do that all the time. We have been so blessed. We love to travel and we love blessing other people. We purposely buy First Class tickets for every trip so we can give them away to Service men and women; a young mother traveling with her child; an elderly couple on their 50th anniversary trip. There was this newlywed couple we heard counting pennies for lunch one time, trying go see her grandmother who was sick. It brings them so much joy. And us, too. But mostly it honors God because we’ve been blessed to be a blessing and that’s one of the ways we try to be a blessing"
That couple was Living a First Class Life in Christ. Every day they were Flying First Class by Upgrading others into First Class. And that’s how Grace works.
B. Let me give you another example of what I mean by this idea of Grace and Being Upgraded through a clip from the 1998 release of Les Miserables starring Liam Neeson and Geoffrey Rush.
Down and out ex-convict Jean Valjean has found lodging in the home of a kindly bishop. Over dinner, Valjean, recounting the harshness of his imprisonment, blames God as unjust. He looks at the priest, thanks him for the food and the bed, and then exclaims in sarcasm, "And in the morning, I will be a new man!"
That night, he has nightmares about prison. He wakes in a panic, and decides that he must do whatever it takes to insure that he never goes back. (Watch)
Les Miserables Clip
Valjean creeps into the dining room, and starts to steal the bishop's silverware. The bishop hears a noise and comes out to investigate. Valjean tries to hide, but when the bishop rounds the corner, they are standing face to face. Angry at being caught, Valjean knocks the bishop to the ground and flees.
The next day, the police arrive at the church with Valjean in tow. The bishop approaches and tells Valjean that he is very angry with him. The captain laughs and tells the bishop that he found Valjean making off with the bishop's silver and that, when asked, Valjean argued that the bishop had given it to him. The bishop replies, "Yes, of course I gave him the silverware. But why didn't you take the candlesticks? That was very foolish." He sends his housekeeper to fetch the candlesticks, telling her to hurry as Valjean "has lost a lot of time."
After dismissing the officers, Valjean appears thunderstruck. He cannot understand what has just happened to him. The priest hands him back his bag with the silverware and the candlesticks inside. He pulls back Valjean's hood so that he can look him in the eye, and says, "Don't ever forget, you've promised to become a new man."
Valjean, stunned, asks, "Why are you doing this?" The bishop tells him that he no longer belongs to evil, "with this silver I've bought your soul. I've ransomed you from fear and hatred. And now I give you back to God."
Jean Val Jean, was a thief and newly released ex-convict with a yellow passport during the time of the French Revolution, which meant he had no hope and no future. He received Grace at the time of his greatest need. The Bishop took a risk and gave him a gift. But in so doing, Jean Val Jean’s life was changed, forever. He received a real “Upgrade” to the First Class Life. He truly began Flying First Class because he truly became a new man through Christ.
The rest of the movie is about Jean Val Jean trying to live up to that image and to be like Christ in the midst of all the turmoil of life and in the midst of his past catching up to him.
Because of that “Upgrade,” because of the Grace Jean Val Jean experienced through the Bishop, he was able to reach out to others and Fly First Class by living a First Class Life in Christ.
That’s what God desires for each of us. God in Christ offers each of us an Upgraded life. Just like the Bishop, Christ ransomed our souls and has given us back to God. Not because God had to; not because we did enough good deeds to earn it; not because we’re the best and the brightest but simply because God loves us and because God can.
How many of you have seen the movie Seabiscuit? In the movie, Tom Smith, an old farrier and horse trainer, stops the shooting of a lame race horse. He tells the owner he will take it. When the owner says the horse is no longer worth anything, Smith says that at least it will save him the bullet. Later that evening, he is visited by Charles Howard, a wealthy American businessman who had witnessed the whole event. Howard climbs through the surrounding brush to get to Smith, who is having his dinner in front of an open campfire. Howard looks over at the damaged horse, whose leg is now wrapped up with a poultice. Smith says that it is Hawthorne root, designed to increase the blood circulation. Howard asks if the horse will get better, and Smith replies that it already has. Howard wants to know if the horse will ever race again. Smith says, "No, not that one."
Howard asks, "Then why are you fixing him?"
And Smith tells him, "Because I can. Every horse is good for something. He could be a cart horse or a lead pony, and he's still nice to look at. Y'know, you don't throw a whole life away just 'cause you're banged up a little."
I love that line when Smith says” "Because I can. Every horse is good for something. He could be a cart horse or a lead pony, and he's still nice to look at. Y'know, you don't throw a whole life away just 'cause you're banged up a little."
The rest of the movie is about redemption, second chances and being Upgraded. That Upgrade, that second chance is given to the Horse Owner, a jockey, a trainer and a horse all of whom have been banged up a little and given up on.
Often times you and I and all of society are quick to throw away those things, especially those people, who are damaged or no longer meet our standards and expectations. Thanks be to God that Jesus is different or most of us would have found ourselves on the trash heap a long time ago.
Jesus came to reach out to the least, the lost, the lonely. Jesus came to Redeem and Upgrade those of us who are “banged up a little.” Jesus came for the damaged and the disenfranchised.
He came to lift up the weak and the outcasts. He spent His time among the rejected. He took the wretched of the world and healed them.
Jesus took the orphans or the world and made them Sons and Daughters of God; Brothers and Sisters with Christ, joint heirs of God's Kingdom. Jesus took the powerless, and made them a priestly kingdom. He loved them and He loves us, all because He can. (3)
Jesus knows that every one of us, no matter how banged up our lives are, everyone of us is good for something. And so He took our place. Because He loves us, He redeemed us. He exchanged tickets with us so we could Fly First Class. Why? Simply because He could.
Do me a favor, pull out the Boarding Pass you received with your bulletin this morning and hold it in your hand. God has “lavished the riches of His grace on us.”Our challenge is to accept the gift of God’s Grace not squander it. Our challenge is to live a Christ like life, a First Class Life, an Upgraded life for the Kingdom of God. But it’s up to you. The offer is there, the ticket, the Boarding Pass is in your hand. You can accept the Grace of God’s Upgrade and Fly First Class or you can refuse it and just return to your cramped economy class seat in the cattle section of the plane and live like the rest of the herd.
To paraphrase Joshua at the Jordan when he was challenging the Israelites to choose whom they would serve, “As for me and my house, we’re accepting the Upgrade and Flying First Class.” I hope you’ll make that same decision as well. It will bring God so much joy. Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV) says:
“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
Accept God’s Upgrade for your life. Start Flying First Class today.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
Other References Consulted