Parachute Packing 101
Rev. Jean Scott, Retired Interim Pastor and Pastoral Associate
Guest Speaker in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of CUCC
Deut. 6:4-12; Philemon: Selected Verses
May 4, 2014
Community UCC, Boulder, CO
Mike Waller, who was the organist at Christy UMC in St. Louis, was also a veteran of the Vietnam War.
He went to a reunion of veterans one summer and came back with this story, told by one of the
speakers. Charlie Plum was a Navy fighter pilot, one of those “big shot’ pilots who flew out from an
aircraft carrier to carry out raids over Vietnam. On one of those missions his plane was shot down and
he had to bail out and parachute to safety.
Charlie came home a hero, and he loved the part. He walked with a certain swagger and loved to tell
anyone who would listen about his daring escape from behind enemy lines. Years later, at a reunion of
the men who had served on his aircraft carrier, Charlie was again holding an audience enthralled with
his colorful story. When the group broke up, a guy he didn’t recognize came up and introduced himself
to Charlie and said, “You don’t know me, but I remember you, and I’ve always been so glad you survived
your plane being shot down. I’m the guy who packed your parachute that day!”
Charlie looked at the guy in shock. It had never occurred to him that someone else might have been
involved in his story. If that guy had not packed his parachute, and packed it correctly, he might be
dead. He owed his life to this guy! That revelation changed Charlie’s life; the fact that lots of other
people, behind the scenes, made his life possible. As he lived with this new insight, he became more
grateful, thankful and humble, qualities in short supply in his life up to then. Charlie began to thank
some of them in person, in letters and phone calls, and finally writing a book called, “I’m No Hero”. He
began giving motivational seminars and made a series of tapes to get other people to think about who
made their lives possible. His whole life changed as he realized there were lots of people who had
packed a lot of parachutes for him, and thanks to them, he was alive and the person he had become.
In our Old Testament lesson today, Moses is instructing the Israelites on keeping the Lord’s
commandments and teaching them to their children. He reminds them that it was God who had
brought them out of the land of Egypt and slavery, into a new land, and to never forget that! He also
reminded them they were living in a land that was built up by others; enjoying the fruits of the land that
others had planted; using water from wells others had dug, and living in houses that others had
constructed. They were not to act as though they had done all this themselves and become proud and
arrogant, but always give thanks to the God who had “packed their parachutes!” They owed their lives
to that God.
One of the things I am convinced of is that you can’t force thankfulness. Did you ever try to force a child
to say thank you for a gift they really didn’t like or appreciate? My aunt Maude, who never married or
had children of her own, used to give me handkerchiefs for my birthday. My mother would say, when I
opened the little gift, “Now, say thank you to Auntie Maude”. But I wasn’t about to say thank you.
What five year old girl wants a hankie for a birthday gift? Mom would try again, “But it is so pretty, and
your aunt picked it out just for you.” I just wasn’t thankful! Thankfulness has to come from inside, and
until it does, it doesn’t come out as truthfulness.
When I was 12 years old, I asked my grandparents for a doll for Christmas. I wanted a big one to put on
my bed to look pretty on my new bedspread. Unknown to me, my grandparents had a big argument
about my Christmas gift that year. Grandma wanted to give me the doll, but my grandfather, the
preacher, thought I was too old for a doll and it was time I had a bible of my own.
On Christmas morning, I was handed a small package by my grandfather, and opening it, found a small
black leather bible, with my name imprinted on it in gold. I did say a small thank you, trying to hide my
disappointment. Then my grandmother went into the bedroom and came out with a much larger
package in her hands. My grandfather’s jaw dropped in astonishment. “What is this?” he asked. But I
knew, and I was right. Inside was the doll I had asked for. As I threw my arms around her in thanks, my
grandmother simply said, “If a girl wants a doll for Christmas, she should get it!” As I got older and wiser
I began to wonder where she had gotten the money for the gift and what kind of words she and
granddad had later!
My grandparents excelled in Parachute Packing 101, supporting a 12 year old girl who was old enough to
read the bible for herself and also child enough to play with dolls. Both were gifts of the spirit of love,
and defined my life in ways I would appreciate only in later years. I have no idea what happened to that
doll, but I still have the little bible with my name on it. (Jean held up that bible)
Some years ago, lots of people enjoyed watching a TV series by Charles Kuralt called “On the Road
Again”. One year he made a visit to Moscow because he heard there was a man there who wanted to
talk to an American journalist. The man, a dentist, had been a prisoner of war in Germany in WWII. He
and other Russians in the camp were almost starving; they had one meal a day which was a thin soup
made of water, turnips and cabbage. In that camp were also six American prisoners, separated from the
Russians by a barbed wire fence. The Americans got packages of food from the American Red Cross, and
they began to smuggle food and cigarettes over the fence to the Russians.
This was a very dangerous thing to do, for if caught they would be shot. The Americans had nothing to
gain from it, but they did it anyway. The dentist told Kuralt, “Those six men saved the lives of about 60
of us and we have never forgotten!” He wanted Kuralt to somehow let the Americans know how
thankful they were. The dentist even remembered a few of the names of the men. Kuralt came back
and researched files until he found three of the men who had been there, and was able to bring one of
them to Moscow for a reunion with the dentist. The man hugged his friend and cried and said over and
over, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for our lives!” Parachute Packing 101, a gift of pure grace.
I know there are lots of serious readers in this congregation and more than a few authors. In the front
or back of a book the author says thank you to the people who helped her or him write the book:
resource people, family, friends, editors, and publishers. Almost every book is dedicated to someone
who has inspired the author or given love and support to her, and in the back of the book is a list of
sources used by the author for inspiration, knowledge, and quotes. And the author is grateful. It is a
remembering to give thanks to those who “pack your parachute”.
The shortest book in the New Testament is the Letter of Paul to Philemon; it takes up less than a page.
If you want to look it up yourself, it appears just before Hebrews. It is a remarkable and very personal
letter written by Paul from prison to a dear friend on behalf of another dear friend. In it Paul first thanks
Philemon and others in the church for supporting him and his work. He also tells them he thanks God
for them in his prayers. Then Paul asks them to befriend Onesimas, whom he is sending to them. Onesimas
once was a slave and now has been adopted by Paul as a son, so he asks the church to treat
him in this new way. Think what that would mean to an ex-slave to have Paul’s backing and support. It
will mean a new life is possible for him. There are a lot of parachute packers in this story!
I ask you this morning, “Who has packed your parachute?” Who has made it possible for you to be alive;
to be the person you are today? Then, who are those people who have packed the parachutes of this
church community in the past, so that it has remained alive, and has received new life again and again
and again? Who do you thank God for in your prayers?
Perhaps there should be a plaque in this sanctuary dedicated to those whom we remember in our
prayers; who have packed Community UCC’s parachute when it felt like it had been shot down and had
to bail out to live? Not just the names of the ministers, though hopefully some were a part of it, but let
us remember the names of the people who stepped in when all seemed dark, when people here were
discouraged. When the roof of the education building had to be replaced three times in 12 years, and
there was no money to do it; who packed the parachute? When there were not enough people to teach
church school, to fill important church jobs, who stepped in? When someone was ill and dying, who
gave comfort? When tragedy hit a family, when a minister disappointed you, who spoke the words of
encouragement and healing? There have been many, and there are parachute packers here this
morning. 30-50 years from now a new congregation will be naming some of you as those who packed
their parachutes and insured the continuance of Community UCC.
Let us give thanks to God in our prayers for them. And each time we gather here, may we first of all
remember to thank God for giving us life, for giving us each other, for giving us a ministry to carry out,
and for the Christ who came and lived and died and lives again so that we might have new life.
So, thanks be to God!