Charles Plumb tells the story about how after 75 combat mission over North Vietnam, his plane was destroyed. He ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He spent the next 6 years in a Communist prison. Years later Charles Plumb and his wife Cathy were sitting in a restaurant. A man about two tables away kept looking at him. Plumb didn’t recognize him. A few minutes into their meal he stood up and walked over to their table, looked down at him, pointed his finger and said, “You’re Plumb.” “You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You were on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years as a prisoner of war.” Plumb said, “How in the world did you know that?” He replied, “I packed your parachute.”
Plumb staggered to his feet and held out a grateful hand of thanks. “I guess it worked.” “Yes, sir, indeed it did,” Plumb said, “and I must tell you I’ve said a lot of prayers of thanks for your nimble fingers.” “Were all the panels there?” “Well, sir, I must shoot straight with you, of the 18 panels, that were supposed to be in that parachute, I had 15 good ones. Three were torn, but it wasn’t your fault, it was mine. I jumped out of that fighter at a high rate of speed, close to the ground.
Charles Plumb didn’t get much sleep that night. He kept thinking about that man.
He kept wondering what he might have looked like in a uniform. He wondered how many times He passed him on board the ship. He wondered how many times he might have seen him and not even said, “Good morning.” He could have cared less, until one day his parachute was needed.
When Charles Plumb parachuted into Vietnam, his parachute was well packed. Not just his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, his spiritual parachute were pretty well in place.
Who’s packing our parachutes? All of that parachute packing began for me back in New Castle, Kentucky, with my mom, my brothers and sisters. It was packed by a minister named Tom Newton, who was the Scout Master for my Boy Scout Troop. A man who would come by and pick me up and let me run around with him while he did his job. That not only helped me to see a Christian man but influenced me in the ministry. My parachute was packed by a mom, who cared more for me than she cared for herself. It was important to her that I finished high school. My sense of the importance of an education came from her.
When Vickie was ill and even when she died, there were many who had packed my parachute and many who were packing my parachute that helped me. Each time one of you brought food to the house during Vickie’s illness, it gave me support. It may have seemed like such a simple thing to you. For me, it said far more than just helping me out with the cooking.
What makes the difference between our success or our failure is ourselves. We can choose to succeed, we can choose to fail, or we can choose to give away our choice.
We make that choice!
However, there are many along the road of life who are trying to help us succeed.
When we grow old and look back on our lives, it won’t be the dollars that we will count, we count the parachutes that we have packed for someone else.
In our scripture text Jesus is delivering the Sermon on the Mount. In the sixth chapter He deals with “giving.” This passage is often used when talking about stewardship of our money. Especially when giving to good causes or to the needy.
However, I think that an important aspect of this passage is often overlooked. The needy may be everyone we live in the world with. “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. Like in the story of Mr. Plumb, parachute packers are rarely seen by those who use them. People may not even be aware that we are doing them a benefit. A young man got his Eagle award and publicly thanked the person he thought had helped him with his project. The reality was that I was the one who had made things happen for the young man. Some would have been upset that they didn’t get the recognition that they desired. But it excited me that I had done something so wonderful and it was between God and me. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Jesus was a parachute packer for not only the twelve but all of the multitude. His words and His life are easily remembered. Those who work with young people, those who work with old are able to pack parachutes.
Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some people become friends and stay a while. Leaving beautiful footprints on our hearts. They pack our parachutes and we may never need those parachutes until years later.
We are left with the chance of thanking those who have packed our parachutes in life, but also of knowing the importance of packing others parachutes. By the major way that we impact peoples lives, and my the small, quiet ways we affect others lives. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.