The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger


Delivered 11/3/02
Text: Colossians 3:12-17
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

Great words. As succinct a description as can be found anywhere of what we are called to be and do as God's people in the church...compassionate, kind, humble, meek (or teachable), patient, forgiving, loving, harmonious, peaceful. We will be learners and teachers, full of heartfelt song. And whatever we do will be done in the name of Jesus. Wow!

That IS the way it is in churches, isn't it? Oh David, you silly goose. Right.

Do you have any idea where that phrase comes from...silly goose? I don't. But I do know that geese are not all that silly. In fact, the next time you notice a flock of them flying South for the winter, study them a bit. There are some things we might learn.

For example, that "V" formation in which they fly. (1) Science has discovered why. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, the whole flock adds at least 17% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. Hmm. A good lesson for us. Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where we are going quicker and easier because we are traveling on the thrust and uplift of one another.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation, to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. Another good lesson. Stay in formation or pay the price.

Have you ever dropped out of church for a time? Someone said an unkind word, or failed to say a kind word. Work or travel schedules prevented regular attendance. Something or someone made you angry...perhaps even God. Did dropping out make you a better person? Of course not. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are going.

Researchers have noted that when the lead goose gets tired, that one rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. There is value in that. Too often in the church, the same faithful few do most of the work - the statistics are generally 20% do 80%. Not fair. But that is generally the way it is. Folks get burned out that way. The message of the geese is take turns doing the hard jobs. It is better for everyone.

Have you ever listened to a flock of geese as they fly overhead. They can be noisy critters, can't they? The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. What do we say in the church when we honk from behind? Are we picking or praising? Which do you think will do the most good?

Another lesson.(2) Whenever you see a flock of geese on the ground feeding, they will never put all of their heads down at once. There are always four of five "on guard" watching for predators while the others feed. The "guards" will not put their heads down until other geese look up and "go on duty." We in the church should be guarding and protecting each other.

This one is important. When a goose gets sick, or is wounded by gun shot and falls out, TWO geese fall out of formation and follow the hurt one down to help and protect. They stay until the hurt one is able to fly, or finally dies, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their original group.

Listen to this letter in Ann Landers column sometime back:(3)

Dear Ann Landers:

I am 46 years old, divorced, with three grown children. After several months of chemotherapy following a mastectomy for breast cancer, I was just starting to put my life together when my doctor called with the results of my last checkup. I was devastated. More cancer.

My relatives had not been supportive. I was the first person in the family to have cancer and they didn't know how to behave toward me. They tried to be kind, but I had the feeling they were afraid it was contagious. They kept their distance and called on the phone to see how I was doing. This really hurt.

Last Sunday I headed for the laundromat. You see the same people there, say "good morning," and make small talk. I was trying not to look depressed but my spirits were really low. As I was taking my laundry out of the car I looked up and saw a man, one of the regulars, leaving with his bundle. He smiled and said, "Good morning. How are you today?" I lost control of myself and blurted out, "This is the worst day of my life! I have more cancer!" Then I began to cry.

He put his arms around me and just let me sob. Then he said, "I understand. My wife has been through it." After a few minutes I felt better, thanked him for his understanding and proceeded with my laundry.

About 15 minutes went by and in came the man and his wife. She walked over to me and, without saying a word, hugged me and said, "Feel free to talk to me. Once I was where you are now. I know what you are going through."

Ann, I can't tell you how much that meant to me. Here was this total stranger, taking her time to give me emotional support and courage to face the future at a time when I was ready to give up.

I hope God gives me the chance to do for someone else what that wonderful woman did for me. Meanwhile, Ann, please let your readers know that even though there are a lot of hard-hearted people in this world, there are some incredibly generous and loving ones, too.

-- A Witness in Rockford, IL.

A farmer was out plowing his field one morning. (4) A spring thaw had just occurred and there were many muddy valleys. Through one particularly wet place his tractor became stuck in the mud. The harder he tried, the deeper he became stuck. Finally, he walked over to his neighbor's to ask for help. The neighbor came over and looked at the situation. He shook his head, and then said, "It doesn't look good, but I tell you what. I'll give it a try pulling you out. But if we don't get it out, I'll come sit in the mud with ya!"

We all experience getting "stuck in the mud" from time to time - sometimes even literally. And chances are we probably know someone who is stuck right now. Have you tried "mud-sitting" with a friend? Like those geese? It may be the best thing you can do!

The point of all this, of course, is that the goose may not be silly after all. In fact, we might be the silly ones. When we use the sense that God gives a goose as it comes to our life together, people outside see that and they want to be a part of the flock. That is why this church is growing. This is a loving, caring flock, and that word is getting out all over this town. GOOD! Keep it up.

Now, it is feeding time. This flock is invited to dine, to be nourished before we fly off once more. With joy we come to the table of our Lord.


1. Adapted from Browne Barr, High Flying Geese, which was quoted in BOTTOM DRAWER, an on-line meeting of PresbyNet, 11/3/92, by Debra Farrington, note #398

2.Contributed by Howard Chapman in BOTTOM DRAWER, note #2529, 1/5/96

3.Bible Illustrator for Windows, (Hiawatha, Iowa: Parsons Technology, 1990-1994)

4. ibid.

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