Back on May 25, 1961, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy committed the United States to a space program that would send a man to the moon and return him safely to the earth by the end of the decade. For those of you who weren’t around back then, or too young to remember it, Kennedy’s bold dream ignited the country’s sense of national pride and the space race with Russia was kicked into high gear. Until that time, Russia had taken the lead in the race to control outer space. Sputnik had launched from Russia, and people in the US were scared that Russia would eventually control the moon. Representative of the American sentiment, Lyndon Johnson remarked the he had no intention of going to sleep by the light of a Russian moon!
But the US had barely even started its trek to the moon. Alan Shepherd, the first of the Mercury 7 astronauts to fly in space, had completed a suborbital flight on May 5, 1961 and here Kennedy was, less than a month later, committing the country to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely – by the end of 1969! It was incredible to hear.
Yet, on this day, July 24, back in 1969, after walking on the surface of the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, along with Command Module Pilot Mike Collins, safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:52 p.m. EDT. Mission accomplished – Kennedy’s proclamation, issued less than a decade earlier, had become a reality. There were other flights to the moon and one problem flight, Apollo 13, that almost ended up becoming a tragedy in space after an oxygen tank explosion onboard. But rather than a catastrophe, it became one of the country’s great successes – returning the three astronauts back to earth alive. So there were many great moments in the space race – but national pride was at an all time high when Armstrong stepped off his ladder and on to the surface of the moon back in July, 1969. It was a time of great national pride.
So here we are in 2016, 47 years since Armstrong and his crew returned to earth. John Glenn, one of the original Mercury astronauts, is still alive and memories of the grand days of the space program still permeate our consciousness. But there has never been a greater command to excel on earth than the statement by Kennedy – except once.
And that was when Jesus commanded his disciples, and us by extension, to travel the world and make disciples of all nations. Granted, this bold command didn’t involve us leaving the earth to enter into space or to explore the depths of the seas, but it was a bold plan nonetheless.
The verse today highlights the command of Jesus – what we refer to as the Great Commission. Jesus tells his disciples, in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” My encouragement this evening is that God still wants us to boldly enter the world and continue to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. My prayer is that just as Kennedy took a courageous chance, we will have the same resolve to commit ourselves to reach those who aren’t yet eternally saved. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…