Note: Even as I celebrate the “Miracle on the Hudson” and draw lessons from Capt. Sullenberger’s work, I am aware that a commuter plane crashed last night into a neighborhood near Buffalo, NY, killing all aboard and one person on the ground. My prayers are with those families.


“Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).


“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7).


Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger captured the imagination of everyone when he ditched his disabled Airbus airliner in the Hudson, saving the lives of his crew, 150 passengers, and who knows how many other people on the ground who would have perished had his plane crashed into one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. He is a hero, honored by his passengers, his hometown, his family, the President, the Super Bowl, the media, even note-writing strangers from around the globe.


Sullenberger’s interview with Katie Couric on “60 Minutes” last Sunday evening showed us again just what sort of man “Sully” is and why he deserves the label that has been put on him by so many. He provides an example of the kind of work ethic, composure, and humble spirit that are so desperately needed in these days. Contrast his demeanor and approach to his work with the outrageous and cowardly behavior of the CEO of the salmonella peanut company, who hid from authorities, then took the Fifth when questioned. Or the actions of the irresponsible fertility doctor who implanted eight embryos in an equally irresponsible woman who already had six children. (She now expects the public to pay for their support.) Or the schemes of the greedy Wall Street bankers and others who have brought us to the worst financial crisis in our land since the Great Depression.


Listening to “Sully” on TV and the Internet, I was impressed first of all with how confident and professional he is. In order safely to land his airliner in the Hudson, he had to accomplish simultaneously a number of difficult tasks, like keeping the wings exactly level and the nose up and maintaining a certain airspeed, all while remaining calm. He told Couric: “I was sure I could do it” and “I had a job to do.” What if all of us paid such attention to our work, focusing on doing our tasks well and in a “workmanlike manner,” as lawyers say? What sort of nation, churches, businesses, and families would we have?


Second, I was reminded how providence works. Couric said: “There couldn’t have been a better man for the job: a former Air Force fighter pilot who spent nearly 30 years flying commercial aircraft, specialized in accident investigations, and instructed flight crews on how to respond to emergencies in the air.” In the interview, “Sully” observed: “”I think, in many ways, as it turned out, my entire life up to that moment had been a preparation to handle that particular moment.” Isn’t it true that by virtue of training or personality or influence or whatever other resource is uniquely ours, God puts us in places where we can serve effectively and make a difference, whether it’s saving many lives or simply brightening someone’s day with a smile or a kind word?


Finally, I felt again the urgency of the need for good news in our world. A note to Capt. Sullenberger celebrated how he had brought a “wonderful day” in a “world that seems to be so full of bad news.” CBS’s “The Early Show” pondered whether the “Miracle on the Hudson” was “luck, fate…or grace.” And “Sully” himself, a reluctant and humble hero, summed up well: “Something in this episode has captured people’s imagination; they want good news, they want to feel hopeful again. If I can help in that way, I will.”


Are you listening, all you in the Church, followers of the One who came bringing Good News? Our task, our calling, is not to quibble and argue over words and standards and the maintenance of institutions. It is to bring good news in a world hungry for it; it’s to help people feel hopeful again. That is what “Sully” Sullenberger did in this one extraordinary act of courage, concentration, and competence. And that is our calling every day as our faithful lives demonstrate, and our winsome words proclaim, the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.  




© 2009 Tom Cheatham