Title: Be Courageous
Pastor: The Rev. Beth Farabee
Scripture: Acts 27:13-25
That was quite a collection of fears wasn't? I'm sure some of them resonated more strongly than others. Hopefully, ninjaphobia is not something that keeps you awake at night, but there's no doubt that fear is something we universally struggle with and it can be very controlling. And yet the video reminded us in 1 Timothy that as people of faith, "God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Great, inspiring words, but do we act like we believe them? The apostle Paul certainly did. There were lots of things Paul had to be afraid of that could have kept him from pursuing his calling, but he lived like God was bigger than all of them. Bigger than his Christian persecuting past, bigger than the floggings, bigger than the imprisonments, bigger than the rejection of many of his own people, the Jews, bigger than the ridicule from unbelievers and bigger than the storm that threatened the ship and all 276 people on board carrying him Rome to face the Emperor. The story of that ship is what we read this morning from the book of Acts 27:13-25, hear the word of God...
"So keep up your courage men, for I have faith in God, that it will be exactly as I have been told." What amazing words of confidence and hope that turned out to be well founded. Although it wasn't easy and they had to fight hard during the stormy weather, every person aboard made it to shore safely on the island of Malta. Although the scripture doesn't say it directly, I bet there were more than one or two people on that ship who wanted to know more about Paul's God after his prophecy came true and knowing Paul, he was more than happy to share.
So how does this story speak to us today? Although I'm sure there are some sailors out there, most of us can't relate to the possibility of being literally shipwrecked due to stormy weather on the high seas. But, I know we can relate to being figuratively shipwrecked due to the stormy weather of life. Things come up that threaten the comfort, safety and stability that we have worked hard to create. On a personal note: job loss, illness, the death of a loved one, the death of an important relationship are all things that can leave us reeling, terrified of the rocks ahead. On a global scale: the uncertainty of our nation's finances, the senseless tragedy of mass murder in Norway, epic drought facing much of our country and famine in the horn of Africa leaves us feeling angry, helpless, and afraid of what's next. I remember when I was a kid and scared of the dark one of the tactics I used to "stay safe" was to pull the covers up over my head and stay as still as possible. I was convinced that as long as I didn't move, that thin layer of cotton covered with pictures of Bambi, Thumper and Flower would protect me from the "monsters" under my bed. Childish logic indeed and yet I wonder how much we've really advanced as adults in facing the scary things that are unavoidable in life.
Gary Haugen who was a speaker at last year's Willow Creek Leadership Summit is the CEO of an organization called, International Justice Mission. IJM is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression. During Gary's talk at the Summit he shared many amazing stories of bravery shown by both the rescuers and the rescuees in the midst of unimaginable conditions. He put himself at personal risk many times fighting against slave owners and corrupt police abroad. However, Gary was honest in the fact that he was not always a risk taker. He told a story about a summer when he was ten and on a hiking expedition with his dad and two older brothers on Mt. Rainer. They had driven up to a beautiful alpine meadow called "Paradise" and spent a good deal of time hiking around the meadow, enjoying the incredible wildflowers. At the top of the meadow trails, however, the paved trail ended and a large warning sign indicated the beginning of the trail used by climbers on their way to the summit. According to Gary, the text on the sign which was undoubtedly drafted by lawyers, warned of every conceivable horror that awaited those who ventured beyond, but Gary's dad, undaunted, suggested that they try to reach Camp Muir, the base camp used by climbers heading for the summit. The two older brothers accepted right away, but Gary hesitated. His Dad assured him he could make it, that he would help, and that the view and the triumph would be more than worth the effort- and what was even better, that they could do it together. But Gary, was not swayed- "What if Dad's wrong and I can't make it? It will be so humiliating to be the one who needs help again." "And what if Dad doesn't even know the way up there?" "What if it becomes too aggravating for him to help me, and I get stuck?" With mounting anxieties filling his heart, Gary responded in the only way he knew how to save face, "No. That looks boring." Instead, he suggested, he'd rather hang out in the visitor's center. The visitor's center was huge, had magnificent exhibits and video displays about the wildlife and history of the mountain. Although disappointed, his father relented and for a while Gary was quite pleased with himself. The visitor's center was warm and comfortable with lots of interesting things to watch and read at the beginning. However, as the afternoon wore on, the massive visitor's center began to feel very small. The warm air felt stuffy, the inspiring loop of videos had lost their luster after the sixth or seventh time. Gary shared that he felt bored, sleepy and small and he missed his dad. He was totally stuck. Totally safe- but totally stuck. The truth was that he had gone on the trip, but he had missed the adventure and thirty four years later this experience reminded him not to let fear stand in the way of listening to his heavenly Father.
Gary wondered if many Christians today are starting to suspect that they are stuck at the visitor's center. That they suspect they are traveling with Jesus, but missing the adventure. I believe there are many of us here at St. Luke's who feel this way. Who feel the pull between a life of security and a life of significance. If this wasn't true then the results we collected during Lent for our 3-5 year strategic visioning process would've looked very different. When asked the question, "Where do we share our salt and our light for the building of the Kingdom?" your top three answers are not things we can accomplish by staying in our comfort zones. 1. Develop and strengthen ministries related to issues affecting children including education, homelessness in Central Florida and beyond, and ending childhood hunger, 2. Intentionally reach and welcome others- reaching populations such as singles, young adults, disenfranchised, reaching out into the community to meet people where they are and 3. Develop or strengthen ministries to help those in need and currently underserved, specifically addressing "gaps" in current support agency programs or ministries, targeting needs or struggles in our community like the formerly incarcerated, the elderly and those with special needs. These priorities came from you! You are a people who hear the words of the prophet Micah and want to obey, "He has told you, O people, what is good, and this is what the Lord requires of you to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God." You are people who listen to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew and want to throw the covers off, "You are the light of the world- like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so everyone will praise your heavenly Father." Getting to the roots of these issues will require more than just a few of us to step out of the visitor center mentality and into the mind of Christ who tells us, "If you try to hang onto your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake you will save it." Does this sound scary? Well, welcome to the club it does to me too, but sounds a lot less scary if we can do it together.
John Ortberg, writes in his Bible study on the book of Acts, about the reality of balcony and basement people in our lives. As you might imagine, balcony people are those who encourage us during the tough times and basement people are those who end up bringing us down. In the next several months as we commit ourselves to being the hands and feet of Jesus within an unjust world we need to not only be bold within ourselves, but be balcony people for others. I want to conclude this morning by sharing about a balcony person in my life as I've battled the unjust, invader like so many others have, called cancer. That person is my daughter Anna. (show Anna picture) As most of you know, I discovered I had non-hodgkins lymphoma at the end of March and my chemotherapy treatments started almost right away. One thing I was worried about most regarding Anna was how she would react once I started losing my hair. That's an unsettling look for most adults much less an 8 year old, but Anna took it in stride. She helped me look through a wig book and when I bought one and brought it home sitting atop a white Styrofoam head that was most unattractive, well, she decided that would never do. So she went to work that evening with her markers to create the beauty you see before you. We named her "Sunny."
Another time in which the grace of God showed itself in Anna's face was at the prayer labyrinth during Holy Week. We had come to the Fellowship Hall at the end of the evening to blow out the candles and shut things down for the night, but before we left Anna asked if we could walk the labyrinth just one time. Well, what kind of pastor mom would I be to say no to a request like that so we both took a lump of clay from a nearby prayer station and started to walk. She was a little bit behind me so by the time she got to the center I was already kneeling and making something out of my clay. She settled in behind me and said, "I'm going to make the cancer sign for you Mommy. Do you know what that is?" Me, being a bit thickheaded at the time said "no" because I always associate the ribbon with breast cancer and not cancer in general, so she said, "Okay, well don't peek, I'll tell you when I'm done." A few minutes later I was done praying and I heard the voice me behind say, "Alright I'm ready- see?" And I turned around to see this (show clay ribbon on the screen). She pointed at the word "fight" and said, "Because that's what people with cancer do Mommy, they fight." Well, as you can imagine it was all I could do at this point to keep it together, but I did and managed to say, "yes, honey you're right that's what people with cancer do and they do it even better when they have people praying for them and loving them and we have lots of people like that." She nodded her head and then I think she asked a question about what we had for dessert at home. The eight year old mind is a wonderful thing!
"That's what people with cancer do Mommy, they fight." And what if we adjusted that sentence just slightly to say, "That's what Christians do who see injustice in the world, they fight," but not with chemotherapy or radiation or with swords or spears, but with hope and courage and plowshares and pruning hooks. It's time to step out of the visitor's center and onto the scary, unpredictable, self-sacrificial path to the summit with Christ, where the views are incredible and the feeling of accomplishment is unparalleled. May we follow the example of the Apostle Paul who lived his life as a balcony person for others in both word and deed proclaiming that God is bigger than all our fears. "So keep up your courage men and women, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told." And all God's people said, "Amen."