A Plan for Following Jesus.
Faithful Living for Hard Times: Have Courage.
A sermon preached at The Kirk of Kansas City, Missouri, on July 16, 2017.
The second in a ten part sermon series on our community charge:
Go out into the world in peace;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak,
and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
So there was an impromptu celebration dinner this one night.[i]
It was on a cruise ship of sorts
just a local vessel providing service between the islands
but the whole ship—passengers and crew
was there to honor Jonathan.
The head chef had the galley humming
And they prepared an elaborate array of food for the guests.
Drinks were flowing.
People were chatting and laughing.
The band was getting into it, too, you know
And the guests were on the dance floor
Texas two step
(I know, I thought that sounded out of place too
but who knows)
The point was that they were all in full celebration mode: all for Jonathan.
Jonathan was this unassuming guy from New Jersey
And what had happened was, earlier in the trip, a few days ago
Someone had fallen overboard.
It was a scary situation, to say the least.
But no sooner than he had fallen overboard,
Jonathan was right there next to him, in the water
And they were able to keep him safe and circle around
and pluck the two back up into the boat
No worse for wear.
And this party was their effort to thank Jonathan, to honor him.
So there was good food.
And there was music, and laughter, and dancing.
The captain was there, at his table in the front
And they had Jonathan up there sitting next to him, in the seat of honor.
And the time came when someone took a knife and rung it on a glass
To get the noise of the party to simmer down a little bit
And the captain rose and said a few words
About his thirty two years at sea,
never having seen anything so amazing
as a fellow passenger acting so selflessly as to do that, you know.
And the assembled crowd applauded, and the captain turned to Jonathan
And had him come up to say something too.
So Jonathan got up, and went to the little lectern over there
And he thanked everyone for everything.
And he said:
This has all been so great. Thank you very much. Thank you.
There’s just one thing, though. One thing I want to say.
I really, really just want to know
Which one of you pushed me?
Our sermon series is looking at a roadmap for faithful living,
One way of helping understand and nurture the values
We share as those who follow Jesus Christ out into the world.
This isn’t a sermon series on THE way to follow Jesus
Because we think human beings are more complex than that.
God made each one of us to be MORAL human beings
With the capacity and the responsibility
Make choices in our lives.
We’re looking at a set of values that are useful for helping us do that.
Affirmations that we see from the life and teaching of Jesus
And from the first apostles
And from the history of God’s engagement with God’s people
That we find in the Hebrew Bible
All of which give us encouragement to live a faithful life
And ways to discern what is faithful living from what are unfaithful choices.
That’s today’s value.
Courage is the willingness to say and do the right thing
Even when the cost or the consequence of doing so
Is going to sting.
Courage does what is right because it is right
Knowing that it is going to be hard
Or that you don’t really want to do it
Or that it will be painful in some sense if you do.
That’s not an easy task.
By its very nature, Courage is hard.
It requires self-less-ness to be willing to endure pain
For something or someone else.
I think my biggest failure of nerve, failure of courage
Was the time Brook and I were in DC for the summer
Both of us had internships there in college
And it was the Fourth of July break
And we were on the mall there near the Washington monument
Getting ready for the fireworks
And it was crowded.
There was a mass of people.
It was getting darker. The symphony was warming up.
We were excited about the fireworks.
But behind us there was this kid.
I don’t know, maybe five or six.
I think he was with his family.
The details are fuzzy, but I remember this:
the guy he was with was angry. Really, really angry.
Not sure what he was angry about.
They didn’t register with me until he was already there
But he was angry:
Eyes of fire
Looking at this kid, yelling at his kid
Swatting at his kid.
And the kid looked scared. Right there, in the middle of this crowd of people.
And I knew that someone needed to intervene.
I knew that someone needed to say something or do something
For that kid, for that man.
And I didn’t.
I don’t remember exactly.
I looked down, or looked away
Thought about how much bigger the man was than I was
But I was 20.
Still kind of a kid, but an adult, to be sure.
I thought about how he wasn’t my kid, you know,
I shouldn’t get involved in how someone else was parenting his child
(what kind of rationalization is that!)
I thought about not having the right words to say
I thought about how it was the police’s responsibility, surely.
All these justifications, excuses.
I’m not sure why, really.
But it was me and this kid and this adult and my values
and God maybe whispering in my ear.
And before I knew it the moment was gone.
They were gone.
To this day I wonder about what happened to that boy.
And my heart breaks for him.
And, in a very real way, my heart breaks for me, too.
It was a moment that I didn’t have much courage.
It is one of those moments that I remember
In my own prayers of confession and self-awareness.
Go out into the world in peace
If it were easy to have courage,
We might not need it as part of our CHARGE every week.
But everyday we are confronted with choices
Some of which are not very easy, and bring with them
Discomfort, or anxiety, or even pain.
We human beings are hard wired for safety, and comfort, and security.
We’re hard wired for wanting to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Its not always easy to step out of that comfort zone
On behalf of another, or on behalf of the truth.
This isn’t just about examples of physical intervention in some harm
Whether because we’re pushed into the water and find ourselves
Next to someone up to their necks in the ocean
Or when we see someone in an unsafe space and afraid
and needing someone to stand up for them.
It takes courage to risk our lives to love another person:
To give ourselves to them and to trust them
And to allow ourselves to be truly vulnerable in the presence of another.
To love another person is to open ourselves up to hurt and to pain
As well as to the possibility for immeasurable happiness
and joy and understanding.
There is courage in love.
It takes courage to decide to focus our energies and our passions
into something meaningful, for a cause
through volunteering or mentoring, say
or to strengthen the lives of immigrants in our community
or to advocate for those who don’t have a strong voice
children or the poor or marginalized communities
rather than to flitter our time away
There is courage in service.
It takes courage to stand up for the truth
To admit when you are wrong
To acknowledge that not everything that doesn’t fit with our desires
Is fake news.
To entertain the possibility that you don’t have the whole picture
And that maybe someone else can help you learn and grow
and see things differently.
There is courage in honesty.
Particularly when the honest point of view helps the person you disagree with
More than it helps you…
It takes courage to trust in God
That life is stronger, more powerful, more lasting than death
That might-makes-right isn’t all there is in this world of ours
And that, instead, God shows us another, more truthful, more loving
More honest, more selfless way of living
That can help heal the world.
There is courage in faith.
None of these are easy.
But all of them are more noble, more true, more real than the alternatives.
Courage is essential for us if we are going to live a life of following Jesus.
It is endlessly fascinating to me
To know that the story of Jacob wrestling God is in our holy scriptures.
Two weeks ago we considered the story of Abraham binding his son Isaac
Isaac, who would later give birth to twins Esau and Jacob.
Jacob, whom we learn today is renamed Israel
The namesake of the people of God.
Abraham is lauded for his faithful obedience.
Jacob is known for his wrestling with God.
You need to know some of the backstory
To understand what is going on in Jacob’s heart here.
The twins Esau and Jacob never quite got along.
Esau was born first, and the bible says Jacob was born grasping Esau’s heel.
Esau was by all indications a model child for that age:
A skilled hunter, a man of the field.
Jacob, by contrast, was described as quiet, living in tents.
And to make a long, painful, complicated story short
Jacob and his mother Rebekah
Tricked Esau into selling his birthright for some bread and lentil stew
And then tricked Isaac into granting Jacob
the blessing rightfully intended for Esau.
Esau didn’t take this lightly.
And Jacob was forced to flee.
He runs and marries and has kids and grows a family, eleven kids (later twelve)
All while running from his brother.
And one day he hears that Esau is catching up to him.
Jacob sends gifts to try to appease his brother.
He frets for his safety, and that of his family.
And when the text this morning opens
He is shown sending his family and all he has away
Anticipating a confrontation with his brother.
He knows he needs to stop running and do what is right.
He knows he needs to stand up and engage his family
Even though it is going to cause him some pain.
He can’t run any longer.
And that evening, Jacob wrestles with God.
They wrestle all night, until daybreak.
Jacob doesn’t come out of it unscathed.
His hip is stuck out of socket.
But he keeps wrestling. He stays with it.
And at the end God blesses him: with a new name and identity
Israel: the one who strives with God, and with humans, and prevails.
And if we were to keep reading,
We’d see that Jacob looks up, and he sees Esau and his 400 fighters coming
And Jacob goes on ahead, bravely, courageously
And bows down to the ground seven times
In one of the most tender moments in our history as people of faith
Esau runs to meet Jacob, and embraces him
Falls upon his neck, kisses him, and they weep, together.
And Esau looks upon Jacobs family: his sisters in law, his nephews
Jacobs family, and his family
And they have a celebration, a party
I imagine with great food and a band
The electric slide and the Texas two step
The whole works.
And right there: God is alive
Showing the power of something deeper than the world’s power
The power of love and peace and reconciliation.
The power of courage.
We’re going to spend some time this summer
Looking at all sorts of things that people who follow Jesus do
But each one of them takes this sort of courage:
The courage to seek peace.
The courage to reject evil for evil,
to hold onto the good, to support the weak and to honor all people.
From the very beginning, the identity of the people of God as God’s very own people
Is rooted in a self-understanding of striving to understand what God wants from us
And taking the courage to do what is right.
Doing what is right sometimes hurts.
Jacob walks with a limp now, after wrestling with God.
But that courage is an example to generations of people
Who seek an authentic, loving, honest, true way of life.
The life of faith.
Opportunities for courageous living abound, these days.
Sometimes we can take our memories of those moments when our courage failed us
To seek to be more courageous the next chance we get.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury,
Wrote a great little book called “Being Christian”
Where he commended basic practices of our faith:
Baptism as radical welcome into a community,
reflecting on Scripture, Eucharist (or the Lords Supper)
And intentional Prayer
As ways in which faithful people all over the world learn
How to think and act in a God-frame-of-mind
Which helps us take courage to act on behalf of others.[ii]
These are practices that help us take our reactions and shape them into deeds
Of love and compassion and service for others.
THIS is the place where courage is formed and strengthened
and has endless possibility.
And when I think of the courageous moments I celebrate in the life of others
–When I see a couple that I love and respect reach a milestone anniversary
Through some rocky days and some teary nights
–When I think of people marching for the rights of the disenfranchised
In Selma Alabama
–When I remember a friend sitting bedside through the agony of her
spouse’s last weeks with cancer
I see the amazing power of God giving strength and comfort and abiding hope.
And I think:
God, I know it will be difficult for me
I know it will be hard
I know I may not come out of it unscathed
But when those moments come
Please, God, push me into those waters too…
May we find courage to live out our faith
So that others may live, and live abundantly.
May it be so.
[i] Adapted from a video “Joke about courage (Pastor Pierre Johnson)” on youtube, accessed July 15, 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGjdOg6YKfw
[ii] Williams, Rowan, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2014)
Image credit: Jacob Wrestling with God. Jake Baumgartner. Used with permission of the artist. Found at: https://newministrynewpaths.blogspot.com/2014/07/wrestling-with-god-genesis-3222-31.html