Year A Proper 23 WEDNESDAY, 14 October 2020
Video service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Keep Courage, Have Faith”
Collect: Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, saying, ‘Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.’ But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. Since the harbour was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favour of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbour of Crete, facing south-west and north-west.
When a moderate south wind began to blow, they thought they could achieve their purpose; so they weighed anchor and began to sail past Crete, close to the shore. But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster, rushed down from Crete. Since the ship was caught and could not be turned with its head to the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. After hoisting it up they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they would run on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea-anchor and so were driven. We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.
Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.’
In my three years here I have preached on the feeding of the 5,000 a lot. And I have preached on the sending out of the disciples more than once as well. So today, I will speak on the New Testament reading.
We have two boat stories between Jonah and Acts, but in both, God’s will will be done.
What I want to focus on is the line that sparkled for me when I was praying about what to say today. This is Paul to his shipmates: “So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God…” This is Paul, knowing he is on his way to the Emperor for a trial for his life. No light topic. A quick death to many would be preferable to potential prison time and execution, perhaps painful execution. But no, an angel told him to “Fear Not!” (Please notice how often that is the first words out of an angel’s mouth!) And Paul chooses to believe.
Now this is not a blind faith like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch and missing out on all the candy. Linus had faith, but no experience to back up the faith. Paul, on the other hand, had been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, etc. repeatedly. He had a quiet confidence that this was not the end of the story. He had been promised. And his quiet assurance was something he was willing to share. Would things be bad? Yes. The ship would be lost. Would they be okay? Yes. All the people would be okay.
“So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God…” If there was ever a time for those words. I have friends who are claiming all kinds of evil will be crashing in on our heads soon. That may be. But I have a quiet assurance that I can only call Faith, that the one who started this journey will be faithful to complete it. And when I am done, my work is done. As naive as that may sound, God has seen me through a lot, and I have no reason to think that anything that could happen any time soon would cease the faith I have in God.
One time I almost drowned. I was trapped underwater after doing something stupid, and was gulping water. The more water I struggled, the more water I gulped. It was bad. And then I saw a clear choice. I could drown, or I could calm myself and do what needed to be done. The only other choice was death. I chose to use my brain, to do what I needed to do, and to have faith. And because of that, I am here to tell you that story. I was a mere seconds away from not being able to do so. Fear. Worry. They are not from God. Awe. Humiliation. There is a reason why the angels start with “Fear not.” When nothing is hidden we cannot hide from the fact that God is God and we are not. But God is for us, and if God is, what can be against us? Ever?
My guess, if anything, is that worry gets us nothing. Fear kills our minds, and our wits are required these days. If you worry, pray. If you fear, talk about it. List where God has been with you in the past, and know that that same God is with you now, and always. “So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God…”
We cannot say it enough. In fact, say it with me:
“So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God…” Amen