Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Be Strong and Courageous (Mark 4:35-41; Joshua 1:1-9) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

I remember reading an article which said that in 1973, 26-year-old director Steven Spielberg was hired to make a movie based on Peter Benchley's novel about shark attacks called Jaws. The movie was so scary, and I can testify to that, that even to this day, millions of Americans panic, when they hear that a shark might be present in their beach area.   But studies clearly show that on average less than one American dies each year from a shark attack.   So to relieve you of this fear, I'm giving you a list of other things more likely to take your life:

  • Trampolines account for an average of 1.1 deaths per year.
  • Roller coasters take 1.2 lives per year.
  • Free-standing kitchen-range tip-overs cause 1.3 deaths per year.
  • Vending machines account for 2.1 deaths per year.
  • Riding lawnmowers take 5.2 lives per year.
  • Fireworks cause 6.6 deaths per year.
  • Skydiving accidents account for 21.2 deaths per year.
  • Getting crushed by a television or furniture causes an average of 26.4 deaths every year.
  • Smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity and alcohol kill 87% of Americans prematurely.
  • Bathtub drownings and lightening strikes are far higher than shark attacks.

The article concludes with this challenge: “So face your fears, get off the couch and go for a swim.”  I hope I have now calmed your fears about going into the ocean.

Fear is of course something common to all of us.   We all know what its like to be afraid.  According to scripture, the antidote to fear is courage.  What is courage?  The ability to do something that frightens you.  The ability and willingness to face or confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty or intimidation.   Yes, living can be hazardess to one's health as they say.  Life is no place for cowards.   A life well lived requires many things – including courage. 

We think of physical courage.  The courage to rescue someone from a burning car or house.  The courage to physically stop someone who is hurting another person.  We think of moral courage.  The courage to speak up for what is right despite opposition, to speak the truth when others are silent, to take a stand, when others shy away.  And there is spiritual courage.  To courage to believe and trust in God, when things are collapsing around you, the courage to believe in God's love and mercy  amidst disappointment and loss.

Yes, the quality, the attribute of courage is essential for life.  Courage means different things to different people.  For one person it is tackling a seemingly overwhelming problem or dealing with the fear of failure.  For someone else, it is simply getting out of bed and facing the day.  It takes courage to be a parent, to raise children or to work or look for work if you are unemployed, or to get out of a rut and try something brand new. 

We all know what it means to be afraid, to have a failure of nerve.  Two little boys walked into a dentist's office.  One said: “I want a tooth taken out and I don't want any gas because we're in a hurry.  The dentist said: “You're quite a brave young man.  Which tooth is it?  The boy turned to his smaller brother, and said:  “Show him your tooth, Tommy.”

Who comes to mind when you think of courageous people?  I think of the men and women of our military who put themselves in harm's way in service to our nation.   I think of police and firefighters and lifeguards who put their lives on the line every day for you and me.  I think of acts of heroism like that of the young man who heard the cries of those three women in Cleveland who had been kidnapped and held captive for 10 years and broke down the door and freed them.  I think of Christians living in hostile environments surrounded by radical Muslim neighbors who continue to claim the name of Christ as Lord and Savior and worship at a local church.  I think of Muslims who stand up for Christians despite intimidation by other radical Muslim neighbors.  But it also takes courage to introduce yourself to a stranger, or to reach out and help someone in need in a modest way.  Who or what comes to your mind when you think of courage?

Both of our lessons this morning are stories about fear and courage by the people of God.  In our O.T. Lesson we learn that the great prophet Moses, who by the power of God had led the Israelites out of Egypt has died.  After wandering around in the wilderness for 40 years, the people are poised to enter the promised land.  The Lord decides to call a successor.   God calls Joshua.  Joshua as you might expect is filled with fear at taking on such a daunting task.  Wouldn't you be?  I mean how does one follow in the footsteps of the great Moses?  Seeing the fear in Joshua's heart, the Lord speaks to Joshua:  “My servant Moses is dead.  Now proceed to cross the Jordan you and all this people into the land that I am giving to them as I promised to Moses.  As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.  Only be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

In our N.T. Lesson the disciples suddenly find themselves caught up in a storm out on Lake Galilee.  The waves begin pounding and crashing against the side of their boat.   Water is gushing over the sides and they are terrified. 

The Sea of Galilee has long been notorious for its storms and this is true today as well.  Terrible squalls appear without warning, even when the sky is clear.  The disciples are frantic.  Their fear is  clearly justified.   They knew the boat could capsize and they would be lost at sea.  The disciples see Jesus asleep in the stern.  They cry out: “Jesus, wake up, don't you see what's happening, don't you care that we are going to drown, help us before we all perish.”  Jesus awakens, hears their cry and commands the wind and sea to be quiet.  And the wind ceases, and there was a dead calm.  Jesus says to them: “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?

As followers of Jesus, there are times when out of obedience and love, you must find courage, the courage to speak up for Jesus, for your faith, to let others know you are a follower of Jesus, that you are doing something because Jesus is the Lord of your life.  The courage to  say something, to intervene in someone's life, to be frank and honest with someone.  Like saying to your child, “no”, even if they get angry with you, even if they say: “I hate you.”  Or saying to a friend, or family member, to a neighbor, or colleague, to somebody that you care about: “I must tell you that I think you are making a major mistake.  You’re on the wrong path.  I care about you so much that I must tell you this.  I can't stand by and let you hurt yourself or someone else.  It may upset you or offend you.  It may put a strain on our relationship, but its because I value our friendship that I must be honest with you.”  

If you see somebody doing something wrong or behaving in a way that hurts themselves or others, as followers of Christ we have a duty to speak the truth in love.  We are not much of a parent, we are not much of a friend, if we stand silently by and do nothing.  And saying or doing something we know requires courage.

I like what a preacher wrote:  “A young man had gone bankrupt due to a failed business venture.  He told this preacher he had lost everything.  The preacher replied:  “Let me correct you  You haven't lost everything.  You had something before you had a business.  You had a dream and you had the nerve to try to make it happen.  You haven't lost that.  Nobody ever loses courage.  Courage isn't something you lose because courage is always an option.  Courage is a choice.  And by God's grace, it is always there for you to choose.  My friend, God wants you to choose courage?  Will you choose it?”

In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy you recall performs brave deeds for the mysterious wizard who rules Oz, in the hope that he will use his magic to send her home.  Later she finds out that he is no wizard, but merely a circus performer, who has convinced the people that he is a wizard.  Dorothy has three companions, a scarecrow who wants brains, a tinman who wants a heart, and a cowardly lion who wants courage.  The wizard pretends to give these things to them, but the irony is that they possessed them all along without knowing it.  The wizard helped them find what was inside them all the time.  My friend, look deeply into your heart, you too will be surprised that by God's grace, Christ has given you more courage, than you ever imagined.           

I believe these two biblical stories inspire hope when we face times of fear.  They tell us that God is present with us in the midst of the storms of life and when we are called to take on some project or task or mission.  They are an affirmation of God's promise -  “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Pray for boldness.  Courage is not the absence of fear.  It is acting in spite of your fear.  It is doing the right thing in spite of your fear. Courage is doing something, despite being afraid out of love: your love God, your love for some person, your love for the truth.  Following Jesus requires courage and courage comes from trusting in Him:

Scripture says: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of courage, of love and of self-discipline.”    Be strong and courageous.   Amen!

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