November 11, 2018 Sermon
How to Have Courage in Every Endeavor
Deuteronomy 31.6 Acts 23.10-12 and 1 Thessalonians 2.1-2 (RSV)
Try to recall a time when you were courageous. Any time you were courageous. Did you accomplish what you hoped to achieve? How did you feel about what you did? How do you feel about it now? Most people discover that when they did something courageous, the experience had a significant impact on their lives.
When I first started in ministry, I had to find a pastoral call in N Carolina. Almost ALL North Carolinians had NEVER heard of a woman minister back then. The distinguished pastor of one of the largest churches in N Carolina was the Committee on Ministry moderator. This pastor was patronizing and dismissed me, saying that I had virtually no hope of finding a call. But he felt sorry for me, so he invited me as a pulpit supply when he wanted to take a Sunday off. It took a lot of prayer and courage, but I stuck in there. I smile now, because I soon became the Interim Pastor when that patronizing pastor retired. I look back with gratitude for the faith and courage that empowered me to be a woman pastor in N Carolina, where I then served in four more interim pastorates. That experience of challenge and testing changed the trajectory of my life.
We often look back at the pivotal learning our attempt afforded, even when we were courageous and fail in our courageous undertaking. When my dad was middle-aged, he tried to climb Mt Rainier; but ¾’s of the way up, he begged the climb leader to abandon him on the trail. Humiliated, my dad made it back down. The trek instilled him with more grit AND made him give up smoking. When I was in hi school, my mom was an accomplished water skier; so she mustered the courage to try snow skiing with a group of students from the college where she was a librarian. My mother is extremely flexible—we lovingly call her Gumby. On her first run down the slope, she crash landed, ending up in an upside down V with her head between her knees in the snow. The ski patrol insisted on calling an ambulance. My mom said,“NO! Just get me up and I’ll be fine!” Mom’s courageous ski adventure has been the stuff of family humor ever since.
Courage entails persevering in the face of difficulty. Courage takes on many forms. Today, we celebrate Veterans Day and Armistice Day to honor and thank the incredible courage that often led to sacrifice on the part of American veterans, many of whom sit among us today. Thank you for your service. Without the courage of veterans of war, our nation would not exist today.
There are many kinds of courage. If you are brave enough, I have a challenge for you for this week: Open your Bible and read the book of the Acts of the Apostles. The Book of Acts has 26 chapters. But each chapter is only about a page long, so it will not take that long to read. The thing is, that from the first to the last page, it makes modern adventure movies and spy novels seem mild. The Apostles meet horrific challenges of all sorts. They take courageous initiative after initiative that usually get them into danger. Some of them lose their lives. Yet they persevere. S you read, you might keep track of the Apostle Paul. Even if you already know much of Paul’s story, you will be amazed anew at the number and varieties of conflicts and life-threatening adversities that Paul overcame. Just one example is recorded in today’s scripture lesson from Acts: The Roman Council had to be restrained from tearing Paul to pieces. Council members then vowed that they would not eat or drink until they had killed him. Relying on faith and courage, Paul survived years of false incarceration.
Other Christians met huge obstacles and challenges, as well. The early Christians and many Christians throughout the centuries, have courageously persevered in their witness and ministry.
Historians have determined that for baptism into the earliest Christian communities, baptismal candidates were required to study, worship and apprentice for no less than two solid years before they were offered the rite of baptism. Would mainline churches be courageous enough to require a two-year confirmation process prior to admission to church membership??? Some historians think that the early Christians lacked courage to admit anyone who expressed casual interest for fear of a spy infiltrating their midst. Courage is never super easy.
This is Church Stewardship commitment time. Faith-inspired generous giving is an act of courage based on faith in God’s grace. We can make a pledge to the church that is well within our personal financial means and will require giving up little of our comfortable way of life. Or we can be boldly generous in our church pledge. Pastoral transition and responsibility for upkeep of this magnificent facility, requires commitment and courageous faith-inspired giving from each congregation member and friend of the congregation. Each member’s contribution is of great significance. As you consider your 2019 financial pledge and your pledge of time and talent—pray for God’s inspiration to commit to courageous generosity.
Whole congregations can be courageous. A 150-member Presbyterian Church in Oregon took a leap of faith in their financial planning. They wanted to hire a second pastor as a youth and children’s minister. Yet church members worried that they could not afford a second pastor. Without proof that they could afford it, they hired a youth pastor. Their courageous faith resulted in strengthening that congregation beyond measure.
Just this week, a Presbyterian newsletter posted that a new worshiping community is forming as a coffee house fellowship—and all of the employees are disabled persons. A small Baptist congregation in California was brave enough to mortgage their church so that they could launch three new unknown ministry initiatives. They advertised that they were offering 3 substantial ministry stipend packages and asked for proposals. They selected the 3 proposals that they thought would be the most significant ministries. And then, they worked hard to pay off their new mortgage.
A tiny remnant congregation in a troubled fringe of Chicago purchased a nearby hospital facility that had closed and was being sold for a bargain price. The congregation rallied the whole community and soon they had a viable local hospital once again, major housing renovations and new life for the whole community—all because one small church stepped out in faith.
A small and elderly Methodist congregation in upstate NY was near to closing. They learned about a Pentecostalist group of young adults who wanted to start a church but had virtually no money. So the older mainline Methodists invited these young families to become a part of their congregation. It was not an easy match. Each group bristled at the theology and practices of the other. Yet both groups courageously worked together to build a coalition and they learned to appreciate each other’s theology. After a period of significant discomfort, the two groups became a united though diverse community of faith. Both groups recognized that they were stronger because of merging with the other group. The Pentecostals even made the Methodists comfortable with raising their arms during worship and saying “Praise the Lord anyway!” when difficulties arose.
A large Presbyterian Church in Missouri made a bold demand of EVERY member. ALL members were required to present their own personal statement of faith that explained their Christian beliefs, Christian experience and commitment.
Then, ALL members were expected to share their personal experience of faith with others in the church and with non-Christians. These Presbyterian were not pushy door-knocking style evangelists. Rather, they shared their own gratitude and enthusiasm about the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In this church’s period of pastor transition, is this congregation courageous enough to consider new ideas for the church? Most importantly, is the faith of this congregation emboldened by God’s grace to take bold action? Are members committed to pray and listen for God’s vision for Union Presbyterian Church?
As a congregation, in our personal lives, in this local community and regarding world affairs--trusting in God’s grace and praying is how to have courage in every endeavor.
PRAYER in Unison:
Holy God, as you have accompanied your people through times of captivity, wilderness, and exile, shelter and sustain all those who flee persecution, oppression, warfare, violence, hunger, and poverty. Open our hearts and homes, our gates and doors, so that they might find safety, peace, and welcome—a place to live in freedom and without fear; through Jesus Christ, the hope of the world. Amen. -- Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (WJK, 2018), 631