October 22, 2006
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dianne O'Connell
Job 38:1-8; 34-41
Psalm 104:1-9; 24; 35c
Catching Courage in the Wilderness
morning. Whether planned or not, we as a
congregation have been studying various aspects of the war in
We had a standing room only crowd last Sunday evening when Kathy Kelly spoke about “Catching Courage” to speak out and stand up against the evil results of American policy in Iraq, a policy which she states has caused a half million children’s deaths since 1996.
is the co-founder of a group called Voices in the Wilderness. This group has sent delegation after
delegation of Christians into
I’m not going to re-preach Kathy’s sermon from last Sunday, but I am going to direct you to her website at www.vitw.org.
The phrase that I took home from her talk was “catching courage.” Courage isn’t something that we are born with, nor is it the opposite of fear. Courage, she says, is what we do with our fear, how we handle it. And make it work for us. We can “catch” courage from joining with those who already have it. We can share our courage as we go forth on a common mission. We can go forward even if we don’t have a clue if we’re really coming back. Together, we can catch this kind of courage.
I found this morning’s scripture lessons interesting in the light of Kathy Kelly’s visit.
The first passage from Job, that Gale read for us, seems to be the words of an angry, or at least exasperated, God. You could tell God was somewhat emotional because he was speaking through a Storm.
“Who is that that questions me with words, but no knowledge?
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth?
“Where were you when the seas burst forth from the Earth’s womb?
“Do you know the laws of the heavens?
I can hear an angry Jewish father or mother saying: “PAhhf, what do you know? I tell you: Nothing, do you know!”
I’m sure Job was set back on his heels with this Word from God.
Psalm 104 read by Arlene sounds like it could have been Job’s response to this chastisement.
“O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
“You set the earth on its foundations.
“You control the seas and the floods.
"How many are your works, O Lord: In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
“Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”
Now with this understanding, maybe we can talk. The Lord God is in charge. We can sit at the feet of God and learn. We will be given the understanding that God wills in God’s time. No amount of “why me?” or “how come?” or “Please, fix it for me so I don’t have to fix it for myself” or other prayerful nagging, is going to force God to change the timetable of life just because we said we didn’t understand or wanted it different.
I am reminded of when I served as chaplain at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Often one of our patients would return to the hospital in a sleep-deprived psychotic state. One such woman lamented that she had been praying and praying to God to solve a serious problem she was facing. “I’ve prayed all day and all night. I haven’t let up. I haven’t slept since last Tuesday. And God hasn’t answered my prayers!”
I heard myself say with great authority, “Stop nagging Him!” “He’s not going to answer anything while you keep nagging him. Take the meds, get some sleep, and then let’s talk.” And that’s what she did.
I find I have to occasionally shake myself up and give myself the same hard advice.
How does this all fit with the theme of “Catching Courage?”
Well, believe me, it takes courage to quit the bitching, get some sleep, take a bath, and take those first steps to take control of one’s own life and then branch out to make a difference in someone else’s life. Kathy Kelly has obviously taken those first steps – and many more – on her journey to bring peace and some measure of safety, even health and prosperity to everyday Iraqi families.
The key in all this, of course, is to keep one’s humility and to remember who’s in charge and for whom we are working. Moses did not bring water to the Hebrews in the wilderness, you remember. It was God who commanded Moses to strike the rock; and it was God who brought forth the water.
Kathy Kelly knows for whom she is working.
The Disciples James and John were not bad people. They had left their lives and families to follow Jesus. They had traveled with Jesus and they knew they had done good work on behalf of the common mission. They were actually pretty high on what had been happening and they were quite pleased with themselves to realize they were on the “winning team.” Miracles, crowds, good philosophy and good theology. Courage was easy during the halcyon days. And it was equally as easy to fall into the trap of believing that they were really responsible for their own success; that they were really worthy of some special recognition above the others.
We don’t know what possessed them to make the request that they did? “Lord, when this is all over, let one of us sit at your left hand and the other sit at your right hand.”
What about the other disciples? Where were THEY going to sit? What made Jimmy and Johnny think they were so special? And more importantly, to Jesus anyway, could they take the bad with the good? When the bad times came, would they really want to sit that close to him; be that closely identified with him?
Doing the what you believe to be good and right is great when we get praise and recognition for our efforts. Doing good and being sort of in the majority, is great when it results in our getting paid a living wage; when our children and our extended families take pride in what we do; when we feel certain we are doing what God would have us be doing.
But what if the recognition turns negative; the praise dries up and is replaced with ridicule or condemnation. What happens when doing the right thing, or attempt to do it as best as we can, and it results in loss of prestige or resources to provide for ourselves and our families. What happens when the “winning team” looks like it might lose in the final inning?
What if we might actually be arrested or even crucified, literally or figuratively? Then would it be so good to be at the right or the left of Jesus? Are we really in the right place; have we really thought this through well enough? Maybe we should hang back a block or two and see what happens. Maybe we should take a look at our courage quotient, and think about getting a refill.
Jesus knew that James and John had yet to experience the downside of walking in the path of their Lord. They had much to learn.
can’t help but keep coming back to
people are dying. Lots of people. Our own economy is being ravaged; let alone
the entire infrastructure of
“Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?”
We as a nation are in an out-of-control handbasket. What can we do as individuals or as a congregation to possibly change the course of the basket?
to be trite, but where would Jesus be in
I do not expect to join the Voices in the Wilderness and most of you probably won’t either. I have not caught that much courage. But I can admire and support those persons who have caught more courage than I. Those persons who have earned a place at Jesus’ side through their willingness to stand with him during the tough, the dangerous times.
I will probably never visit
And I want to enjoy some of the nicer things in life – like going to the symphony with a friend, or taking in a leisurely lunch, on occasion. But I also want to be where I am needed most. It can be all quite confusing. I try to remember the words of the Lord God,
“What do you know? Stop asking so many questions.
Go where my son leads you, and you will be on the right road.”
I’d like to close with this poem by Tom Shuman. It is called
Where you sit...
we leave our box seats
at the symphony or ball park,
and pray you won't catch our eye
as we pass you
sitting with the homeless;
we wait for a few minutes
at the doctor's office
to get a $10 shot
so we won't catch the flu,
while half a world away
you sit for a week
which will cost you a year's wages
finds its way to your village;
we sit in our home theatres,
watching the latest "reality"
on our plasma screens,
while you sit in the darkness,
rocking your child asleep,
as she cries from the ache
of an empty stomach.
(like James and John)
we want to be at your side
remind us where you sit.
© 2006 Thom M Shuman
Click to Return to Sermon Index