Courage


 2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 12:1-4 & Joshua 1:1-9
16 March 2014                                                 
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                                   

This cat has the courage to face not one but many potential enemies.  Esther had the courage to stand up to evil, saving her people.  Abraham and Sarah had the courage to leave all that was familiar and safe to go to unknown places.   Joshua had the courage after the death of Moses to lead his people into the Promised Land.  God says to Abram, “Go and I will bless you and make you a blessing to others.   God says to Joshua, Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.    Abram and Joshua are the start and finish of the long story of God’s people trying to settle down in one place, where they might be blessed to be a blessing.
Genesis 12:1-4

"Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." 4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
(NRSV)

I like to travel, but I don’t like to move.   Considering how little Abram and Sarai, as they were named at this time, moving to a new land would be even more frightening.   Would they be safe?   Would they have food and shelter?   How would God make of them a great nation, when they are already quite old with no children.   It does not sound promising, but it is the promise of God to them, and as such it can be trusted.   Those who listen to God are often called to go with courage to unknown places figuratively, to trust that God will provide all that we need.   Remember how the disciples dropped their nets and went with Jesus?  Remember how Jesus went into Jerusalem on the day we now celebrate as Palm Sunday.   He sensed the danger of the moment, but he was courageous.  

Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear and mastery of fear but NOT absence of fear.”   Now Joshua had good reason to fear.   Strong and faithful leader Moses was dead, and what?   He’s supposed to help the Israelites make it across the Jordan!   We are going to hear the story of God’s en-courage-ment to Joshua.   Pay attention to that word.   To encourage someone is not just to pat them on the back; it is to give them courage.   Courage, despite their fears.   Courage.   Remember the Cowardly Lion’s brave speech while waiting to see the Emperor?   

What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage!   What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?

Courage!  Now it took a just little courage for these adults to climb up the waterslide with the kids with an audience at the Camphire’s Irish party.   But the real courage we see in our friend Anderson, who came to this country six years ago, leaving his wife and two young daughters in Cameroon, and on Tuesday he will become a US Citizen, which means he is closer to being able to bring them over to join him and to be part of our Peace family!   Courage is a way of demonstrating your trust in God.   Hear God’s encouraging promise to Joshua.
Joshua 1:1-9

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying, 2 "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, to the Israelites. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. 5 No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. 9 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."   (NRSV)
This theme of courage has really taken hold in me this week.   It seems an appropriate message, as we weep with those waiting on word about the missing Malaysian airplane.   It seems right in thinking about what it feels like to be a resident of the Ukraine, wondering what will happen next with Russia.  

And it seemed even more right after viewing The Butler at the Faith and Film Night.  A father and son, each in their own generation, mired in the oppression of racism in the civil rights era, acting out of courage in two radically divergent but constructive ways.   And after the movie, wondering what it means to be a courageous church in our day – what does it mean to be courageous as a new church in the face of declining numbers?   What does it mean in the church to be courageously sacrificial in giving, when many people cannot understand why we would find joy in giving away so much of our money?  What does it mean to be courageous in support of underpaid and oppressed farmworkers?   What does it mean to be courageous in support of the needs of gay people when the definition of marriage is being debated in church and culture?
And how can we be a church of the big tent – allowing people to live courageously and faithfully according to the call of God in their lives, given their generation and perspective.   Courage means we exercise love and respect, even if our faith is lived out as differently as the subservient, silent and underpaid butler in the White House and his son, a freedom rider sitting at the lunch counter in Nashville, active in non-violent protests for civil rights.  

St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow, and many of us celebrated yesterday with good food and fellowship at the Camphires.   Along with all the green apparel and four-leaf clovers, we should always remember the courage of St Patrick.   Tragedy struck Patrick at sixteen years old when he was kidnapped by Irish Pirates and taken from his family and friends to the Emerald Isle where he was forced into slavery.  This was the 4th century.  While he was a slave, Patrick recalled his Christian upbringing and turned back to that true God of whom he wrote so eloquently. He became a pilgrim, turning his captivity into a time of spiritual growth. He learned to walk the way of love. Here the testimony of St Patrick: 

Love of God and the fear of Him increased more and more, and faith grew, and the spirit was moved, so that in one day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night nearly as many…And I felt no hurt, nor was there any sluggishness in me- as I now see because the spirit was then fervent within me"
Not only did Patrick grow in faith these six years, but after he was able to escape  back to Britain and train for the ministry, saying he would never go back to Ireland, he got a message from God, much like the ones given to Abraham and Joshua.   Go from your kindred and your home.   Be courageous.  Be strong.   I will be with you.   St Patrick went back to Ireland to share the Gospel with those who had enslaved him!  Courage.
C. S. Lewis said, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point."  So now let us sing a hymn written by a pastor, Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick, who was courageous enough in the 1920’s to preach in the Old First Presbyterian Church of New York City that the gospel was broader and more inclusive than many people thought at that time.   This hymn grew out of the controversy of his day.   God of Grace and God of Glory

And now let us affirm our faith with the German Christians who had the courage to stand up against Hitler and his regime, many of whom were killed for this strong stand against evil.  Esther lived, but sometimes courage leads to death, as it did for Christ and many of his closest disciples.

The Theological Declaration of Barmen