“Facing the Trials of Life”
Sermon 1 – “Take Heart”
Acts 27:13-44; Mark 4:35-41
Rev. Aaron Kesson
Emmanuel United Methodist Church
June 21, 2009
While driving down the freeway one day, I looked at the car ahead of me and read a bumper sticker that said “Life Happens”. Maybe you have seen this bumper sticker or another one similar to it but with a word more poignant before the word “happens”. Either way, I thought about this and came to the conclusion that whoever made that bumper sticker was right. Life does happen, and sometimes life happens in ways we may not feel ready for.
Max Lucado in his book, In The Eye of the Storm gives this illustration about life’s challenges: Chippie the parakeet never saw it coming. One second he was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.
The problems began when Chippie's owner decided to clean Chippie's cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She'd barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Chippie got sucked in.
The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie -- still alive, but stunned.
Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.
Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.
A few days after the trauma, the reporter who'd initially written about the event contacted Chippie's owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," she replied, "Chippie doesn't sing much anymore -- he just sits and stares."
It's hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . That's enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart.
Some of us here this morning may be feeling as though we have been sucked in, washed up, and blown over by the trials of life. No doubt, the feeling of fear the disciples had after having been tossed around on the Sea of Galilee must have been very painful. Likewise, Paul’s journey to Rome on the prisoner ship was quite eventful, with lots of life’s “happenings”, including a shipwreck. These accounts demonstrate not only the reality of life’s struggles, but also outline for us today some practical ways of facing life’s trials.
Our text from Acts 27 takes place just after Paul had warned the centurion about the impending doom that would await the ship if they were to leave at this particular time. In verse 9, we see that the time was just after the Fast, or the Day of Atonement, which is Mid-September through October. This is important because after the Day of Atonement, not many ships would set sail because they knew that months on the water would mean hazardous conditions with a prevailing north-eastern wind (the nor’easter). Such winds and conditions have led to certain doom for other ships, but the centurion was poised on making due time and reaching Rome so that the prisoners, especially Paul, would be secured.
Needless to say, where we began our reading in verse 13, we see that the nor’easter certainly picked up and soon the ship was found to be caught in the grips of the wind. The strength of the wind was so strong that the ship had no choice but to be driven along wherever the current and wind would take them. Even after their efforts, the crew found themselves in even more peril, having to secure the ship’s boat (v.16), undergirding the ship with supports (v.17), lowering the gear (v.18), getting rid of cargo (v.18), and finally throwing the ship’s tackle overboard after three days (v.19). It is no doubt that Luke (believed to be the author of Acts) records in verse 20 that “all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned”.
Oh how easy it is to lose hope when all our efforts seem futile. Many times it seems that the only option left is for us to bury our face in the sand. But, fortunately for us, this is not the end of the story! Look at what happens beginning in verse 21- Amidst the chaos and fear overtaking those on board, Paul speaks to the crew and the prisoners a word of encouragement and hope. After reminding the crew of their ill-made decision not to listen to him in the first place, Paul says that an angel of the Lord spoke to him and let him know that there will be no loss of life, but only loss of the ship as they continue(v.22-23). Paul then encourages the crew once again to “take heart” in v.25, reminding them of his unshakable faith in God. But he also reminds them that the difficulties are not over as he continues in verse 26 by saying that the ship will run aground on “some island”.
Feeding in to their fears, some of the crew suspected they were nearing land, thus the destruction of the ship, so they tested the depths with sounding line, recognizing that the depth was quickly decreasing. Because of their fear of running upon rocks and destroying the ship, instead of listening to Paul’s advice, the sailors thought it wise to save themselves by dropping the boat and taking it to safety before the ship gets torn up. But, as the sailors were preparing to go, Paul told the centurion and soldiers “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved”(v.31). Heeding Paul’s advice, the soldiers cut the ropes of the boat and it was released from the ship (v.32).
The next morning, Paul recognized that those on the ship were experiencing serious anxiety and have not properly nourished themselves as a result. So, he urges them to take some food. What Paul says in v.34 further underscores the word he had received from the angel of the Lord earlier as he tells the crew “you need to eat to gain strength, because not even a hair is to perish from the head of any of you”. Then, in an act of obedience and as a witness to his faith, Paul gives thanks to God in the presence of all on the ship and breaks bread with them (v.35). The result of Paul’s encouragement and urging is seen in the heightened morale of the crew and soldiers in v.36.
As we wind down the story, we recognize that the ship finally runs ashore in verse 41, becoming unmovable. Then in verse 42 we notice something that might just as well come from Hollywood. The soldiers plan to kill the prisoners so they don’t swim away and escape! However, in verse 43 we see that the centurion talks them out of it, due to his desire to save Paul. God’s providence is proven once again and as witnessed to in verse 44; all of the ship’s people were brought safely ashore.
In light of our readings for today, how often do we fight against God’s providence for our lives? Think about this. How many times, despite God’s promise that he will take care of us and bring us to safety; do we go for the life boat instead of remaining on the ship? How often do we seek out our own ways of dealing with life’s trials instead of leaning on God’s strong arms? Friends, the truth is that you and I, as children of the Most High God, have been given a gift of faith to endure these tough times, not to escape them. The hard reality of this life is that sometimes God will take us out of the trials of life, and yet many times, he will give us the strength to remain in the trials, so that we might endure them. How great it would be to simply be “plucked” from a situation and magically transported to a new life or situation that was more pleasing. What a great sight it would be to see one of our own being raised to heaven in a chariot of fire. However, that is not what Jesus promised. Jesus promised the disciples that they would face trials and tribulations in this world and that they were not to be fearful of this fact, but they were to take heart because he has overcome the world. Think about that. Church, do we really and honestly, deep down inside our souls, believe that Christ has overcome the world, or do we go home after singing great hymns about God’s majesty and power only to go home and live like hell the rest of the week, complaining about one another instead of lifting each other up. Making excuses as to why we don’t pray, or read our Bible, or participate in the ministries of the church. Complaining that the sermon was too long and that the music wasn’t what you were in the mood for. Upset that so and so was talking while the offering was being collected. Burying our head in the sand and wondering why we can’t tell which way is up. Friends, this is not what we are called to do or be. We are called, as God’s children, to be more than conquerors in Jesus Christ! We are called to live in victory, not defeat!!! We are called to lift one another to victory, not put each other down!!! We are called to take heart, to have faith, and to love one another as Christ loves us.