Haggai 2:1-5 , Acts 23:6-11 Rev Linda Fernandes-Bailey
“Courage” August 13, 2017
God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed; Courage to change the things which should be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next.
This familiar prayer called the Serenity prayer is written by Reinhold Neibuhr protestant pastor and theologian is the subject for my summer sermon series. Last week we explored serenity and now this week we will be exploring courage.
“Courage to change the things which should be changed” are the words that Niebuhr uses as opposed to the adapted version used by Alcoholics Anonymous….courage to change the things I can.
Now I’m not a big fan of “shoulding” on people….But somehow the courage to change that which should be changed carries a stronger message doesn’t it?
We are not big fans of change as human beings in general . So sometimes we stay with things way longer than we should for fear of change. I had breakfast last week with a young woman I know and she told me she doesn’t like to change jobs because it makes her too anxious. While some of us thrive on change for the most part it is far more common for people to stay in dead end jobs too long, relationships that are not working for too long, ignore health concerns for too long, and we all know that the church’s mantra tends to be “we have always done it this way”
So why change?
When I hear Niebuhr’s words “change the things which should be changed” it does bring me to think more in terms of changes in society. It sounds like it’s about making right what we know in our hearts is wrong. So I think about things like health care, poverty, violence, prejudice and education or whatever big issue you can think of, it certainly takes courage to change entrenched systems that are so complicated!
But it also takes courage to change our personal situations because it begins with looking at our lives and examining those things we do and say that are no longer working for us. We know they are not working because we have lost our joy for life, we feel broken and disconnected, we feel unhealthy and unenergetic. We know that what God wants for us is “fullness of life” Second century bishop St Irenaeus said it this way, ” the glory of God is a human being fully alive.” We are not fully alive when we are stuck in situations and relationships or ways of being that we know are not healthy.
When I hear the word courage I immediately picture the cowardly lion from the Wizard of Oz. Remember when he comes on the scene in the movie he begins by acting rough and tough and kinda bullies the scarecrow until Dorothy puts him in his place and then he starts crying and you find out he’s not really a bully after all but he is scared of his own shadow and so he travels with Dorothy and her friends to see the great wizard to get some courage. In the end of course he finds that courage is inside him all along and all the wizard does is give him a speech on courage. The wizard tells him, “You are under the unfortunate delusion that simply because you run away from danger, you have no courage.”
The story reminds me that having courage means feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It is not the absence of fear. In fact, the dictionary defines courage as “The ability to do something that frightens one or strength in the face of pain or grief.” It does not say that courage is easy or that fear and anxiety are not part of it. We all have had courage at some point in our lives as we have faced situations we would rather not face…loss, grief, unemployment, broken relationships. But, sometimes our hurts leave us frozen and we hide behind our comfortable routines forgetting the strength and courage we have to do and be the things we never thought we could.
Both scripture lessons today speak of courage. Paul is witnessing to his belief in the resurrection and is jailed for the dissension it has caused but that night his hears the Lord’s voice say, “Keep up your courage” reminding him he has to keep testifying. After being nearly physically torn apart I’m pretty sure Paul is scared but he takes courage and keeps testifying.
In Haggai’s reading even though the people are discouraged and can not envision the rebuilding of the temple the Lord says, Take courage my spirit abides with you.
And that is what God says to each of us in our fear….keep up your courage…take courage….I am with you
My very favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote that helps me when I feel whatever I am about to do feels impossible goes like this:
“You gain strength and courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop and look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you can not do.”
Courage to change the things which should be changed.
When I served First Congregational Church in Southington, I witnessed great courage. A 22 yr old young man who grew up in the church decided that he had the courage to change the things that should be changed. He felt a stirring from within when he saw the news about the shootings in the Colorado movie theater. He has lived long enough to remember other violent incidents around this country…Columbine, Virginia tech, and he decided enough is enough I need to take a step in changing the things that should be changed. So he called the church. Now that should make all of us very proud. He called the church and asked can I organize a peace rally? He called the church…that particular church because I think he knew they are a place that speaks out for justice….they are a place that stand with their young people and gives them a voice. He called the CHURCH. And then he stood on the steps in front of the church and gave a passionate speech about how he couldn’t do nothing anymore. And yes it was a passionate speech about gun control particularly challenging the need for the average citizen to buy assault weapons. BUT see here’s the thing, it doesn’t matter what side of this issue you stand on what I saw was a 22 yr old young man giving a passionate speech because he had the courage to take a step to change the things which should be changed. And the change he wants is a safer world for all of us to live in. So, he gathered his family his friends and his church together. What I saw in that wonderful passionate speech was the future. There is a lot being said about “the youth today” usually negative. But what I saw on those stairs was hope for the church and hope for this world and it was a beautiful thing to witness no matter what opinion you have because then we sang, and prayed and lit candles and stood together all because of courage!
This weekend amidst a hate rally lead by white supremists at the University of Virginia and interfaith group gathered to pray. The Rev Tracy Blackmon of the UCC was there. She says it was, “ a moment of motivation, a moment of prayer, a moment of encouragement for people who wanted to provide a faithful witness of Love.” The white supremists converged on the church carrying torches and shouting hate slogans. The interfaith group was not intimidated they showed up the next day too and they linked arms outside to stand firm against hate….Courage to change the things that should be changed.
Part of being a Christian is to live an examined life. That means that on a regular basis you look within and around you and ask “what should be changed?” Am I fully alive and doing and being what God intends for me?
In his book on the serenity prayer Trevor Hudson suggests we examine our selves with these questions:
*First suggesting we begin by taking time alone with God in quiet asking God to search our hearts THEN:
*Reflect on instant reactions to others, especially actions that cause harm
*Look for what we criticize in others… in ourselves
*Recognize contradictions between what we are like at home and what we are like in public
*Lastly, Ask friends who know us well for feedback about how they experience us.
I would add that we reflect on any hate we hold in our hearts.
It takes courage to examine ourselves in such a deep way.
Imagine how different the world might be if we all examined our hearts and our motives and took a closer look at how we live in the world.
The Christian life is challenging, it calls us to speak truth when it is easier to be silent, to be silent when it would feel better to rant and rage, to take steps towards creating the kingdom of heaven right here on earth and to always have concern and care for the least among us. It takes courage to live faithful lives!
And so we pray…..God grant us the courage to change the things which should be changed. Amen