Sermon† at First Presbyterian Church Lockhart
by Rev. Cameron Allen
†††††††††† Have yíall ever heard someone say, ďI donít believe in the Bible, but I do think it is a great work of literature.Ē† I have heard that a lot lately.† What immediately comes to my mind is, ďHave you ever read Deuteronomy?† Or Leviticus?† There is a lot in the Bible I would be hard pressed to classify as great works of literature.†
†††††††††† But the text we are going to look at today, is certainly a great story.† Itís an adventure story about shipwreck.† This story rivals Moby Dick or Odysseus voyage in the Odyssey.† Itís really good stuff.
†††††††††† Before we get to the text I need to
set up the story for you.† Paul has been
arrested for crimes against the Jewish law.†
But because Paul is a Roman citizen he is able to appeal to the
Emperorís tribunal.† This means the
†††††††††† So to get there Paul is put on several
boats as he and his captives head towards
†††††††††† This is where our text picks up.† Please follow along if you like.† Acts
27 Verse 13; When a moderate south wind began to blow they thought they could
achieve their purpose; so they weighed anchor and began to sail past Crete,
close to the shore.† So this nice
warm breeze convinces the sailors to try for
†††††††††† Verse 14: But soon a violent wind called the northeaster, rushed down from
†††††††††† Verse 16: By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the shipís boat under control.† After hoisting it up they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they would run on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and so were driven.† The ship has found respite close to an island that provides shelter from the storm.† But the sailors know the calm waters wonít last long.† So they work frantically to prepare for the coming storm.† They bring in the life boat that would usually be towed behind.† They wrap thick ropes around the hull of the ship to add structural support.† And they lower an anchor to slow them down as they continue to drag out to sea.†
†††††††††† And so the storm begins.† Verse 18.† We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the shipís tackle overboard.† So what was suppose to be an 3 hour trip has turned into three days so far.† When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.† This was a serious storm friends.† This storm blotted out the sky for several days!† Now I know what yaíll are thinking, ďwhere was this storm last year when we had that awful draught?Ē† We could of really used it then!† But whatís significant for the ancient reader is that there was no sun or stars.† They didnít know where they heck they were.† They didnít have compasses or GPS.† They used the sun and stars to navigate.† So now they are truly lost.† Now, they are without hope.
†††††††††† The sailors are without hope that is, not Paul, because in verse 21 we read, Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, ďMen, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss.Ē† I imagine this is just what everyone wants to hear, ďI told you so.Ē† ďI told you the skipper didnít know what he was doing.Ē† But in reality what Paul is doing is reminding the crew of his authority.† That he is a reliable expert, and they should trust him.†
†††††††††† Paul continues, I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship.† For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ďDo not be afraid, Paul: you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.† Notice the crew is going to be saved because of their relationship with Paul.† Very interesting.†
†††††††††† Verse 25, So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.† But we will have to run aground on some island.
†††††††††† This is where our pericope ends, but this story is just so good; let me fill in what happens in the end.† When they had been at sea for 14 days the sailors suspect they are getting near to land.† But itís midnight so they canít see.† They take soundings every so often and they keep getting closer and closer to land.† Finally the experienced sailors are convinced that they are about to be smash into rocks.† So they try to sneak away in the life boat.† But Paul, who sees him responsible for the entire crew and wants them all to survive warns the soldiers, who cut the life boat and send it adrift.† At this point, they are all in the same boat.†
†††††††††† You can imagine the fear and just complete exhausted that has gripped the entire boat at this point.† And in the midst of this Paul gets up and the text says, ďhe took the bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat.† Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.†
†††††††††† To understand this story we need to take a moment and look at the book of Acts in its entirety.† Acts is a funny book.† Itís mostly ignored by the lectionary, save for Pentecost.† Itís hard to know what to do with Acts, itís neither epistle or gospel.† Itís not really history or fiction.† I think what makes us most uncomfortable with Acts is that there is no internal logic or theological system that explains God and salvation.† This is not Romans or Galatians.
†††††††††† Acts finds itís theological coherence in a story.† A story about how God is faithful.† This is the core of Acts.† That the God of Israel is redeeming all of creation.†† Acts is the story of the Church, itís our story!†
†††††††††† In the end, Acts is left open ended, inviting us to join in the story.† Inviting us on the ship.† Jesus says, ďFollow me.Ē† Dare we follow?† Dare we risk our comfortable lives?† Risk our assumptions or leisure?† More then anything, Actís is about discipleship.† Forming Christians.† This is not a story about why we are Christians, itís a story about how we become Christ like.† Become like Stephen, faithful until death.†† Become like Peter, a strong leader.† Or like Paul the evangelist.†
†††††††††† In our story this morning, Paul stands as our example.† We find Paul in a boat full of non-believers.† They are on a perilous journey.† Itís interesting to consider Paulís relationship with the nonbelievers.† He assumes responsibility for them.† He not only gives them expert weather and sailing advice, but he encourages them, he stops the sailors from escaping, and he is the reason the soldiers do not kill all the prisoners.† In fact the travelers are granted safety by God because of their relationship to Paul. So Paul cares for their physical if not spiritual salvation.†
†††††††††† In doing this, Paul personifies the scope of Godís care over all people.† The Church, all of us, are called to like Paul.† The Church is called to be an agent of Godís salvation to the world.† Christ body, broken and given to the world.† For Luke, the author of Acts and the gospel of Luke this is major theme.† Remember Luke chapter 5, when Jesus is preaching to a crowded room.† Friends take a paralyzed man up on the roof and lower him in front of Jesus so he might be healed.† And we are told that when Jesus sees the faith of the friends, not the patient, but the friends, he heals the paralyzed man.†
†††††††††† The church is an agent of Godís grace to the world.† Now we must be careful here, because we canít say that the church saves.† God saves, we do not.† But the church is called to extend that salvation to the world.† We are responsible for the world.† We are called to be a city on a hill.† To be a light for the nations.† To offer the world what it cannot find on its own: truth, meaning, and abundant life.†
†††††††††† Which is extremely daunting.† Especially in this world we live in.† Itís much easier to say, God only cares about my personal beliefs.† That I profess that Jesus is my Lord and Savior, check.† I believe in Father, Son, Holy Spirit, check.† Virgin birth, check.† Now I am the first one to say that good theology is really important.† What we believe does make a difference.†† But, being a Christian, is not about a check list.† Itís about participation in Godís story.†
†††††††††† Itís about proclaiming in word and in deed verse 25 in our text.† Listen again for Godís word. ďSo keep up your courage, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.Ē† In the midst of war, and hunger, of loneliness and hopelessness, the Church finds courage in the promises of God.† That God not only promises reconciliation through Christ, but that God keeps the promises God has made.†
†††††††††† So how does this church respond when we find ourselves at sea, battered by wind and wave?† Surrounded by fear and discouragement?† Like Paul in our story, we take bread, we bless it and then break it and share the Eucharistic meal.† The world asks, ďWhat will that do.† How will that solve our problems?Ē† But it is this act of communion, of worship that we remind ourselves, and proclaim to the world that God gives us what we need in the midst of storms.† God does not forsake or abandon us.† But journeys with us.††††