The Source of Courage (Acts 9:10-19)
Many years ago I took a class in calligraphy from Nancy Culmone, a nationally known calligrapher. The week-long class took place at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. As we all learned our letters, Nancy shared with us about her recent move from Massachusetts to New Mexico. It was a scary change for her. But she said to us, “I have learned in life that what I am most afraid to do usually I most need to do.”
Often in life we find ourselves in a place where we are afraid to do something but we also need to do it. We may be afraid to move to a new place, start a new job, or go to a new school. We may be afraid when our family or business or organization doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills. We may be afraid when we are suddenly alone in life and we used to have a partner. Lots of things cause us to be afraid, but we know we need to keep going forward. What we need in those times is courage. I am wondering today where courage comes from. What is the source of courage? Let’s turn to our Bible story to find an answer.
Ananias was one of the earliest Christians. He lived in Damascus, north of Jerusalem, and he was a follower of the way of Jesus. In his world, the enemy was named Saul. Saul was a bad man who hunted Christians, imprisoned them, and killed them. Saul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Ananias and his fellow Christians when the risen Jesus appeared to him. Saul had the original ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting! Afterward, Saul himself became a Christian; he was temporarily blinded by the light of the risen Christ. He made his way into Damascus, being led by the hand.
Then Jesus appeared to Ananias. He told Ananias to go and find Saul, and he even gave the address. Ananias was to pray for Saul to regain his sight. I love here how Ananias argues with the Lord about this. “But Lord, let me tell you about this man…” He is clearly afraid to go and see Saul, given Saul’s reputation. The Lord listens and then repeats the command, “Go.” He also explains to Ananias the larger story of what is happening. Then Ananias pulls his courage together and does a scary thing: he goes and finds Saul, the enemy; he calls him ‘brother’ and prays for him. Later, he baptizes him and welcomes him into the family of faith.
Where did the courage of Ananias come from? I’d say it came from his knowledge of Christ, that is, his richly interactive relationship with the risen Christ, who is alive now. Knowing Christ — knowing that no matter what happened Christ would always take care of him — this gave Ananias the courage to do a scary thing and befriend an enemy. And this brings me to the main point of this sermon. Four Cs. Courage Comes from a Connection to Christ. When you have a living connection to Christ, that very relationship becomes a conduit where strength and courage from Christ can flow into you and help you to do the thing that frightens you.
Let me tell you a story about John Wesley. When he was a young man, before he founded Methodism, he sailed on a ship across the ocean to America. He was going to be the pastor to British colonists in Georgia. The ship encountered a great storm, and people on board were terrified. As was John Wesley, who thought he was going to die. But there were a group of Moravian Christians on board who weren’t afraid at all; through the storm they sang hymns and prayed, and their faces had a deep look of peace and contentment. John Wesley was impressed. After they all survived the storm, he asked their pastor why they are not afraid. The Moravian pastor said to him, “Don’t you have faith in Christ?” Wesley, an ordained Anglican priest, said quickly, “Of course I have faith in Christ.” But he knew in his heart that the Moravians had a quality of faith he did not yet possess. it would be some time before he did, but he finally found that kind of faith. And out of gratitude to the Moravians, he translated from German into English one of the hymns they sang during the storm. It is called ‘Give to the Winds Thy Fears.’ We will sing it together in a moment.
We just finished our week of Vacation Bible School, five days and 80 children. Each day there was a different saying that we wanted the children to remember:
Even if you are left out, Jesus loves you.
Even if you are different, Jesus loves you.
Even when you don’t understand, Jesus loves you.
Even if you do wrong, Jesus loves you.
Even when you are afraid, Jesus loves you.
Each time, when the children said ‘Jesus loves you,’ we’d have them make a cross over their hearts to emphasize the point. Repeating these affirmations and making a cross over the heart were ways the children could begin to develop their own relationship with Christ. This is a relationship that can stay with them through the whole course of their lives. And when they come to a scary time, they can remember that “Even when I am afraid, Jesus loves me.”
If you are facing a scary thing in your life right now, I would counsel you to do the same thing we taught the children to do. Repeat an affirmation to yourself emphasizing Christ’s love and support for you. Then make a cross over your heart. Then step forward in the courage that comes from knowing Christ. You will find that Christ will fill you with a strength and peace beyond yourself. You will find resources for yourself that you never knew were there.
Let me close by sharing a little prayer from St Teresa of Avila. It was written inside her prayer book. I say these words sometimes when I am afraid.
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
When you have God
you find you lack nothing.
God alone is enough.
When we have a richly interactive relationship with Christ, we learn that God is with us, God is for us, and God is enough. Amen.