Swashbuckling pirates, adventure on the high seas, riding the bus to school, making it on time to your appointments, babysitting your grandchild, working a full day at work, sometimes all of those require equal parts courage and abandon. With all truth, I say that in earnest. I have heard some of the stories of the excitement that can come from the bus, babysitting, and an “average” day at work. Courage is what God encourages ‘up and comer’ Joshua to have as Moses, the leader of the people of Israel for generations and generations has died, and now Joshua is called to take over. Courage is when the pit the of your stomach sits unsettled before the first day of school or the day of a new position or when you have to give hard news or face down a pet scan or a procedure or crucial conversation – when you would rather stay in bed or play with a puppy or eat ice cream.
Courage is what we have blessed our children and educators to have as they start school tomorrow in less than 24 hours in new grades and a new school year with excitement and anxiety! Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Our 3 ½ year, Peter, knows a lot about adventures and building courage from stomping in mud puddles to rubbing corn in his hair. He also regularly finds himself telling his adventure companions – “I want to alonely.” And wandering off. He has learned that, for him, reflection and space are a part of the process. Perhaps, it was for Jesus as well.
As we have been reading along in Mark, we left the disciples and Jesus with the crowds at the feeding of the multitudes. As the crowds got their fill from the loaves and the fishes, Jesus sent the disciples on ahead across the sea by boat as he went to pray. It seems Jesus wanted to be alonely. Now, anyone who has ever been to Israel has made a point of telling me how quick storms come up on the Sea of Galilee. Biblical narrative after the story bears this out. With disciples quietly going across the seas, it is not a misnomer to say, the storm came up quickly. Jesus intended to pass them by, when he saw them struggling against the wind; and, they were terrified. Their fear became their language.
Fear is not only the language of our hearts and the response of our emotions, but there is a lot going on with the neuroscience as well. For some of us, we might not have been born with enough courage, but often it is something we develop over time. Dr. Andrew Huberman at Stanford University is doing the research on the interplay between courage and fear (1). In this neuroscience laboratory, beginning first with mice, a box with a black disc overhead simulates an animal being chased by a predator to determine whether each animal demonstrates the fight or flight response. Then the neuroscientist scans brain activity related to what was the timing and delay. Researchers found consistently that mice lit up the central portion of their brains: xiphoid nucleus, which connected to your reward center. In research, the lab wanted more information, they moved from mice to humans. At Stanford, instead of boxing up humans, they used Virtual Reality goggles. Studies continue to teach researchers about neural architecture. As studies are ongoing, we learn that courage is an active an evolving part of our brains. We are given opportunities to reward our courage regularly.
NC Wyeth, illustrator of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, among others, captured a feeling of adventure. In this area, many will know the Wyeth’s, NC, Andrew, and Jamie, from a trip to the Brandywine River Museum. NC, the grandfather, is most well-known for creating over 3,000 paintings and illustrating 112 adventure books and Saturday Evening Posts. These images realistically capture children on adventures away at sea and on land, bringing to life the stories of adventures where courage is required. Wyeth, in his own life, marshalled his own courage into his artistry. (2)
Jesus does not leave the disciples in fear on the boat. He did not pass them by. He got on the boat, and the winds and waves stopped. Even the wind and waves, knew Jesus. Do not be afraid, He called out. It is me. I am with you, he tells the disciples of long ago, and of today. I will not leave you. When you feel adrift and when you feel anchored.
If it had not been for the presence of God, the psalmist writes, I would be lost. Praise God. The echo of the refrain I hear each time I visit in the hospital and in home. If it had not been for God’s faithfulness day after day, I would not be so blessed. God is great. Let us be grateful. Even as the psalmist retells the woes, gratitude and courage wells up.
All month we been talking about the actions of doing love. To see how we can know God’s love through the ordinary in the world around us from a book like Anne Morrow Lindbergh’ Gift from the Sea to a move like Chocolat to paintings from NC Wyeth. We use these skills to be equipped to see the world around us as a place to see God’s love all around us. While these are delightful choices, I hope you will reflect also on how you find God’s good gifts in your favorite artists, scientists, gamers, writers, and other workers that inspire you.
As we bless our children and educators, we pray for strength and courage for them as they face each and every day. We know that there are days filled with wonder and joy, as well as days filled with anxiety and challenge. We heard this from our teachers on Tuesday as we prayed with them. Many who have walked through school can recollect the moments of worry and concern alongside the idyllic delight. May our children, youth, and educators be well equipped for each of those moments. For those of you who have children who are returning to school, we pray with you and commit to supporting you through the year. For those who you who are looking for courage in new adventures with work, let us be in prayer for you and support you. For those of you whose health is an adventure of its own, may you know courage, let us be in prayer for you and support you. For all those who need courage for this season of life, let us be in prayer and support you.
Sometimes our courage is marching with trumpet blaring with big brass band. Sometimes courage looks quiet and restful, less like adventure seeking pirates and more like resting mice, may you have courage to know to the difference for the season you are in.
Sometimes, our courage is living out our faith in ways that we caught it from each other. Today, Joanna will be baptized. Each time we celebrate baptism, the whole body of the local church remembers their role in faith development. Joanna not only catches faith as she claps at praise music, but as she watches elementary school students receive their bibles in two weeks, listens to youth get pumped about starting youth back up, doesn’t miss as food is dropped off for the food pantry, and wants to toddle over to check out all the events to sign up for in the lobby from Sunday School and beyond.
When we feel adrift, when we feel unsure, as we head to school, and wave our children, grandchildren, and community off to school on the bus, we are invited to do love with courage. Acts of love each and every day with courage. To venture into moments withstanding fear and difficulty to share love, God’s love. Knowing that Jesus says, take heart, it is I!
Where is God calling you do love with courage?
This is the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(2) Meryman, Richard. Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life. Harper, 1998.
Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 124
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
—let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone the raging waters.
Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Gospel Lesson: Mark 6:45-56
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, August 26 ~ Saturday, September 1
Sunday: “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side —let Israel now say— if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when our enemies attacked us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us;” Psalm 124:1-3. Pray for those who know the deepest darkest human experiences.
Monday: “Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.” Psalm 124:6-7. Have you share with someone this week the celebration of escaping the entrapment of pain or suffering?
Tuesday: “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 124:8. Consider where you have seen the help of the Lord.
Wednesday: “When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by.” Mark 6:48. Where have you felt as though God might have intended to pass you by?
Thursday: “But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out;” Mark 6:49. Pray for those who cry out for God. May they be those who can provide support and connection.
Friday: “For they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’”
Mark 6:50. Courage is rarely a roar. It is often a quiet whisper and a reminder to take heart, again and again.
Saturday: “Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded,” Mark 6:51. The power of Jesus cannot be overstated. Even the wind and waves obey him!