Sermon for October 16, 2016

Anna V. Copeland, Preaching

Scripture Reading for October 16, 2016

Samuels Birth and Dedication, 1 Samuel 1:9-11 and 19-20


         “Be a voice not an echo

         Hold onto the beautiful you are, and never let go

         Be the difference be the change

         Refuse to be the same

         Break the mold

Grab ahold of your life with both hands

Get up, stand out

Be about what you’re about

Don’t be moved, don’t be swayed,

You gotta be brave.”

         Be brave.

These lyrics were written by Lexi James, the 24 year old singer/songwriter who won the New England sings competition at the Ogunquit Playhouse this week. She spoke about being bullied as a child for her fiery red hair, and later, for her commitment to change the world through music. All fifteen youth were brave last Tuesday night, for writing songs about the anguish of young love, for singing songs about the temptations young people have to overcome. The second place winner Colette Haines launched into a rap by Macklemore called Wings. Macklemore himself stated that the song is about American Consumerism. It lifts up what he calls the ridiculous amount of money we spend on shoes, as a metaphor for the ridiculous amount of money we spend on everything. This too is about being Brave enough to be yourself, stand your ground, risk rejection and failure, no matter what everyone around you says is cool. These youth taught us a great deal this week about being brave.

         Hannah practiced brave faith in today’s Bible story. Imagine this young woman living in a middle-eastern nomadic community four thousand years ago. She had no power in her family or her culture. The second wife at a time when people lived in family groups, she was childless. There was conflict between the members of Elkinah’s household and that special suffering that only a family can manage to create. Elkinah, her husband, was a man of God, but he struggled to bring peace to his household. This family’s saving grave was that they worshipped the one true God of their ancestors. They were faithful to God even when life was not turning out as they hoped.

We remember Hannah because she was brave enough to ask God for a son and to trust that it would be so. We remember Hannah because she bravely asked the priest Eli, to whom she would have been all but invisible, to train up her as yet unborn son in the priesthood. Hannah bravely promised God that if God would honor her prayer, she would then give her son for God’s service.

When Samuel was born, Hannah praised God for responding to her grief. After the child was weaned, she bravely kept her promise to God. She took Samuel to the Temple and presented him to be raised among the Elders for God’s service. God honored her brave trust and restored her standing in the community. Her brave trust in God led to the birth of child who would grow up to become a great prophet and judge of Israel. As a leader, he restored regular religious worship among the people of his land who as you may remember from last week’s story, had lost their way.

         According to Psychology Today: Courage is something that everybody wants — an attribute of good character that makes us worthy of respect. From the Bible to fairy tales; ancient myths to Hollywood movies, our culture is rich with exemplary tales of bravery and self-sacrifice for the greater good. From the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz who finds the courage to face the witch, to David battling Goliath in the Bible, to Star Wars and Harry Potter, children are raised on a diet of heroic and inspirational tales.

Yet courage is not just physical bravery. History books tell colorful tales of social activists, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, who chose to speak out against injustice at great personal risk.

Ordinary people you may not know like Emmeline Pankhurst bravely went to jail several times for her protests, leading up to gaining the right to vote for women in the United Kingdom. Edith Cavell, a Nurse in Belgium during World War One was arrested and executed for helping allied servicemen escape back to England. Shortly before her death, said ‘Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’ Surely her actions were brave.

Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani schoolgirl, defied threats of the Taliban to campaign for the right to education. She survived being shot by the Taliban and has become a global advocate for human rights, women’s rights and the right to education. Surely her actions were beyond brave.

         We think of all these public leaders in education and religion, as courageous for our time. But there are different types of courage, aren’t there, ranging from physical strength and endurance to mental stamina and innovation. This morning we’re talking about a particular kind of bravery.

         Brave people feel fear yet choose to act anyway. We know what it’s like to feel anxious and afraid. We’re anxious about many things, things we can control and things we can’t. In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, researcher Brené Brown defines bravery this way. Bravery is showing up authentically in the world and standing in your truth, regardless. 

         What matters to God is not especially what we profess to believe. I don’t think God cares much about our doctrine or rules of faith, except as one of our members said to me this week, that Golden One.

         Brave faith simply trusts God with everything and acts accordingly. Brave faith isn’t about what we say we believe or what we think about anything. It’s about how we show up everyday in the world. It takes courage to be kind, to forgive, to remain calm when the foundations of the world are shaking. When a man waiting next to you at the garage to fix his car engages in a full rant about some issue in the news, it takes courage to behave charitably and patiently.

“Courage starts with showing up (in life) and letting ourselves be seen.” This requires telling the truth in love. It requires a certain vulnerability. Most of us of a certain age have been sufficiently hurt that we begin over time to wrap ourselves in a cocoon of protection that envelops us as we move about in the world. We tend to mind our own business. We live and let live. We allow few people to pass through the protective shell to know our deepest truth. We come to believe that if we’re open to others we’re more likely to get hurt.

         We can’t be brave if we aren’t willing to risk vulnerability. The truth is, we might get hurt. Nevertheless, we live for a higher purpose and for the sake of a greater truth. “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”

The willingness to show up changes us. Every time we trust God and show up in our truth and act accordingly, we become a little braver.

         We’ve named a number of famous brave people this morning by way of example. But being brave is not simply for the famous or for the heroic. You don’t have to rescue a child from drowning or pull a family from a burning building to be courageous. Bravery is the courage of ordinary people who experience fear, yet trust God enough to walk through it without knowing what we might experience on the other side.

         Brave people live passionately for a purpose greater than themselves.

Brave people Persevere in the Face of Adversity

Brave people stand up for what is right. A U.S. Attorney General once wrote: “This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.”  (Robert F. Kennedy)

         The Bible is full of stories of the bravery of youth. We have a tendency sometimes to say things about youth with a sigh, as if they are somehow a generation lost to pokemon and virtual reality. People who say negative things about our youth don’t actually know any.

         The Bible is full of stories about brave youth. Jesus was under 30 when his ministry began yet spoke bravely against the faithless leaders of his people. Jesus stuck to the truth of his message, despite the consequences. On many occasions, he had the opportunity to escape or change his message. But, he felt the right thing to do was to suffer outer humiliation and pain in order to leave a legacy of spiritual truth, redemption and reconciliation.

Timothy was advised by the Apostle Paul not to let anyone despise him because of his youth. He bravely taught the gospel of Christ as a missionary of the early church. The young shepherd David bravely stood up against the mighty Goliath and later became King. The Young Joseph was sold into slavery and bravely spoke to Pharaoh about God’s dreams for his people. The young Jewish girl Esther bravely spoke up to a king and saved her people from certain death.

         Brave people sacrifice personal comfort with dignity and faith. We don’t have to be the German Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer who criticized the Nazi Regime and was imprisoned and killed for the conviction of his faith during World War II.

We don’t have to be Rosa Parks who saw herself as more tired than brave, or Gandhi, who led a movement of non-violence in India against Britain, or Archbishop Desmond Tutu who bravely led the reconciliation movement in South Africa post-Apartheid, or the Dalai Lama who led a non-violent resistance movement against the Chinese in Tibet.

We just have to trust God and show up bravely to our own life. God counts on the brave actions of ordinary men and women buoyed by trust in a purpose greater than our own. God needs people brave enough to engage in practices like prayer and forgiveness, people who will remain calm in the face of the whirlwind even when afraid.

         Bravery means acting in the face of fear for the sake of a bigger picture. Many of us are afraid today. Trusting that there is a God or Higher Power at work in the world for our time emboldens us to speak the truth and to live the truth with compassion. 

         You may not think yourself brave, though I suspect that others could name a time when you were brave even if you cannot. It is not always easy to think of our selves this way. If not you, who? Who is the bravest person you know?

Is it your mother who raised a batch of sons on grit and faith?

Is it your neighbor who gets up every morning and goes to chemotherapy even though it makes him sick and the outcome is uncertain?

Is it your brother who lost his wife to some awful disease after thirty years of married life, and now finds a way each day to do something useful despite the pain of loss?

Could the brave one be you? Could the brave one be me?

From Hannah in the Old Testament, trusting God with her future and her son and her life, to the person sitting next to you in the pew, God has always responded to women and men of brave faith. I want to close today with this challenge adapted from poet Jana Stanfield called “If I Were Brave.”

“What would (you)I do if (you) knew that you could not fail?
If (you) believed, would the wind always fill up your sail?
How far would you go, what could you achieve – Trusting God’s hero in you?...

If you refuse to listen to the voice of fear
Would the voice of courage whisper in your ear?

If you were brave you’d walk the razor’s edge

Where fools and dreamers dare to tread
And never lose faith, even when losing your way

What step would you take today if you were brave? “

For God’s sake and your own, be brave.