Courage to Sail

I have a confession to make: I love the wind. Nothing lifts my heart to heaven more quickly than the sound of wind in the trees at night, especially pine trees; or the raucous, unbridled play of the wind, and the waves, on the dark reaches of a shoreline, under threat of storm.

It’s like the eternal ebb and sigh of wind is more than just “a current of air moving from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure,” as a scientist, or meteorologist, would describe it. It’s from “Beyond”; whatever that might mean. It’s like the sound of eternity itself, set in motion by God. It’s as if the world were “haunted by God,”

so it seems to me, and the wind itself one of the divine harbingers of the Life to Come.

The wind says that there is “more to life than meets the eye;” that “there are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in our philosophy,” to paraphrase Shakespeare, and the wind is one of them. Is it any wonder that the ancient Greek word for “breath,”

or “wind”––pneuma––is also the word for “spirit”??

“How can you say such a thing?” some have argued when I have confessed this, especially from the pulpit. “How can you love wind, or storm, you pretentious fool??

You obviously didn’t grow up on the prairies, where the wind drives people crazy;

nor in the sweltering heat-driven tropics, where wind kills, and storms destroy. You’ve never been a mariner, having to fight for your very life against both wind and wave.”

Well, no, I haven’t; I grew up in the Okanagan, where the wind nevertheless rules!!

And even if it is thought criminal to do so, I have forever loved the wind.

A week ago or so I was on the shores of Skaha Lake (I live above Skaha Lake and watch it 365 days a year)––you guessed it––walking in the wind . . . I just couldn’t help myself.

It was late afternoon, and growing chilly, but the lake was dark and roiling, and waves crashing on the shore.I couldn’t stay out there forever, as it was beginning to rain,

but I stayed out there as long as I could . . .

Yes, wind––like fire––is a gift; albeit a dangerous one. Among other things, it has enabled men and women to traverse the globe from the beginning of time. (As soon as they learned to harness it, of course.) And if you joined us from the beginning of this service, you will know that wind and waves play a big part in today’s Scripture reading, which tells the story of a great journey the Apostle Paul made across the Mediterranean Sea. He was bound for Rome:––and inasmuch as he often longed to go to Rome

in order to preach the Gospel, and do ministry, this was not one such occasion.

Paul was on his way to Rome as a prisoner:––a prisoner bound for death.

But like everything Paul did, and experienced (you’ll remember perhaps that he once wrote that “all things work together for good to those who love God, and are called according to his purpose”) the Apostle turned it into something missional; by which I mean something God could use for the sake of ministry. And so this trip to Rome is now considered his fourth great missionary journey, for the sake of the Kingdom of God . . .

Paul’s first great missionary journey had been with Barnabas to Cyprus and Asia Minor,

after which Paul attended the Council at Jerusalem. Paul’s second journey was with Silas, with whom he returned to Asia Minor and continued on to Europe. During his third missionary journey, Paul returned yet again to Asia Minor, continuing on to Greece.

As you may or may not know, Paul had been arrested at Caesarea––and tried under Felix, then Festus, (who succeeded Felix as procurator of Judea), whereupon Paul as a Roman citizen appealed directly to Caesar having made yet more appearances before Roman officials, Agrippa in particular. It’s not exactly a very nice story, but it did lead to some great sailing!!! Or not !!!. . . for Paul’s sail to Rome was anything but quiet . . . The Mediterranean Sea make look nice on a map:––but in real life it could be as dangerous as the open ocean.

All sailing was dangerous in Paul’s day. Not only was the threat of piracy ever-present,

But unlike modern sailing vessels, which can tack 45 or even 50 degrees into the wind, the ancient square-rigged, round-bottomed craft which routinely plied the Mediterranean,

––and on which Paul was no doubt aboard––could only sail with the wind, not into it; or alongside it, as modern craft can do. So unless the wind was blowing in precisely the right direction, you could drift for day after day as supplies dwindled and pirates gathered for the kill, especially as winter approached, when prevailing winds were unfavourable, and storms always brewing.

And so it proved . . .

“When it was decided that we would sail for Italy,” writes Luke, “we boarded a ship from for ports along the coast of the province of Asia. The next day we landed at Sidon, and from there we put out to sea again & passed to the lee of Cyprus: because the winds were against us. We made slow headway for many days, and when the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, moving along the coast with difficulty.

Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous. At this point Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo:––and to our own lives also.”

Are sure enough, before long, a wind of hurricane force, which the ancients called the “northeaster,” swept down upon them. The ship was caught by the storm, and took a violent battering. and not only this, it blotted out the sky! Neither sun nor stars appeared for many days as the storm continued raging! (Ancient mariners, by the ways, did not navigate by compass, but by the sun and stars.) And when the sun and stars disappeared

behind a thick veil of cloud, they finally gave up all hope of being saved.

Ever given up all hope of being saved?? Ever felt you were in the grip of things for which there is no apparent answer––and certainly, no apparent end?? Things in yourself? Things in others? Things in the world at large? Ever felt that you had no choice but to put your head down; or worse still; give up???

Ever looked up into the sky only to discover that the sun is gone––the stars too––and there seems nothing left with which to navigate??? The clouds of chaos, not to mention something like Covid-19, will do that to the strongest, even the stoutest of all hearts.

Matthew Arnold, the great Victorian poet, took a walk on the beach one day, as I did a week ago. I have no doubt he listened to the sigh of the wind, and in his case, despaired utterly. He was losing, not gaining faith, so too much of the late Victorian world.

“The Sea of Faith was once, too, at the full:

and round earth’s shore lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

retreating to the breath of the night-wind;

down the vast edges drear,

and naked shingles of the world.”

But for Paul, the Apostle, though he and his compatriots were driven to shipwreck by the wind, and on the cusp of sheer disaster, it was an occasion for gaining––not losing––faith!! For hope! For courage! For unimpeachable strength and resolve! Say it isn’t so, Superman; that the apparent chaos of wind and wave should give rise to more––and not less––faith. More, not less. Transcendent faith; triumphant faith, even. But such is the gift of God for the people of God. He really meant it when he said that “all things work together for good”––strangely, mysteriously, unaccountably––to those who love God;

for those who are willing to see things as God sees them, and not as we see them.

After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said:

“Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. But now I urge you to keep up your courage,

because not one of you will be lost––only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God whose I am, and whom I serve, stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”

Faith in God, even in the midst of chaos….what a concept!

Faith in God’s promises:––and by it, courage. Courage to last a lifetime. Courage to look beyond the mere appearance of things, even suffering––to eternal life and verity. Courage to sail, under any conditions. Even in the wind; even in the rain.

Once upon a time, there were a few sailors here at St. Andrew’s. I remember having a long conversation, one among many, about how frightened people can become when sailing. I mean, “quiet sailing,” is one thing. But when the winds pick up, then the fear begins.

As in sailing, so in life…Do you know what I’m talking about?

But God brings courage in the place of fear, as Jesus did in Matthew 14, when he came walking across the water in the middle of the night, when the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus had left them to pray. Approaching the imperiled ship, actually walking on the water, the disciples think him a ghost, of course, and cry out in fear. But then, Jesus speaks. “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid…”

“The question is not whether the storms will come,” writes Mickey Anders, “but how we will respond. People who are unprepared for storms are soon blown off–course.

Sometimes they flounder, shipwreck, or even drown. But people who are prepared for the storms of life have learned “storm tactics”––methods for coping and even thriving even when things go wrong. If your sails are set right, you can cope with any storm.”

How does one sail, tactically prepared for any storm??? How does one cope with wind?

How does one thrive, even when things go wrong? By faith in God…. and keeping in step with the Spirit. By seeing things as God sees them, and not as we see them. By faith in God’s promises:––and as the Spirit of God empowers us, courage. Courage to do what is right, and keep on keeping on. Courage to pray, and struggle through anything. Courage to look beyond the mere appearance of things––even suffering––to eternal life and verity. Courage to sail, under any conditions.

Fear not, O people of God. Ask for the gift of courage, today. And keep up your courage, whatever may come. Face the wind, and trim your sail. We’ve got a lot to face these days, but God is good, and he will give us the courage we need. Courage to sail.

Courage to last a lifetime.