Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection October 2, 2016
The Need for Courage
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday I preached about the courage of Saint Paul and the power of his message. I’d like to present some of that sermon in this week’s Advance.
On Wednesday, September 14, I sat in Sox Park to witness, along with thousands of others, my twin brother being applauded as “The Hero of the Game.” My brother was honored because of his service in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division and his courage in combat which earned him a Bronze Medal - the third highest army combat medal after the Medal of Honor and the Silver Star. And, yes, I was happy to see my brother so honored.
But I also believe that there are many ways we show courage in our lives besides armed combat. Over the course of 2,000 years, we have witnessed many heroes of the faith: men and women who, with little concern for their personal safety, exhibited tremendous courage in proclaiming and, more importantly, in living the Good News of the crucified and Risen Christ.
Our brother Paul was such a hero of the faith. He certainly deserves a Medal of Honor for all the sacrifices he endured for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Read 2nd Corinthians, Chapter 11).
We must ask, in light of Paul’s sufferings, what we are willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When I look at Paul I see a mystic who was willing to suffer any hardship for the sake of the truth revealed to him on the road to Damascus. That transforming experience of seeing the Risen Jesus was Paul’s deepest and most abiding truth. Nothing mattered as much.
We need to ask what is our truth? Have we grown so accustomed to the lies of advertisers, the lies of politicians, and, yes, unfortunately the lies of many pastors and preachers that we no longer concern ourselves with finding and living the truth?
What is the truth that binds us together? The truth that binds us together is that God loves us with an unending, unbreakable, eternal love and that love has been most clearly revealed to us in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is our first and foremost truth.
Our brother Paul lived this truth. Our brother Paul died for this truth. We, like our brother Paul, must give voice to this truth lest it suffocate within us. We, like our brother Paul, must listen to this truth. We must deeply trust this truth.
In this sense, our brother Paul was not only a mystic, he was also a prophet. We often misunderstand the role of prophet. A prophet is not someone who proclaims the future - a prophet is someone who proclaims the truth.
Paul was a prophet and we, like him, are called to be prophets by proclaiming the truth given to us by the Spirit of the Living God, the truth given to us by the power of the Risen Jesus, the truth given to us by the divine love that spoke us into life. You and I were spoken into existence in and through God’s infinite love and boundless mercy.
Paul’s greatest gift, which arose from his encounter with the Risen Jesus, was to free people from the heavy demands of the Mosaic Law - the 613 commandments of the Torah. As Paul writes in 2nd Corinthians: “Those who are led by the Spirit are no longer under the law.”
For bringing this wondrous freedom in Christ, Paul was hated by many, even by fellow followers of Christ. But Paul stood his ground. Paul clung to his truth and would not be turned aside. So it must be for us. We must live and we must proclaim our truth - our freedom in faith.
Paul was seen by many as a heretic. But such labels did not dissuade him. For much of my life in my former denomination, I was regularly accused of being a heretic. Let me explain why.
At the age of 12, I experienced the love of God for me in a powerful way walking home from church one early Christmas morning not long after my father had died. Once one experiences this all powerful love, nothing can make one afraid of God again.
I had grown up afraid of God and afraid of ending up in hell. Sin seemed to be everywhere according to the nuns and priests who taught us. But after that encounter with the love of God, I could not and would not return to being afraid of God.
In my professional life, during my many years of ministry, I tried with all my might to help people free themselves from fear of God and fear of damnation. I wrote two books to bring the healthiest understandings of God to believers. But those in authority found what I wrote to be too threatening, too liberating.
I’m a strong believer in the sacredness of questioning everything. I had the audacity in those books to suggest that one would not be sent to hell for missing a Sunday service or even for entertaining impure thoughts. After all, what better way to get people to Sunday service than to tell them they will go to hell for missing any given Sunday?
For questioning many things, I was formally silenced by the Vatican. My two books could never be reprinted nor could I write anything again. Yet this silencing eventually led to my marriage to my beloved Beth and my new ministerial life as a happy American Baptist pastor. God definitely works in mysterious ways!
To evangelize, to proclaim the Good News of the Risen Jesus, one must be motivated by the love of God and the truth of that love. If one doesn’t feel loved by God, one cannot bring the Good News to anyone.
Yes, God loves us, but we must seek God. We must try to return to God God’s love. As Jesus tells us in Matthew 27:37: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.”
If we imagine the enormity of God’s life and love to be like the ocean, we must admit that what we know of that life, what we know of the love, probably wouldn’t fill a shot glass! Love is the only law! Both Jesus and Paul taught us this!