5th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus dear friends in Christ, there are four words that I don’t think anyone really enjoys hearing. I’ve heard these words quite a number of times in my life. Here are a few examples from when I was a child: they put in a brand new concrete sidewalk in the front of our home and my parents expressly said, “Don’t play near the sidewalk.” And what do I do? I close my eyes and see how far I can get to the freshly poured sidewalk and, of course, walk too far and step right into it. Another time my parents warned me that any pets, including goldfish, require work to take care of them. So, what did I do? I spent my birthday money and bought a fishbowl and 3 goldfish which were all dead within a week. And there are more. “Don’t eat all the candy at once, you’ll get a soar stomach.” “Don’t play outside in your nice clothes, you’ll ruin them.” “Start studying for the test early or you’ll get a bad grade.” Now, as a parent, I’m starting to see how I can give my children warnings and watch them display the attitude of “I know more than you.” And people tell me, “Just wait until they are teenagers.” The four words that no one really enjoys hearing are: “I told you so.” Right? I’m going to take a guess and say that everyone here at some time or another has heard words along those lines before.
Well, why don’t we like to hear those words? Isn’t it partly because we all like to think that we know more about things than what we actually do? We can look at a situation and think we have all the evidence, know all the facts and conclude we know what we’re doing, but then someone else, often someone older and wiser, knows something that we don’t.
What about in the world at large? Has it ever happened that you think you have something figured out in life and then all of a sudden things take a sudden turn and you’re left wondering what just happened? Have you ever looked at a situation and all you could do is scratch your head? Have you ever wondered why in the world God would allow something to happen? Have you ever watched the news and found yourself shaking your head in almost disbelief because of something that happened in the world?
Well, in our text we have just such a case. The apostle Paul is nearing the end of his life. He had been in prison in Judea for several years and eventually as a Roman citizen appealed to Caesar for a trial. The judge allowed him to be taken then to Rome, Italy, to stand on trial. So, he was put in the charge of a centurion and a number of soldiers who boarded a ship that sailed up to the south end of Asia Minor. There they stopped at a city called Myra and the Roman soldier changed ships looking for a ship that was sailing to Rome. This ship then tried sailing to another city along the coast but it made very slow headway, then another wind came and they couldn’t keep their course and ended up sailing to the island of Crete and to a harbor on the south side of the island called “Fair Havens.” Now they had lost a lot of time and it was either at the end of September or sometime in October. The Romans had determined that sailing after September 15 was doubtful, but sailing after November 11 was suicide. Typically, boats would “winter” at a harbor for the winter months which were full of storms. But the crew and the soldiers wanted to keep going and winter at a different port on Crete some 40 miles away. Paul, however, warned them and said he didn’t think that was a good idea and could result in great loss of ship, cargo, and lives. But they didn’t listen to Paul and when this gentle breeze began to blow, they were convinced this is what they wanted and they set sail with 276 people on board, but all of a sudden, this wind of hurricane force erupted blowing them way off course. A storm came and drove them along. 23 miles away they found themselves close to a small island called Cauda and this gave them a small break in the storm to secure the lifeboat. Typically a lifeboat was towed behind the ship, so in order that it didn’t hinder their steering or break apart in the storm, they pulled it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship in order to hold the whole ship together. They were moving at such a violent force that they were afraid that they’d end up being driven all the way to Africa and the ship either get destroyed or hung up in the sand bars, they let down the sea anchor, and they took such a battering from this storm that they threw the cargo of the ship overboard, then they threw the ship’s tackle overboard, then for many days they neither saw the sun nor any stars to give them any kind of direction, and they finally gave up all hope of being saved.
So, after many days and a long time when the men did not eat, probably out of fear and anxiety for their lives and constant suspense, maybe from sea sickness, Paul stood up before them and spoke with them. Paul had been given divine assurance from an angel of God that they would not be lost, just the ship would be destroyed. God still wanted Paul to stand trial before Caesar and God graciously spared the lives of all those people on that ship. So he told them, “Keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.”
Why did all this happen? Why did they have to go through this terrible storm? Why did Jesus’ own personally commissioned apostle Paul have to endure this treacherous, dangerous, life-threatening experience? Why did they all have to suffer through this terrible time on the open sea? Have you ever heard similar questions? “Why did God do this? Why did God allow this? Why did God permit this to happen?” Perhaps we haven’t just heard things like that, perhaps those same thoughts have crept into our minds as well. Have we at times like Job questioned God? Questioned God’s goodness, questioned God’s divine control, questioned God’s ways, as if we put God on trial? As if we’re going to call God to account for His ruling of all things? But the reality is, when the storms of life come, it is God who is calling US to account: where’s our faith? Will we trust His Word and His promises or are we going to rely on our own reason, will, emotions, and the outward evidence? When the storms of life come will we set our thoughts and opinions aside and rely solely on the promises of God? Maybe it’s a devastating sickness, maybe it’s a sudden loss of finances or property, maybe it’s a death in the family, maybe it’s something going on in the world at large. Will we continue to trust in God in spite of the evidence or will we rely on ourselves and fill ourselves with fear and torment? When we don’t trust in God all we have is fear and torment and all that accomplishes is more fear and torment!
You know, we’re never told that God explained to Paul why he had to go through all of this. Paul even tried to dissuade them from going and now because of the actions of others he had to suffer along with everyone else. But we do know one thing that happened here. In fact, the same thing happened to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee. “They gave up all hope of being saved.” How gracious of God to allow us to experience suffering and trials and to wait with His help until we have learned that our only ultimate help in life can only come from one place: God. In fact, we wouldn’t know that truth unless we faced difficulties and disasters in life which force us to say, “Our only help is in the name of the Lord.”
So, why is there evil in the world? Why do we have to go through terrible dangers and disasters in life? Why doesn’t God just get rid of all the evil in the world if He has the power to do that? Well, let’s be honest, if God exterminated all the evil in the world, He would have to exterminate you and me as well because we’re part of that evil. The problems in this world all stem from one thing: sin. We inherited it and we’ve perpetuated it. But God did something about that sin. God sent His own Son Jesus who took the whole world full of evil and sin upon His own body, nailed it to the cross, and died for it. Because of Jesus you are forgiven, because of Jesus heaven is your home, and because of Jesus God will guide things – all things for your eternal good – whether you see it or not. We could go through life bemoaning all the shipwrecks that happen in our lives, we could become so self-absorbed that our lives revolve around our earthly happiness and a life of ease and maximizing our pleasure and minimizing our pain and when that doesn’t happen, throw ourselves a pity party.
Paul could have easily fell into that line of thinking. But Paul’s job here was simply to trust in the promises and power of God and to share that promise no matter what his outward circumstance was. Notice that something else happened here. 275 people weren’t willing to listen to Paul change the travel plans, now 275 people are ready to listen to Paul give hope from the God “whose He is and whom He serves.” That’s our job too. Instead of focusing on ourselves, what about asking, “Who is there in my life who is hurting or lonely or hopeless who needs hope from God?” You know, God hasn’t told us everything, God hasn’t revealed everything to us, God hasn’t explained all the ins and outs of why He allows things in our world and in our lives. But He does invite us to look at His promises to us: “I am with you always, I will never leave or forsake you, I have cast your sins in the depths of the sea, I’ve written my name on you in your baptism, I’ve fed you with my own body and blood in the Supper, I’ve declared you innocent, I’ve made you my own dearly loved child, I’ve washed you clean, I’m bringing you to life eternal in heaven. Those are God’s promises to you, trust God no matter what! And share those promises and that sure hope freely with people who are confused or hurting or lost at sea. You know, one day when by God’s grace He takes us out of all the problems and troubles of this world and to our eternal home in heaven, we’ll hear those four little words again, not with shame, but with joy and gladness: God will say, “See, I told you so.” Amen.