We are living in the eye of a global and national hurricane, as a pandemic ravages the land and political unrest threatens our democracy. In this moment, pastors and Christian leaders owe it to their congregations to speak hard and prophetic truths, and not mislead people by preaching, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer 8:11). This “Shipwrecked” series attempts to do a little of this, so please go back and read part 1, part 2, and part 3 if you haven’t.
We’ve been saying that while we would prefer that Jesus would intervene and swiftly calm all our storms, sometimes He allows the ship to go down or be smashed upon the rocks of our own undoing in a moment of reckoning. Come Hell or high water, Christians are called to represent Christ as their highest priority.
In this final part, we rejoin Paul and the storm tossed crew on a rain-pelted deck as some prepare to abandon ship and leave their fellowman behind to suffer. Paul gives us a third word of wisdom from the heart of the storm: A ship divided against itself cannot stay afloat; we must come together if we are to make it. We pick up the narrative in Acts 27:29-32:
29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.
As the storm worsens the crew becomes divided. People grow suspicious of each other and our most primitive self-preservation instincts kick in. Like the classic scene in the Titanic film, some of the men onboard start eyeing the lifeboats and thinking, “To Hell with the rest of you!” Paul the prisoner has now assumed the role of wise leader on the ship, and says essentially, “Unless we stick together, and learn how to navigate the storm as one crew, we’re not going to make it.” Thankfully, they listened to him this time.
In our divided nation, instead of engaging in constructive dialogue across ideological lines, we’re choosing to jump into our own little ideological lifeboats (as if they can really save us!) and placing all the blame on the rest of the crew for all the leaks in our collective boat.
Lincoln may have been channeling the Apostle Paul’s wisdom as well as Jesus when he said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Following Paul, if we want to ride out this societal storm and see better days for this country, then we better figure out how to cut ourselves loose from all these little ideological lifeboat echo chambers that having us talking passed each other, and learn how to come together and face the storms as a unified crew.
The scene is even a bit humorous, as little factions pretend they are lowering anchors (which would have been helpful to all), but are actually just looking after themselves. Beloved, we are going to be dashed upon the rocks of a civil war if we don’t cut ourselves free from our ideological echo chambers. We need leadership that will serve the entire crew, or nation, and not just try to secure political lifeboats that cater to our own self-serving agendas. Paul would say, “Unless we all stick together, this nation can’t be saved; so let’s come together and pray for daylight” (v. 29)!
Finally, in the middle of this global and societal storm, it’s easy to get so caught up in the action that we forget to stop and do the most basic human thing: eat. Paul wisely points this need out in Acts 27:33-34:
“Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head” (v. 33-34).
I believe the author of Acts—Dr. Luke—is giving the reader a little wink and a nod here, and inviting us to see a deeper, more delicious truth. Do you hear echoes of another kind of meal shimmering in the light of the next line?
“After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat” (v. 35).
I’ll give you a hint from Luke’s first volume:
“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
Luke wants to draw our attention back to another meal where Jesus pulled his little band of followers aside in the middle of the Ultimate Storm, with the gale force winds of evil swirling about Jerusalem as the forces of Darkness closed in on God’s Messiah as he journeyed to the cross. On that dark and stormy night of betrayal, denial, horrific suffering, evil, mockery and death, Jesus stopped and took time to “break bread” with his fearful crew. It was a meal full of holy mystery, awesome power and God’s eucharistic presence designed to buoy up and strengthen the disciples for the long night of sorrow ahead.
Luke seems to suggest that we, too, need to stop regularly in the middle of our own storms and gather together with other believers around this ritual of “breaking bread.” When we are in despair, losing hope and fearing the worst, we can take up the bread of Christ’s mysterious presence, give thanks to the God who stands sovereign over our current national storm, and remember the One who was broken for our rescue. In eating it, we nourish our body and our soul for the difficult times that still lie ahead.
As I write this paragraph, votes are still being counted in a hotly contested election while angry mobs stand outside polling facilities shouting and casting doubt on our election process. Today marks another record high 100,000+ new cases of Coronavirus in our country, with 1,000+ more deaths, while half the country ignores (or even mocks) the recommendations of top scientists on how to best control the spread and selflessly love our neighbors.
What to do when the clouds keep growing darker and the sky turning more sinister? We stop, we break bread, and we eat. Every Sunday at MainStreet Covenant Church we finish our 5PM gathering by partaking of this sacred meal and ritual together. In the middle of the storms raging outside, we gather in the sanctuary around some bread and juice, we lift up our eyes and worship the One who is sovereign over the wind and the waves.
We cast our cares upon the LORD, and experience a peace that surpasses understanding in the Presence of the One who gave himself up to calm the Ultimate hurricane of sin and death. Standing in the shadow of the Son of Righteousness, we get a dazzling view of a New Day of Sunshine and calmer waters that await all who place their faith in His Kingdom.