Topic: Facing Diversity Scripture: Acts 27:33–27:44
Alright, I want to tell you all what my favorite TV show is. How many of you used to watch the show "Lost"? Ok, a little less than I expected. I loved Lost. Now, to be honest, I didn’t get into it right away. It started my freshman year of college, and while my time at Eastern University was filled with lots of wonderful things, cable TV wasn’t one of them. So I got into the show a couple years late. But once I watched the pilot episode, I was hooked. And I’m willing to bet that if you asked people what the show was about, 9/10 of them would say something along the lines of, “It’s this show about these people that crash-landed on an island.”
The thing is, they wouldn’t be wrong. But they’re missing something. Every Lost fan knows that the show is about so much more than Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 crash, landing on a mysterious island. That’s only one event that connected the stories of dozens of people with their own complicated backstories behind them, and complex futures ahead of them. But the crash landing is definitely one of the most exciting parts of the story, and it draws the audience into wanting to know more about the characters and their circumstances.
I feel like that’s a pretty common occurrence for most of our stories, right? We have a host of memories and hopes, but there’s a handful of events in our story that either has defined us or, at the very least, are found to be interesting by our friends and the people we meet. And the same is true with all of the heroic figures we read about in Scripture. We read accounts of singular and highlighted events that are exciting and compelling - but forget that the lives of these people almost always include much, much more. The apostle Paul is no different. This week over 30 of our kids and students (1st grade through high school), spent their week at CAMP, learning about Paul’s story. And so, I thought it’d fun for us to look at an event in Paul’s life that they talked about this week: when Paul had his own shipwreck and crash landing. MaryAnn read the first part of the story for us, and I’ll finish it off. We’re still in Acts 27 and I’ll read verses 33-44.
When we come into this part of Paul’s journey - it’s not on a high note. Paul is a prisoner and is being transported to Rome. He’s given a centurion escort and ends up jumping from ship to ship. On this particular occasion, Paul’s ship is hit by a horrible storm and suffers heavy damage. The crew and even the guards thought all was lost. At that moment, though, Paul spoke hope and confidence out of his faith in God that it would be ok. And then we come into the events of our text.
The crew knows the ship is damaged and they’ve lost their bearings so they drop soundings to see if they are approaching land and determine where they might be. While they’re doing that, they get the idea to try and sneak onto the lifeboat and try and make it on their own. Paul sees what they’re planning and tells the guards stating that if they wanted to survive that everyone had to stay on the boat. So the soldiers did something that must have been horrifying for everyone to witness: they cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away.
Things are very tense, and everyone is on edge thinking that, at any moment, their ship would slam against unseen rocks and be sunk. Paul is in the thick of it, and we can’t forget, is a prisoner in transport and still, his heart is leaning toward the crew and the guards and their fear. Paul gathers them together and tells them to eat. Paul gives thanks to God, breaks the bread, and this motley collection of souls shares a meal at sea. And it worked. We’re told they felt encouraged, put at ease, and given a fresh look forward.
When dawn breaks, they aren’t sure where they are but they can make out land, and finally see the end of this ocean cruise gone terribly wrong. We’re not sure how they come to it, but they conclude their best shot is to set the boat on course for a crash landing. They cut the anchors, release the rudders, and throw up the sail to the wind, and aim for land. They slam into a sandbar and the ship is literally breaking into pieces. The centurion is charged for guarding and delivering Paul and orders everyone to either swim for shore or hang-on to the floating pieces of the ship. And despite all odds, every single soul made it safely to shore.
And so that is the story of Paul’s shipwreck and crash landing. But just like with the show Lost, this is only a single event in a series of events that make up the incredible story of Paul’s life. Sure, it’s a crazy one, filled with tension and terror, perseverance and hope. And I’m sure many of us have similar types of moments in our own stories. Maybe it’s not a literal shipwreck, but instead some other kind of significant and harrowing event.
This week I spent a lot of time in Paul’s story. Preparing for this message was a part of it, but I also had the chance to go up to CAMP on Thursday and share communion and another piece of Paul’s life with our kids and students. I am just blown away by the life that Paul lived. A lot of us know about Paul’s conversion moment on the road to Damascus, and we might recall how Paul wrote a big chunk of the New Testament. But he did so much more. His life was full and filled with inspiring moments and tragic ones. He really covered the spectrum of experience doing everything from being stoned and bitten by a viper to preaching to the crowds and surviving a massive earthquake.
And looking at the fullness of Paul’s life and how nothing really went the way that I’m sure he planned it to go - nor in any way that could have been predicted. This made me think about each of us and the journey that we’re all on. Life is unpredictable, wonderful, terrifying, and frustrating…often times all at once. I’m sure you can remember warm moments where sharing a meal with family or good friends brought you peace, just like the folks in our text. Maybe you’ve felt that heart-gripping fear as something of a lifeboat in your own life, floated away from your reach. All of us have been batted about by the waves of life, and several of you have survived your own crash landings. All of our stories are unique, but they all share one thing in common: just as every person on Paul’s ship made it to shore, so too, have every single one of you made it to this day. We’ve made it safely to June 10th.
The human experience is one of joy and trial. But, just like Paul, we don’t take this journey alone. While we are all exceedingly thankful for the presence of our friends and family, I’m talking about how we share this journey with the person of Jesus. And thank the Lord for that reality. The human spirit is capable of incredible endurance, but every soul has its limit and breaking point. I think Paul hit 15 or 16 of those breaking points throughout his life. Any of the aforementioned events could have sent him spiraling, whether it be facing an unfair trial, a public stoning, or a shipwreck. But no. In some inspiring and unthinkable fashion, Paul’s faith in and love for Christ not only sustained him but platformed Paul so that he could be a beacon of truth and hope for others as well.
We’ve seen other stories like this. Bethany Hamilton was an up and coming young surfer when she suffered a tragic shark attack and lost her left arm. Her life turned upside down, she struggled in every way you can imagine. But her faith and the support of her church helped her, not only return to her surfing career, but also to become a voice of encouragement, and a witness of the hope we have in our God. She said this in her biography: “I don't really want people looking to me for inspiration. I just want to be a sign along the way that points toward Heaven.”
Jamie Tworkowski, who struggled with depression himself, became a part of the story of a young girl who was gripped by addiction, depression, and cutting. In the face of that heart-crushing sadness, Tworkowski said his faith in Christ was a lens that inspired him to start the organization called "To Write Love on Her Arms" that helps open up resources for treatment and counseling to individuals suffering from depression and addiction.
Bethany and Jamie are only two stories of countless people who are faced with tragedy or heartbreak, with Christ by their side, and instead of buckling under the weight of their circumstances, they found the means for transformation and a witness of hope.
Believe it or not, this is something that we are all capable of. Not because of the strength of our character or because of how tough we are, but because of the overwhelming, all-consuming, unimaginably powerful and reaching love of Jesus Christ. We can’t do this, but Jesus can, and He chooses to do it through us, through our stories. Through our victories and our crash landings.
Paul’s story had more points than I can count, where no one would have faulted him for giving up. For calling it quits and going back to his old life of influence, comfort, and safety. But he never did. He endured, but more than that, Paul let his faith be the fuel for fostering hope and truth. And because of that, Paul became one of the single most influential voices in the faith we hold. Paul understood something that I think many of us struggle with today. You see, for Paul, a crash landing wasn’t the end of a story. It was the opportunity to share the most meaningful story. The story of a man named Jesus. A story with miracles and mercy. A story with violence and a cross. A story about an empty tomb, a risen Savior, and a new hope.
Every single one of you is a beneficiary of Paul’s story. Even if by some stretch of the imagination you claim that Paul’s life and writings have had little to no impact on you, I can promise you that they did have an impact on the person or people who first brought you to the Christian faith. And if we all benefit from Paul’s story, it is only because we share in the power behind his story, because we share in the person behind Paul’s story: Jesus Christ. And if that’s true, then I believe it is time for all of us to realize that a tragedy in our life, an obstacle before us, or a crash landing is more than simply surviving events. They are the platforms we’ve been given to relish in the faithfulness of our Savior and to share His love with any that we encounter. Paul’s life was many things, but one thing it cannot be called is easy. And that might be where the problem is. We search out, work toward, and strive for easy. We want things to just be good enough. I want to finish this morning with the words of a scholar named William Willimon, from his reflections on Paul’s life and his crash landing from our text:
“The Christian notion of a human being as a wayfarer in search of salvation no longer seems to inform Western culture. Is life still conceived as a journey, a pilgrimage, or as only a rootless, incoherent exploration of the inner-self? We want security more than adventure, rewarding interpersonal relations rather than truth. If we can find a place of rest, we settle there. Follow me, says the Christ. Dare the journey? Can we know what it means to be so gripped by a vision, a truth, a yearning to tell what happened that we would be as willing as Paul to put to sea, going God knows where?”