I want to share two stories with you today, one from history and one from the Bible. But what stands out in each of them are the individuals who were willing to be courageous, men and women of vision. And out of that courage and vision, they were willing to step out and be different, and as a result, set a pace for other people.
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States would never have happened without the courage of individuals who were willing to step out and be different from what was, in fact, expected of them. Whether we’re talking about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks or the many other people who took leadership roles, what they had in common was their courage, their clarity and their willingness to be different.
Rosa Parks was a woman of tremendous personal Christian faith. In her community of Birmingham, Alabama, when she got on the public bus to go to work, she was expected to sit at the back. The best seats, the ones up front, were reserved for the white people. The inference was “white people are better than black people, so they deserve the front seats.” But she got on the bus, she sat in the front of the bus and she refused to leave. And that was a part of what ignited courage in other people to say, “She’s right; the system is wrong, because our faith and all that we know about ourselves is, ‘We’re no better, we’re no worse than they are. And in fact, we serve a God who really does believe in the equality of all people.’”
Mary, Mother of Jesus
The same is true for the people in the Luke 2 story of Jesus’ dedication in the temple: Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna. Mary and Joseph were coming in a very ordinary way to bring Jesus into the temple. They were fulfilling the Mosaic law, doing what was expected of them, but the heart of the matter was that Mary was being received back into the temple after childbirth. She was going to present herself as well as Jesus, her Son, as an act of dedication. She was saying, in essence, to God and to that community, “I want what God wants for my Son.”
That was a courageous thing for her and Joseph to do. Particularly because she knew (because angels had spoken to her and tremendously supernatural things had happened) that her son would pay a high price. It would have been easier at one level for this carpenter and his wife to raise up their Son as just another carpenter, to have him blend in.
But Mary knew God had a different plan for her Son, and she was courageously willing, along with her husband, Joseph, to step into that plan. And who got raised up as a result of that commitment, that obedience? The One whom Christians have worshipped as the Son of God for 2,000 years.
What About You?
These people were willing to be courageous. They had clarity, vision and were willing to step out beyond what was expected of them. They were willing to go against some of the expectations to blend in and fit in. As a result, they made a difference—in a way that changed the course of history.
Do you realize the same could be possible for you? I don’t know how you see yourself. I don’t know what your parents have said about you; I don’t know what your expectations are. But if you’re willing to say, ” God, I want to be one of those people who makes a difference. I want to be one of those people who has the courage to step out, to speak up, to be someone who cares more for others than perhaps even my own well-being.”
Mary knew her son would die. Even in this story, Simeon comes and says, “A sword will go through your own heart as well.” She knew the sacrifice would be a heartbreaker. And more often than not, people who step out in courage do pay a price. But it’s worth it. It’s always worth it.
If you’re not willing to pay the price, if you just want to blend in, you can, in some ways, live a very happy and fulfilling life. But that doesn’t mean you’ll make a difference. You’ll just be like everybody else.
If you’re willing, like these men and women, to step out and make a difference, to ask God to give you what you need to live with that kind of vision, that kind of courage, I want to say to you: It’s worth it. It’s a hard and often painful life. It involves sacrifice. If you want the easy road, this is not for you.
But if you want to make a difference, if you’re willing to be one of those people who says yes to whatever God’s purpose is for you, then I can promise you extraordinary things will happen in a way that will surprise and delight you as well as occasionally breaking your heart. And you will know it’s worth it because you’ll be living out something bigger than you are: God’s purpose for your life. And that’s the best life of all.
Has God given you the courage you need to step out and make a difference? If so, how? Share this blog and your response on Twitter. Please include my username, @revgregbrewer.
(This post is an adaption of Bishop Brewer’s sermon on February 2, 2017, at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy, Melbourne, Florida.)
Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.