O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Phil. 2:1-4, 14-18
September 25, 2011
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Fellow baptized saints, I am happy to report that this morning St. Paul uses a nautical term in his letter to the church in Philippi. He encourages the Christians there to 'hold fast to the word of life.' "Hold Faaaaaaast" as it really sounds aboard ship, for this order is often used in emergencies. The Ship's Buffer yells it to all of the deck hands, and it means that no matter what is happening, DO NOT let the rope move. Hold fast the line, whatever the cost.
About five years ago I was aboard HMCS Edmonton a minesweeper in the Royal Canadian Navy. That particular day we were caught out at sea in a storm and we were doing our best to come alongside a jetty for safety. As I watched nervously from the bridge, the Captain failed twice in getting us in. The storm was too strong. The wind kept blowing us away from the jetty, while the waves were heaving the ship up and down at a dangerous rate. Rain swept across the deck pushing the sailors who scurried around trying to find something to hold themselves to the ship. It was not a good scene. The Captain called down to the Buffer and said, "I'm going to make one last approach. We're going in hot. We need to get line one across." The Buffer responded, "Yes Sir" and prepared the sailors for the push. The Captain aimed the ship towards the jetty for his final approach and gave the order for half ahead. We lurched towards the jetty, all eyes pinned on our goal. The wind, the waves and the rain continued, almost as if they did not want us to make it. And then the Captain cried, "Throw for one." And we saw line one fight the wind to land on the jetty. It was quickly attached, and that is when I heard it. "Hold Faaaaaaaast" Six men clutched at the rope as the ship hit the jetty. The Captain slowed the engines, but this put more strain on the line. The ship seemed to swing around, held to the jetty by the single line. "Throw for two, throw for three, throw for four," the Captain hollered. More lines were thrown and in about a minute the ship was brought back under control. Even as the storm continued, HMCS Edmonton found her way safely alongside, all thanks to those six men who held fast line one.
This story helps us understand the importance of St. Paul's encouragement to 'hold fast to the word of life.' For your spiritual life in this fallen world is not a beautiful day. It is a storm. For there are forces, like wind and waves and rain, that are pushing you away from Christ. Pushing you away from the safety of the jetty. Pushing you away from home. And these forces do not want you to make it alongside. When you take a moment to think about it, you know these forces well. They are the world, the devil and your own sinful flesh.
The world doesn't want you to be a Christian. It rejects the word of life, and pushes others to do the same. It wears you down like wind, pushing you away from the jetty. Likewise, the devil wants to take your eyes off the jetty, take your eyes off of your heavenly home in Christ. Look at the waves, he whispers, the way they bounce the ship. Be distracted or tempted by anything, but do not consider your eternal life with God and how that might shape your life now. Do not spend time getting to know your God, the one who wants a relationship with you so badly, that He forfeited His own life. In fact, why don't you just let go of the rope. It would be easier than holding fast against the storm. Then, there's your sinful nature, which makes it hard for you to bring yourself to do the right thing. Sure, we can do the right thing on the outside, so we look good. But inside, I don't want to spend time holding fast the word of life. I don't want to fight my sinful thoughts. It is enough of a battle just trying to look good on the outside. No, these forces want to push you away from the safety of the jetty. They want to prevent you from reaching your heavenly home. They do not want you to hold fast to the word of life.
Much like HMCS Edmonton, the only thing holding us to the jetty is the Word of life. The Word of God. This Word is our lifeline. And Christ our Captain has ordered us to hold fast. But when we do not hear His Word preached regularly, when we do not read His Word, comfort each other with that Word, examine that Word, then those forces of wind and waves and rain slowly push us away from Christ. And when we are honest, we haven't been holding fast, have we? I haven't been holding fast. The storm is too strong.
But thanks be to God, for He sent His Son to hold the line. All of us have let go, but Christ held fast. All of us have succumbed to the pressures of the world and the devil and our sinful nature, but Christ would not let go. Not even when they nailed Him to the cross and lifted Him up for all to see. He is God Almighty, He could have come down from the tree. He could have ended the pain. He could have stopped His suffering. But He wanted to save you, and so He held Himself fast to that wood. He wanted you to make it safely to the jetty – safely home to His heavenly Father – so He held fast, and He continues to hold fast for you. He is the strength of the jetty, unbothered by the wind and the waves and the rain. He is the strength of the line, that holds you to His forgiveness, life and salvation. He is the only one holding the line. And He is the Captain of the ship, that gives you direction for your life. Hold Fast to Me, for I am the Word of Life. I forgive you for letting go, but I have not let go of you – so take hold of me.
Lord, I want to, I need to – but how might I take hold of you? How can I hold fast to the word of life? You may have heard about the upcoming Holy Book Club. It is a fresh opportunity to read through the Word of God in two years. God gives you another chance to hold fast to the word of life, and doing it with over a hundred other people at the same time. Already here at Beautiful Savior over twenty people are on board. Small groups are forming all over the city to meet and talk about what they read and how the word is impacting their life. Larger events will be held to motivate and encourage you through those difficult or "less interesting" parts of the Bible.
But through all of this, Christ is speaking His word of life to you. He promises to bless you in that Word, for of it He says, "The Word of God is at work in you." That means, it acts upons you. It does something to you, just by hearing and reading it. God also says, "my Word shall not return to me empty, but shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it." Or again, "The Word of God is living and active." When you are in contact with the Word of God, even if only fifteen minutes a day, He gives your tender heart what it needs.
Listen to some of the other ways God describes His Holy Word.
The Word shall be on your heart
The Word is near you
The Word of the Lord comes to you
The Word of the Lord is with you
The Word of God abides in you
Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Every Word of God proves true
The Word of the Lord is good
The Word of the Lord is upright and all His work is done in faithfulness
Your Word is life
The Word of God is like a seed
The Word of God creates
The Word of God is living and abiding
The Word of God is not bound
The Word of God cannot be broken.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
The Word of God is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.
Jesus Christ is the Word of God.
Your Captain is here for you. By the power of His Word, He rebukes the wind and the waves and the rain. And yet, He speaks tenderly to you. Listen to His voice. Hold fast to His Word, for He takes you safely through the storm. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr