SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY
17TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
SEPTEMBER 27, 2020.
Title: “Where is your Soul’s virtue of Moral Courage?”
Text: “Have not I commanded you?Be strong and courageous; Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go,” (Joshua 1:9 NIV).
Scripture Reading: Joshua 1:1-9.
One of the most gifted speakers in church history was John Chrysostom. The name comes from a Greek word meaning “golden tongued.” John was sent from Antioch to what was then Constantinople where he preached fearlessly in the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. His denunciation of the lavish extravagance of the rich and ruling class and his condemnation of excess infuriated many, including Empress Eudoxia who arranged for him to be exiled.
When he was told of his fate, Chrysostom responded: “What can I fear? Will it be death? But you know that Christ is my life, and that I shall gain by death. Will it be exile? But the earth and all its fullness is the Lord’s. Will it be the loss of wealth? But we brought nothing into the world, and can carry nothing out. Thus all the terrors of the world are contemptible in my eyes, and I smile at all its good things. Poverty I do not fear. Riches I do not sigh for. Death I do not shrink from.”
Far too many today are more worried about what people think than about what God thinks. The desire not to offend others (which is not a bad thing in itself) is often elevated to be the most important thing. As a result, many shrink from taking the steps needed to get involved with others. One of the programs initiated here at church focused on getting involved with people as a major step in good neighboring. Getting involved with people has been a difficult decision for many of us. Psalm 94:16 raises the interrogative, “Who will rise up for me against evil doers? Who shall stand up for me against workers of iniquity? What do we need to motivate us to get involved with others? What do we need to live out our faith? You see church, Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us there is a time to be silent and there is a time to speak. When the time came for Amos to speak against social injustice and oppression, God put his hands on Amos reminding him that the time to be silent is over. God begins a conversation: the time is over to allow oppressive force to dominate; the time is over to wonder if the God of justice and peace is still alive; the time is over.
God starts a conversation: In the midst of man using God’s Word to justify inhumanity against man. In the midst of all the violence and senseless loss of lives, God starts a conversation. In the midst of suffering of many who can afford a meal a day, God starts a conversation. What do we need to be part of this conversation? Courage is what we need. Learn with me this morning as we look at moral courage as a virtue of the soul.
To begin with, let us understand what courage is. Courage is one of the cardinal virtues. A virtue is a quality that adorns the soul through the practice of a good habit. Courage is one of the four cardinal virtues (wisdom, courage, temperance, justice), so called because they are foundational – they were identified by the Greeks through philosophical reflection and they are all found throughout the Bible, (Shaffer, 20). Courage is another word for fortitude or strength or bravery. How does courage relate to us?
Our text this morning narrates the story of the genesis of Joshua’s leadership of Israel after the prophet Moses died. Joshua the son of Nun took over. God’s plan for Joshua and Israel was to be prosperous as a nation. In this process, decisions had to be made and bonds had to be forged. These needed courage to be accomplished.
Daniel 3 tells us how Daniel displayed this virtue in the face of imminent death. It was the aspect of his soul that made him cried out, “Our God is able.” Courage is the virtue which adorns the irascible aspect of our souls. It is that fight or flight impulse in us when danger is upon us or when we see a good that is not easy to obtain. That impulse is given to us by God naturally to avoid pain and to preserve ourselves. When fear arises in us because of some perceived danger, we react to it. But because of the confusion of our souls, we do not always react well. We might cower and withdraw when we should fight or draw near, we might fight when we really should withdraw.
Courage is that virtue enabling us to act despite our fear and to do the right thing, to be ready even to fall in the battle. Courage does not make us suffer pointlessly, but for a great good we perceive through hope to be attainable.
We all know courage, we have exercised it. If you are a student, making the move to a new life on your own, to a new city, the blank page when you must write an essay, the facing of exams for the first time!; if you have launched yourself on a new career. If you have travelled and if you have moved to distant places, it takes courage.
The Bible is full of passages of God telling us to have courage. One is the quote we heard this morning from Joshua: “Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened nor dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua had recently taken over the leadership of Israel when Moses died. He hesitates before going across Jordan and into the promised Land. He is afraid on different levels. We know he was afraid because God does not speak without purpose, and tells him to have courage not once but three times! Joshua probably wondered, can I be a leader? What sort of dangers will we face? So many uncertainties? He is afraid. I remember before going to seminary in Ghana, I needed the courage. I didn’t have the money to leave. I was afraid of leaving behind my young daughter. God minister to my heart to read the passage we read this morning and when I did, I felt immediately physically and spiritually strengthened. There was a recovery of joy, the release of energy and excitement about the coming adventure – yes, of course! God will be with me, all things are possible with Him!
We need courage to live out our faith, to witness about our faith to others, and to seek out God. When we confess our faith, in a group of people who are non-believers, it is not physical harm that we fear, but there can be fear that we will be rejected by the crowd, or simply thought to be foolish. And yet as we exercise that courage, we find ourselves emboldened. Sometimes people react differently than we expected, it can draw out a latent, hidden faith in others. I know it was important to me, in the years when I was outside the Church, for people in my midst to admit they were Christians, it helped awaken my hidden faith. To speak to that person, whom I respect, believes?Moral courage is also tested in our speaking out when other voices are silent to unjust oppression. The courage to be a voice in the face of corruption or abuse in a work environment, even when it can cost us our job. The courage to put to an end an abusive relationship or to call another person to account regardless of the consequences. Moral courage is needed to speak against something society thinks is acceptable morally, but when we understand it to be contrary to Scripture.The virtue of courage is not given to Christians so that we can avoid being harmed, it is not given to us to preserve our lives at all cost, but it is to enable us to be vulnerable in acts of love, to pour out our lives as a living sacrifice, to be steadfast in the face of persecution, to be able to walk in the way of love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:2) God bless you all!