A Time To Come Along, Bravely
Sixth Sunday of Easter
from the book
Love Is Your Disguise
Second Lesson Sermons For Lent/Easter
The waiting room is adequate but nothing fancy; magazines dog-eared and out of date, a few toys for the children help with the cramped, crowded feeling. Some parents have brought along toys and books from home. One poor dad with the fussiest child is doing the best he can with his car keys to entertain his little girl; in a couple of minutes she has lost interest.
Mary has brought her two daughters. She believes one of them has an ear infection, but these days where one goes, they all go. It wasn't easy getting out of the house for an early appointment; Mary remembered the crackers and juice boxes, but forgot the toys. There is a puzzle the girls might like, but another child is using it. Only the healthy one feels like playing anyway. During the short drive to the doctor's office the girls were remembering when they last got shots. By the time they arrived Amy, the sick one, wouldn't get out of the car. Finally Mommy promises to ask the doctor not to give her a shot. Mary is now wearily reading to Amy and the healthy daughter has gotten ahold of the puzzle. Near the puzzle table, a door swings open, held wide by a friendly-looking nurse in a brightly colored uniform, "Amy?" She looks right at Mary and Amy. Amy buries her head in Mary's shoulder and finally stands up. Mary gathers her things and takes Amy's hand, "Come along, Amy, be brave. You'll be just fine." And with that, the tentative trio moves toward the examining rooms.
"Come along, be brave," Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew and Philip and the others. "Come along, be brave," Jesus says to us, or was it ..."Follow me"?
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness' sake you will be blessed" (1 Peter 3:13-14).
Do you remember Noah? How God called him to build an ark? How the flood waters came, and how he and his wife and his sons and their wives boarded the ark with all of the animals?
Because Noah had been faithful, God said to him, "Come along, be brave. You'll be fine."
"Come along, be brave," is easy to say, but sadly in our world we know we won't necessarily be just fine.
An executive quits his job on principle. He feels better about himself because he has finally stood up to his boss's dishonesty. Six months later, he is still out of work. He has always advised others: don't leave a job before you have another one lined up, but this time it seemed different. However, with two young children at home, and a third on the way, he's not so sure he did the right thing.
"Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right?" we read in First Peter, a letter written to the Christians under the very severe persecution of Rome. These Christians had to be excited and pleased about receiving this letter, but I wonder if they were equally excited when they considered its content. "But even if you do suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear ..." (1 Peter 3:13-14).
The drama is nearing its conclusion. The convent is being searched by the Nazis and the nuns are readying the von Trapp family for their escape in a car belonging to the caretaker. News comes that the borders have been closed, to which Captain von Trapp responds, "Well, then we'll drive up into the mountains and cross the border on foot!"1 The scene from the movie/musical, though not historically accurate since the real von Trapp family made its escape by rail, is a wonderful image for us today: the von Trapps, practically of every age from the parents to the young children, climbing every mountain under a crystal blue sky to safety and freedom. "Come along, be brave. You'll be fine." And they did and they were just fine.
But six million Jews exterminated in Nazi death camps remind us, when we are called to "Come along, bravely," that is, "Come along and have no fear," it is best also to come along, carefully.
We know the Old Testament story of Joseph, how his brothers hated him, and likely for good reason. He was the apple of his father's eye and gave definition to the word "spoiled." So his brothers devised a plan. They were out in the wilderness watching their father's flocks and saw from a distance Joseph coming to check on them. They wanted to capture Joseph, kill him, and throw him into a pit and let wild animals devour him. So much for brotherly love! But one brother prevailed upon his other brothers to throw Joseph into the pit without killing him. Reuben was secretly hoping to return to rescue Joseph. Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; cast him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him..." (Genesis 37:22).
So this they did, casting Joseph into a pit. And as they sat down to eat, a caravan of Ish'maelites drew near. Now they pulled Joseph up out of the pit and the brothers sold him to the Mid'ianite traders for twenty shekels of silver, sending Joseph with the caravan to Egypt.
Joseph was sent out by his father to check on his brothers who were tending his father's flocks, "Go along Joseph, be brave, be careful!" And Joseph wound up in Egypt.
You have heard of Oscar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, but have you heard of Tina Strobos, Mirjam Pinkof, or Barbara Makuch?2
In the Netherlands, the medical student, Tina Strobos, went bravely to the aid of numerous Jewish people during the Nazi occupation of her country. Tina, with her mother and grandmother, gave shelter to many, sometimes for nearly a year. Tina was active in the Dutch underground and helped Jews with food and false identity papers, and with finding places of refuge with other Dutch families. Once when four of her Jewish friends were found and arrested, Tina's calm persuasion convinced a high ranking S.S. officer to set three of them free. "Go along, Tina, be brave, be careful."
Mirjam Pinkhof was instrumental in creating a group that helped hundreds of Jewish teenagers and children survive the Holocaust. Mirjam, who was Jewish herself and in constant danger, chose to ignore the safe route and instead remained in Holland to help children who had been sent there from Germany by parents hoping that at least their children might live. Mirjam worked tirelessly to find hiding places for these children in Holland, and many eventually were smuggled to France, which was safer. Some even made it, before the war ended, to Spain and Palestine. "Go along, Mirjam, be brave, be careful."
Barbara Makuch was a teacher in a boy's boarding school where she helped one Jewish boy assume the identity of a Christian Polish student. On another occasion she helped a Jewish woman physician find refuge as the school cook. Barbara later assumed, from a desperate mother, care of a seven-year-old Jewish girl. Because of her fear of discovery, Barbara and the girl made the dangerous trip to a larger town, where the girl was safely placed in a convent school. Barbara was finally caught while acting as a courier for the underground and imprisoned in a German concentration camp. During the years in prison, Barbara Makuch faced many harsh tests. Amazingly she survived and remarkably helped save the lives of several fellow inmates. "Go along, Barbara, be brave, be careful."
And so the writer of First Peter has more than a few reasons to fear, but writes, "Have no fear...." Later in their lives those brothers of Joseph who had sold him into bondage had reason to fear. There was a great famine in the land and so they traveled to Egypt in search of food. Through a variety of circumstances Joseph while living in Egypt had found favor with Pharaoh and had attained a prominent place in the Egyptian court. It is a scene filled with irony as the brothers come asking Joseph, whom they do not recognize, for food. Will Joseph be consumed by anger and delight in vengefulness?
Joseph played a little trick on his brothers, but then revealed his identity to them.
So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, I pray you." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life...."
-- Genesis 45:4-9
He explained to his brothers his position and role in the Egyptian Court and discussed with them the famine in their homeland. And then he sent them home to bring to Egypt their father and his household. Say to my father, "This is a message from Joseph: Come along, Father, be brave, be careful, be welcome."
And so the message echoes through the centuries until even it falls upon our ears. "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed" (1 Peter 3:13-14). "Come along, bravely." How would we feel if Christ came to us with those words today, even now? "Come along, bravely." Is there a readiness in you and in me to hear him beckon us by name to come along? Would we be ready to leave behind what we know of this life and be confident in his calling? And would we be brave?
If our answer is yes, then we are ready also to hear his calling to come along in this life. We are prepared to be among those who have already left behind everything to follow him. And we are brave enough to go where he will send us, to city council to speak his mind, to teach the middle school Sunday school class, to the soup kitchen where each week we kick in a little extra to make the broth thicker and more tasty, or to the home of someone on our street who can't get out anymore and just wants to talk.
I expect we are brave enough to do these things and to follow him when he calls.
So go, be careful, and be brave.
1. The Sound of Music, copyright 1965: Argyle Enterprises and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
2. Ellen Land-Weber, To Save a Life: Stories of Jewish Rescue, copyright 1996. http://sorrel.humbolt.edu/~rescuers/book/contents.html
The stories of Tina Strobos, Mirjam Pinkhof, Barbara Makuch are beautifully told at this web address.