Acts 7:55-60

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

May 10, 2020
by Reverend Jane Quandt

I assume you all remember the old movie The Wizard of OZ. Perhaps you even remember the scene where Dorothy, the Tinman, and the Scarecrow first meet the Lion. He greets them with the threat of injury, scaring them half to death until Dorothy swats him across the face and tells him to knock it off. That’s when he breaks into tears and we discover that underneath all that intimidation was a scared, cowardly lion.

The topic for my reflection this morning is courage. And let’s begin by acknowledging right up front that it’s true….that it’s usually those who express themselves with the most bluster and bravado…the people who seek to intimidate and terrorize…the ones with the biggest guns…who are most lacking in real courage.

Courage….I have to admit that I think a lot about it. What exactly is courage? We often think of courage as something big…something that requires something that most of us don’t think we have. But I’m not sure that’s the case at all. Instead, I think maybe there’s at least a spark of it in all of us…an inner hero waiting to come out.

These days the whole notion of courageous people seems to be changing, doesn’t it?  In the past we tended to think of heroes as people who lived lives dedicated to a cause – Martin Luther King, Mandela, Ghandi, Romero.Yes, these people are still incredible heroes.

But now we’re perhaps recognizing that we should be willing to give what is, after all, a title of great honor, “hero,” to many more people, people who are putting themselves at risk. These days we are recognizing doctors, nurses, and EMT’s along with grocery clerks, delivery women and men, farmers, immigrant farm workers….all those who are putting themselves in harms way…so that most of us can safely shelter at home until this thing passes…they are all referred to as heroes now….AND THEY DESERVE TO BE.

We hear story after story. Did you hear the story about Paul Cary this week? When the call went out from New York City for volunteers to travel to the epicenter of the pandemic in the fight against the coronavirus Paul Cary raised his hand from 1,800 miles away. On March 28 the veteran paramedic got in an ambulance and drove for 27 hours straight from Colorado Springs to New York City, trading shifts at the wheel with his colleague. They were part of a fleet of 29 private ambulances and 72 medics from all across the country from the company Ambulnz who headed to New York to ease the burden on the city’s overwhelmed EMS services.

He worked for 3 weeks until he fell ill with COVID himself and on April 30 this 66 year old father of two a grandfather of four died on a ventilator at a New York hospital.

Every day we are hearing stories like that, stories about real heroes. . . Courageous women and men putting their lives on the line as they go about their jobs during this pandemic.

But here’s the thing. If you ask people like that how they were able to do what they do it is very unlikely that they will use the word courage. Instead they simply say that they are just doing what they do…just being themselves. In fact that’s exactly what Paul Carey’s family even said about him after he died.. He was just being himself…that’s who he always was.

And this is not just some kind of false humility. It’s because courage looks different from the outside than it feels from the inside. From the outside, the work that heroes do looks courageous. But from the inside it feels like “just being me.”

This morning’s scripture reading was the end of the story about Stephen getting himself killed by a crowd. Why? Because he dared to stand in front of them and speak the truth. . .truth to power. He told those people gathered in Jerusalem:

“Listen people. You’ve got it all wrong.  The whole history of our people was leading up to this guy Jesus…and the temple…the place you consider most holy…the thing you think is the dwelling place of God…the guarantee of God’s presence with us…NO…God has ALWAYS been with us…even long before the temple was built.”

What did Stephen expect….he went after the very thing that to those gathered was most sacred…do that and you had better expect to pay a price.

Was this courage or was this just foolish naivite. Had Stephen really thought it through? Probably not. If he had known he would end up being slaughtered would he have said what he said anyway? I don’t know. If Paul Cary had known he’d end up dead would he have driven to New York City. Who knows. What I do know is that these men were both responding to something deep within themselves….deep in their hearts….and maybe that is what real courage is.

Did you know that the word courage actually comes from the Latin word “cor”, which means “heart.”

Maybe courage isn’t as much about heroism as it is following our hearts…and I’m not talking about falling in love. I’m not talking about romance. I’m talking about listening to that divine inner voice that lives deep in our hearts that is always nudging us in the direction of doing what is right and good and beautiful. Maybe courage is us simply becoming our truest, most authentic selves.

You’re not sure? Then think about this. I bet all of you at one time or another in your life had someone tell you that you had done something courageous. They said that because that’s how it looked to them from the outside.….but on the inside it really did feel like you were just being who you are, didn’t it? I rest my case.