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DeacoNote 35: A Whale Of A Tale

June 28, 2023

A recurring theme in some of our messages and DeacoNotes has been the idea, that God calls us to take up, or carry out, certain tasks and responsibilities, for which we have been "groomed" or prepared in some way. These callings may be small and seemingly insignificant, or big and seemingly monumental. Some are almost routine, where others can require great courage, extreme effort, or special skills. All work together with the efforts of other believers to move God's plans forward. In our worship service of Sunday, June 25, 2023, we looked at the story of David and Goliath in I Samuel 17. (if you missed it, check out the recording on our YouTube Channel at ) We saw how David had been prepared by God from a young age to handle the special task of fighting the Philistine champion, Goliath.

I Samuel 17: 37 The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine.

There is much to marvel at in this familiar story.

First, the successful completion of this task required great courage, skill, and confidence. Second, while killing the giant was no small task, some of the obstacles were the very people, who benefitted most from his success. We saw how Saul's well-meaning offer of armor threatened to derail the whole effort. And we saw how his brothers and others tried to dismiss and discourage him - seeing David as just a shepherd boy, and not a conqueror. And lastly, in spite of the enormity of the task, and in spite of the "friendly" obstacles put in his way, David accepted the task and persisted all the way to completion. How many of us might have been tempted to turn away, when we saw so many others turn away in fear, or place obstacles in our way? The truth is, we are not always willing to utilize the gifts and talents God has given us, when it means stepping so far out of our comfort zone. It was a testament to David's faith that he was.

A while back, Rev. David O'Brien loaned me a copy of one of the issues of The Christian Citizen that contained an article entitled, What To Do If Your Ship Is Sinking, by Rev. Margaret Marcuson. In it, she related some of the challenges faced by Ernest Shackleton on his ill fated attempt to cross the Antarctic continent. He and his team set out over 100 years ago in the ship, Endurance, but never made landfall. While attempting to navigate through the ice floes in the Weddell Sea to their planned landing site, their ship became locked in the ice. And they stayed that way for ten long months all through the Antarctic winter. With the arrival of spring, the ice floes began to melt and shift. But instead of setting them free, the shifting ice began to crush their ship. In October 1915, Shackleton ordered his expedition crew to abandon ship as it sank into the Weddell Sea.

The 28 man crew first tried to march across the ice to land, but this soon proved impossible, so they camped on the ice in tents. The ice pack they were on was very slowly migrating toward the open sea. Finally almost 6 months later, it started to break up and they had to abandon camp and take to their small life boats. They then spent 6 days in the raging freezing sea, fighting the wind, sea, hunger, and total exhaustion, before they finally clambered ashore Elephant Island. Elephant Island was completely uninhabited, most of the men were crippled with seasickness and others were wracked by dysentery. The able bodied had not slept in almost 80 hours. One survivor wrote in his journal that half of the party were now insane. But for the first time in 497 days they were on dry land. Since they were unlikely to be discovered accidentally, Shackleton and 5 others set out in one of the small lifeboats to seek help from a whaling station on South Georgia, some 800 miles away over open sea. For 16 days, they battled monstrous swells and angry winds, while bailing water and breaking ice off the sails. Finally, the wind eased off and they were able to step ashore, only to find that the storm had driven them off course and they were now on the opposite side of the island from the whaling station and the help they desperately needed. This forced Shackleton and two others to hike over the intervening glacier covered mountain on foot before they were able to stagger into the Stromness whaling station 36 hours later. From here Shackleton set about organizing a rescue mission for the 22 men still marooned back on Elephant Island. The first two rescue expeditions were unable to get through the ice pack. But Shackleton never gave up trying to save his crew. Finally, he was able to procure a third ship from Chile that managed to reach Elephant Island in August of 1916, 128 days after the life boat had set sail to get help, and 20 months since the original expedition had started. All survived. It is a tale of multiple miracles. They overcame countless life-threatening dangers at every turn, over and over and over again - day in and day out for almost two inhospitable years. Every member of the team survived by pushing themselves far beyond what any of them would have thought themselves capable of. Ernest Shackleton was hailed as a hero of sorts, not so much for his physical exertions, but for his ability to lead his crew - keep their morale up - keep them believing in hope even when it seemed hopeless. He seemed to know when to comfort and when to push. And just as in the case of David, not all of his obstacles were external. The ordeal drove some men to the very edges of their sanity and he had to face down a mutiny, that could easily have spelled their doom. And yet, perhaps the biggest miracle was that, just like David, even with the full knowledge of what was being asked of him, he accepted the job, the calling, and did not give up. He ran the race to completion. Sounds a lot like Paul's words to the Ephesian elders in

Acts 20: 24 I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me.

Unfortunately, we are not all made like Paul, or Ernest Shackleton, or David. We are not sure we want to be the leader - the hero - the one who digs deepest to inspire others to follow suit. Some of us try to avoid our calling - our God-appointed task. For whatever reason, we are not sure we want to work that hard for "that reason." Some of us are like Jonah.

Jonah 1: 1-3 The word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai. "Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.

Now we all know the rest of the story, of how God sent a storm to ravage the ship, how Jonah was thrown overboard, and how he was swallowed by a whale. After that, when the word of the Lord came a second time commanding him to go to Ninevah.

Jonah 3: 2 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Ninevah.

I know a man who says that he tries to listen, when God whispers in his ear, or taps him gently on the shoulder, because he says it is a lot less painful than when God uses a 2x4 to whack him over the head to get his attention! Robert J. Morgan tells the story of a family that had trouble training their Great Dane. The dog was constantly getting into trouble and wandering off. They eventually consulted a book, called No Bad Dogs by Barbara Woodhouse, a famous dog trainer. She equated certain behaviors to a lack of love between the dog and its master.

She said, True love in dogs is apparent when a door is left open and the dog still stays happily within earshot of its owner. For the owner must be the be-all and end-all of a dog's life.

Robert J. Morgan draws this analogy to our walk with God,

The real test of our Christianity isn't seen in our work or activity, or even our theological purity. It is found in this: when we have an opportunity to wander away, to disobey, to leave His presence, do we choose to stay close to Him, to abide in Christ, to obey?

One of Jesus final instructions to His disciples, of which we are all beneficiaries, was

Matthew 28: 19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

And finally, Jesus is recorded as having said,

Luke 11: 28 Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.

Amen Your Brother in Christ, Warren Please feel free to share this DeacoNote with a friend, or post a related thought in the comments below. Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons United Church of Colchester

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