Part of our character we call courage. Courage. Is that a part of our life? A virtue within our life? Part of the character of who we are? A characteristic of our lives?
Mark Twain once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the management of fear.” Courage is what we need in order to do what is right, to do what is good, to do what is best, to do what is noble, not only for ourselves but for others in a world in which there are many fears, in which there are many troubles, in which there are many hardships, many difficulties, many things that could come towards us and hurt us and harm us. Courage is what we need in the face of those fears, to do what is right and noble and true.
We need courage if we are to pursue freedom. There are many stories in the Bible of those who, in the pursuit of freedom, have been courageous. We turn to the Old Testament, to the story of the David, shepherd boy and Goliath, the giant. It’s a freedom-fighting story. The Philistines are the arch-enemies of ancient Israel, a thousand years before the birth of Christ, and they are attacking the people of Israel. They want to wipe them off the face of the earth and so they fight.
They are winning and there is no-one in the armies of Israel who will take them on. There is no-one who will fight against their champion, the giant Goliath. And David, the shepherd boy, comes along, a young lad who has never fought before, and David says, “Who will not fight for the armies of the living God against this heathen?” and rises up to the occasion; and with great courage, fights and slays the giant. Courage to fight for freedom.
Then there’s courage to preserve justice. If you’re going to fight for something as grand as freedom, there are always those who are going to stand in your way and to do it, you will need courage. You need courage to preserve freedom, you need courage to preserve justice as well. To stand up for what is right on whatever scale it may be—in large ways or in small ways. You need courage then too.
In the pages of the Old Testament, those who spoke up for justice in the face of great danger were the great prophets of ancient Israel, prophets like Amos and Micah, who went to the rulers, who went to the leaders, and said, “You are treating people as if they are nothing more than flesh and blood, as if they are packages of meat that can be trampled on and bought and sold. You cannot do this. In the name of the Almighty God who created them, you cannot treat people in this way.” Their lives were at risk, but with great courage, they spoke up for justice at that time.
Two Courageous Women
In America in 1872, Susan B. Anthony did something that was very courageous. She voted in an election for a president. But she was courageous because back then it was illegal for women to vote. They did not have the vote and when she voted in 1872, she was breaking the law. But Susan Anthony voted anyway because it was a matter of justice. She knew the consequences.
The men in the nation had long since rejected her. Many of the women in the nation were opposed to what she was doing, but she took her courage in her hands and she did it. A few days later, of course, she was arrested, she was tried, she stood before the judge and rather than meekly accepting her sentence when the judge said, “How do you plead?” she said, “I plead guilty. I plead guilty of standing up for the rights of women who have not exercised those rights before and who had been trodden down to a position of slavery,” and she began to give a speech in response to the judge. It took courage to do what she did when very few people were behind her.
It took courage for Rosa Parks to remain seated in her seat in the bus on Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 when it was expected that a black person would rise up and give their seat to a white person when there was no seat. It takes courage to buck the trend and to do what is right and to do what is just. It takes courage for a young person at school, when there is a child who nobody likes, who does not wear the right clothes, who is not part of the in-crowd. It takes courage not to go with the crowd and continue that kind of rejection, that unfair, unjust rejection and to reach out for those who are on the edge. It takes courage to pursue justice in large ways and in small ways.
Be Strong and Courageous—God Is with You
What about courage to face change and the unknown? There are many changes today that are all around about us, as things keep on changing quickly. It takes courage to enter the unknown.
Joshua was called by God for a special purpose, yet all he had known was a world with Moses as leader. If he was to think of his world, he could not conceive of a world without Moses. Joshua had been a follower in the past. Not a leader. God was now calling him to be the leader of the people of Israel, to follow after Moses, to take his position, to take the reins of authority and to lead. To do something he had never done before.
God is constantly calling us to do things that we have never done before and to do that,to take that step,requires courage. “Be strong and very courageous, be not frightened or dismayed,” says God to Joshua, “because, I, the Lord your God am with you. I will neither fail you nor forsake you, wherever you should go.” That is a promise we sometimes take for granted, but lay it in your hearts and your minds—this is a matter of faith, a matter of knowledge, a matter of belief. Do you live your life day by day in the knowledge that God is with you and will not fail you or forsake you wherever you go?
Sometimes all it needs is to take small courageous steps. The knowledge that God is there is part and parcel of our ability to be people of courage,but courage doesn’t simply come by knowing something or believing something. Courage comes by actually doing: by being courageous a little,we learn to become courageous more and more.
Source: David A. Renwick
Second Presbyterian Church
Sermons: September 12, 1999