Everything Is Holy: Our Failures

Weekly Bible Devotional

“Everything Is Holy: Our Failures”

May 16, 2021

Scripture for Sunday: Acts 27

When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul kindly, and allowed him to go to his friends to be cared for. Putting out to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. After we had sailed across the sea that is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind was against us, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Sailing past it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.

Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 Since the harbor was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favor of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest.

13 When a moderate south wind began to blow, they thought they could achieve their purpose; so they weighed anchor and began to sail past Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster, rushed down from Crete. 15 Since the ship was caught and could not be turned head-on into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. 16 By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. 17 After hoisting it up they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they would run on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and so were driven. 18 We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, 19 and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. 22 I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we will have to run aground on some island.”

27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 But when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and had lowered the boat into the sea, on the pretext of putting out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat and set it adrift.

33 Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” 35 After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. 37 (We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.) 38 After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.

39 In the morning they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

Notes on the Text:

This week’s theme is failure and so we will explore the example of the Apostle Paul who had more than his fair share of failure. We often admire Paul today and read his letters as scriptures, but this was not always the case. Paul’s ministry was not always successful. He struggled over and over again. There were many times when he had to justify his ministry because he was not one of the original disciples. He faced many rejections after he preached and taught. His mission efforts were not always well received. He also faced the rejection which Jesus himself faced. By challenging the oppressive powers of his day and calling people to a way of love, nonviolence and liberation, Paul was seen as a threat to the peace and unity of the Roman Empire in the communities he visited. He was even opposed by some of the people within the Jesus’ community because he was reaching out to Gentiles before it was sanctioned by the church in Jerusalem.

According to the Book of Acts, Paul went on several missionary journeys. He was trying to spread the message of Christ and to continue his mission of the transformation of the world into the vision of God. And just like Jesus, his efforts landed him in trouble with the authorities. In our story for this week, Paul was a prisoner being led to Rome to have an official hearing before the emperor. He advised his captors not to set sail to Rome as the season for sea travel was coming to an end. Yet, they decide not to take his advice and end up encountering a life-threatening storm.

Paul is faced with the ultimate failure of his mission. He had been maligned and captured. He had no reason for hope. And then he found himself in peril in a storm. Then when the shipwreck took place, he ended up on an island where the people saw him as a criminal. Yet, Paul found his way through struggle. Paul did a few things that could help us as we face the storms of life and of failure.

  1. Dreams & Visions: Paul relied on his connection to the Spirit of God through prayer, dreams, and visions. Even though his original plans fell apart, he did not give up on the internal guidance that he had.
  2. Focus: Paul stayed focused on God’s mission. Even though he was not able to preach the good news of Jesus in the usual ways, he found new ways to fulfill God’s mission. He focused on the opportunities that were right in front of him instead of lamenting the ones he was used to.
  3. Ritual: As they were getting close to being shipwrecked, Paul invited his captors to a communal meal. The last thing they would have wanted to do was to eat. Yet, Paul invited them to a communion-type experience of sharing bread which strengthened their hearts and bodies. It prepared them for the shipwreck.

For Reflection:

Paul offers us a great way to see the sacred in our failures. When our plans fall apart, it is very human to want to salvage things and to go back to our original plans. What we miss in the process are the opportunities that are right in front of us. Instead of fighting against the failure, the invitation is to focus on the sacred in the midst of it. Our lives take many detours but our deep calling to live as children of God by loving and serving is a constant that we can rely on. Our inner life becomes our inner compass in the ups and downs of life.

In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor recommends a spiritual practice of intentionally getting lost to hone in our ability to trust in God’s guidance and to go with the flow. She reflects that, “God does some of God’s best work with people who are truly, seriously lost….Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that we do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure/loss.  When we fall ill, relationships fail, lose our jobs, we alienate or are alienated from loved ones, we are left alone to pick up the pieces.  Even if we are ministered to by brave friends it can be hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives.  Yet when we look in our lives to see what changed us for the better, a lot of those times would be wilderness times.  When the safety net has split, resources are gone, the way ahead is not clear, the sudden exposure can be frightening and revealing.”

A Blessing for Failure by John O’Donohue  

The will of color loves how light spreads
Through its diffusions, making textures subtle,
Clothing a landscape in concealment
For color to keep its mysteries
Hidden from the unready eye.

But the light that comes after rain
Is always fierce and clear,
And illuminates the face of everything
Through the transparency of rain.

Despite the initial darkening,
This is the light that failure casts.
Beholden no more to the promise
Of what dreams and work would bring.
It shows where roots have withered
And where the source has gone dry.
The light of failure has no mercy
Of the affections of the heart;
It emerges from beyond the personal,
A wiry, forthright light that likes to see crevices
Open in the shell of a controlled life.

Though cruel now, it serves a deeper kindness,
Wise to the larger call of growth.

It invites us to humility
And the painstaking work of acceptance

So that one day we may look back
In recognition and appreciation
At the disappointment we now endure.

Everything Is Holy

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