Michael J. Readinger

Earlier this month, the Rev. Kenneth Samuel’s UCC Daily Devotion titled “Beyond Bravery” was published. The scripture verse from Matthew 10 is one I am familiar with and have heard in church and as the subject of more than one sermon. “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. You will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged. You will be hated by everyone because of me.” However, it was what Rev. Samuel said in his reflection and the prayer he ended with that profoundly affected and moved me.

I hope you get to read his words and take the time to look inward at your own life and behavior. I certainly did. And, I must openly confess to my own failure at taking chances, risking it all and being true to the justice issues that are so important to me and to our society. I am also thinking about all of this as we learn more about the recent attack on the civil liberties of the Rev. Kaji Dousa because of her bravery on the immigration front. I wonder how many other courageous and outspoken church leaders have been investigated and persecuted recently just because someone perceives them to be troublesome. We may never know.

Since the 2016 election, I have been an ostrich with my head buried in the sand way too often. I also feel that my activist spirit has been crushed, my soul has been depleted, and my brain has become clouded. It is time for me to (I am quoting a friend here) stand up, step in, and show up. There is so much that I care so deeply about, and I have not been really living into those issues. I admit my shortcomings and my failure to be true to myself. I commit to changing that behavior. Not here in this column or at my work-related gatherings, but in the trenches, on the streets, with my wallet, and in the world of advocating for those who have no voice.

Rev. Samuel writes: “Our greatest challenge is not in dying but in living our lives in the fullness of our values and purpose.” We are called by Jesus to take chances, risk comfort, seek justice, love the children, our neighbor and all creation with humility, courage and bravery. What risks is God challenging you to take? How are you called to be courageous? How can you live your life more fully in the way that Jesus teaches? These are the questions that I am asking myself and I encourage you to do so as well.

Thank you for your motivational words, Rev. Samuel. And allow me to paraphrase your prayer — God, give me the faith and courage to not allow fear, malaise or lack of commitment to get in the way of truly living again!

Here is the text of Rev. Samuel’s devotional. The Rev. Kenneth Samuel is pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Ga.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. You will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged. You will be hated by everyone because of me.” — excerpts of Matthew 10:16-22 (NIV)

When Jesus sent his disciples out among the people of Palestine to spread the good news of the gospel, he pulled no punches. He was up front and blatantly clear about the virulence and violence the disciples would encounter on the gospel mission. And yet, despite foreknowing the lethal dangers awaiting them, the disciples accepted the charge and engaged Jesus’ mission.

What motivates people to place themselves in harm’s way in efforts to save others? What moves public safety officials to rush into deadly danger zones to put out fires, to rescue those in peril and to restore peace? What drives military personnel to place their lives on the line in defense of a nation? What spurs justice activists to risk their lives in protest of institutional iniquity?

According to the 13th century Scottish freedom fighter, William Wallace, every person dies but not every person really lives. Our greatest challenge is not in dying but in living our lives in the fullness of our values and purpose. Life that is denied or disconnected from value and purpose is mere existence.

Bravery in the face of death is admirable. But the willingness to see your life in service to transcendent values that save humanity surpasses bravery. At the funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Benjamin E. Mays spoke these words by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“See how the masses worry themselves into nameless graves, while every now and then a great soul appears, who loses himself into immortality.”

Prayer

Lord, give me the faith to not allow death to ever prevent me from living. Amen.