Acts: Lost At Sea
August 30, 2020 Pastor: Series: The Book of Acts
Topic: God's Faithfulness Scripture: Acts 27:27–44
When I was a kid, I remember my mom and dad watching Gilligan’s Island. I got to thinking about that show this week when I saw several of you comment on our Facebook post about what your favorite childhood show was. Now, truth be told, I never really watched Gilligan’s Island with my parents. Captain Planet and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was more the speed of 9-year-old Matt. It wasn’t until college that I actually watched my first full episode of the classic TV show. Sure, there were funny parts in it but after my roommate, who was a huge fan, turned it off and asked me what I thought, all I could think was how terrifying that would actually be. To be stranded on a desert island and Lost at Sea.I’m guessing that many of us are familiar with Tom Hanks’ famous film, Castaway. Our Youth Director even has her own version of Wilson the volleyball in her office. But in light of our text this morning, I wanted to learn about a few real-life instances of folks being Lost at Sea. I found one account about a man named Steve Callahan. He ended up spending 76 days in an inflatable life raft. He survived by fishing off his raft and fighting off the several shark attacks that he endured. A man from China named Poon Lim was adrift on a raft for 133 days after his ship was torpedoed by a Nazi U-boat in 1942. With a few supplies he was able to gather and the occasionally well-placed seagull, he was able to survive until fisherman discovered him in the ocean. 76 days, 133 days. That might seem unimaginable. But that’s not the record. No, that horrible award belongs to José Salvador Alvarenga who was Lost at Sea for 438 days after a storm knocked his boat off course and destroyed his motor. He recounts that it was his faith that kept him going.
Hopefully, we never have to go through what these folks had to endure. I get scared enough when a piece of seaweed brushes my leg only a couple of feet away from the shore. Being stranded in the expanse of the ocean with no certainty in sight, that would be truly terrifying. As we near the end of our journey through the book of Acts, we find in our text this morning that the apostle Paul suffered his own nautical catastrophe. Lost at Sea and eventually shipwrecked, Paul faces harrowing and uncertain circumstances. This account is found in Acts 27:27-44.
Last week we left having witnessed an opportunity Paul had to share his testimony. Having convinced his would-be accusers of his innocence, Paul is then put on a ship and sent to stand before Caesar. While sailing for Rome, the ship Paul is on is caught within a terrible, hurricane-force storm. We’re told in the earlier part of chapter 27 that the ship is battered back and forth and was on the brink of being capsized a few times. But Paul had received a message from the Lord that he and the crew would survive so that Paul could stand in Rome. So, Paul tried to offer as much strength and assurance as he could to the frightened sailors. That’s when we get to the shipwreck.
At first, we read that those aboard did all that they could to simply assure their own safety. They threw down multiple anchors, thinking that if they could just remain where they are that they would be safe. We even read that some, completely overcome by fear and anxiety, are prepared to take the lifeboats for themselves and leave everyone else behind. Paul warns some of the soldiers of what is about to happen and that leads to the lifeboats being cut loose entirely. So, they are now in a ship that has been pummeled by storms, floating in the open waters, with no lifeboats at all. For all intents and purposes, they are Lost at Sea.
Paul then does perhaps the most unexpected but also the most pastoral thing you can think of. He leads them in a meal together. Giving thanks to God, Paul breaks bread and urges all of those on the ship to eat and to gather their strength. That nourishment prepares them for what is to come, another series of unexpected actions. At morning, they see a beach. Land! But their ship, or what’s left of it, is in no condition to make the journey safely. And so, they do the unthinkable. They cut their only remaining cord of safety and sever the ropes of the anchors holding them in place. They let fly the ropes that are holding the rudders of the ship and hoist the sail into the wind. With no anchors and no control of the rudder, they are at the utter mercy of the winds as they let the boat hurtle on a collision course for the safe shores that they are desperate to reach. The ship strikes the sandbar hard, so hard that the boat itself is shattered. But we’re told in the final verse, they all made it to land safely.
Now, as I said, there aren’t many of us that have ever or will ever have to endure what Paul and the others on that ship had to go through. But within this harrowing experience is an opportunity for us to hear a needed truth in our own moments when we feel like we have been blown off course and hopeless. You don’t need expansive waters and a broken ship to feel Lost at Sea. Many of us have suffered through those dizzying and excruciating moments within our lives, even if we are hundreds of miles from the ocean. It can come as a result of a sudden loss. A loved one is taken from us or we’re forced to face unemployment. What, seconds before, seemed like an ordinary conversation becomes the defining moment where our whole world is turned upside down. Words from a doctor, someone we trusted, or even words spoken on the news. We’re never prepared, not really. We might think we are, just as every sailor sets out on their voyage with a sense of readiness and confidence. But when the storms of life crash against us and we are left battered and drifting, we are tempted to succumb to those seemingly bottomless depths of grief, sorrow, and anger.
What are we supposed to do when we don’t know what tomorrow looks like? When we don’t know where to turn? When we feel weary and worn down and hopeless? All of us, every single one, have faced times like this. Each of our stories is different. For some of us, we’re within one of those stories at this very moment. Before we try and figure out what to do, and we will try and answer that question, I think it’s critical to remember who we are with. And whether it is the what or who we are trying to learn. Paul’s experience in Acts 27 provides a powerful example for us.
For the crew on that boat, Paul’s presence was literally lifesaving. He didn’t calm the waters as Jesus did, but God did use Paul to calm the turbulent hearts of each person on that vessel. Paul’s experience of being Lost at Sea reminds us how important it is to remember who is around us and with us when we are caught within a storm or feel utterly alone. There is a theological term we sometimes use to describe God: omnipresent. It means present everywhere. And we do truly believe that God is everywhere, at all times. The Psalms remind us there is nowhere we can go where we can flee from God’s presence. And for the 276 people on that boat, Paul was the presence of God. When Caitlin was in the hospital and I had no idea if I would ever talk to my wife again, many of you were the presence of God for me. When we’ve been unfairly judged or wounded by someone and we find comfort and compassion in a friend or family member, we are in the presence of God. When we’ve had the worst day we can remember and we can pick up the phone and talk to that one person that helps us find our true north, we find the presence of God. This is why, right now, during a time within our country when there is an entire community of people who feel as though their lives matter less and feel as though their pain and the injustice done against them is ignorable, that we, as the followers of Christ, need to be the presence of God.
But Paul’s experience fosters an even more difficult lesson than that of presence. In Acts 27, we find a lesson of surrender. What did Paul and the others have to do in order to reach land? More specifically, what did they have to give up? They had to give up the little security they thought they had. They cut loose the anchors from their boat, the only thing holding them steady in those uncertain waters. They had nothing to hold them fast. They had to release the ropes attached to the rudder that gave them any power of direction. They had no power. And they had to throw open their sails to the unpredictable winds. They had no control. How terrifying that must have been! But what was the result? The end of verse 44: “In this way, everyone reached land safely.”
When things feel out of control, what do we do? We tighten our grip. When we feel like there is nothing we can do, we try and do more anyway. When we feel things slipping away, we take hold of any small shred of security and we hold it in a death grip. But…what if that is the opposite of what God wants for us? What if God desires more for us than the shreds or the scraps we are clinging to? I want to be abundantly clear here. I don’t know what that would look like in every situation. I didn’t know last April. All I knew was that I had reached a point where holding onto my anxiety and my fear and the countless questions I kept imagining was only making things worse. I was lost and I was sinking. Some of you have had times in your life where the only way to move forward was to let go. Let go of a person. Let go of the familiar. Let go of a point of view. It’s terrifying and I can promise you that if it was my hand that had to cut the anchors of that boat, that my hands would be trembling.
Friends, this isn’t a message of easy answers and it’s not a 3-step guide to overcoming your worst day. If anything, what I am offering is a reminder that sometimes God doesn’t need your strength or your intelligence or your reasons. Sometimes what God asks and what we need is surrender. That we let go of those things we are clinging to so that Christ can bring us to the shores of something brand new, something that offers hope and purpose. Sometimes, by letting go and letting God, we find we are no longer Lost at Sea.