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12-31-17 Sermon: “The Courage to Change the Things I Can”

“The Courage to Change the Things I Can”  New Year’s Eve Sermon at Lake Murray Presbyterian by Dr. Ben Sloan
[Inspired by a sermon series by John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian]
For a Video of this sermon, click here

12-31-17 “Courage to Change the Things I Can”  Joshua 1:7-9; 1 Corinthians 16:; Luke 1,2 “Fear Not”

The theme of LMPC for 2017-8 is “Bearing Fruit and Finding Peace”- The Serenity Prayer is a prayer for that- though a bit reversed.  It is one of the most often prayed prayers in America written by an American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr.  Let’s read and pray together the Serenity Prayer found on the front cover of your bulletin.  [Read it]  There are three wonderful things to pray for here: Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom.  These three things are perhaps best appreciated on the hinge day of a new year.  Peace for the past, courage for the future, and wisdom to discern my limits.  The prayer grew in popularity as Alcoholics Anonymous started using it in 1941  and then the prayer was put in the chaplain’s service book before D-Day in World War II.   It has helped shape the spirituality of industry and fueled further the Protestant Work Ethic- by encouraging us to do what we can to make this world better.  The Serenity Prayer is important for us considering 25% of Americans say they feel angry all the time.  More than 1/3 of women have negative thoughts about their body up to five times a day.  Half of us are concerned about the level of stress that we have. Twenty million suffer from depression.  We need Serenity- so let’s break down the Serenity Prayer from a Biblical perspective.
When you go boating or water skiing on Lake Murray you may every now and then hit a rogue wave.  It is a wave that can make you fall if you are in a boat not holding on.  If you are skiing it will at the least startle you and maybe wipe you out.   Life is full of such waves.  They are unpredictable often.  Or you may can see it when you see a big boat riding beside you very fast- creating these waves.  If you are driving it may be a patch of oil or a pothole that makes you slide or gives you a flat.  If you are snow skiing- it is that patch of ice.  Things happen in life we cannot change. It may be that you got something bad that you didn’t deserve.  Maybe someone misunderstood you and it endangered your relationship.  Maybe they understood you and you created your very own rogue wave.  Maybe the economy changes.  Maybe you lose your job and things have to change.  Maybe your hopes for your children or grandchildren are dashed.
Whenever new opportunities come, a baton is passed, or a new year begins- there is a need to accept the things we cannot change.  What are some things we cannot change?
A. THE PAST- We cannot change what happened to us in 2017.  So… accept it.  Not stoically.  Not with a stiff upper lip.  But accept it.  I heard one minister say correctly that each event that happens to you is uniquely prepared for you from a loving God.  The hard things you have faced sharpen you.  You cannot change them- do not freak out over them, but grow from them.  Perhaps it is important to turn the past over to Christ who died to pay for our sins.
B. REALITY- If a death comes, you cannot change it. In our passage, Moses died and Joshua was up next.  It was important that Joshua not think that he was not Moses.  He had been his understudy, and the people and even Moses was depending on his having courage.  Sometimes change comes and accepting it is hard- but accepting it is our goal.  Mary accepted- “May it be to me as you have said.”   Joseph accepted- “He was not afraid to take Mary as his wife.”
If you get sick- sometimes all you can do is weather through it.  When reality hits it must be faced for what it is.  When the weather is freezing cold, you maybe able to put on an extra layer but do not confuse ameliorating the situation with accepting it.  You will live longer, have more peace if you adjust to what is going on around you.  So, yes- even with my gloves on it is really cold.  I will quit dreaming of summer or Florida and make the best of the cold.  We are not swatting mosquitos.
C. GOD- I invite you to accept God.  God accepts you- warts and all- just as you are.  My challenge- and it is the ongoing challenge is to accept God.  You cannot make God in your own image- millions have tried, but idolatry never works well.  The true God is not meant to be changed but to be respected, honored, and worshiped.  You don’t need to be angry at God and it doesn’t help you to be angry at the people who follow God- however hypocritical, The prayer is not “I will be stoic” but “God grant me the serenity.”  In Niebuhr’s original prayer it says “God give me the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed.”
II. THE COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN- As we enter a new year, let us enter it with great courage.  As a church we hope to start a daughter church.  This is a new adventure.  But whatever reason you have for coming to LMPC is a reason to start a new church that can potentially do the same for another.  People need to worship God, to love Him, to love one another, to have meaning and purpose in their lives.
A. HAVE COURAGE- Joshua needed courage to lead the people who had constantly grumbled against Moses and would grumble against Joshua too. In our passage It was almost as if God was saying, “You can do it!”   When Jesus was born to Mary she could have easily been afraid but you see great courage in her saying, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”  She not only accepted it, she did so with great courage.  Joseph was told, “Do not be afraid to take Mary in as your wife.”  It is a fearful thing to be a parent, to get married, to get a new job, to move to a new place, to find a new church, to face a new year.  Have courage.  Fear not.  Make a difference for good as you have the opportunity to do so.  Do not be afraid to live by faith.  Faith enables us to see.  It enables the architect to build a house. It enables the football player to have a goal.  Faith helps us to make a commitment that may be risky- but wroth it.
B. HAVE COURAGE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE WHERE YOU CAN- You cannot make a difference everywhere.  The prayer says courage to change the things you can.   Sometimes the task of changing the world or making a big commitment is overwhelming.  You do not have to change the world- that is God’s gig.  All you are called to do is make a difference in the world in front of you.  Need to Breathe has a great song that says, “I am a difference maker.”  Christians are- simply by praying this prayer.
III. THE WISDOM TO KNOW THE DIFFERENCE. Sometimes don’t know if I need to accept this or change this.  Someone could be grouchy and gruff and you think they need to have courage to change.  They say, “No, I am what I am.  You need to accept me the way I am.”  Do I say, “I’m an introvert or should I challenge myself to get out there more.”   There are situations that we need to adapt to and situations we need to change. 
A. KNOW YOUR LIMITS-  You cannot change some things- you can change your own soul.  You have been placed in a place to make a difference with your life.  If you do not know your limits you will burn out, and lose your focus.  You know you can put a fire out with too much gasoline.  Give God your limits.
B. SURRENDER YOUR LIFE- It is in surrendering to the only King that we find His power and courage to change more than we thought.  It is in really surrendering that we learn to live with the things that tear at our soul.  He is the One who can grant us serenity, He is the One who can give us courage.  He is the One who gives us wisdom to take information and help it to make sense.
Who is King of your life?  Is it really Jesus?  Herod didn’t want to hear about Jesus being born.  The three magi/kings (if you want to call them that) weren’t trying to be king- they wanted to lay their crowns before Him.  The wise men gave, Herod was consumed with himself.  Wisdom to know the difference comes first when we surrender our hearts to God.   The founders of AA who made this prayer popular, also point out that we cannot do this on our own, we need a higher power.  The founders would point to Christ.
          As we end one year it is important to accept what has happened to us with peace/serenity.  As we get ready to turn the corner we need the courage to change the things we can.
I would like for us as we have the last worship service here this year to try something just a little different.
Today bow your head, close your eyes.  No one is watching you.  But if you feel like you need more peace in your life to accept the things you cannot change- with your head bowed just point up.  If you feel like you need more courage to face a hard or drastic situation- would you just point up.  With your heads bowed, if you know you need wisdom that you do not have to make a wise decision, or to discern where you need to go, would you also point up?

[This sermon was inspired in part by a sermon series by Dr. John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian]

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The Courage to change the things I can;
The Wisdom to know the difference;

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.  [Reinhold Niebuhr] 

Remember you go nowhere be accident.
Where you are going, God is sending you.
Where you are He has placed you.
God has a purpose for your life- right where you are.
Christ Jesus who indwells you has something He wants to do in and through your life- right where you are. 

Believe this and go in His grace, in His love, and in His power,
In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

[Halverson Benediction- by Chaplain of US Senate- Richard Halverson]