I dreamed that I was hiking in the mountains. It was a clear and gorgeous day. The mountain air was refreshing. The flowers were in bloom. Birds chattered. As I walked through a valley, I began to hear the trickle of a mountain stream. It was music in my ears causing me to laugh out loud, filling me with pure, unadulterated joy. Soon, I came to the stream. It gurgled and leaped over small rocks and boulders. It was clear and pure.
I stopped by its banks. The air had warmed from the morning coolness and was rapidly becoming hot. "How nice it would be," I thought "to wade in the water and cool my feet."
I took off my shoes, placed them in my backpack and put on the water socks I carried for just such an occasion. I waded into the stream, and the coolness sent a shiver up my spine. It took a few moments, but I finally became used to it.
There was ample sand in the bottom of the creek to justify walking in it for a while, so I did. Ah, the beauty was overwhelming as I walked through that valley. Yet, as I walked, I noticed something. I noticed the stream had eroded the soil in that valley. Before long, the walls of the creek towered above my head. I didn’t become too concerned. There were ample handholds and footholds. I knew I could easily climb out.
I wasn’t done enjoying the coolness of the stream and the beauty of its sound.
But then something started happening. The water began rising, rapidly. I knew I needed to get out, but before I could make my way to the bank to climb out, the water was waist deep. I knew I was in trouble. I began to wonder if this were the end. I was fortunate; however, the water stopped rising at my mid-section. Yet, it still swirled around me, threatening to knock me off my feet and take me under.
I considered my options.
Reaching the bank was impossible. The swirling water would knock me off my feet for sure and send me sweeping downstream. There was no telling how far it would carry me and because of the power of the water, it was sure to drag me under. There was no climbing out.
I could try to swim with the current. I could try to make it to a place where the bank was lower and the current was lessened. If I went along with the stream, it was possible I could eventually get out. But as I thought about it, I dismissed it for the same reasons as trying to reach the bank. Mountain streams are too unpredictable. I could easily be slammed against a rock or be dragged under. Going along with the flow was not an option.
I thought about pressing onward into the current. I thought about fighting the power of the water. As I pondered this, I felt the weight of the current against my stomach. I felt its power, and I knew this too was impossible. I knew this too would not work because in a matter of minutes, my strength would be exhausted from the fight. I would become too tired, too fatigued. It was useless to fight the power of the stream because it was simply too powerful.
And so I came to my final option: stand firm. Be patient. Wait and let the stream’s power subside so that I could eventually climb out. There was no need to go along with the flow. There was no need to fight against the current. Stand firm and let the waters flow around. Let the danger pass, and then I would have plenty of strength to continue on. I shuffled my feet until I found a solid rock to brace my feet against, and I stood firm. I waited. The current impacted me, but because I had a strong foundation to rest against, I was not moved.
It seemed like an eternity. It seemed like hours upon end, but the stream finally abated. The current returned to normal. It chuckled and laughed along again. The fear had passed, and I could continue on. Since I was already wet, I stayed in the stream, and was rewarded with more beauty, more joy, and more peace. During the turmoil, this was not the case, but having gone through that rough place, I appreciated the beauty even more.
"Stand firm in the Lord," St. Paul says in our second lesson from the book of Philippians. "Stand firm."
It is important to remember the St. Paul is, in all likelihood, writing this book while he is a prisoner. In all likelihood, Paul knows he is facing persecution and death in a very short amount of time. He is not writing from a place of safety or security. The waters are foaming and surrounding him; threatening to drag him under. And he has choices ahead of him. He knows he will be dragged before the emperor to give an accounting of his faith. He knows he will have to choose what to do..
He could go along with the flow. He could renounce Jesus as Lord and say that Caesar is lord. He could save his own life, but what sort of witness would that provide to others? Perhaps he could save his life, but what would that do to his soul? What would it profit him to save his life for a few more days or months? Would he be able to continue to have any credibility as a proclaimer of Jesus Christ? Going with the flow was not an option.
He could become combative. He could fight the stream and try to wade against it. He could argue and whine and complain. He could make his case and demand that Christianity be accepted and that if it were not, believers would forcibly rise up and seek to overthrow Rome. But such actions were not in accordance to how Jesus called His disciples to act. Rising up and fighting was not Jesus’ way. The cross was. Trying to fight upstream was not an option.
Stand firm in the Lord. Stand firm upon the foundation of faith.
Paul does not renounce his faith. He does not become combative. He becomes a witness of the Gospel to the emperor, and it cost him his life. Yet, even though it cost him his life, Paul entered into a place of eternal glory. The promise of God is to see one through. Even though death might take us, God’s promise of eternal life reigns supreme.
Most of us are not facing the dire circumstances of Paul. Most of us do not have our lives on the line, but at times we too are surrounded by streams of rushing water. We too find ourselves faced with the choice of fighting against the stream or going along with the flow. We face the choice of being taken along with culture, society, our peer group or what have you, or we face fighting that same culture, society, or peer group. In either circumstance the decision is a tough one.
Or, we find ourselves in the midst of a devastating situation. A loved one dies. A job is lost. Income is substantially reduced. The waters rise, and we are overwhelmed. We again have a choice. Do we allow the tide to sweep us away carrying us to depths of despair and hopelessness? Do we try to fight it by burying the pain down deep and making it look like we are fine and dandy even when we know we are not? Do we bury it and exhaust ourselves trying to make ourselves look strong? Either decision seems bleak.
Or, do we stand firm in the Lord? Do we stand firm in our convictions yet continue to associate with our culture, society, and peer group? Do we stand firm in the hope of Jesus Christ and allow the streams to swirl around us knowing that God will deliver us?
Paul believed in those promises. He believed God would take care of him. He believed that the waters would subside, that the journey would continue, that he would reach the ultimate destination and place prepared for him. Those promises helped him to stand firm. May they help you as well. Amen.