Breaking Boats, Breaking Bread [Acts 27]
Click here for the PDF..
Click here for the Word Doc..
Breaking Boats, Breaking Bread
A couple years ago, snickers launched a brilliant ad campaign called “You’re not you, when you’re hungry.” The basic idea.. well, it’s a bit hard to explain – but this is probably my favorite example, let’s take a look. [watch the Betty White commercial]. It was so successful that they’ve created dozens of these types of commercials – where you’re practically a different person until you get something to eat. And actually, whether you realize it or not, that ad campaign has it's roots in biblical truth. In fact, there was a moment waaaay back in 1 Kings chapter 19 with the prophet Elijah. And I love this story, because Elijah was having a bad day. Everybody hates him, he’s been driven into hiding, he’s terrified, depressed and angry. So he sits down under a tree and prays that he might die. He says, “I have had enough Lord, take my life.” And I think we’ve all had moments when we feel like Elijah, exhausted and beat up by the world. Maybe it’s our job, our home life, family drama or even just the weather. It’s so gloomy this time of year – it can have a significant effect on people’s moods. But then Elijah lay down under a bush and takes a nap. Well, let me read it to you, [read 1 Kings 19:4b-8]. So Elijah comes in, depressed, terrified and exhausted. He says “God, take my life.” And God basically says, “have a snickers.” You’re not you when you’re hungry. Have a nap. Have some bread. There’s more to your journey.
As most of you know, we are into our series finishing up the book of Acts. We have been following Paul around on his lovely prison tour, learning how to share our faith with the people around us. And in today’s reading we see that Paul has sort of a Betty White moment, where he’s just getting clobbered in the football game. But here’s what I want you to catch – this is a story from literally thousands of years ago, but it is also the story of today. We are Paul. We are Elijah. And the good news that we find in the text is still good news for each of us in our real lives right here right now today. Have a nap. Have some bread. There’s more to your journey. So let’s take a look.
[read v.1-3]. Okay, so to understand this chapter there’s one big thing we need to know about the context. There wasn’t really any commercial travel in the ancient world. You need to go to Rome, there’s no Southwest airlines to book a flight. There’s no Amtrack to buy a ticket. You could either walk or fund it yourself. Can you imagine if the only way to use a boat was to buy one? The only way to fly on an airplane was to own one? There wasn’t like ticket sales and first class or whatever. So for Paul and the other prisoners – if they’re headed to Rome, what that meant was the soldiers would look for a boat that was kind of sort of headed in that direction. It was like a prison transfer by hitch-hiking. So they got on a boat that was headed up the coast. But the weather was really bad for sailing. It was the wrong time of year to be traveling. It says, [read v.8-9]. I don’t know what the day of atonement has to do with anything, but it’s a calendar marker. It’s sort of like me saying, “we were driving slow, because the roads were icy because it was almost Christmas.” The time of year when they were traveling is practically hurricane season. [read v.10-12]. Paul says, “I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.” And the soldiers ignore him – which is always a good idea. The story continues, [read v.13-15]. So we’ve got a prison transfer by hitch-hiking in the middle of a hurricane. And this lovely hurricane type wind has two features. First, it’s really, really bad. And second, it lasts a really long time. I think in most of our lives, most of us can handle really, really bad things if they come quick and leave just as quick. But when it stays bad for a long time – it tests our endurance. I think we’ve seen this with the pandemic. Do you remember, “two weeks to stop the spread”? Whew. Couple months back, I was checking in with some of the nurses and the teachers who are a part of this congregation and it was like, “covid’s not the main concern, but all the shortages and struggles are still around.” It’s hard to live at that level of intensity. Paul and the Centurion and the sailors, [read v.18-20]. Are you with me on this today? I dunno, I’m just right there with Paul. I mean, I’ve never been in a literal hurricane like him – but in all of our lives we have seasons where it gets bad and stays bad for a while and it can be really hard to keep up our hopes in those moments.
So what does Paul do? [read v.21]. Paul gets up to speak, and the first words out of his mouth are, “I told you so!” [laugh] Okay, so this is a very important thing I’m about to teach you. When something is in the bible – sometimes it is a good example that you should follow. And sometimes it is a bad example that you should avoid. People say, “well they did it in the bible” – but wait, bup, bup, bup – HOW is it in the bible? And I think I can confidently state that this is one of those moments when Paul starts out as a bad example. When someone in your life is in the middle of a hurricane, do NOT, please, do not start with I told you so. Most of time, in our lives – even if you are right, most of the time if your first sentence is “I told you so.” They won’t hear the second sentence. And that’s a bummer, because the second sentence is the important one! So please, no matter how good it feels to be vindicated inside, please don’t start your hurricane conversation with “I told you so.” He keeps going, [read v.22-25]. He has this amazing message of comfort and affirmation. [ship destroyed bit]
The story continues, [read v.27-29]. I do not know enough about boats to explain why there are 4 anchors, but there it is. But then, some of the crew tries to bail. [read v.30-32]. And then we get to my favorite part of this whole crazy chapter. This is the snickers moment [read v.33-35]. Okay, so now I want you to visualize this moment. What does this look like? Standing on the ship in the middle of the storm, maybe they’re below deck or whatever – Paul takes the bread, gives thanks to God, breaks the bread and passes it out. It’s communion! It’s not exactly the same, but boy it sure has some echoes of the holy sacrament. In the middle of the storm, when just about everyone has given up all hope, Paul is leaning on the presence of God. [read v.36-39].
Now I want you to see all of what’s happening here. First, they were encouraged. Just the simple process of having the food, giving thanks to God, and offering the food gave them encouragement. It was comforting them. It was a reminder that God was with them. I had a meeting this past week, where I was offering encouragement to someone who was going through a hard time. And a little bit, I felt bad – because I was like a broken record. I was just saying the same stuff I’ve said over and over. It was the same thing I have preached over and over and over – that God is with you and that’s very good news. But that friend of mine needed to hear it again. Sometimes it feels like our efforts to encourage other people are silly, or repetitive – but the truth is that hurricanes make us forgetful. We are reminded in this place that God loves us over and over, because our hearts are so forgetful. It’s why we do communion over and over. We do it once a month. It’s not like baptism. Baptism, you just need to do that one time – it’s God’s eternal action. How come we don’t do it that way with communion? Just have communion one time – and then poof, I’m all set. Does communion rub off? It’s not as strong as baptism, so you’ve got to get your booster shot to keep up? No, of course not - the point of communion is to remember. To experience the presence of God, to be reminded that he is with us – and we need that reminder over and over. I will be preaching the same message of the good news of God’s love for the rest of my life. You know what I realized? When we get to heaven, I am the only one of us who will be out of a job. All of you, might live fruitful and productive lives in heaven doing what you have done for the glory of God – but I won’t have anything to do. Because one of the greatest differences between heaven and earth is that in that place – you won’t need me anymore to remind you of God’s presence.
The first thing the bread does is encourages. It encourages by reminding them that God is with them. The second thing the bread does is FEEDS them. It’s not just encouragement for their heart, it’s encouragement for their body! They felt better because they got some food in their system. God’s presence, represented by the bread, not only is God with you, but God sustains you. Some people try to separate these two things – the spiritual and the physical, as if the solution was one or the other. I’ve seen people say, “I’m really struggling with something” and sometimes people will respond, “you just need to pray more.” And I agree that prayer is amazing, and definitely be doing that – but there’s no reason to limit yourself and say, “I will do this and only this.” God created you with a physical body and he encourages AND sustains you. Prayer is absolutely a solution, and really good one – but so is talking to a therapist, or medication, or going for a jog or taking a break from the rectangle in your pocket. The bread encouraged and sustained the sailors, and God is here for you this morning to encourage AND sustain you.
The story finishes up, [read v.40-44]. So everyone makes it to the beach, but the ship is completely destroyed. It’s interesting that the soldiers have this moment where they figure they need to kill all the prisoners, to keep them from escaping. During this journey, Paul and the Centurion have sort of become buddies, and Paul speaks to them and offers them food – so a little bit we kind of forget that Paul is actually a prisoner. But the soldiers threatening to kill all the prisoners reminds us of Paul’s status. After everything, he is still under arrest. He is still wearing the chains. And I gotta tell you, the story only gets crazier next week.
There’s so much good news in this chapter, but one of the things I really want you to hang on to is that God is with you, God sustains you, God will save you, but he doesn’t always save the boat. God saves you, not the ship. For Paul this was the literal truth, the boat did not survive the trip, but Paul (and everyone else) did. God saves you, not the ship. But for us here this morning the meaning goes deeper. God saves us, but sometimes the ship comes apart. God loves us, and that love never changes. But sometimes we make it through with nothing but the wet clothes on our backs. The storms of life take a toll. On the road of life sometimes the car breaks down and we have to walk.
There’s an old testimony about from this guy named Dave Ramsey. If you’re not familiar, he’s this big financial guru, budgeting expert. He has a radio show, podcast, even sells curriculum on how to manage money. But his story is a mess. When he was in his early 20’s he got into real estate, buying and selling properties. Became a millionaire by the time he was 25. He and his wife had a little baby, and right about that time he found God. Started going to church, started to learn about the Christian life. And then he literally lost everything. Playing fast and loose with debt ending up destroying him, he got sued dozens of times. He said, “I met God on the way up, but I got to know him on the way down.” He lost everything, but it got really scary for him and his family when they started repossessing everything in the house. Took the kitchen table. They had the lawyer come a day early to sign the bankruptcy paperwork so that the sherrif wouldn’t take the baby bed from his daughter. But Dave and his wife clung to each other and clung to God in those moments. They rebuilt their life, and started helping other people to do the same. Little bit later, a friend from church took Dave out to coffee and said, “hey, I’m going through some financial stuff. It’s a strain on my marriage, I saw you and your wife made it through this – I could use some advice.” And that was kind of the start of Dave’s journey to be the Dave Ramsey. And that bankruptcy was such a key part of his story, such a pivotal moment in his marriage. And when they made decisions together from there on out they could say, “hey, we started with nothing. And we could go back to having nothing – but we’ll always have each other.” The ship comes apart, and sometimes you wash up on the shore with nothing – but the message of broken bread and broken boats is that God is with you, God sustains you. God saves you, not the ship.
Alright, now let’s take that good, steadfast news and apply it to our lives. When I look at these men who went through a hurricane. So stressed out they weren’t even eating, and I remember the good news that God is with us and God sustains us – the answer seems really obvious. When you are facing a trial, when you have a hurdle you need to jump over, when you have a challenge you need to overcome – do all the things. Don’t limit yourself to a silver bullet. There’s an old quote – people used to think it was Jim Carrey who said it, turns out that wasn’t true, but it’s still a great quote. It says, “I believe depression is legitimate. But I also believe that if you don’t exercise, eat nutritious food, get sunlight, get enough sleep, consume positive material, surround yourself with support, then you aren’t giving yourself a fighting chance.” Paul didn’t just stop with the presence of God, by remembering the breaking of the bread makes us think of Jesus. He actually ate the bread, and shared the sustaining love of God with the whole ship. The challenges of this world are so huge – you need to throw everything you’ve got at it. If you are battling depression or anxiety – I want you to feel seen today. There are so many people dealing with various levels of mental health concerns. And even if it’s not anything diagnosed, some people are just struggling with grief or good old fashioned stress, there’s a lot going on in life. There are so many tools you can throw at these obstacles, and I want you to see in scripture that there is encouragement to make good use of them all. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eat healthy and exercise as often as you can. Consume positive material, turn off the news from time to time, and surround yourself with support. So that’s my big application today: Do all the things.
And my final challenge for you today, it’s not a challenge – it’s just something I want to point out. The presence of God, and the sustaining love of God – all the things you need to overcome the hurricanes that life is throwing at you? It’s all found in the church. That’s what this place is designed to be. Hebrews, chapter 10 – I can almost quote it by heart. [read v.23-25]. You in your personal life – do all the things. Do all the things, use all the tools that God has given you to handle the hurricane. And then turn to the people next to you in the church and encourage them. The connection between two believers is the catalyst for the power of God. Let me say that again, the connection between two believers – the people you love in this house - is the catalyst for the power of God. So find a way in this place, to encourage someone, to be present with them, to sustain them in love. In your personal life, do all the things. Break that bread and remember God’s presence, and then hand that loaf to the man or woman sitting next to you.
Snickers ran a commercial where Betty White gets sacked in a football game – because you’re not you when you’re hungry. Elijah cried out to God and God said, “maybe you just need a nap and a snack.” Paul the prisoner gets shipwrecked in a hurricane, but found comfort and sustenance in God’s presence. I don’t know, maybe I’m just hungry – or maybe there is a God out there who loves you. He is with you in the hurricane, and even if the ship comes apart – God saves you. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you remember that God is with you, God sustains you. May you do all the things, use all that God has given us to overcome with. May you do that in your life, in the midst of your hurricane. And then do it in this place, for everyone around you. Amen.