Godspeed Living      Isaiah 43:1-7   January 10, 2009

Our country is much older than we think. Four centuries old, as a matter of fact.
2007 marked the 400th anniversary of the first English colony in the “New World.”

This milestone has nothing to do with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Instead, this anniversary goes all the way back to 1607 when the first permanent English colonists arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, 13 years ahead of the Pilgrims.

One of the three ships that brought the colonists to Jamestown was Godspeed, a three-masted square-rigger that sailed the Atlantic for nearly five months to get to Virginia. The ship was just 88 feet long — about the length of a double tractor-trailer — and had a top speed of about 4 miles per hour.
 
The colonists endured what we would consider to be intolerable conditions. There were 13 crew members working on the deck and 39 passengers stuck in the cargo hold with 40 tons of supplies.

Imagine yourself on board the Godspeed, pulling out of London on a cold winter day, December 20, 1606. You sail down the Thames River without any problems, but then hit the English Channel. You’re buffeted by stiff winds from the ocean and it takes six full weeks of sailing to clear the channel.

Then you cross the Bay of Biscay and turn south toward the Canary Islands. There you replenish your water supply, and catch the strong trade winds which push you across the Atlantic Ocean.

The weeks pass slowly, with nothing to look at, nothing to do. Boredom takes over. Food rots and tempers flare. You wonder why in the world you started this journey in the first place.

Finally, you sail into the Caribbean. The island of Dominica becomes your first landing site, and from there you hop to the Virgin Islands, where you do some hunting and fishing.
 
According to the records of John Smith, the most famous passenger aboard the ship, you feast every day on such delicacies as iguanas, tortoises and pelicans, as well as “Parrots and Fishes.”

Then, you sail north in search of Virginia, but find that your destination is not easy to reach. For three days you search, but see no land. According to calculations, it should be there! Not only that, but a violent storm strikes the Godspeed, and you have to drop sail and ride it out. There is no way to steer in such conditions. You fear being blown onto the offshore bars of North Carolina. If that were to happen, all crew members and passengers would be washed into the sea and drown.

But God is with you, and, instead, you are driven by the wind into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. On April 26, 1607; 5 long months after your departure in England. You make landfall at Cape Henry, and then on May 14 you finally reach your destination — Jamestown.

You have been delivered, literally and figuratively, by Godspeed, a ship whose name means “May God cause you to succeed.” Godspeed is a good name to keep in mind as we begin our 404th year on this native soil.

Water is often a metaphor for chaos. Today’s passage from Isaiah 43 contains a promise from God: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).
 
This is the kind of promise that the crew of Godspeed must have lived by, especially as violent winds howled around them and towering waves crashed over the deck of their ship. “Do not fear,” says the God of earth, wind, water and fire; “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.”

There are few things more terrifying than the watery chaos of the sea and the Israelites were a nation of people who absolutely hated the sea. Like cats — they avoided water whenever possible.
 
It stands to reason, that Scripture speaks of a wind from God sweeping “over the face of the waters,” bringing order out of chaos on that first day of creation (Genesis 1:2). Their deliverance from captivity in Egypt was on dry land as God partied the Red Sea. On their heels, the sea shows its destructive power by swallowing up the Egyptian armies (Exodus 14:26-29).

Isaiah 43:2-- When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.
 
Water can be a fierce and fear-inspiring force. Notice, however, that the Lord does not promise that you will never face rough waters.
 
Sailing through life with God doesn’t mean you’ll never get seasick. You can still be hit by an enormous wave of illness, a cold wind of betrayal, a tidal change in the economy or a strong current of temptation.
 
Isaiah does not guarantee that our sailing will always be smooth but instead gives us the assurance that God will be with us, and we won’t be overwhelmed. No matter how rough the seas become, the Lord will protect us from being completely destroyed.

It’s pretty clear that the word “Godspeed” has nothing to do with velocity — the English ship topped out at a mere 4 miles per hour. In this case, speed comes from the Middle English word “spede,” which means “prosper.” So to wish someone Godspeed is to wish that God will help them to prosper, or cause them to succeed.

One source says that “Godspeed” is an expression of respect and good will, used when someone is about to go on a journey or embark on a daring endeavor.
 
Anne Brontë uses the term in her book Tenant of Wildfell Hall — “I’m wishing you God-speed,” says one character to another, “and aiding you with my prayers.”
 
And in Roderick Hudson, by Henry James, “Rowland at the garden gate was giving his hostess Godspeed on her way to church.”

It’s more of an antiquated term now. It’s not something you would hear on television or in casual conversation today. But even though we might not say it on a regular basis, we can still learn from it. Godspeed living is a life in which we trust God — really rely on God — to give us success and good fortune.

This is no “prosperity gospel,” in which faith in God translates into showers of material riches. Instead, Godspeed living is about a different kind of success and good fortune.
 
After all, the Israelites were never given an easy life — they still had to pass through waters, rivers, wind and flame. Their wealth was found in the promise of God, “Do not fear, for I am with you” (v. 5). God’s word outweighs riches.
 
Are you in calm or troubled waters right now? We don’t like rough waters, but we can’t get anywhere in calm waters. Calm water is often a relief, or a respite, from the storm. But you can’t sail very far in calm water.
 
It is only when we “pass through the waters,” when the waves are high and the current is swift, then we understand the meaning of “Godspeed.”

This is Godspeed living — a focus on being God’s people, in the face of any obstacle, any failure, any challenge, any terror, any trial or any setback. If we keep our eyes on the Lord, he will give us success. If we rely on his care for us, he will offer us good fortune in the end.

“Pay as little attention to discouragement as possible. Plow ahead like a steamship, which moves forward whether facing rough or smooth seas, and in rain or shine. Remember, the goal is simply to carry the cargo, and to make it to port.”[1] Godspeed. Amen.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 


[1] Maltbie D. Babcock
 
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