Sunday, 12 July 2015

Can't make it to church? 12 July 15

Sunday 12th July is Sea Sunday: A day when we think about the work of the Mission to Seafarers.

I've taken but one reading for the service today (Acts 27 - 28.2) and because of the non-eucharist service that today has, the Gospel is to be found in the translation rather than in the mere reading of it:

When the time came the ship set sail for Italy. Paul and the other prisoners were placed in the custody of a Roman officer named Julius, a captain of the Imperial Regiment. 

They had to stop because of the poor weather but, when a light wind began blowing from the south, the sailors thought they could make it and so they pulled up the anchor and sailed close to the shore of Crete. But the weather changed abruptly, and a wind of typhoon strength (called a “northeaster”) burst across the island and blew us out to sea. The sailors couldn’t turn the ship into the wind, so they gave up and let it run before the gale.

The next day, as gale-force winds continued to batter the ship, the crew began throwing the cargo overboard.  The following day they even took some of the ship’s gear and threw it overboard. The terrible storm raged for many days, blotting out the sun and the stars, until at last all hope was gone. No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, “Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in his goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.”

About midnight on the fourteenth night of the storm the sailors sensed land was near. They dropped a weighted line and found that the water was 120 feet deep. But a little later they measured again and found it was only 90 feet deep.  Soon they were afraid that they would be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight. Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the front of the ship. But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, “You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard.” So the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away.

As dawn arrived Paul urged everyone to eat. “You have been so worried that you haven’t touched food for two weeks,” he said.  “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish.”  Then he took some bread, gave thanks to God before them all, and broke off a piece and ate it. 
Then everyone was encouraged and began to eat - all 276 of those who were on board and, after eating, the crew lightened the ship further by throwing the cargo of wheat overboard too.

When morning came, no one recognised the coastline, but they saw a bay with a beach and wondered if they could get to shore by running the ship aground. So they cut off the anchors and left them in the sea. Then they lowered the rudders, raised the foresail, and headed toward shore. But they hit a shoal and ran the ship aground too soon. The bow of the ship stuck fast, while the stern was repeatedly smashed by the force of the waves and began to break apart.

The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners to make sure they didn’t swim ashore and escape. But the commanding officer wanted to spare Paul, so he didn’t let them carry out their plan. Then he ordered all who could swim to jump overboard first and make for land. The others held on to planks or debris from the broken ship. So everyone escaped safely to shore.

Once we were safe on shore, we learned that we were on the island of Malta. 
The people of the island were very kind to us. It was cold and rainy, so they built a fire on the shore to welcome us.

There's a difference between standing back and abandoning!

The theme for Sea Sunday this year is shipwrecks and whilst provides a great opportunity to reflect on vessels going down, there are many parallels between the shipwrecks at sea and those which occur in day-to-day life.

The readings is quite dramatic as the conditions start to fade and everything stops to allow those taken up in it to take stock and the try and 'weather the storm'. This is exactly what many of those with whom I am pastorally engaged seek to do. They think, 'If only I can get through the next few hours/days/weeks, I'll come through this!'

But the situation continues and people on the ship (maritime of of life) start throwing baggage (and often relationships on land) overboard. Eating stops and people become tired and worn down and out by everything that's going on; those who care stand by impotent and unable to reach those onboard (recognise this with those you love and their storms of life?).

But then, in this story (and in many a pastoral encounter) just when all around is at it's markets - those onboard sense land is near - and in our story, this is the time when the lifeboat is cut adrift to stop people 'jumping ship'. It's amazing how many marriages and other family situations I have encountered when just as salvation is within reach, jump and try to save themselves - never to be seen again!

As light comes onto the situation, Paul tells the crew to get some food because they'll need all the strength they can muster: So they eat. Then a moment of pragmatism comes as they toss the rest of the foodstuff over the side to lighten the load and aid them getting closer to land (because the draught of the boat is lessened). To make sure that no one escapes the soldiers think about killing Paul and the other prisoners but having brought God into the conversation and made salvation (all of them being saved) known to the ship's company, the commanding officer spares them all )increasing his men's workload but doing what is right in the process).

And to cut a long story short - the ship is wrecked but everyone on board is saved. Saved because Paul told them God's verdict on the situation? Saved because Paul influenced the outworking of the situation by sharing what His God had said and the plans He had for all on board?

I'll leave this to you to figure out but I'd like you to read this story and compare it to one of the storms of life you have faced. 

How does it compare? 

Could you have done it differently and would things have been different if you'd applied Paul's methods?

Were people watching from the shore and if so were they merely prevented from getting involved because of the situation or had they merely distanced themselves (and can you see a different reality now?)

Where was Jesus in all this?  

Jesus calmed the storm. He can calms the storms in your life (at see and on land too). All you need to do is to look to Him and trust (and here's the hard bit: obey)
What d'ya think?

The Collect
Almighty God we pray for all who go down to the sea in ships: 
Protect them as they sail, keep them safe from all the dangers of the sea
and give them courage when they face storms.

Bless them and the families they leave behind at home. 
We ask this in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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