On 12th July we celebrated Sea Sunday, using some of the resources provided by the Mission to Seafarers. Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32, 43, Acts 27:27-28:2, Matthew 4:18-22.
Jesus’ invitation to the first disciples is one many people are familiar with. He called four men who worked as fishermen and told them their task would change to ‘fishing for people’ or that they would be ‘fishers of men’ in the old translation I grew up with. Jesus didn’t completely change their job as much as changing the focus of it I suppose. Those of us who follow later on have the same task, to catch people, although it’s not necessary to have any fishing experience before being called.
St Paul, whose experience we read about today, was a scholar and a tent maker rather than a fisherman. However, he too was called to catch people, to bring them from the vast oceans of people in the world into the kingdom of God. When you read about all Paul’s adventures in the process, he was certainly as much in danger as fishermen like Peter and Andrew were when they went in their boats on the Sea of Galilee.
The story from Acts today concerns the time when Paul had been arrested and was being sent to Rome for trial. The Mediterranean Sea is treacherous at certain times of the year and in Paul’s day ships were small and not suitable for sailing in very bad weather. It was normal to find a port when the weather deteriorated and over-winter there. Paul was concerned that the journey would be too dangerous but the pilot thought all would be well. Although we can tell from the earlier part of the journey that Paul had the trust and respect of the centurion, his advice about the journey was ignored.
Eventually a huge storm blew up and threatened the safety of the ship. The crew abandoned hope of being safe but Paul was able to encourage them that he had had a vision which said all would be safe. He knew that everyone had to stay on the ship. The sailors tried to escape as soon as they realised they were nearing land but the centurion followed Paul’s advice this time and made sure they stayed on board.
Paul, despite the terrible conditions, thought about the welfare of the passengers and crew and urged them to eat after a long period during the storm when they had not eaten. Paul himself gave thanks to God as he ate which seems to have encouraged everyone else to take hope and eat. When the ship lodged on a sandbank and began to break up, all the prisoners would have been killed but the centurion wanted to keep Paul alive. He gave orders for everyone to make for the shore. Just as Paul had promised, all 276 people survived.
In this story of survival we can see Paul acting as a very important member of the company on the ship. He was not in charge of course, but he took an interest in everyone’s welfare. He knew they needed to eat and led by example. The centurion obviously respected Paul’s contribution. Paul also encouraged everyone in a time of great fear and made sure they all stayed together as a group. Paul shared his trust in God with them, even though many would not have been believers. Those on board heard of Paul’s vision and witnessed him praying to God.
On this Sea Sunday we remember the Mission to Seafarers and other similar groups around the world which offer help to those in need on the sea. When a ship ran aground near Southampton in recent months, the coastguard was able to call on the Mission to Seafarers for help. The crew were taken off the ship to the Seafarers Centre in Southampton. As they arrived in the early hours of the morning, staff had to be called in and had food ready for the crew as soon as they arrived. They were also provided with blankets, jumpers and socks. The chaplain provided his mobile phone to the crew so that they could ring their families. Later the crew were transferred to a hotel. Even then the Mission to Seafarers continued to help by providing basics such as toothpaste and shaving kit.
Seafarers know that people who run centres for them can be trusted. A relationship builds up, just as Paul built up a relationship with those on the ship with him. When an emergency occurs, having someone trusted to turn to makes a huge difference. The rescued seafarers were given practical help, emotional encouragement and were prayed for and prayed with.
Sometimes things go wrong, and the Mission to Seafarers has to help deal with a tragedy. This happened when a cargo ship sank off the Pentland Firth in Scotland. Sadly, all the eight crew died. The Mission to Seafarers chaplain arranged with the Scottish Episcopal Church in Wick to have a service of encouragement and support for those affected. He also contacted The Apostleship of the Sea, a partner agency, in Poland where seven of the crew came from. That agency then provided support for the bereaved families. In very different circumstances from the first example the Mission to Seafarers offered practical support, pastoral support and prayer for all involved.
It’s easy to forget just how much most of us depend on receiving goods which have been delivered by sea. Inevitably that means that the crews are potentially in danger when storms hit or something goes wrong. The ships may be much bigger than in Paul’s day but they can still run into difficulties. During dangerous times, the sailors are naturally afraid. Even after being safely rescued, they can suffer emotionally as can their families. The Mission to Seafarers and its partner agencies are available to provide support day to day during shore leave and particularly in emergencies. The staff can be called on at all hours of the day and night. They can face major tragedies which have long term effects on people.
The Mission is thankful for churches holding Sea Sunday services and asks for our prayers for all its staff around the world as they offer practical, emotional and prayerful support to those who work on the sea.