Sunday 14 July 2019: Sea Sunday
Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside!
Job 38:1-18; Luke 5:1-11
By David Hinchliffe
Chair of the Channel Islands District, and Chair-elect of the South-East District, of the Methodist Church
Context: an adult congregation who may not normally appreciate the significance of the sea
Aim: to use Sea Sunday as a call to the adventure of faith
On 27 December 1944, the SS Vega, a ship chartered by the International Red Cross, arrived at St. Peter Port, Guernsey; and, four days later, in St Helier, Jersey; following the urgent requests for food and medical aid. Following the D-Day landings, by Christmas besieged Channel Islanders under Nazi occupation were facing the prospect of starvation. The arrival of the SS Vega, with its desperately needed cargo – and its six subsequent visits – saved islanders from starvation.
I grew up in a city a long way from the sea. The sea meant summer holidays! For most of us the sea is a place of fun, relaxation, and natural beauty. Since moving to Guernsey it has taken on an entirely new perspective as its power impacts everyday life. Most of the time pleasure craft safely enjoy the sea, ferries ply the sea-lanes, fishing vessels trawl the riches of the waters – and the rest of us paddle or swim! But not always. If the cargo vessel doesn’t arrive, the supermarket shelves will quickly empty. If I’m taken ill on a neighbouring island, I might need St John Ambulance’s Flying Christine sea ambulance. If I get into trouble, the lifeboat is on call.
The Bible paints a complex picture of the seas. Ancient tradition branded ‘Leviathan’ as the sea monster. Jonah tried to use the sea to escape his calling. The most famous fisherman in history fished the Sea of Gennesaret before being called by Jesus to catch people for him. The gospels remind us that the sea is not always idyllic. Luke records such a violent storm whipping up that experienced fishermen fear they are going to die. St Paul is ship-wrecked off Malta. Revelation anticipates an end to the sea! Nevertheless, as our passage from Job highlights, in spite of the sometimes fearful and awe-inspiring power of the sea, it was God who created the waters, created the seas, and ultimately has power over them, as over all creation. On a raging sea, it is helpful – if difficult – to remember this!
Jesus’ call to the disciples reminds us that the sea can also be a place for exercising faith. When I was preparing to move to Guernsey, I came across a quotation from philosopher André Gide: ‘One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight … of the shore.’ An adventure of faith is impossible, if I am not prepared to leave the familiar shore and head to an unknown destination.
The fishermen encountering Jesus on the shoreline must be perplexed, even annoyed that Jesus (the land-lubber!) tells them how to fish. They are the experts on fishing, not Jesus! And yet they respond. Maybe after a fish-less night anything is worth a try! Their catch is so huge they call in their partners to help haul in the fish. In the presence of such divine power Simon Peter is so overwhelmed by the sense of his own sinfulness that he asks Jesus to leave. Yet Jesus calms his fears, as he will later calm the storm. Now Peter receives a new vocation: to call others to faith in Jesus. Peter could have said ‘no’ to Jesus. He could have remained paralysed by fear. Instead, he risks everything. Leaving the safe haven of his well-lived life, he sets out for new shores, as an ambassador, a fisherman, for Jesus.
In an age when we are sometimes alarmed by our own vocation to evangelism it is easy to forget that our calling is also about sharing the good news of Jesus. It may feel like we are heading out into rough and unpredictable waters – partly because of our own fear, but also because we never quite know what the voyage, let alone the destination, will be like. But as Jesus calmed Peter’s fear and reassured him so he seeks to calm our fears too. Peter does set out. He does leave the familiar shore. And he brings good news of Jesus’ saving love to others. So may we.
Islanders depend on the sea. Fishing boats, pleasure craft, ferries, cargo, even an ambulance and a lifeboat. In former days, Channel Islanders were saved from starvation by the Red Cross parcels the SS Vega carried in its hold. Even today, empty shelves can remind us of when the seas have been ‘against’ us. But the seas every day remind us of God’s power, God’s provision, and the call to an adventure of faith.
As we pray for all who work and travel on the seas and whose lives are shaped by them, may we also remember our own call to adventure: to leave the safety of the shore, and to head out to new places in sharing the good news. After all, it is God’s good sea, and God’s amazing creation.
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