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Sea Sunday. Gospel: Luke !0: 1-11 and 16-20

This week’s news has been dominated by the good news of the safe return from captivity of Alan Johnston, who had been held hostage in Gaza for so many weeks. During his captivity, the BBC and fellow journalists, along with so many people who had been impressed by his courageous and honest reporting, had done all in their power to keep his situation in the forefront of our minds, and the minds of governments and people of influence throughout the world. We became familiar with Alan’s picture, and those who spoke about him kept his plight in our thoughts, and in our prayers. But Gaza is a long way away, and few of us could imagine what his daily circumstances or trials would have been like.

But when we heard or saw him speaking on the news after his release, it was the stories of the detailed tribulations which Alan himself spoke about, which brought it so chillingly to life: There was the night-time visit of the leader of the hostage takers, his head swathed in a scarf – how can you believe a man when you can’t see his face? Alan asked. There was the guard who had violent mood swings, occasionally calm, but usually unpredictable. There was the alarming and violent journey by car through Hamas checkpoints, with Alan being hit about face and head, immediately before his release. Stories help bring situations that we cannot imagine to life.

Today is kept throughout the country as Sea Sunday. Here in Milton Keynes we are just about as far from the sea as it is possible to be in this small island. And so we are far away from hearing or seeing at first hand the stories of the men, and indeed women, who go to sea to supply us with our daily needs, as well as to keep us safe and secure. Without those pictures and stories at the forefront of our attention, we forget the seafarers who may endure loneliness, danger or hardship in their daily work. As you go about your routine today and through this week, think about the number of items, foodstuffs, clothing, furniture and so on - and of course petrol and fuel which has come to us from overseas, carried on container ships.

People whose experiences are greatly different from those of the general population need others to listen with understanding and compassion to their stories. And for Christians, it is only by listening to those stories that we can pray with insight for the people involved.

Did you know, for instance, that new security measures since 2004 have created additional problems for seafarers, meaning greater isolation. When they are required to man gangways or check visitor passes, seafarers may be unable to get ashore at all. In many places shore leave has been cancelled entirely. Also, only a few ships have facilities for seafarers to contact their loved ones, which makes their time in port even more precious. Seafarers need our care more than ever. We need to listen and, when necessary, to cry out on their behalf. It is not enough, though, just to listen to what is wrong, we need to do something about it. Our readings today remind us that we need to listen, and from listening to move to action.

The chaplains supplied by the Mission to Seafarers are at the forefront of the ministry of listening and responding with God’s love. All of us who are called Chaplains, whether we work in hospital or hospice, in prisons or at the ports and harbours of many countries find ourselves sitting down to listen to the stories of those we are called to serve. Often, we are the first person that has been available to listen to the person we are with for many weeks or months. They need to get their stories and their hopes, fears and dreams off their chest. Until they have poured out their story, often giving us insights into a world that we know little about, we can have little hope of offering practical help, and the support of the message of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, we may have to wait patiently to find the right opportunity to share the message of the Gospel.

Here are two brief insights into the ministry of a Port Chaplain:
I was asked by an agent to be on the quayside at about midnight to meet a ship when it docked. A member of the crew had fallen overboard a couple of days before and was lost. The captain and crew were quite traumatised and I was able to pray with them and talk and listen to them that evening. Then, in the morning before they sailed, I held a short memorial service.
The chaplain, Durban, South Africa
A cook came to tell me that the steward from his ship had been taken to hospital with appendicitis. I went to see the young man and learned that the hospital charges for international telephone calls are very high. “I talked for three minutes,” he said, “but I cannot afford to call again.” The next day I took along my mobile phone so that he could speak with his parents. He was a different man afterwards, so happy and fully alive! I went each evening and also on the morning of his departure, so that he could tell his family what time to meet him at Colombo airport. A telephone call is such a small thing, but what a difference it can make. The chaplain, Mombasa, Kenya
[From the Mission to Seafarers website: www.missiontoseafarers.org]
In the Gospel reading from Luke the theme of listening continues. Jesus sends out 70 of his disciples ahead of him, to visit the places he is likely to visit. He speaks of the harvest as plentiful but the labourers as few. This message is as applicable today as it was then. There is a real sense of urgency then, as now, that God's message and work of peace needs to be carried out.
Their first words as they enter a house are to be Peace to this house. This is the peace that we read of in John's Gospel, when Jesus says: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. It is more than just peace as opposed to conflict. This peace implies that Jesus is dwelling within those who receive his word. Jesus assures them that whoever listens to you, listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.
But he also tells his Disciples to remain in the house with those he visits, eating and drinking with them – isn’t this an implication that Jesus expected the conversation to be a two way one – that the disciples were to listen to those they were visiting, as well as telling their own good news to their hearers. This is the great missionary lesson for us today. We too need to take God's message to others in the world and we need to listen to his word for us. We need also to listen to the realities of the lives of those we encounter, so that our conversation and witness to them can be genuine. For, with listening comes understanding – and faith.
This week I have spent time with two families, one planning a funeral, and another a baptism. Neither family are regular churchgoers, and it would be so easy to write them off as just passing through, expecting the clergy to take a role in these life events within their family. But as I listened to the stories told me about the families, I saw the qualities of love, and of faith, although they were not expressed very overtly. We were able to put together prayers and readings that really had meaning for the people concerned and reconnected them with their faith in Christ.
As we have seen, Jesus called his disciples to take his message to the world. Our call is always a missionary one. But as we can see from this morning's Gospel reading Jesus required more of his disciples than evangelism. He required them to heal the sick, and to cast out demons. Jesus always calls us to a practical response when working in the world. It is not enough to evangelise and teach: as Christians we are called to do whatever we can to help make the lives of others better.

The Mission to Seafarers has always followed these two elements of the Great Commission. Mission chaplains act as mediators for stranded crews, offer hospitality ashore, and care for sick seafarers. Through their pastoral work they can often help seafarers to be open to God's word, and also offer Bibles, Alpha courses, and worship facilities. But, just as they listen to seafarers and respond as appropriate, we need to listen to them when they ask for help. Our response is to give if we can do so, to find out more about their work, and to pray for them.

I know from my own experience that the world of a Chaplain (in my case a Prison Chaplain) can be difficult to explain to those beyond the walls. For me, it is in telling the stories (in a way that keeps them confidential) that opens the window to allow others to understand, support and pray. It is important for us to understand the world of seafarers and their chaplains, and to keep them in our prayers.
So let us pray:
For seafarers and those who minister to them
Lord and heavenly Father, we commend to your keeping all who sail the seas. Guard them in danger; protect them in temptation; sustain them in loneliness, and support them in sickness and anxiety. Bless all who minister to their bodily and spiritual needs, and guide us all to the haven of eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Copyright © Rev Wendy Carey



Almighty God,
send down upon your Church
the riches of your Spirit,
and kindle in all who minister the gospel
your countless gifts of grace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.