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Fishermen's Memorial Service 2009

D. G. Phillips

Evening Prayer at St. John’s on Bell Island

Psalm 107:23-32     Jonah 1:1-17, 2:1,10     Matthew 14:22-33

 

WHITHER shall I go then from thy spirit? /

or whither shall I flee from thy presence?

If I take the wings of the morning, / and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

Even there also shall thy hand lead me, / and thy right hand shall hold me.

 

The Bible is full of images of the sea and full of stories of those who go down to the sea in ships and make their business on the great waters. 

 

1.  Leah Bell read from the opening chapter of the Bible, it is an account of the creation, of God separating the waters above from the waters beneath, and of God’s blessing of the sea:

Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life…And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and God saw that it was good…And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas.

 

We can imagine from the earliest times there have been fishers of this abundant provision of food.  The ocean is teaming with life, and provides nourishment and a livelihood for vast numbers of people around the world.

 

2.  But the sea also spoken of in the Bible as a threat.  Think of the story of the great flood and of Noah’s ark – the waters are an instrument of judgement but for cleansing and for the re-creation.  There is a certain unpredictability of the sea.  Storms can suddenly arise or simply because of its vastness or cold and depth it can threaten and take lives – no one who works on the great waters takes it lightly.  There is an ambivalence – the sea provides abundantly, but the sea also threatens.   Some here will know that by personal experience, some of us learn it by reading the accounts of mariners, like Steady as she goes by Dolly Publicover, where she gives an account of her father’s journeys. 

 

Those who have seen the power of the sea, the threat to life and limb, know that one can very quickly be entirely at the mercy of God, the sea’s power can only be met by the greater power of God:

At his word the stormy wind ariseth, / which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep: / their soul melteth away because of the trouble.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, / and are at their wits' end.

So they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, / and he delivereth them from their distress.

 

That deliverance for believers may come in one of two ways…but for all who cry to the Lord, there is deliverance.

 

3.  From early times the writers of the Bible have seen in this outward activity of the sea, sometimes chaotic and sometimes calm, a parallel to the inward state of our souls.  When we are carried away inwardly by the stresses and strains and temptations in life, when we are in turmoil inwardly – it is only the power of God that can bring to us the inner peace we desire.  Heaven is described in Revelation as a sea of glass, and as a place where there is no more sea, a place of perfect rest.  So when we read those psalms, we read them not just in a literal way as about those on the actual sea, but as an expression of what each one of us knows and feels sometimes in our life.

 

from Ps 93   THE floods have lift up, O LORD, the floods have lift up their voice: / the floods lift up their waves.

Mightier than the roar of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, / the LORD, who dwelleth on high, is mighty.

 

from Ps 69 SAVE me, O God; / for the waters are come in, even unto my soul.

2 I stick fast in the deep mire, where no ground is: / I am come into deep waters, so that the floods run over me…

23 BUT as for me, when I am poor and in heaviness, / thy help, O God, shall lift me up.

 

Mariners lift up their voice in a storm; so do we in our struggles. 

 

4. Jesus chose fishermen to be his apostles – and three of the twelve apostles, Peter, James and John, the inner circle, all fishermen, were chosen by Jesus to be unique witnesses of his transfiguration, and of his time of deep distress in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Peter, James and John responded gladly to the call of Jesus to become fishers of people.  There was something in their training that prepared them to be evangelists to the world.

 

In the Gospels we have more than one story of Jesus with the disciples in boats on stormy seas.

 

There is one where he is sleeping in the boat when a storm arises on the sea of Galilee and is woken up and rebukes the sea – and the wind dies down and there is a great calm.  In that story Jesus reveals his divine nature.  But let’s look at the Gospel story in tonight’s Second Lesson.  Here we have another story of Jesus and the disciples on the sea, and a miracle, but it is one of the more peculiar stories.  

 

Jesus had been praying on the mountain alone, and had sent the disciples to go to the other side of the sea of Galilee.  During the night a storm arises and they are anxious, but this time Jesus is not on the boat with them, but comes to them walking on the water and they are transfixed.  First frightened that it is a spirit, but he assures them, Be of good cheer; it is I, have no fear.  They are no longer afraid of the storm or of a spirit but full of awe and Peter wants to try to walk too.  He begins when Jesus bids him come, but then begins to sink, and Jesus reaches out and lifts him up and they get into the boat together.

 

The purpose of this story, which is to be told and retold, is not to say that Jesus is like a guru from the far East with special powers acquired through meditation… The purpose of this story is not to say that we should desire to walk on water literally.  But, as with all Jesus’ miracles, there is something else being shown us, something of a more universal meaning for us as people of faith.

 

Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.  And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.   And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.

 

Every one of us has times in our lives when the stresses and anxieties build within us to the breaking point, sometimes we are unable to be in control of our lives, sometimes ready to be overwhelmed by temptation even to despair.  The waters are come in even unto my soul.  We feel like we are drowning.  But we step out in faith, which is commendable, taking things day by day, walking in faith without seeing.  But it is so easy to be distracted, to turn one’s eyes to one’s trials and not to the One who is beyond it, the One who is above it, when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.  It is the cry of faith, even of faltering faith, that we need God to help us.  And that help, is promised from above, it is promised in this Gospel miracle,  And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him.

 

We who are living the life of faith know severe trials from time to time in this life, and we know the experience of deliverance – not always as we anticipated – but deliverance when we look up.

 

For all those who have been lost at sea…

It is hard to imagine but that they thought of loved ones, and finally cried out Lord, save me.  And this Gospel miracle assures us of how such a cry will be met.  And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him.

 

For each one of us, at the end of our lives—wherever that be, whether at sea or in our home, or on a hospital bed—we will all face that same moment.  I don’t know about you, but I hope to be fully alert when it happens.

 

Today we worship with grateful hearts, Jesus, who assures us in this Gospel, that the call for salvation, coming from us, whose faith is weak and faltering, the cry of distress – Lord, save me – will be met by God not based upon the strength of our faith, thankfully, but upon God’s mercy and grace.  The hand of Jesus, will reach out to us, lifting us out of our distress, pulling us out of the deep waters, above the chaos of the stormy seas of this life and through the very gates of death to the calm of heaven.  This is how the fisherman John describes it in Revelation…

 

And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne…. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.

 

I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory … stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.

 

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.  

Amen.

 

 

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