2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Pentecost 5, June 27, 2021
St. Martin North Vancouver
What variety you have created, arranging everything so wisely!
Earth is completely full of things you have made:
Among them vast expanse of ocean,
Teeming with countless creatures,
Creatures great and small,
With the ships going to and fro…
- From Psalm 104
According to the National Geographic Society, the earth has a new ocean. Except it really isn’t new. You can probably name the four world’s great bodies of water: Pacific, Atlantic, Arctic, and Indian. Now there is recognition for the Southern Ocean encircling Antarctica. The borders of this watery ecosystem touch three of the other four oceans directly. From human exploration and science we know that all of the earth’s salt waters are interconnected and interdependent. From our faith, we believe that this fragile earth, our island home, is a gift that together we are responsible to nurture and share. The waters that surround us are not to divide us into nations, or to simply be exploitable resources. They remind us that a fair balance is needed.
Those that travel across the seas connect their homes and their destinations to teach us all. If you stand on the covered walkway at St. Martin’s church and look to the west, you can see the ships that come in and out of Burrard Inlet from all over the world. We are blessed to be living in a port city: to have easy access to a ferry heading for Vancouver Island or perhaps next year a cruise liner to Alaska. But I know I take for granted the many commercial vessels that bring goods to our country and transport products away to others. Many people we may never meet are crews aboard those ships. They may be moored for a few days or weeks without opportunity to disembark, then sent back over the ocean on a new assignment. But we do have a way of connecting with them.
The Mission to Seafarers is a ministry that connects those who work about vessels to the love of the Christian Church all over the world. There are two facilities here in the Lower Mainland: one on the Vancouver waterfront and the other at Robert’s Bank in Tsawwassen. The “Flying Angel Clubs” provide pastoral care, assistance with communications and physical goods, and a home away from home to relax. Many other port cities have outposts. When I was in Kirkwall, in the Orkney Islands, I visited the centre there for a cup of tea, a biscuit, and an orientation to the services they provide to the over 200 cruise ships and other boats that dock each year in the harbour there. Over the door was the same insignia of the angel figurehead that marks out a Mission for people of many nationalities and languages. And as I did so, I thought of the crew on the ship that had brought me there, thousands of kilometers from their families. Since the 1830s, Christian people of many denominations have worked together to provide for the needs of those crossing the oceans of the world.
When St. Paul crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Palestine to Greece, he brought a message to unite Christian communities. After his visit, he writes to the Corinthian church and asks for their help. He is organizing a financial collection to assist the church in Jerusalem. Would the Corinthians be able to fulfil their prior promise to take part? His purpose is twofold. The mother church in the holy city needs economic assistance. But more importantly, if the Gentile converts to Jesus Christ are able to send some money to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, it would be a wonderful demonstration of solidarity in the faith. Paul speaks of the saving work of Jesus on the cross, who gave up everything so that all who believed in him might be rich in faith. Even though the church at Corinth is far away from the other congregation, the sea that divides them physically has brought them together through their commitment to Christ.
Today we celebrate Seafaring Sunday across our diocese and in other denominations across the world. We may have a personal connection to someone working on an ocean-going vessel. Maybe a family member or friend was in the navy or the merchant marine, or has crewed on a boat. But even if we have never seen the face of those unknown individuals who travel on the waves, we have this opportunity to pray for their work and contribute to their wellbeing. As St. Paul says, we give out of our abundance to their need so that there may be more of a fair balance.
Now, if all the seafarers needed was chocolate chip cookies, this little parish has done its part! From the generosity of all who baked for Fathers’ Day sharing, we had 16 dozen cookies left to take down to the Mission for Seafarers for their ministry of hospitality at the Flying Angel Club. It is a small, concrete way we can take part. Perhaps learning about the Mission and the lives of those it touches can spur us on to further individual and group action. There are inequities and needs that still wait to be addressed, from stronger maritime laws that would better protect those who work at sea to environmental issues to address in the vessels that come across the waters and into our port. For those of us who have benefited from the trade and commerce that others are involved in, may God grant us wisdom to seek fair balances among peoples. The promise from our scriptures is that giving up leads to receiving far more, as Paul writes:
“the one who had much did not have too much,
And the one who had little did not have too little. “
May we too share across the one ocean that links us all. Amen.