Sunday, 16 March 2014

Acts 27 - In the face of the storm

It was good to share this morning in our special commissioning service for our new team of Ministry Leaders and for our new Diaconate and to welcome Helen Roberts as our new Church Secretary.

Our reading through of Acts has brought us this evening to one of the most dramatic chapters in the book of Acts and I don’t want to make too many connections between the two.

One of the remarkable things about Acts 27 is the way it gives a wonderful insight into journeying in the Roman Empire … and provides one of the most graphic, one of the most detailed and one of the most accurate accounts of a shipwreck in all of classical literature.

It’s one of those things that bears out the view that it is written by someone who was there with Paul.  Notice once again the writer is writing in the first person

When it wsa decided that we should sail for Italy.

Maybe for the last couple of years in Caesarea Luke has been researching the first volume of his two-volume work that has got into the NT as Luke and Acts.  He is now writing from first hand experience.

There are moments in the story I want to home in.

First, is a cameo appearance of Julius, a centurion of the Autustan Cohort.

Julius treated Paul kindly, and allowed him to go to his friends to be cared for.

The kindliness of the stranger – the support given to Paul and the call to kindliness are important.  And the sense that wherever Paul goes on his travels he has friends to help him.

The interentaional nature of the church is well established by this point.

When we speak of church here in Highbury we must always sense we are part of a bigger picture, a world-wide church that binds us together with people the world over.  Wherever we go are friends to welcome us and to share with us.

Along the southern coast of Crete – wonderful Roman remains when we stayed in Crete – all open to the public, not protected at all.   Roman villa on the cliff top overlooking this very stretch of coast.

Then comes the discussion in verses 9ff about whether they should set sail.

The seas were closed through the winter months – beware of cut price Mediterranean cruises in the Eastern Mediterranean from November to February!

Paul is the most seasoned traveller but his advice is not heeded

‘Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.’ 11But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said.

Thgey aim to winter at Phoenix, a harbour of CXrete facing south west and north west.

Then comes the start of the account of the storm – and it is quite some storm.

When a moderate south wind began to blow, they thought they could achieve their purpose; so they weighed anchor and began to sail past Crete, close to the shore. 14But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster, rushed down from Crete. 15Since the ship was caught and could not be turned with its head to the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. 16By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. 17After hoisting it up they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they would run on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea-anchor and so were driven. 18We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, 19and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. 20When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.

Then comes the next wonderful moment in the story …

Paul cannot resist saying I told you so.

But then he has this remarkable sense of God with him in the midst of the storm.

Notice the words of encouragement he uses.

Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. 22I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” 25So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26But we will have to run aground on some island.’

The storm is a powerful image.  In the Old Testatment the storm and the sea is symbolic of all that cuts across the goodness of God.  But it is in the story of Jesus that the storm is most powerful.

A turbulent time – in Matthew 14 – the execution of John the Baptist, the feeding of the 5000 and then the storm at sea.

Jesus comes across the stormy waters,

Take heart, it is I: do not be afraid.

What gives Paul courage here is the sense he has of the presence of God wthh him in the midst of the storm.

There are storms.

There is no escaping that.

But there is the promise of the presence of God with us through the storm that we are to hold on to.

Just pause there for a moment.

The storms we face.

In health and our own future.  The health of someone dear.

Keep up your courage.  Do not be afraid.  Have faith in God.

Take heart; it is I, do not be afraid.

At work, in family – in church family too.

Keep up your courage.  Do not be afraid.  Have faith in God.

Take heart; it is I, do not be afraid.

In a troubled world – news from Syria, news from Crimea, conscious of an all too stormy world …

Keep up your courage.  Do not be afraid.  Have faith in God.

Take heart; it is I, do not be afraid.

A wonderful story.

Then comes another moment that’s special.

When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28So they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. 29Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30But when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and had lowered the boat into the sea, on the pretext of putting out anchors from the bow, 31Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, ‘Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.’ 32Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat and set it adrift.

33 Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. 34Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.’ 35After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. 37(We were in all two hundred and seventy-six persons in the ship.) 38After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.
In one sense it is the down to earth, practical common sense of Paul – we need to eat.  Even though the seas are rough.  We need our strength.

Again the seasoned traveller.

But notice the words that Paul uses … they are so reminiscent of the communion meal.

One of those indications that there is a something sacramental in every meal.   As we break bread we remember the presence of God with us in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And there is a sense that that presence is real here.

35After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36Then all of them were encouraged

Took bread, gave thanks, and began to eat.  And then all of them were encouraged.

Eating is important in the face of the storm.  But maybe there is a need to bring to mind the presence of God with us in the midst of the storm.

Then comes the climax to the story.  ~And all are saved.

39 In the morning they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. 40So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. 41But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. 42The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; 43but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

Storm as a metaphor.

But also the reality.

How much we depend on seafarers – for so much that is brought to us.

The work of the mission to seamen – Chart and Compass.  The need to remember those who risk their lives at sea.

And the power of that sailors’ hymn still.

Eterrnal Father, strong to save.

The wonderful story to finish of the trip to Eigg.

The small boat we were on turned the headland and I discovered a fundamental incompatibility with Felicity – I wanted to talk nineteen to the dozen, she wanted to keep quiet.  And a dog whose tail had been wagging had his tail firmly between his legs.

The tale of a group on a small ferry with a weather-beaten skipper hitting a real storm.  And eventually n panit they send a delegation up to the skipper at the wheel – will you pray for us.

I pray, he said, when the weather is calm …

Don’t leave the prayer that sense of the presence to the times when the storms come.

It is as in calm times we give ourselves to God in prayer that we release the resources to draw on in stormy times that will see us through as well.

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