The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Apart from the fact that I have lived on two island nations all my life and therefore have benefited from the work of the ‘merchant navy’ – it is a vital component of the global economy – in providing the bulk of the things I use everyday, my first encounter with the ‘merchant navy’ was in the late 1970s in Sydney. There, at church, Charlotte and I met Albert. Albert would come to church from time to time, sit at the back, and make his way to the fellowship hall afterwards for morning tea. He was old (though now I realise that he was probably younger than I am now), dishevelled, unkempt, and what might be described as a ‘hard luck’ person. Many people thought he was drunk. Charlotte and I got to know him and discovered that he was a merchant seaman who had been torpedoed – twice! – in World War 2 – and his life afterwards was hard. He wasn’t drunk but he couldn’t rid himself of ‘the shakes’. In time, Charlotte and I left Sydney and I have no idea what became of Albert. I hope his last years were kind and good. But what struck me as I thought about the Red Ensign flying – yesterday was Merchant Navy Day honouring this civilian service (since 2000) and particularly remembering their sacrifice in times of war – and as I recalled Albert and his experiences in the Pacific, what I’ve read about the ‘Battle of the Atlantic’, what I’ve heard from seafarers’ chaplains about how tough C-19 has been on the ‘merchant navy’, and as I heard recently some young people discuss wanting a career in the merchant fleet was how hidden and vital this civilian service is to all of us.

Perhaps the world of the merchant seafarer is an outlier – we certainly should appreciate and thank them – but I think much of our living often doesn’t stop and think what it has taken for the bread or fruit, the engine part or surgical equipment to ‘get to us’. I’m not just talking transport but also whatever is necessary in terms of knowledge and skills to help us live well. In some way most people are ‘tips of icebergs’, so to speak, and we can forget how the goods or services have become available to us – how so much of our daily living happens. I suppose the current fuel crisis both enlightens and exacerbates us at the moment! 

‘No one is an island’ said John Donne. We know this in our families and in society. Fundamentally we need each other. I believe we live best when we live for each other but that is hard to do in this world – for many reasons. Religions are generally transactional – you do something for the deity and the deity will do something for you. However in Christianity and looking at Jesus what you have is service first – God serves us first, God rescues us first, God loves us first – and so much is hidden but we see and know what is important when we follow Jesus and use words, water, bread and wine as he has instructed. Maybe the Holy Spirit can be likened to the merchant fleet working mightily behind the scenes so that we can stay focused on Jesus and live with him? Maybe that’s why the Church is sometimes called a ship, carrying us through this life to the port and home to come?