July 23 2017 Sermon
When it was decided that we were to sail for Italy, they transferred Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. 2Embarking on a ship of Adramyttium that was about to set sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. 3The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul kindly, and allowed him to go to his friends to be cared for. 4Putting out to sea from there, we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. 5After we had sailed across the sea that is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. 6There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship bound for Italy and put us on board. 7We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind was against us, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. 8Sailing past it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near the city of Lasea.
9 Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, 10saying, ‘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. 12Since the harbour was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favour of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbour of Crete, facing south-west and north-west.
13 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.
21 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.’
27 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.
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.
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Would you pray with me?
The first time I went deep sea fishing did not go as planned. It was my first time visiting Panama City Beach with Keeli’s side of the family and I was told there was a long family tradition of chartering a boat to do some deep sea fishing. The man who became my father in law and his brother scoured the weather forecasts for the week searching for the clear skies, sunny day that would bring the best experience for fishing some 20 miles out in the Gulf.
Well there weren’t many days that look promising to go fishing, really the entire week was a wash with rain and thunderstorms predicted for the entire vacation. The hopes to go fishing were strong and unrelenting so a day was chosen to test our luck. With bags packed and enough Dramamine in my system to tranquilize a small horse, I went to bed the night before our trip excited as a kid on Christmas Eve. Something special was going to happen the next day.
We rose early, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed out to the marina to get the trip underway. Every one of us was checking every weather related app on our phones to see if a storm lingering west on the Florida panhandle was going to ruin our chances of fishing. You know how you can do the Futurecast on the weather radar to see where a storm will be several hours from now. We were hoping that once we were 20-30 miles off shore that the storm would hug the coast and we would have a picturesque day.
We made an agreement with the hesitant captain that if we took us all the way out and storms pushed us back in without getting to fish, we would still have his expenses covered. At least it wouldn’t be a wash on his part. And we were off. For two hours, we milled around the cabin and back of the boat, picked up some live bait on the way out, and chatted anxious to put the lines down. As soon as the captain motioned to us that we were on top of our expected destination according to his GPS, we looked off to the western horizon and 10 lighting bolts suddenly stretched from the clouds to the water. This wasn’t going to be the day we hoped for. It didn’t take long for the captain to start the engines and begin turning the boat back toward Panama City.
Within a few minutes, rain was blowing sideways. We crammed into the cabin watching waves slam into the windows and wash over the stern. You could hear some garbled chatter on the captain’s radio which he told us was every other fishing boat telling him that they were headed back in and that the radar showed us miles further out than anyone else.
With the boat tossing around in the turbulent waves, we seemed mighty small and fragile compared to the first half of the trip. For the two hour trip back to shore, we gazed longingly for the picturesque weather that just never came our way. Safely back at the marina there was an appreciation that our trip didn’t turn out like Gilligan or Paul for that matter.
Paul’s trip to Rome is the continuation of the episode we spent time with last week. Paul has been on trial for a considerable period of time and appeared before numerous political and judicial leaders. He is trying to resolve a dispute begun with the Sadducees and Pharisees while he was completing ritual purification in the Jerusalem Temple. After he is put in Roman protective custody, there are numerous attempts made on his life so that the Chief Priest can rid himself of Paul’s unique ministry and calling to the Gentiles.
At the height of the episode, Paul invokes his Roman citizenship and makes an appeal to go to Caesar to have the dispute resolved. To Caesar you have appealed, to Caesar you will go. This is where today’s reading picks up as Paul is turned over to the authority of a Roman soldier named Julius who will accompany him to Rome. The first section of the account is little more than a navigational record of how one would sail up the coast of modern day Israel, up to Lebanon, swing a left heading northwest to sail around the corner of Cyprus, stopping along the coast of Turkey to change boats, and sail west to Crete.
While in Turkey, Julius decides it is a good course of action to continue their travels on a grain ship that was bringing supplies up from Egypt. Once the precious cargo of the ship reached its final destination, the owner of the ship would have profited well from safely delivering cargo to its agreed upon destination. Julius decides they’ll continue on heading westward with the crew and cargo of the Alexandrian ship. While in Crete, Paul begins to offer first hand experience and wisdom from his years traveling the Mediterranean on foot and by ship.
You really don’t want to do this. It’s not safe. It’s not worth the risk. Very likely, the owner of the grain ship wanted to move on to the final destination so he could collect his profit. You don’t make money when cargo is sitting in harbor. Profit seeking outweighed common sense this time around.
The ship leaves the harbor and not long after a northeaster sweeps out over ocean water throwing all plans of a safe voyage into disarray. With no hope of controlling the ship, the crew begins throwing the grain cargo and even the tackle needed to guide the ship into the water. Things are going south real quick.
After several days of torment in the storm, having eaten very little, the crew and passengers are deep in despair. Paul in his rather forthright and abrasive fashion garners their attention and says ‘I told you so. I told you this would happen. But I have good news because an angel of God visited me last night and promised that we aren’t going to die as a result of this storm. And we’ll have to crash this ship on an island if we have any hope of surviving.’ Two weeks into this endeavor, worried about crashing into a reef in the Adriatic Sea, the sailors cut the boat loose of its anchors so that it can drift according to the current.
It’s on the fourteenth day that Paul again garners the attention of the crew and passengers pointing out how weak and tired they were from not eating. In Eucharistic fashion, Paul took bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and everyone eat their fill. Then they threw the extra grain into the sea.
The next morning, miraculously, the boat is drifting ashore but is in danger of being broken apart on a nearby reef. Julius’ soldiers begin anticipating the outcome of this debacle and figure it is better to kill all the prisoners entrusted to their care than let any of them escape. Julius prevents this plan from being implemented because of his desire to save Paul. Instead of killing the prisoners, Julius instructs the nearly three hundred souls on board to get off the boat and get to shore, whether they swim in under their own strength or float ashore on broken pieces of ship debris. And so it was that every soul on board made it to shore just as Paul had promised in his recounting of the angelic visit from God.
I imagine Julius felt indebted to Paul for pointing toward the day when the ship would reach shore meaning that they wouldn’t all die out in the middle of the Mediterranean. How could he harm the man that saved his life? Paul pointed toward a salvation from physical suffering and torment right in the midst of folks who were utterly despairing.
It’s not all that unlike a near ship disaster John Wesley experienced on his trip to North America in 1736.
Sunday, January 25, 1736
At seven I went to the Germans. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility they had given a continual proof, by performing those servile offices for the other passengers, which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired, and would receive no pay, saying, “it was good for their proud hearts,” and “their loving Saviour had done more for them.” And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck, or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. There was now an opportunity of trying whether they were delivered from the Spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger, and revenge. In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main-sail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards, “Was you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”
From them I went to their crying, trembling neighbours, and pointed out to them the difference in the hour of trial, between him that feareth God, and him that feareth him not. At twelve the wind fell. This was the most glorious day which I have hitherto seen.
A shipwreck, whether on the water, or the kind that puts your life into a tailspin like unemployment, a cancer diagnosis, or some other calamity has the ability to point you toward a posture of dependence on God. It is in moments when you have no sense of complete control in your life that God’s Spirit can move and demonstrate wonders. If you’re self-made, you have such a tight grip on your life that it’s mighty hard for God’s Spirit to show up and lead you in a new direction. I’m not saying God causes or plans disasters, tragedy, or misfortune. But when our footing isn’t quite as steady and our grip isn’t so tight, we can be more attentive to the ways in which God is showing up, giving us glimpses of the kingdom, and inviting us in new directions to love our neighbors.
Shipwrecks can turn into salvation. Bless you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.