St Francis of Assisi, Petts Wood

For it is in giving that we receive.

 Sermon

(14th July 24)

We observe this 2nd Sunday of July as Sea Sunday.  Our thoughts and prayers are for all who, in the words of the psalmist “go down to the sea in ships, and do their business in great waters”.  Our readings reflect that theme, telling of how Jonah was thrown overboard and swallowed by that whale, how St Paul faced shipwreck, and how Our Lord stilled the waters when a great storm arose on the Sea of Galilee.


Last year, I spoke about the Church’s ministry to those who work at sea.  The 19th Century saw the founding first of the non-conformist Sailers’ Society and, shortly afterwards, the Anglican mission to Seamen, now the Mission to Seafarers.  I also mentioned that the Roman Catholic Church had a similar ministry, known as the Apostleship of the Sea.  It happened that Stuart was playing the organ at our 1030 mass that morning.  He was able to correct me, advising that since 2020, the Roman Catholic mission to Sailors is now called “Stella Maris”.


Stella Maris, latin for “Star of the Sea” is one of the names by which Our Lady, the mother of Jesus, is known.  If you travel around the coast of the Mediterranean, you will often find fishermen’s Churches, or Chapels in seaside Churches, dedicated in her name, with statues and paintings of her, such as that on the front cover of our Service booklet this morning.


Firstly, she reminds us of the presence of God wherever we are.  Jonah thought that he could escape God by fleeing away to sea.  But Jonah cannot get away from God.  His story is about God being everywhere, wherever we travel, however far we go.  In Christian art, God’s presence is often represented as Mary sheltering folk under the protection of her cloak.

Mary, the Star of the Sea, on behalf of God, holds travellers under their protection.


Secondly, she reminds us to look to God for guidance.  Sailors once relied almost exclusively on the stars to guide them on their travels.  They used tools like the astrolabe to precisely measure the angle between the horizon and the positions of the stars.  By comparing the height of, for example, the North Star or the Sun, they could calculate their precise position.  Mary, the Star of the Sea, guides us safely on our journeys: not just on out travels in this life, but also on that greater journey throughout this life towards our ultimate home with God in heaven.  


Towards the end of this service, we will turn to the statue of Our Lady whilst Steve sings the ancient hymn “Ave, Maris stella” (Hail, Star of the Sea).  Please use that time to pray first for sailors, for fishermen, and all “those in peril on the sea”.  And, as we get into the main holiday season, pray too for all those who travel by land, sea, or air, that they may do under God’s protection and come safely home.

Amen

 Fr Bob