TRA Wordtalks

Sunday, November 7th, 1999
Faithful in our Mission

The marvellous natural feature that makes Sydney the most beautiful city in the world is our harbour. The harbour has given us maritime history since the first day of European settlement. Because our nation is surrounded by water, our forefathers grew up knowing that going anywhere meant sea travel. Today thousands of yachts dot every bay. The sea is a natural playground for little boys and their toys, of whatever age. We think of the sea in terms of sport, of wind, of surf, of sailing for fun.

We are the first generation not to live in fear of the sea. We are the first generation not to think of the sea as a means of transportation, of passengers or cargo. The sea is now a place of recreation. Earlier generations saw the sea as a place of danger. Storms at sea brought loss of life. They knew of ships floundering, of loss of life and courageous rescues as life boats put out in response to distress calls. We all heard of the brave life boat captain who was urged not to take out his rescue boat in the wild storm because there was no certainty he would get back. He said, "We don't have to get back, but we do have to go out!"

It used to take ships months to travel from Britain to Australia and then many of them were wrecked on the West Australian coast or in Bass Strait. Our school readers told of a farm girl who rode her horse into the sea and rescued dozens of people, bringing them to safety at Port Campbell. Most great losses of life during earth's history, have been when ships were lost at sea during naval battles or from storms at sea or in rivers.

We learnt poems about "The Inchcape Rock" and could say Longfellow by heart,

It was the schooner Hesperus,
that sailed the wintry sea,
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear Him company."
Before long, he was a frozen corpse and she was lashed to the broken mast, dead in the sea.

People feared storms at sea. This fear was seen in our hymns. Many hymns dealt with sea-storms and many likened salvation to rescue from the sea, such as: Master, the tempest is raging,

"The winds and the waves shall obey My will,
Peace, be still! Peace be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm-tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be,
No waters shall swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies:
They all shall sweetly obey My will,
Peace, be still!" (Mary A. Baker).


Jesus, Lover of my soul
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high;
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide,
Oh, receive my soul at last." (C.Wesley).

Hardly any hymn about storms at sea are in modern hymn books. The earlier books had a section "For Travelling by Sea". That was the only way of travel. When folk returned to the "Old Country" a social after church farewelled them. They would often sing,

"Eternal Father! strong to save."
"Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee
For those in peril on the sea!" (W. Whiting).

For our generation, the sea is a place for surfing or swimming, for yachting or a romantic cruise around the islands. But for every other generation the sea stood for danger, for storms and loss.

Paul was shipwrecked three times. Others died in them so he knew the danger of storms of the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. Scholars tell us that nowhere in ancient literature is there such a factual picture of a storm at sea as the 27th chapter of Acts. The man who wrote it was there. Dr. Luke! It was a dreadful storm, lasting for days and wrecking their boat on an island. They didn't know it then, but they had reached the Island of Malta. They had been blown half the length of the Mediterranean, a journey equivalent from Brisbane to Hobart! Most of us are not going to be wrecked in a storm like that.

But that was the daily work environment of tens of thousands of men that led to the ministry of The Missions To Seamen. My own Wesley Church congregation in the heart of the city, had our own work, The Queen Victoria Seamen's Rest for decades until Australia ceased to be a maritime nation. Our Seamen's Rest was in Kent Street and down at the Rocks. Our missions cared for sailors in all of their needs. Fifty beds were filled each night by seamen. Other floors housed lecture and reading rooms, letter writing rooms, coffee-bar, a seaman's bank, locker rooms and so on. Anglican, Catholic, Methodist and interdenominational missions all cared for the seafarers, merchant and naval.

I read in our annual report of 1920: visits by sailors to the Institute: 23,180; beds to seamen, 11,591; visits paid to ships in port 1,251, letters received for seamen, 3,376, Sunday services and free concerts 112. The report says "While looking after the creature comforts of Jack while he is on shore, the real purpose of the Central Methodist Mission's Seamen's Rest is to secure his conversion."

There follows the outlines of twelve conversions. The merchant sailors could not mix with the British Navy blue-jackets and a separate work developed for navy personnel. This was in our Mission Building in Castlereagh St, under the guidance of the Royal Navy Christian Union. At some point the Methodists at Wesley Mission abandoned their work in favour of the Anglican Missions To Seamen.

The work continues in more enlighten fashion, but with the same compassion for those who sail the seas, regardless of service. We salute the continuing sense of mission to seafarers. Jesus taught his disciples to recognise human need, then go to them in ministry. His words to His disciples as He sent them into the villages surrounding the northern area of the Lake of Galilee are still significant for those of us who risk the way of Jesus.

Today in many denominations there is a crisis in the understanding of mission. There has been a wholesale drift of membership from the mainline denominations. Many Church leaders, wakened by the crisis, are crying for renewal, reformation, restoration, or revival. The answer lies in the Church recovering its sense of mission and of being faithful in its mission.

The actual word "mission" is not found in scripture at all. The first use of the word "mission" is found in English only in the 17th century. However, the concept of the Church in mission is completely scriptural. The theology of mission flows through the entire scripture. In the Old Testament the mission of God was seen in a centripetal sense. Israel was to so live that other nations would be attracted to her God. But in the New Testament the mission is to proclaim to all the nations in a centrifugal sense. The Church, as the chosen people of God to bear the message of God, was to take this message to the uttermost parts of the world beginning in Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria.

His people have the task of evangelising the world. To the early disciples this was an enormous task in taking the gospel to the whole world. They were ordinary, uneducated men without influential backing from a second-rate province on the edge of the empire. If anyone had considered at the time the probabilities of the success in their mission, the odds would have weighed heavily against them. Yet theirs was to be the most stunningly successful accomplishment. They knew they were fulfilling the mission of God through the command of Jesus.

That knowledge propelled them throughout the world, and wherever they went, they felt the presence of Jesus with them. They believed this mission which began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit would continue in the power of the Holy Spirit until the end of this world and to people in every occupation on land or sea. The seafarer was alone. So he became our special concern.

The Apostles were gripped by God's great redemptive act through Christ. They believed that by believing in Jesus a person could be saved. They believed their message was the fulfilment of God's mission as outlined in the Old Testament. They believed that this was to benefit all humanity, dependent only upon a receptive, faithful obedience to the gospel.

These days some are shy about speaking their faith and prefer a silent serving, healing and comforting presence with those in need. But that does not fulfil the mission of the Church. The New Testament demonstrates that evangelism is by the direct proclamation of the message of God. More than 140 times the New Testament uses such words as "to announce", "to tell", "to spread good news", "to talk", and "to herald or proclaim". The mission of God is only fulfilled when His people witness by word of the Gospel to the community. If the proclamation of the gospel in the fulfilment of the mission of God, is the primary task of the Church, it ought not to be only proclamation by word. It must also be proclamation by deed.

Christ gave us an example not only of preaching, but of service; not only of worship, but of witness; not only of individuals, but of society. 7 "As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons." Christ's mission and message of salvation was not restricted to an atoning death, but included the establishment of physical well being, both of which are described as salvation.

That is why we have been concerned for the seaman's soul, but also for him to have a warm, dry bed, a place to write letters, a change of diet and a relaxing place for him to rest.

God has a purpose for the Church. That purpose is the fulfilment of His mission. Therefore, the Church, to be the Church, cannot be merely a collection of institutions and humanitarian agencies, but it must be the Church fulfilling God's mission to the world. And part of that mission is to take the good news that God loves each person, including you. God in His love seeks you out and calls you to Himself. If you reject His call, or have not yet heard His call to you to return to Him, then you are lost. Lost like any silly sheep which has strayed away, or any wilful son who has run away Luke 15 or any sailor facing the worst of storms. You can be lost at sea. You can be lost in a crowd. You can be lost when you are wealthy. You can be lost alone.

So we have a continuing mission to those at sea and those on shore. Those on the container ship and to the old bag lady carrying her accumulated wealth in old plastic shopping bags. The derelict drunk scrounging the bins outside McDonald's for the remnants of a hamburger and to the stockbroker putting his golfclubs into the back of his car. They each may be lost. They are people to whom Jesus has sent His message of life eternal. Nothing is more important for us Christians than to take the message of the Good News that Jesus Christ has died for your sins upon the cross of Calvary to the lost. Nothing is more important

Gordon Moyes 1999

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