Every year on the second Sunday of July, churches give thanks to seafarers and those who minister to them on what is called Sea Sunday. For the past few years one of the local Christian radio programs has had our chaplaincy team, which consists of representatives from the Mission to Seafarers (Anglican Church), the Apostleship of the Sea (Roman Catholic Church), and the Danish Seaman’s Mission (Danish Church), record a church service that is broadcast on Sea Sunday. Every year the YASC intern has given the Sea Sunday sermon, so this year was my turn. I’ve posted my sermon and a link to the Sea Sunday service radio program below, and below that I’ve posted a few pictures.
More can be learned about Sea Sunday here:
Link to the radio broadcast (I begin at around the 30 minute mark):
Sea Sunday Sermon
Good morning, my name is Zachary Jeffers, and I am the intern working here with the Mission to Seafarers, working through the Young Adult Service Corps that is based out of The Episcopal Church in America.
I would say these few lines from Matthew are probably some of the best known and most quoted lines Jesus says in the Gospel:
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Often we hear it by itself, out of context. We don’t hear the things that were said before it, and we just get the nice message, “I will give you rest”. We forget the first part we heard in the Gospel reading today, the part where Jesus scolds an entire generation of people for acting like spoiled children. Children who cry when they don’t get what they want, children that are upset when someone doesn’t do the things they want them to do. They wanted Jesus and John to act a certain way, they wanted the Messiah and the one preparing the way for him to both act the way they wanted, in a way that fit into their comfortable lives, in a way that fit into their narrow mindset. John was too extreme, eating locusts and wild honey, living as a hermit. Jesus was too extreme in different way, loving outcasts, and spending time with tax collectors and sinners. While the people want to hear the Truth and see the Messiah, while they want that thing that will bring them to the Kingdom of Heaven, once Jesus presents it to them, they write him off as a drunkard and a glutton. The way John the Baptist lived didn’t fit into their box, into their comfortable lives, and the way Jesus lived and loved most certainly did not fit either.
This thing that Jesus is preaching, and is telling us is the way to the Kingdom of Heaven, seems difficult to those who aren’t ready. It may seem like a burden, to love those who are difficult to love, to spend time and touch those who are, in our eyes, untouchable, but that’s how Jesus wants us to love. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – In other words, He’s saying, learn from my example, do what I do, take my work upon yourselves because this work, this thing we’re striving for, loving and caring for one another, is so much better than dealing with life’s burdens on our own. Yes, it may seem like it will be difficult at first, but trust me, it’s not.
This Sunday we remember a group of people who carry heavy burdens. Seafarers deal with a lot of things that most of us never have to deal with. They leave their families and friends for months at a time, living and working with a group of strangers, depending on others to provide decent food and a comfortable living space, braving the dangers of the open sea, all the while doing it to provide us with the things we need, the things we use every day. I admit that before coming to Hong Kong and working with the Mission to Seafarers, I knew absolutely nothing about shipping, let alone the forgotten people that are behind the industry. I didn’t realize that over 90% of everything you and I use on a daily basis is made available to us in some way because of shipping. I didn’t realize the burden the people that bring us those things carry and deal with just so I can watch my TV or drive to work or drink my morning cup of coffee. I didn’t realize seafarers will leave home for up to 12 months at a time to work on the ships that carry these things to me. I didn’t realize how normal it was for seafarers to miss their children’s births, sports games, graduations just to provide for their family and to provide me with my everyday necessities. I didn’t realize that the most dangerous thing about the open sea isn’t the pirates or the storms, but the isolation those people feel while traveling at sea for months at a time, separated from their friends, family, and the outside world.
So while caring for a seafarer may be as difficult as helping them find a way to secure their wages after months of not getting paid by their company, it could be as simple as sending money back home for them, bringing them a SIM card for their phone so they can hear their child’s voice, or even just having a conversation and being a friendly face.
Just a few weeks ago I was leaving our seafarers center that is located in Kwai Chung, out by the shipping terminal, when I saw someone sitting on the steps of the center, with his head down, talking to someone on his phone and looking very distraught. I had seen him earlier in the evening when I had come back from ship visiting and thought he was just there to use the Wi-Fi like so many of our other visitors do. Because I was leaving and the center was about to close for the night, I offered him a ride back to his ship. He said yes, thank you, and then asked me if I knew how to send money to another country. It turned out that this seafarer, Gilbert, was from the Philippines and needed to send money back home as payment for his children’s school. His wife had sent him a message a few days before saying they needed to pay the bill for the school or else his daughter would not be able to attend that term. Hong Kong was the first port he had an opportunity to go ashore with a place to send money since she had notified him. I told him I was happy to send it for him and not to worry, it would be sent first thing the next morning. He was so grateful for my help and it was such a relief for him that someone would come to his aide to help with this problem. He was just trying to provide for his family, to pay the bills, do something that would be a simple task for most of us but was so difficult and stressful for him because he was out at sea. That stress had turned into a heavy burden to carry for Gilbert, but luckily the Mission to Seafarers was there to help. He still keeps in touch with me and will let me know when his ship comes to Hong Kong.
Jesus’ mission for us is simple: love others as God loves us, go out and love those that are difficult to love, love those that are isolated and distant from others, in whatever form that may be. That’s the burden we must carry, but it’s so much better than dealing with life’s burdens on our own. So next time you’re having a cup of coffee, using your cell phone, sitting in a chair, remember the forgotten faces of the people that brought those things to us, be thankful that we have them and that there’s people out there carrying those burdens for us to make it possible. It’s the least we can do.
Some pictures from the week of Sea Sunday and the week after:
Sea Sunday service at St. John's Cathedral
Apostle Ship of the Sea Sea Sunday annual prayer service and dinner
Provincial clergy monthly meeting at St. Peter's Chapel in the Mariner's Club, in recognition of Sea Sunday
Our chaplaincy team at the radio broadcast recording
The Mission to Seafarer's Sea Sunday information flyer