Preacher Canon Robert Titley
For the visit of Richmond Sea Cadets and the baptism of Eva Blackmore and Matthew Parmenter
I want to talk about three things: proportion, mission and conversion.
That story of St Paul’s shipwreck that the Cadets have just read, it puts our problems in proportion. If you have a bad journey to school or work tomorrow, remember this story and be grateful. We do get worked up about travel. You may remember the story last year about the golfer Ian Poulter. He arranged to fly his family home for the US, but things didn’t quite go to plan, as he tweeted
His followers were quick with their sympathy…
…and with practical advice…
First-world problems, we call them: things that causes people trouble only because they are already very privileged. When I hear the story of Paul and 276 people in a storm on the Mediterranean Sea, I think of another world. I think of the thousands in peril on that same sea, desperate to escape their worlds of war or persecution.
Paul would recognise these people’s determination because he is a mission. He has to get to Rome – he’s sure God wants him to go there, to the capital city of the empire and share the good news of Jesus and the love of God – but then everything gets in his way. He’s caught in a riot, he gets roughed up by the authorities, he’s put on trial twice (just like Jesus was before him – you may remember that from the Richmond Passion Play). Then, when he seems safe on a ship with an armed guard, comes a great storm. But somehow he gets through it.
If God really wants you to do something, God will give you what you need to do it – though often it won’t turn out in the way you imagined.
What does God give Paul? My answer to that came from the Sea Cadets website. There you’ll read that’ since it was founded in 1856, the Sea Cadet Corps has offered ‘confidence and inspiration’ to the young people who belong to it. That’s what God does for Paul. God inspires him to be calm and confident when others are panicking. And everyone is saved.
Proportion; mission; and conversion. This is the basic Christian thing, the way bad things can be converted into good. We see it in the horrible death of Jesus, which God turns inside out to make it the way that his love and forgiveness are set free in the world. And if people follow Jesus, like Peter, James and John in the second reading, they find the same thing happening to them.
Paul certainly does. Every time one of those bad things happens to him he finds that there is good he can do. Just like in this story when he gets washed up on the beach in Malta – way off course – and find that God has work for him there.
The symbol of the way God can bring good out of bad is here, in this jug of water. The same deadly dangerous stuff that destroyed Paul’s ship is the stuff we are going to sue as a sign of new life as we pour it over Matthew and Eva in a moment.
What does baptism give you? It gives no guarantee that all your life you’ll be sailing in calm waters, but it is a promise that God will always be there: to give you a sense of proportion, the wisdom to see what really matters; to give you a mission, a sense of purpose in your life; and to bring conversion, turning the bad things of life inside out so that good can come. All that God now offers to Matthew and Eva as they come to be baptised.