Reflection by the Reverend Trevor Jamison for an evening service at Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shileds, June 30th 2019
“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high
Oh, your daddy’s rich and your ma is good-lookin’
So hush, little baby, don’t you cry”
Du Bose Heyward / George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin
Most or many of us look forward to the arrival of summer time, though we hay fever sufferers may have some reservations on that score. This year, summer time has taken its time getting here, and although the team who put together this service did so in the fairly recent past, it required a measure of faith for us to go with a theme of, Summer, Sea and Sun.
The “sea” element of this trio is a given, however, or at least it is here, living so close to the coast. The sea’s not going to disappear from our doorstep any time. In fact, if we humankind persist with our current high use of coal and oil and gas, triggering yet further climatic change, then the sea’s liable to be closer to our collective doorstep than we would like.
We’re not told about the weather or what time of year Jesus called Simon and Andrew, James and John, from their waterborne work of fishing. We don’t know in what season those disciples battled stormy waves before turning to a sleeping Jesus in despair and fear. Nor do we do we know if the sun was shining brightly before they set out, only to find themselves in peril upon the sea.
We do know that this was their working environment. Most of us associate summer with holidays. I certainly do, with many strong, happy memories of summer as holiday time, including times by the sea. As a child, I always preferred digging deep holes on the beach, rather than building sandcastles. I’m sure that must say something significant about my personality, though I don’t know what!
Yet, I enjoyed my holidays and you enjoy yours because other people are working. Cullercoats and Whitley Bay are no longer be quite the flourishing seaside destinations they were before the advent of cheap air travel and package deals, with “guaranteed sunshine” and large carbon footprints. Still, you don’t have to look too hard to see that there are a significant number of people around here who depend upon good business, helped by good weather, during the summer time.
So, tonight’s an opportunity not only to be thankful for holidays in themselves, but to remember and thank God for those whose work makes them possible: the hotel, shop, restaurant, café, and amusement arcade workers; the crew that keeps the Spirit of the Bay https://www.visitnorthtyneside.com/activities/activity/69/ trundling along; those who keep the holiday makers and other beach users safe – life guards and coastguard, RNLI and local Life Guard Brigade http://www.tvlb.org/ . For all of these, thank you, God.
Yet Andrew and Simon, James and John, and those other unnamed disciples, are remembered today, not because they worked on the water, or because on one occasion they were threatened by its storm-tossed waves, but because of their association with Jesus. The whole point of one of these gospel passages is that they ‘left the boat … and followed him.’ (4:22) And the story of that storm on the lake builds up to the pressing question for all Gospel readers and hearers: ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’ (8:27)
In the world of work, we talk about “holiday entitlement”: how many days you are due because of the work that you have done and the status of your job. Seen on this level, holidays are your right. And although I fully recognise that retirement is not the same thing as a holiday, there is also that sense that you have earned it; it’s yours by right; you deserve it. (Only with difficulty do I prevent myself from sliding into saying, “because you’re worth it”!)
Viewed from within the context of human economic and social systems, I suppose that’s true; holidays are our expectation and entitlement; and if we spend our money to holiday abroad we probably think we’re entitled to the sunshine as well! Cue a sudden storm at sea, however, and even highly qualified fishermen realise that things are not as much in our control as we like to think.
Step back for a moment and consider that the sun and the sea come to us courtesy of a creator. All our social structures, including our jobs and our pensions, our homes and our holidays, depend totally upon a functioning, created, ecological system. To put that in negative terms, no creator God means no sun, no sea, no holidays. Or, to turn that around, and look at it in a positive light, sun, sea and holidays: all gifts from God.
We enjoy the things we earn, and why not. But that there exists sun and sea and holidays, is down to God, and they come to us as gift, for which the proper response is gratitude. Recognise the scale of the gift and that will indicate the appropriate depth of our gratitude. And being grateful for sun and sea and holidays – for “holy-days” – being grateful, we will enjoy them all the more.