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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Thoughts in honour of the crews past and present of HMNZS Otago


SERMON PREACHED AT THE CATHEDRAL
OF St JOHN THE EVANGELIST, WAIAPU
(NAPIER, NEW ZEALAND: first cathedral to see the sun)
FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER (11th May) 2014


MATTINS, WITH THE CREWS PAST AND PRESENT OF THE HMNZ OTAGO
           

Readings:       Psalm 107:23-28
                        & Psalm 23
                        Mark 4:35-41

For some of you this will be the second week running in which I have begun my thoughts with what Bob Dylan calls “too personal a tail.” My I first though pay tribute to our guests, the Past shipmates, partners and friends of HMNZS Otago, as well as students of Hukerenui College. I know I have welcomed you already but even twice is not enough. I wish to mihi you because I have great admiration for those who serve their country, whatever the context. Even in times in which governments have taken their military forces into crazy situations I have admired the tenacity, loyalty and courage of you who are perhaps more than anyone else, public servants (though probably you might not welcome the title!).
Had I been a time traveller, and undertaken that unforgivable sin that neither Dr Who nor Hermione Granger was quite caught in committing, the sin of spying on myself, then I think my once-self would have received a nasty shock to hear my present self pronounce those words of mihi and of sort of pōhiri. It may shock some here, though I doubt it, to know that your dean was once a would-be mung-bean chewing, muslin-wearing, herb-ingesting, tie-dye wearing hippie-dude, who thought that Led Zeppelin and The Doors would save the world, that religion was for the credibility-challenged, and that the armed forces, along with the police, were off the scale of inacceptable humanity. I was incidentally always a little sad that my hair never quite like that of Jim Morrison (my school in any case would not allow it) and that the nearest I ever got, not least because I was ten years too young, to hippiedom  was owning (as I still do) the complete works of Bob Dylan, along with a guitar that I never learned to play (I still have it and still can’t fathom its mysteries).

The readings this day of course float around ideas of naval service – except for the psalm of the day that has far more to do with sheep than ships. Yet, by and large, and regardless of your faith or otherwise, I suspect they don’t entirely connect with your actual experience. Military chaplains tell me that many of their charges in the forces know far more than they or I do about praying in extremis, but most military that I have worked with are fairly coy about matters of faith. At any rate few have quite emulated the stilling of the sea of the Jesus story read to us by Rear Admiral Jack Steer, though more may relate to the cry of the heart from the psalmist, as read Association president Jim Blackburn. That of course can be both metaphorical – life can for most of us chuck out a few storms – or literal, as sea-goers know only too well.

That’s actually the point of the psalms, by the way, and why I maintain they are so important: they run the gamut of human emotions from hatred to terror to ecstasy to depression, yet somehow stutter into an awareness of the presence of God in all that range of human experience. It’s not a bad lesson to learn.  

In fact it’s the one lesson I want us to if not learn at least pause with momentarily this day. The hippie me eventually learned that life is bigger than my personal cruisy comfort, and out there were men and women, especially military men and women, who for whatever reason were willing to give up cruisy comfort to make the world a safe place. I admire that, I mihi that, I thank you of the Otago for that. I want, too, to thank as it were those who have lived credible lives of faith, who have learned not to advertise their piety but to discover the presence of God in every nook and cranny of human experience. The mung-bean munching me didn’t get God because I thought God was some magic trickster in the sky, and I could do without him (and it was a him). Slowly though I found a different God: a God who is with me when I cry out in every storm but also every sunny day of life. I grew to kinda like that God, and I’m proud that whatever your personal beliefs we can for a moment pause and acknowledge a God who is “Trinity of (both) love and power,” God of  storm and calm, literal, and metaphorical.

Thank you, crew members past and present of the Otago, and to your absent colleagues too, for all you have done in the service of the greater good, and thank you for sharing this moment of God-focus with us.


TLBWY
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