May 21: No Place So Remote (Easter 6A)

“He is never far from any of us.” Acts 17:27

In this Easter Season, and primarily as we draw closer to the feasts of the Ascension and Pentecost, we read passages from the Acts of the Apostles and John’s Gospel.

We hear the words of testimony to Christ.

For this generation of early Christians, the words “witness,” and “martyr” were interchangeable.

So today we hear Saint Peter tell us: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

“He is never far from any of us,” this short line comes from Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles when he was speaking in Athens.

“He is never far from any of us.”

This is a reassuring truth that takes the edge of strangeness off life. No place is so desolate or so remote; for wherever it may lie, it cannot close out the presence of God.

“He is never far from any of us.”

To add to this idea, let me share with you a sea tale, and how the “Word of God” can save you.

In April of 1789, Lieutenant William Bligh, the commander of HMS Bounty, was awakened by his men, and eight others were set adrift on the Pacific.

This was an act of mutiny on the high seas — and amazingly, Bligh and his companions in their small vessel navigated some 3,000 miles to the Dutch West Indies.

Later Bligh returned to England a hero, where he won much notoriety as the Royal Navy attempted to locate the Bounty and its crew.

Of course, this dramatic story found its way into history, legend, and five movies. The most famous, the 1935 version “Mutiny on the Bounty,” featured Charles Laughton, playing a sadistic William Bligh, and actor Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian, a handsome leader of the mutiny.

But, what of the Bounty and its crew?

Fletcher Christian feared that he and his crew would be discovered. So for a time, they remained in Tahiti where some of the crew stayed; later, Christian set sail again with seven mutineers, twelve Polynesian women, and six Polynesian men who were mostly slaves to the English crewmen.

After months of exploration, they found the remote and uninhabited Pitcairn Island — halfway from New Zealand and Panama, some 6,500 miles from Panama on the open ocean.

Even today, the trip can take ten days to reach Bounty Bay. To further ensure the group would not be detected, Fletcher Christian ordered the ship destroyed. Together they lived on this tiny Island of 18 square miles — with its abundance of coconuts, breadfruit, and other crops.

Soon those on Pitcairn realized this Island was no paradise — open sexuality simply provoked mutual jealousy and rage. The Ti plant was distilled into liquor, and there was rampant drunkenness.

After four years, all of the Polynesian men and half of the English, including Fletcher Christian, had been murdered. And after a few years only two Englishmen Edward Young and Alexander Smith remained with ten women and the children.

Now here’s the part that the movie left out.

While looking through the items saved from the ship, Alex Smith located a Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. These were the only printed books on the Island, and these became the source of wisdom and the powerful tools for learning English. Alexander Smith did not read, but Edward Young taught him to read.

Smith studied the scriptures and convinced everyone to survive on the Island that they needed to live by the Bible’s principles.

Once, he dreamed that the angel Gabriel showed him the wickedness of his past life, so Smith repented of his sins.

He began Sunday worship and offered petitions like this,

“Suffer me not O Lord to waste this day in sin or folly. But let me worship thee with much delight. Teach me to know more thee and to serve thee better than ever I have done before that I may be fitter to dwell in heaven, where thy worship and service are everlasting. Amen.”

Scriptural teaching alone didn’t make Pitcairn into a “heaven on earth.” These people struggled with their day-to-day problems. Nonetheless, Alex Smith’s emphasis on the word of God provided order, survival, and redemption to people on these distant shores.

By 1808 an American ship, the Topaz, discovered Pitcairn Island and its crew were surprised to find a community of 35 English-speaking Christians.

Six years later, a British ship arrived at Bounty Bay to seize the mutineers. However, by this point, Alex Smith had changed his name to John Adams, after the American president, to avoid capture, and he died there in 1829.

The British crew went back to England empty-handed but flush with stories about the exotic south sea island. Later on, Seventh Day Adventists came from Oakland in California to minister to the people of Polynesia.

The “Word of God” provided order, survival, and redemption to people along these distant shores.

A reminder: “He is never far from any of us.” No place is so desolate or remote, for wherever people find themselves, we cannot close out the presence of God.

“He is never far from any of us.”

This homily was inspired by a sermon of Archbishop David Moxon, and from a meditation of Father James Turro, in his collection “Reflections as Path to Prayer” (Paulist Press)

Saint Perpetua, Lafayette, CA.

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