Today, I am sharing a sermon that has inspired me recently. It’s by Rev. Shawn Newton of First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto and it’s about how to show love by reaching out to those in need.
All summer, I’ve been reflecting on an image—the one pictured below.
The photo was taken on July 8th, in Panama City, Florida. What you can’t see is that one hundred yards off shore, ten people – including a family of six – are fighting for their lives, as a strong riptide saps all of their energy, and makes it impossible to swim to safety.
It started with the two boys in the family getting pulled along first. And then others went out to help them, but caught swept up in the riptide, too. With no life guards on duty, and no rescue equipment at hand, the people on the beach looked on in horror, until someone had the idea that they form a human chain.
Beachgoers form a human chain to save a family from drowning in at Panama City Beach in Florida. (Photo: Leona Garrett)
A woman named Jessica Simmons described her resolve, saying that in the heat of the moment, she was determined that, “These people are not drowning today. It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”
The effort started on the beach, with the human chain forming with, at first, a small handful of volunteers that grew and grew, and then moved steadily into the churning surf. In the end, there were some 80 people stretched out into the ocean.
The strongest two impromptu rescuers headed past each link in this human chain until they reached the ten swimmers stranded by the current. They first pulled the two boys to the end of the chain, and then moved them along that long strand of love passing the boys all the way to the beach.
Next came their mother, who was struggling to keep her head above the water. She was sure she was going to drown. By the time she made it to the beach, she had blacked out. When she came to, she heard that her mother, still in the water, was having a heart attack. As everyone in the chain was being battered by the waves, she told the rescuers “to just let her go” so they could save themselves.
The chain grew.
Anyone who could help was linking their legs and arms with their neighbours. In the end, after an hour of incredible effort, everyone, those rescued and each link of the chain, had made it back to the shore.
Not knowing what else to do, they began to applaud—each other and the overwhelming grace they all felt in that moment.
Links in the human chain in Kenya! The SIA team meeting with community organizers and helpers in Mumias. Our links are helping to pull people out of poverty.
Making Love Tangible
If you’ve been attentive to the news in recent days, amid all of the horrific scenes, you have also seen powerful images of people doing what they can to form human chains, to reach out, to rescue, to save and uphold life, wherever and whenever they can.
It is the covenant with life in action, on full display, with very human hands. The covenant that demonstrates the best of who we are, the best that we can be in the face of catastrophe. The covenant that makes tangible the love that will not let us go. With floods around the world, with the earthquake in Mexico, with fires blazing in British Columbia, we are living this morning in a world of hurt.
May we find our own ways to reach out and serve life, by playing whatever part we can in forming human chains of love, be it by providing emotional support to those who are suffering, be it by volunteering to help with the clean-up, be it by giving generously of your resources to aid the relief effort.
May we reach out, in times of natural disaster. May we reach out any time others are reeling from disaster, of whatever sort, that we may do our part to tend the fabric of life, knowing that our lives are interconnected with all of life, and trusting that the hand we extend to others in their time of need may return to us when we, ourselves, need it most.
So may it be. Amen.