Wisdom! Arise! Let us hear the holy Gospel! Peace be unto thee. [And to thy spirit.] The reading is from the holy Gospel according to Matthew. [Glory to thee, O Lord! Glory to thee!] Let us attend!
Immediately, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, where he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up to the mountain by himself to pray. Now when evening came, he was alone there, but the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.
Now in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer: it is I! Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him and said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” So he said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down off the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. And when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid. And beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”
And immediately, Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those that were in the boat came and worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And when they had crossed over, they came to the land of Genessaret.
[Glory to thee, O Lord! Glory to thee!]
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, if you recall last week, I did make reference to actually this gospel, and I didn’t know that it was coming. I pointed out—and I’ll do that again, for those of you who may not have been here—that the Lord gave his disciples and his apostles—he was always teaching and giving them direction. For as we know, he came to bring us back into relationship with his Father. He would do that principally everywhere that he went. He was able to get the knowledge of the will of the holy Father by his own prayer. So that is what we’re called to.
If we’re going to be in relationship and be brought to the Father, we’re going to have to turn to the Lord and the Lord dispense the Holy Spirit to us to teach us how to pray and to get the direction. How wonderful it is if we could be purified enough of our sins to occasionally hear the Lord himself speak to us and give us a word or give us direction. If we are able to hear the words of the Lord, I assure you, it will transform you, because it is the voice that comes from the Father himself unto us like a child needs to receive.
So I said last week that the apostles were about getting this direction from the Lord. He begins this gospel with: we’re going on the other side of this lake. So they, taking the direction—and how much we need to learn that in our lives! Taking the direction, a suggestion for our own good, is not an easy task, because we are fundamentally disobedient, so it’s very hard to learn to trust and to actually get some direction and then actually follow through with it. It certainly was for me.
So he gives this direction, and the apostles get on the boat. Of course, they’re familiar, being fishermen, and they go out, considering that they’re going to go and fish. They go out, way out, but the Lord, meanwhile, goes to the holy mountain. This is going to happen to us when we pray. There’s time when we pray faithfully where we’re going to feel like not exactly sure where the Lord is. He’s gone to the holy mountain maybe. He’s present to us, but we’re not sensing that he’s much around. That’s exactly what happened to the apostles.
We know the story: the turbulent winds, the storm of the sea began to agitate the boat, the apostles, and everything around them. I had once the opportunity—I traveled to South America and got on what you might call a pirate ship for an overnight travel, and I had never been on this mega sailboat. When we got out, going across the sea to this island, and we’re in the middle of it, we all saw a storm. I mean, you don’t know how black and how dark the sky can look like that day. I mean, it was… I had never seen anything like it, and it was absolutely coming in our direction. We were moving quite fast, sails full of the wind, and we were heading right into it. All I know is I went: “Oh, boy!” and I was definitely scared, and then we went right in.
When we got into that, it was an absolute whirlwind, like the worst hurricane you could ever have imagined. The water and the rain were coming down to the point where it would hurt you on your skin. Water started coming up over the bow. We were going through this. Now, these guys were used to it, but we know what can happen when you get out into the middle of the sea, and that’s exactly what happened to the apostles.
What’s the point of this gospel? The Lord allows, just like the turbulence of the sea and the air, he allows affliction and sometimes ways in which our souls and bodies are so tormented we feel like we’re in the middle of the storm. He comes in this gospel right at that moment, and, since everything has purpose, the storm and the turbulence and what the apostles were going through had great purpose. It is revealed in this gospel: what’s the purpose?
Peter, who represents all of the apostles, he expresses his fear. What we need to know about ourselves is, whether you like it or not, one of the consequences of the fallenness of mankind is that we all have a certain preoccupation and fundamentally have many, many fears inside of our souls. The Lord is intent and came to relieve those fears, to remove those fears, but they’re not going to be removed if we’re going to be dishonest. We have to come to terms with, like Peter, that he was very afraid, and he didn’t mind expressing that. The Lord knew that. So that’s an important part that we have to learn from this gospel, that we have to be able to be the human, fearful little children that we actually are and get honest with ourselves. Because the Lord is intent to help us, and that’s exactly what he does in relationship to the holy apostles.
So he challenges Peter, and Peter says, “If it is you,” because immediately he thinks it is a ghost. And the Lord reassures Peter: “No, it is I.” And he did this more than once. He did it then. He did it when the Holy Spirit was sent in the upper room—they were scared then. They were terrified when it came down to the fact that the Savior of the world would be betrayed and crucified. And in fact, out of their sin, they betrayed him. They, who were supposed to be faithful, fell asleep, or, better yet, ran as far away from the cross when it came, and Peter was the first to deny and say, warming himself by the fire, “I did not know him”—all principally out of fear. So our fear can lead us into many acts of sin and disobedience.
The Lord comes to vanquish and to heal this tendency in us, so he says to Peter, “It is I. I will prove it to you. Come out of the boat and walk on the water and come to me.” And there will be times in our lives when the Lord will guide us into a place where possibly a relationship or a circumstance leads us to a point of utter despair, where we, like the apostles, have nowhere else to turn, we are faced with our fears and our inadequacies and our helplessness and our hopelessness and our powerlessness, but this is the invitation by which our faith, which has also been hurt by our sins, by the sins of our forefathers and ours, must be strengthened.
So the Lord asked Peter to do the impossible: to walk on the water. I encourage you to consider that, when the time comes when you might be asked to do the impossible, to have something removed out of your life that may have tormented you for a lifetime—that’s what I might call the impossible—he’ll ask you to walk on the water and to come to him. He will guide you where to get help. He will lead you, because he wants to have the faith that was broken or was principally not matured—and often we learn this from what we have not resolved in our childhood upbringing—he wants that faith to grow and to be healed, to be given living faith.
So that’s what Peter does. He walks on the water. He takes his eyes off of the Lord—and we have a lot to learn there. The minute we take our eyes off the Lord, the only thing left is the depth of the sea and the turbulence around us. And that’s what we normally do: take our eyes off the Lord, and what happens? He sinks, immediately. When he couldn’t take probably another minute and felt like, “Okay, this is the end. I’m going to drown,” the Lord was there to catch him.
Again, the Lord isn’t intent… He is not the author of affliction. He does not act like our enemy, like the enemy of mankind. He has come to save us in the truest sense of the word. So all of the affliction of the storm, the lack of faith, the fears that surfaced were there because the Lord had the purpose of transforming and healing Peter and the apostles through this circumstance. So he says to him—and sometimes we have to be confronted—“Where is your faith? It’s your faith that is in need at this time.” So we have to be prepared to confess our sins. We have to be prepared sometimes to get a conviction, that either comes from him or someone that is trying to be of help. Why? So that we might respond to the Lord, because the Lord was inviting Peter to be healed.
Once his lack of faith is confronted and he has dealt with his fear and he has sunk, the Lord catches him, raises him up, and then he goes back into the water and he who is the Maker of all things was able to, as a result of the purpose of all that he was doing for them, just command, in one lick, the wind and the air and the seas. Just at the very command of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, everything becomes calm. The storm is vanquished, and the apostles are left stupefied by the glory and the power of God himself. They can only do one thing: glorify the Lord.
If we enter into the process by which we are healed at every turn, which is what we’re about when we come to a spiritual hospital, the Orthodox Church, and we avail ourselves [of] the principal methods of treatment for the healing and removal of our sins and for our salvation, when these kinds of events take place, which we should expect, we will also want to glorify him. So we pray that we’ll all be a little bit more open to the ways in which the Lord acts, for his ways are not our ways. While we fundamentally have to work through that principal belief that God is responsible for sin and affliction and evil in our lives, we must keep our eyes on the Lord and get through these circumstances, but avail ourselves [of] that which he has come to give us so that we can imitate Peter and the apostles and we can grow up in the Lord, our faith can mature, and we can begin to see the hand of God in everything, especially when we’re the worst afflicted. And we’ll keep an attitude of gratitude, like my spiritual father, Fr. Gordon, taught us, to be grateful in all things and for all things.
But this is a process, and none of us are expected to, just like Peter and the others, but we’re invited. Isn’t that nice? And hopefully we’re going to learn, day by day, how to cooperate with the grace of God so that the storms in our lives, our lack of faith, and our principal issues, which include our fears, can be calmed, can be vanquished, can be restored to sanity. For sometimes our souls are so much in turmoil that our minds are just out there. Mental illness is principally a lack of soundness of mind; soundness of mind comes as a result of the healing of our hearts. He is the One who can touch our hearts like he did that boat and those apostles, transformed them from within and then calm the waters of our very souls and bodies, so that we can be on the sea, so to speak, of life, but even the tempests have purpose when we keep our eyes on the Lord.
Let us keep our eyes on the Lord, for he is our Father and our Savior and our Brother. Glory to him. My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, and my protection is the Holy Spirit. Glory to thee, O our holy Lord. Glory to thee. Amen.