Homily 424 – 9th Sunday APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 9, 2020
Epistle: (128) 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 and (213) Galatians 5:22-6:2 (St. Herman)
Gospel: (59) Matthew 14:22-34 and (24) Luke 6:17-23 (St. Herman)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Storms aren’t comfortable. At least not when you are in the middle of them. The disciples found themselves in the midst of a storm, in the middle of a lake, in a boat that wasn’t the most sturdy.
Boats in that day could be rowed, or sailed. And neither was a very good option in a storm. They were flat-bottomed, these boats, and designed to get very close to shore. This made them very unstable in rough waters.
The winds were against them, the waves wouldn’t allow rowing. They were barely in control if indeed they were in control at all. The fourth watch came up. This was the last night watch – 3 or 4 in the morning, perhaps.
They look out and see something. Couldn’t quite make it out – a spirit or ghost of some sort – but wait, no it is Christ! Unbelievable!
So unbelievable that they didn’t actually believe it – and Peter decides to test things out.
He focuses squarely on the figure, who bids him come. Peter steps out of the boat and onto – nothing. Water. Remaining focused on Jesus, he moves closer and closer until:
He realizes the environment he is in. He takes his focus off of Christ. And begins to flounder.
Christ says something next that frankly, I find shocking – You of little faith, why did you doubt?
It is shocking, at least to me, and seemingly demeaning in the standards of the world in which we live. In our current parlance, it places blame at the feet of the victim.
However, in this case, that is the reality. Jesus isn’t stating or shifting blame, He is simply recognizing the truth. When we take our eyes off of Christ, we begin to flounder.
Faith itself is defined here for us by Christ – Keep your eyes on me, without regard to the world around you.
Faith is the activity of complete focus on Christ. The rest of the cosmos we simply observe, dispassionately. When we allow anything to distract us from that focus, we too will flounder and sink, just like Peter.
That “anything” can be things that we are obsessed with, too. The economy. Our physical and economic well-being. Our beliefs about the political paths we find ourselves on. Sports. Movies. Social Media.
A new term has come into being during this time – “doomscrolling.” Dire warnings from all – both those who know and those who do not know. It is a significant distraction, as we then focus not on Christ but on our circumstances and the circumstances of the world in which we now live.
The second Gospel reading is one common to monastic saints – it is the Beatitudes. The Christian Torah. In it, we learn how to keep the focus on Christ. We need to be poor. We need to be hungry. We need to weep. We need to be hated and mocked.
Sounds fun, right?
Christ tells us in other places that if we can’t be poor, or if we are not poor, we have to reverence the poor and defer to them. If we can’t be meek, then be the defense of those who are. If we are joyful, share our joy with those who aren’t.
If we do these things to the ones in need, we do them for Christ – and we keep Christ in our focus.
Brothers and Sisters, it may be more true today than ever – we live in a continual tumult. The storms are great, and seemingly more than we can bear.
So the advice of the Gospel – the advice of the Church – is to ignore the surroundings, and focus on Christ. Focus on those in need, and on the need we all share – the need for Christ and His Salvation.
Be like St. Herman of Alaska, whom we remember today. Be devoted to the well-being of others, even at great cost to yourself.
Don’t allow yourself the luxury of evaluating your circumstances. Lay aside social media – even all media – to return your focus and your loving gaze upon our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
Focus on our relationships with everyone we encounter in our lives – with “those who love us and those who hate us” as we pray in the liturgy.
Christ tells us that we will always have the poor with us – the trials of this world are common to all humanity throughout all time, as they are the result of the fall of Creation.
The troubles and trials and stormy circumstances will be there always. So step back. Don’t pay attention to them. Observe – sure. Take note, but don’t dwell on them.
Don’t allow the storms of the world to take your focus away from Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!