Homily 469 – 9th APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
August 22, 2021
Epistle: (128) 1 Corinthians 3:9-17
Gospel: (59) Matthew 14:22-34

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The most prevailing barrier to our full communion with Christ is twofold.

On the one hand, it is self-will. The reliance on me, myself, and I – that most unholy of trinities

Part of the cause of that self-will, that self-reliance is the other hand – doubt.

Doubt in Christ’s ability, doubt in God’s ability – or perhaps not doubt inability, but doubt in willingness – to support us, to care for us, to provide for us.

In other words, doubt that God loves us.

We can see that illustrated in the life of St. Peter and the Disciples this morning.

There is a lot of emotion in the reading. Fear, wonder, trust.

But mostly doubt. All the negative emotion, all the fear, comes from doubt.

If we did not doubt, we would never fear.

St. Peter started out OK. He believed – or did he? He put the question in the form of a test. If you are who you say you are, bid me come.

Maybe – just maybe – he was bluffing. Or maybe – just maybe – he was hoping that it was a vision that would go away when he called out to it.

Kinda like we do.

God, show me a sign. Make this happen. Give me this thing, or take this cup from me.

Implied in all that, a doubt – unstated, but there. “God, if you are really there …” If you really exist if you really love me. Then manifest yourself. Prove yourself.

We ask the Author of our life, the Author OF life itself, to submit to our test, to our judgment. Because we – fallen humanity – doubt.

Even in the midst of stepping out of the boat – with faith, and in love – we falter. We doubt. This isn’t real, we imagine. This can’t be real. I judge this to be false, to be an illusion, or my imagination, or a dream.

Why? Because we have lost touch with the spiritual, with the non-physical, with the unseen – yet completely and totally real.

And, because we still doubt.

We don’t see the reality of God’s love. We don’t recognize that God longs to reunite us to himself – or rather, for us to choose to leave our self-imposed rebellion and return to Him.

God doesn’t compel, although sometimes it might be nice if He did. If He did, though, we likely would rebel all the more.

It doesn’t make sense. Yet it makes perfect sense. Love can never be coerced. Love can never be imposed. If it did, it would not be love.

One of the issues we are currently dealing with are those who are ill with the COVID virus, who chose not to receive a vaccine or take any steps to mitigate the risk of this disease.

It has placed many of us, including myself, in a dilemma. How are we to react to those who have exercised their free will, and now may die? Someone we love – cherish even?

We feel – I feel – helpless. Wishing I could change that decision for them. Praying for their safety, even when they chose to risk it.

And I’ve struggled with those feelings and emotions. I want to cry out “Why? Why did this needless sickness need to occur?”

And then, I remember that is exactly what God feels about us when we exercise our own free will to reject God’s will and plan for us.

My own understanding is that even though we may follow our own free will, God’s love for us is unconditional, and I pray that every illness brings us back to the realization that we depend on God, not ourselves.

That becomes salvation. That knowledge, that faith, is repentance. And through that repentance, we are saved. But until then, we doubt.

Many times, we doubt and convince ourselves of the legitimacy, the correctness, of our doubt, because of prior experiences. We recall times of pain, times of sorrow, times of despair.

And we, again, putting ourselves in the position of judge, evaluate these things, and come to the conclusion that God is absent.

In reality, it is not God who is absent – but it is we who absent ourselves from God.

Like a petulant child, we grab what we are given, and break it, and cry, and want the giver to fix it for us. To make whole what we have destroyed.

We take our gifts and move to isolation, where we selfishly want to keep others from it – not that we enjoy it ourselves, but only to keep others from having what is, we believe, ours.

St. Peter may have wanted that as well. Just me and Jesus, perhaps. Leave the community, my brothers, my fellow followers, and seek to have something that they cannot – should not – have.

God places us in community – in a boat together, whether that boat is this parish, or this neighborhood, or the community, or indeed the planet.

We are not made to step outside that community. If we do, we are alone.

And we sink. Because we took our eyes off of our Lord – the focus off of our God. We were distracted by the storms around us.

We wonder at times why we don’t have the miracles the Apostles and disciples manifested. Perhaps we would do well to ask the question about the intensity of our focus on Christ versus their focus on Christ.

Together, in the boat, sharing with each other, we are one – and we float, even in the midst of the storm and the wind and the waves.

So what are we to do? Abandon the boat? The ship built with the body and blood of our Lord? The ship which IS the body and blood of our Lord – the Church?

Are we able to go it alone? Or do we stay in the boat – in the Church – to experience that trust, that love, that which binds us together? And binds us to God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.