The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 14:22-34
In the history of the world there has only been one man who maintained His relationship with God throughout His whole life. Most of us have moments of intense dialogue and communication with God. But we all stumble and fall through sin. We become separated from God the Father through our willful acts of sin which are a form of rebellion against our creator.
But Jesus Christ Our Lord never had this moment of separation from God the Father. He was always full of love toward His Father, He is always in relationship with His Father, He is always in communion with His Father. Throughout all the difficulties of life on Earth. Through all the challenges of life as a human, Our Lord maintains this bond of love and through this relationship He demonstrates what it means to be truly human.
It seems to me that we are forgetting what it is to be human. When we see tragedies around our nation and around our world what we are seeing is actually a glimpse of the hell that humans create when they forget what it really means to be human. Perhaps nothing in today’s gospel passage makes that point more clearly than what Our Lord did as soon as He dismissed the crowds after a long day of teaching and healing. What did the Lord do next? St. Matthew tells us based on his eye-witness account, that the Lord “after He had dismissed the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.” Of course this is not the main point of today’s gospel reading but the richness of the Holy Scriptures allows us to squeeze sweet juice out of each aspect of the reading.
How do we become human? Through the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Because He became human, we can become human. Because He died as a human, we can live as sons and daughters of the Most High God. What the Lord demonstrates in today’s reading is not small and insignificant. It is the heart of Orthodox spirituality. Everything revolves around our relationship with God. When this relationship is healed, we are healed. When this relationship is broken, everything is broken. When this relationship is strong, we are strong. This passage is remembered for the amazing events that took place on the sea, but what the Lord did before He saved the disciples is also important for us.
Do we know how to pray? Do we know what it means to pray? Prayer is accepting God’s open embrace. Prayer is a chance to speak to God and also to silently listen while God speaks to us. Are we men and women of prayer? Do we make an effort to set aside time to pray quietly in front of an icon every morning or evening, or both? Do we take the time to read the psalms? Do we practice the Jesus prayer throughout the day? Do we quietly repeat the words “Lord Jesus have mercy on me a sinner”?
When a man or woman enters a monastery and is rapidly transformed, we look at such an individual and think that something magical or miraculous has happened to them. We can sense and see a transfiguration of the individual. Often we are jealous and we want the same transformation in our own lives. Good news, the miracle is offered to each and every man, woman and child. God wants to know and be known by His creation. The miracle is open to those who are open to God. The Church was handed the tools of transformation and all of these tools are enriched and strengthened through heartfelt and persistent prayer.
St. Symeon the New Theologian says “If you know that all visible things are a shadow and all pass away, are you not ashamed of playing with shadows and hoarding transitory things? Like a child you draw water with a bucket full of holes; do you not realize it and take it into account, my dear friend? As though there were nothing more serious than appearance and illusion, as though reality has been taken from them?”
Netflix won’t save us. Cable TV won’t save us. Stock Markets won’t save us. Iphones and ipads won’t save us. The endless life of distractions won’t save us. Just the opposite in fact! The endless distractions can steal away our salvation. Find a way to change your habits and free up your schedule for God. Prayer is good here, together in the church, but how do we carry Christ to others? We start by making sure we’ve cultivated the relationship with Christ daily. Don’t pray for 5 minutes and think that you’ve achieved something. Pray with effort as Our Lord did. Our Lord was exhausted. He wanted to sleep, but He needed prayer even more than sleep! Pray with effort. Pray like it matters. Pray as if your prayers can change the world. The Apostle James writes “the fervent prayer of the righteous man availeth much.” Have faith that your personal time with God is the most valuable part of your day.
There is no doubt that storms are coming. Either culturally or socially or even in our personal lives. Storms are coming and we are like the disciples who were stranded at sea in the middle of these crashing waves, lightning and thunder. Let Christ be your anchor through prayer. Prayer is a spiritual cord that gives nourishment to the soul just as a mother gives nourishment to her unborn child. Prayer is the fulfillment of the first and greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind!
This is the life that God offers you. He will not guarantee that storms will never appear. He will not prevent the coming of thunder and lightning and raging seas. But “take heart….and have no fear.” “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in troubles”(Ps 46:1) Let us reach out to our God at every minute and every hour. Let us find refuge and great strength!
And Glory be to God Forever AMEN.