9th Sunday after Pentecost
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
Brothers and sisters, when we read the Gospel, it’s not just a story. It is instruction.
This story about the Lord walking on the water is a vignette of our lives: The waves, the boat, the wind, the fact that the Lord came to them in the fourth watch of the night. Peter asked Him if it’s Him, and went out on the water. That describes us.
Let me explain. First off, the Lord went off apart from the people to a mountain to pray at night. The Fathers are very explicit. This teaches us how we should pray too. Make sure you take your time apart to pray: At night, early morning, some time when your thoughts are collected.
And the Lord was praying, but the disciples were out on a boat, and they were in a great storm. So the Lord was not with them in body.
I think that describes a lot of our life, doesn’t it? Don’t you have times in your life when things are happening too fast, with great difficulty? And you cannot cope? And sometimes doesn’t it seem, let’s admit it, the Lord doesn’t seem that close? Yes, we believe in Him, but we don’t seem to be communicating; we are not so sure; things are not going well.
That’s what’s happening to the disciples, because the Lord was not right in their midst. But if He had been right in their midst, would they have been afraid? No.
So He comes to them walking on the sea at the fourth watch of the night. That’s just before dawn. It had been a long time that they were fighting the storm in the darkness, the wind, the waves, in peril for their lives. And He comes to them. Now, when the Lord comes, all should be well with us. All the Lord needs to be is be with us and we should feel content. Much like when a child is scared. All they need is their mother or their father to be with them.
This happened to me many times as a nurse late at night working on the night shift. People would be very frightened sometimes late at night, or in the very early morning hours. All you needed to do was go in and hold their hand and be there. I couldn’t do anything about the disease that was ravaging their body; but the fact that I was just present with them, they would be calmer. So should it be with the Lord and us.
But that’s not what happened, was it? Peter said, if it’s you, tell me to go out on the waves. He still wasn’t sure, even though the Lord had announced Himself. Let’s not blame Peter for this. We would do the same thing.
This is a microcosm of our life.
The Lord comes to us all the time. And perhaps we don’t ask the question, Lord, is it really you that’s here? But we don’t recognize that He’s here. And we are not calm.
So Peter says, if it’s you, tell me to get out of the boat and walk to you. And he did. And then of course we know what happened. Peter saw the waves and the wind and he started to fall. Many people would say, oh, when he got out onto the waves and the wind, he lost sight of the Lord. That’s when the Lord rebuked him and said, ye of little faith.
I would say his show of little faith was before that, when he said: Is it you? The Lord had already said it was Him. He saw the Lord. He spoke to them. He said, “It is I, be not afraid”. What else do we need? That’s where he showed his weak faith. He got out in the water. It was almost preordained from there. You have weak faith, you’re going to fail.
When the Lord comes to us, we have to accept Him. Know that He’s there. But the Lord doesn’t come in a way that we expect every time. We like things to be arranged just so, but they’re not. So when the Lord comes, it might be in the midst of the wind and the waves and late at night, later than we would want Him to be. And we have to recognize Him.
Peter didn’t completely recognize Him. This is His instruction to us. I hope it’s instructed to you. Because it really strikes a cord in me. I’ve told you before, the answer to every question is Christ, and the reason for every problem is our lack of faith.
So when Christ appears and says, It is I, be not afraid, and then we say: Is it you? - That’s the wrong answer.
Instead, a Christian is at peace with the Lord with Him. You know, sometimes I admit to you, sometimes as a sinner I struggle if services are not well attended at weekday services or something; I’ve served Vespers by myself, liturgies with just one other person, and sometimes I get depressed about that. But fortunately, I remember, that He has said “where two or three are gathered among us, there I am with you.” I can’t say honestly that that completely alleviates all of my distress. It should, but it doesn’t, and that’s because of lack of faith.
The Lord is with us. If He’s present with us, then all should be well with us.
Peter shows us how not to behave when the Lord visits us. Instead, all should be well. We should be calm, the Lord will help us. I’m reminded of when the Lord says we must be like a little child. What would a child do when they saw the Lord? What would happen if a little boy was on the boat? Wouldn’t he tug on Peter’s cloak and say, ‘Look, there is Jesus!’ That’s all he would need. That’s all we should need. To have the faith of a little child is to believe the Lord, to be happy with His presence. Since He is always present, I guess we should be always happy.
Now, of course, life is hard. A lot of things happen that just shouldn’t happen, a lot of things, in our lives, in the lives of those we love. A lot of things in our own character that shouldn’t be there and should get better. So it’s not an instantaneous thing: Oh, the Lord is here, okay, now everything is perfect and hunky-dory. That’s not Christianity. Christianity is struggle to become better.
If we have to recognize the Lord’s presence in our lives, I’m absolutely convinced, the more and more I think about it, that the reason why we have our struggles and our travails is because we don’t recognize the Lord’s presence in our life.
I’m not sure why it is always. Sometimes it’s perhaps because of our sins, our distractions, our lack of faith, because we intellectualize things too much. I think a lot of it is because we don’t apply ourselves in the spiritual life so much. How are you going to recognize somebody if you barely know them? And we see what happens when we don’t recognize the Lord. Even with Him right there, Peter sunk into the waves.
Now, I’m sure all of us pray for various things, things that really matter to us. It’s good to pray, but it’s also very good to know when the prayer is answered. And you can see the disciples, they must have been praying, but they didn’t even know that their prayer was answered. It should not be like that.
Christianity is really simple. It’s hard, but it’s simple. The Lord is with us. The Lord will help us. We follow the Lord and all is good and all is well and the waves are calm and there is no wind. And the Lord is with us. And even if you feel waves and wind, if the Lord is with you, it is as if there is no waves and wind.
Now later on, Peter would understand this. He is among the greatest of the disciples, yes, he learned. His faith was great, but it took time for his faith to grow. So he made the same sort of mistakes that we all make. And the question is: Are we going to stop making these mistakes? Are we going to, when we pray for the Lord to help us, are we going to believe that He helps us? Are we going to recognize when He comes to visit us?
When Elias was in the cave, he didn’t hear the Lord in the earthquake or the flood or the fire - Only in the still small voice. You can’t hear that voice unless you’re quiet. You can’t recognize the Lord unless you listen for Him and you also become like Him.
Later on when Peter was transfigured and transformed, when he became a holy person, he recognized the Lord in everything now. He even went to the Cross without any fear. So it should be with us, brothers and sisters.
Our life, we are in this boat. Sometimes things are calm when we set out. But then later on, usually when there is some darkness in our life, things are stormy, things are difficult, and we don’t feel the immediate presence of the Lord.
The Lord is aware of what we need at all times. Our problem is we are not aware of this. So let us pray that our faith be increased, that we recognize the Lord is with us. And that all is well. Amen.