|44 - Get Into the Boat, Aug 21, 2016 (with audio)|
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I Corinthians 3:9-17
“Father, I live in the world. How can I seek first the Kingdom of Heaven to follow Christ into my heart when I have obligations of family and work that leave me little if any time to pray?” Perhaps an answer is given this morning? For, St Paul says, “Let each one of you see how he builds.”
“We [the apostles],” he says, “are the field; you are the building of God,” built, of course, in the field on the foundation of Jesus Christ. The “field” of this morning’s epistle is parallel to the sea, yes, even the stormy sea of our Gospel this morning. The building of God that we are being built into in the field on the foundation of Jesus Christ is the boat the disciples are in. Jesus Christ, St Paul says, is the foundation that was laid. This, of course, is the LORD Jesus Christ crucified, dead and laid in the tomb. And, in our Gospel this morning, He is walking on the stormy waves of the as on a field, an image no different from Christ trampling down death by death – walking on it – and crushing the head of the serpent by His Holy Resurrection.
Both biblical and liturgical texts give me to see the stormy sea and the field as our human nature that is dead because of the sins and trespasses of our idolatry, which Christ raised to life and makes victorious over death by His Holy Pascha. The waves of the stormy sea are the passions of death – lust, greed, anger, vanity, pride and the rest – that, like the stormy waves, would overwhelm us and destroy us as habits and addictions if we had not the protection of Christ and His Holy Mother. Or, our human nature is a field, i.e., the dust of the ground from which we were taken and to which we shall return, infested with the thorns and thistles, sown from the choices we’ve made chasing after the idols of the world.
But, the LORD Jesus Christ is walking on the water in the flesh, i.e., in this very human nature of ours that is dead in the sins and trespasses of our idolatry, infested with thorns and thistles that grow from our idolatry. Outside of Christ, our human nature rages with the storm of the passions, our soul and our body gouged by the thorns and thistles of our idolatries. In Christ, our human nature is cleansed, raised to life, victorious over sin and death. In Christ, it is healed, even deified for it is the flesh of Christ, the Building of God, the Holy Temple in which God dwells. In Christ, peace and calm reign in the eternal, triumphal joy of Christ’s Holy Cross.
But, we are born of the seed of man (Jn 1:13); the LORD was conceived in the flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (Lk 1:35). Yet, His flesh is ourflesh as it was meant to be: clean, sinless, pure, holy, saturated with the Living Waters of God’s Glory. In Christ, our soul and body are restored to the original purpose of God who made us not for death (Wisd of Sol 1:15) but for eternal life in communion with Him.
It therefore seems an inescapable conclusion to me that while the LORD Jesus Christ became “perfectly” like us when He became flesh – except that He was unlike us in that He was without sin, He was truly human unlike us who are alienated from our true humanity by our sin – He did not become “perfectly one” with us until He voluntarily ascended the Cross and, though He knew no sin, He became sin for us and so shared with us completely in our death (Heb 2:14).
It is therefore in the field, in the sea, yes, even the stormy sea of our own human nature tossed about by the winds and waves of the passions that are against us and that threaten to overwhelm us, that we not only see Him but even find that He has become one with us so that, if we want to, we can become one with Him.
But, listen closely: “In the fourth watch of the night.” I.e., in the field (chora) and in the darkness (skia) of death (Isa 9:2, Mat 3:16), “He came to them, walking on the water.” The true Light coming into the world shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overwhelm it” (Jn 1:5-9) The shape of the LORD coming to the disciples in the night, walking on the water is the shape of the LORD coming to His disciples in the Upper Room in His Holy Resurrection. Indeed, the disciples think He is a ghost when they see Him coming to them on the stormy sea, just as they do when He is raised from the dead and comes to them in the Upper Room. It is the very shape of the LORD coming to us even this morning; for, here we are in the Boat, the Upper Room of the Church, which is His Body. Where is He coming to us from? Is it not from His Holy Resurrection; i.e., from His tomb where He became perfectly one with us in our death, i.e., from the tomb of our heart?
If we are going to see Him coming to us walking on the water, even though we are in the Boat, do we not have to look out onto the stormy waves of the sea? I.e., do we not have to turn around and face ourselves? Do we not have to repent and confront our love for the idols of the world, our worldly, idolatrous habits of behavior and mind, our addictions that overwhelm us like stormy waves of the sea?
Let each one of you, says St Paul, see how he builds! Yes, but how?
Is it not because we are in the Boat that we can look out safely in repentance onto the stormy sea of our soul? The first step of the how, then, is get into the Boat of the Church, for she is the Body of Christ, the Building of God, the Holy Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells, the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus bodily from the dead, the same Spirit in whom the Word of God trampled down death by His own death in the flesh, in our flesh!
Understand full well, however, that this first step is not a short step that ends at the font. It extends all the way to the ambon, i.e., to the Chalice where we receive the Body of Christ into our body, even as the disciples received Him into the Boat, to begin building ourselves into the Building of God, of becoming perfectly one with Christ who became perfectly one with us, uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death that we may be united to Him also in the likeness of His Holy Resurrection and, like Him, walk on the water of the stormy sea in the victory of His Cross.
This first, long step of the how begins (and ends!) with obedience. “Obedience,” says Archimandrite Irenei, “is the offering of one’s whole life to Christ – one’s very being and not just the circumstances and possessions of one’s life. This is above all through the offering of the heart….The Church gives practical shape to this obedience in the ascetical life in numerous ways. First, obedience is shaped and fostered through the right relationship of the Christian to the liturgical cycle of the divine services. The Church prescribes a life oriented to communion in the Mysteries through these services and prayers. Do we keep to that ordered life? Or, do we shape our participation in the Church’s liturgical cycle by our own desires and whims? Proper attendance at the regular weekly and festal services is a Christian’s bare minimum of obedience to the worshipping life of the Church, which not only exposes him to the divine life present in those services and draws him up into the Kingdom, but also transforms his self-will through this small obedience” (Life of Prayer, pp. 48-49).
Once we have established ourselves in this first step, we are then ready to begin the second step, demonstrated by St Peter: “LORD, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Ready and desirous to take up the serious work of putting to death what is earthly in himself, Peter does not act on his own counsel but under obedience to the LORD’s command. This is the work of faith. His walking on the water is the work of descending into the heart to become perfectly one with Christ in the likeness of Christ’s own death and resurrection. This is beyond our competence. Who of us can walk on the water?! It takes place from start to finish wholly in the ascetical life of the Church. This is the Life of Christ that would live in us and empower us to walk on the water if we would believe; i.e., keep our eyes trained on Him in the obedience of faith He gives to us in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church, His Body.
Are you ready to build? Begin by stepping into the Boat! Amen.