46 - Jesus Walks on Water, Aug 10, 2014

I Corinthians 3:9-17

Matthew 14:22-34

The Gospel image of Christ walking on the water has many theological meanings. This morning, I wish to focus on one meaning given in one of those many images: that image which is evoked by the Gospel image of Jesus walking on the water, the image of Genesis 1.2: “Darkness was on the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” Jesus is the Christ, the One Anointed with the Spirit of God. So, when Jesus walks on the water, the Spirit of God that is in Him is moving over the waters.

Moreover, Jesus is the Word in whom the Father created all things. So, Jesus, the Christ, walking on the water is a Theophany – a revelation of the Holy Trinity – that takes us back to the “beginning” in which God created the heavens and earth. Jesus walking on the water, then, is the “sign” of a new creation that is taking place.

So, the command to Peter, “Come!” is the command of Genesis: “Let there be light!’” “He spoke and the world came to be. He commanded, and the world stood forth.”(Ps 33:9) And, when we hear the Gospel say at the end: “And those who were in the boat worshipped Him saying, ‘Truly, Thou art the Son of God!’” we see the disciples raised up as a new creation (II Cor 5:17) that has burst forth from the Spirit of Christ walkingor moving onthe water.

When it says in our Gospel this morning that the LORD ascended the mountain by Himself to pray so that He was found there alone when evening fell, we see an image of the LORD ascending the Cross on the mountain of Golgotha, where He takes on the loneliness of our separation from God and cries out: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” And when it says that the disciples, when they saw Him coming to them walking on the water, were afraid, believing they were seeing a ghost, we see the LORD coming to His disciples in His Holy Resurrection; for at that time, too, they thought they were seeing Him as a ghost.

So, this new creation springs from the LORD’s Holy Pascha. As a Gospel of a new creation, our Gospel this morning is a Paschal Gospel. It sets forth how we go about receiving the LORD Jesus Christ so that we can become a new creation as children of God. (cf. Jn 1:12) It shows us that when we respond in obedience to the LORD’s command to deny ourselves and to take up our Cross in repentance to follow Him (Mt 16:24), we are coming to life; we are being re-created in His Holy Resurrection. And, when the LORD says: “Come!” as He commanded Peter this morning; or, when He says:  “Come to Me you who are weary and heavy laden!” (Mt 11:28) or, “You who are thirsty, come, and drink the waters of life given you as a gift!” (Rev 22:17) He is but giving the same command by which He created the world when He said: “Let there be light!”

As I said, our Gospel this morning sets forth how we go about receiving the LORD Jesus Christ so that we can become a new creation as children of God. It is this theological meaning of this morning’s Gospel that I especially want to focus on this morning.

St Seraphim of Sarov said that the chief aim of this life is to acquire the Holy Spirit. A modern day elder has put it this way: “Our entire struggle in this life is aimed at discovering our ‘deep heart’ because that is the place where God manifests Himself.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, p. 69) The Christian Faith is much, much deeper than a code of morality or a belief system. At its ‘heart’, the Christian faith in this life is the struggle to submit ourselves in obedience to the Word of the LORD that He would create in us a clean heart and put within us a new and right Spirit.

So, what is this ‘deep heart’ where the Holy Spirit manifests Himself whose acquisition the Christian strives for?

It is the man, says the prophet, Jeremiah. (Jer 17:5 OSB (or 17:9 LXX) It is that from which life issues forth (exodus in the Greek), according to the Proverb. (4:23) The Archimandrite calls it the “deep heart” following both the Psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah who say that the heart is “deep” (batheia; Ps 64:6 & Jer 17:5/9 LXX), associating it therefore with the “deep” that was covered by darkness in Genesis 1.2, and to the “waters” that the Spirit of God was moving over. And so, we can see that the waters of creation and the waters that the LORD walks on in this morning’s Gospel denote on the level of theological meaning the ‘deep heart’ that is the true ‘self’ of each one of us.

The heart is ‘deep’ and it is the man, says Jeremiah. It is deep like the watery depths of the sea because it is that irreducible, mystical point in us, invisible, immaterial, deeper than our mind, our soul, our body at which we burst into being and begin to exist as mind, soul and body.

But, Holy Scripture takes us into the deep heart itself. There, according to the Proverb, we come upon the will (boule), which the Proverb likens also to deep (batheia) water. (Prov 20:5)

The LORD commanded His disciples to get into the boat and go before Him “into the beyond,” it says literally – into their ‘deep heart’ I believe we can say on the level of theological meaning. Their destination is Gennesaret or Chinnereth, which means “Garden of Riches”, or shall we say the “Garden of Eden”? On the level of theological meaning, the LORD the way back to Eden goes into the ‘deep heart’, into the ‘beyond’, where the LORD will manifest Himself to them when He comes to them, walking on the water in the mystery of His Holy Pascha.

Brothers and sisters, in the boat of this life, what harbor are we sailing for? Do we simply “believe”, or are we actually living the Christian Faith of Christ’s Holy Church as the struggle to go into the beyond and to discover our deep heart so that we can acquire the Holy Spirit of God and return to Eden?

This will of ours found in our deep heart where it and we originate sets the course of our ‘boat.’ To discern the movement of our will at its original point I think is beyond our competence, as Jeremiah says: The heart is deep beyond all things; who can know it?” (17:5/9) For, our ‘deep heart’ opens onto eternity – either onto the darkness that covered the face of the deep or onto the Spirit that was moving over the waters. The wind that is against us, causing the stormy winds and high waves in our soul, I think, originates not from outside of us but from within our ‘deep heart’ where our will has been corrupted and weakened because we have all like sheep gone astray; we have turned every one of us to go our own way. (Isa 53;6) The winds are against us because we have renounced God in our ‘deep heart’.

In the struggle to discover our deep heart, then, we are fighting principally against our own will at that original point where we each one have willfully turned away from God in self-indulgence. To follow Christ then, we must deny ourselves. That begins at our baptism when we renounce Satan. From this, we see that the Christian Faith is not about ‘believing’ but about ‘struggling’ to renounce our love for the works of Satan in our ‘deep heart’. At stake in this struggle is eternal life or eternal death. Not to struggle is to die; but, to struggle is the beginning of our becoming a new creation in the LORD, of our being born from above as children of God in the Spirit of Christ our God moving over the waters of our ‘deep heart’ so that in Christ we, too, are made able to move over the face of the waters and make our way to Gennesaret, to Eden.

The winds are against us in this struggle, and we are weak because our love for God is weak. But this much we can do, this much we must do: obey the LORD’s command and “Come!” We simply get out of the boat and set our feet on the water – on the path of the Cross. Notice that as long as Peter’s focus is on Christ, he walks on the water. When he looks away, he begins to focus on the waves and the wind around him. He loses heart and begins to sink.

The essence of our struggle, then, is to keep our focus on Christ. We do this by denying ourselves, fighting our deeply grained habit of self-indulgence by taking up our cross: the ascetic disciplines of prayer, fasting, confession of sins, practicing mercy, study of Holy Scripture. We practice inner vigilance over our thoughts, directing our inner ear to listen to the voice of Christ and not to the voice of the serpent that speaks to us in the seductive images of the world and in the wisdom of our own opinions. We center our life on the worship of the Church – if in fact we want to “discover our ‘deep heart’” so that Christ can dwell in us. For, Christ is the only One who knows our ‘deep heart’. He is the “Word of God. He is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.” When we deny ourselves in order to receive Him, He pierces with His Cross to the division of our soul and spirit, our joints and marrow to discern the thoughts and intentions of our heart. (Heb 4:12) and He begins to create in us a clean heart, and to put a new and right spirit within us. The winds cease and we become a new creation worshipping Him as the Son of God in the outpouring of love from our heart for Him who first loved us.

Beloved faithful, where do we want to go? Do we want to live in Egypt, in the darkness that covers our deep heart? Christ is coming to us walking on the waters of our soul; in Christ, the Spirit of God is moving over the surface of our deep heart like a mother hen brooding over her chicks, watching for us to hatch and to come out of the boat as children of God to make our way to the LORD who wants to bring us to Eden. Let us receive Christ and become children of God. Amen.