This morning's sermon, together with the Divine Liturgy, can be viewed on our St Herman's public FaceBook page.
1 Corinthians 3.9-17
You are a temple of God, says St Paul. The Spirit of God dwells in you. Your foundation was laid on Jesus Christ.
But, how you build your temple on that foundation is up to you, whether you build it in the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom, and in faith and love that knit our souls to the precious Rose born of the Virgin in the cave, or in the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life that knit our souls to the flowers of the field that are here today and gone tomorrow.
Our temple, says St Paul, will be tested by Fire on the Day of the LORD’s appearing. That Fire, I’m sure, is the Glory of the LORD that shone forth on Mt Tabor.
When you were immersed into the waters of the holy Font, you were immersed in the Fiery Glory of the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit descends into those waters through the prayers of the Church, and you were established on the foundation of Christ’s Body; i.e., in the Tomb and in the Garden of His Holy Pascha; i.e., in the mystery of His death and Resurrection. United to Christ in your baptism, you were raised from death to life in the fiery Glory of Christ’s Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and that same Spirit now dwells in you.
That Glory of the Holy Spirit is the Fire that will test the temple you built on the Day of the LORD, whether you built it on the foundation of Jesus Christ so that you become a holy temple of God, or on the foundation of idolatry so that you become a pagan temple, a temple of idols. But that Glory of the Holy Spirit is also the Fire in which we build our temple so that we are not consumed in the Fire of God’s Glory. I believe our Gospel this morning is showing us what the work is to build ourselves into a temple of God, and how it’s done so that we are not consumed in the Fire of God’s Glory on the Day of His appearing.
It is the work of prayer. Peter walking on the stormy sea to the LORD is an image of the work of prayer. If he is walking to the LORD, then, as he would discover on Mt Tabor, he is walking to the Glory of God’s Fire who has become flesh. To pray truly, then, is to make one’s way inwardly into the Fire of God, Jesus Christ, who will test us on the Day of His appearing.
Let me point out that our Gospel this morning is the second calming of a storm at sea recorded by St Matthew. The first calming of a storm (Mt 8)—when Jesus is asleep in the boat—looks like an icon of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest in His Tomb, where He performed the ultimate healing of destroying our death by His death. This second calming of the storm, when Jesus walks on the sea as though it were dry land (a Paschal image of the Exodus) looks like an icon of His Holy Resurrection. As when the LORD came to the disciples in the Upper Room, so also here, when He comes to them in the boat on the sea, the disciples are seized with fear, believing they are seeing a ghost. But He is not a ghost, neither here when He’s walking on the sea nor when He comes to them in the Upper Room in His Holy Resurrection. His walking on the sea is an icon, then, of His bodily Resurrection. And, His bodily Resurrection means that in His Holy Pascha, He has saved us from death and raised us up into the boat of His Holy Church; He has united us to His own Body that is risen from the dead. Peter walking to the LORD on the sea is an image of prayer, showing prayer to be the work by which we build our temple on the foundation of Jesus Christ; for prayer is our participation in the LORD’s death and resurrection. The LORD’s WORD to Peter, then, ‘O you of little faith, why do you doubt?’ strikes me as taking us into the ‘heart’ of this work of building our temple on the foundation of Jesus Christ through prayer.
The word translated, ‘doubt,’ is formed from a word that means ‘double’ or ‘two’. So, ‘Why are you double-minded?’ This, it would appear, is what it is to be ‘of little faith.’ Our faith is little, it is weak, because our prayer is easily diverted from the LORD by the stormy waves of life towering over us, threatening to overwhelm us so that we perish. And we are easily diverted from the work of uniting ourselves to Christ in prayer because of our idolatry: our love for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life.
This love for the idols we’ve given our soul to is the foundation on which was laid that wall of enmity deep in our heart that separates us from God; it’s the ‘law of sin’ that has become embodied in our members. Living on that foundation, we have become enfeebled, even paralyzed, and we haven’t the strength to sustain, even for a couple seconds, single-minded prayer against the debilitating onslaught of the waves of this life.
But, Peter was of little faith; he was not of no faith. Neither are you of no faith, as your presence here this morning bears witness.
We see Peter’s faith in his longing to come out to the LORD out there on the stormy sea. But his longing is quickly tested! And so is ours. Have you noticed? As soon as we resolve, in our longing to unite ourselves to Christ, to climb down from the boat and make our way to the LORD in the work of prayer, we quickly forget our longing for Christ when we see the stormy waves of life towering over us and threatening to destroy us, or when the enticements of the flesh, or the fascination of the darkness come and give us butterfly kisses on our cheek. We look away from Christ. Our prayer dissolves. We look at the waves and our souls are flooded with fear and anxiety, or with lust and greed, and we begin to sink.
Dear faithful: this is the moment of testing! Look closely at this morning’s Gospel. The LORD Jesus Christ is not absent! He’s right there. Peter can’t see Him only because he isn’t looking at him. His eyes are wholly on the waves towering over him because his faith was little. It was split by his fascination for the waves towering high above him; and so it was weak. He was not able, not strong enough, to sustain his focus on the LORD. And, he begins to sink.
But note that when he begins to sink, he does not give in, let’s say, to anger, or self-pity, or to bitterness, or resentment, or cynicism, or to suicidal despair. He doesn’t go down in a sulk or indulge in a surly attitude. Rather, in his little faith, he cries out to the Savior: ‘LORD, save me; I’m perishing!’ He’s praying again! And immediately, it says, the LORD stretches out His hand and raises him up into the boat. The wind, it says, became still; and they worshipped Him! Peter passed the test, even in his little faith; because even if one’s faith is as little as a mustard seed, the LORD told His disciples at another time, you can say to this mountain, move, and it will move—because all one has to do with one’s little faith is call on the Name of the LORD in prayer. You don’t turn to anger or despair, to bitterness or cynicism, or to suicidal thoughts. You turn to the LORD and you simply cry out, ‘LORD, save me! I’m perishing!’ ‘LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ Because, if your heart is turned to the LORD in prayer, even if it’s the prayer of ‘little’ faith, your heart is turned to the LORD who can save you from the stormy waves; and, it is not turned to the stormy waves that can’t save you.
This morning’s Gospel shows us that the LORD, just as the Psalmist tells us, ‘is near to those who call on Him in truth. He upholds all who fall. He raises up all who are bowed down.’ (Ps 145.15&18) We cannot beat back the waves; only the LORD Jesus can. We cannot make the winds grow calm; only the LORD Jesus can. But, this we can do even with our little faith: we can call out to the LORD, ‘Save me! I am perishing!’ ‘LORD, have mercy on me, a sinner!’
But, perhaps this is the test: when you are sinking, what do you do about it? Do you give yourself to anger, to self-pity, to despair, to suicidal thoughts? Or do you give yourself to the LORD in the prayer of Peter: ‘LORD, save me! I’m perishing!’
When we take refuge in the LORD, we are taking refuge in the Fire of God’s Glory, the very Fire that will test us on the Day of the LORD. That Holy Fire of God’s Glory does not consume us; it consumes our idolatry, the wall of enmity, the law of sin embedded in our earthly members. Us the fire purifies and cleanses; our soul it makes to grow calm in the Peace of Christ, and so it—or rather, He—restores us to our original nature created in the image of God; created, that is, in the capacity to receive God and to be filled with the Glory of His purifying, sanctifying and deifying Fire, to become one with God and to become all Fire in the Fire of God. We become ‘single.’ Our little faith becomes pure and so it becomes strong, because we have cemented our heart in the love of God to the foundation of Jesus Christ who saves us, and we are found on the Day of the LORD to have become, perhaps to our surprise, a temple of God in whom the Spirit of God, the Fire of God’s Glory, dwells. Dear faithful, this is the work set before us having been raised from the Font as children of God. May the LORD save us even with our little faith, just as He saved Peter with his little faith; and may He raise us up into the Boat of His Holy Church, as He raised Peter, that with Peter and the other holy disciples, and all the saints we may worship Him in Spirit and in Truth. Amen!